Matty Moo's Big Day Out at May Day NYC
The ride there:
The day started with me checking into the Occupy Wall Street live stream while I waited for my nephew johnny and his girlfriend Chrissy to arrive so we could PATCO it over to the Chinatown bus and get our May Day on. Chinatown bus doesn’t accept credit cards and since we were all buying the tickets on one credit card and hadn’t brought enough cash we went around the corner to Greyhound and bought one way tickets to NYC.
The bus was absurdly late and about an hour later we were allowed to get onto a different bus to the city. It was then that we encountered first innumerable experiences with mindless bureaucracy that would plague our day – one ticket taker took our tickets and another immediately told us we had gone through the wrong door and she wanted us to go back inside the door that was about 3 feet away and then turn around and come back out of that door. The first ticket taker motioned to us to just wait and when the second woman walked away she waved us over to the bus. Greyhound buses are much nicer than Chinatown buses so for the extra 6 bucks a ticket we didn’t really mind since we got wi-fi and electrical outlets thrown in for the duration of the 2+ hour ride to the Big Apple.
Bryant Park, first stop of the day:
We only had a couple of blocks to walk from the Greyhound station over to Bryant Park which was the staging point for a mini rally to be followed by an un-permitted march down to Union Square (un-permitted always strikes me as Orwellian double speak but anyway...) Bryant Park is actually quite pretty and a place I would go hang out next time I’m in NYC. There was a colorful crew of a few hundred assembled when we arrived. We almost immediately ran into Jesse from Philly. He introduced us to a couple people then me and Johnny and Chrissy wandered around crowd.
The “Money Bunny,” a woman on roller bladed in a cocktail serving dress made of fake 100 dollar bills was there. Jesse La'greca, was standing around. The giant Statue of Liberty puppet, which has become a feature of most Occupy Wall Street marches, was boogie-ing down to the drum circle which included a Native American woman in complete tradition garb. The march start time approached and the crowd had grown many times over. We all moved towards the main stairs out of the park, where a meditation flash mob had been sitting silently the whole time. A few moments later we embarked on march number 1 of 3 that the day held in store for us.
To Union Square:
It quickly became obvious that the march had swelled to several thousand as we turned around to look back towards the park and the crowd extended back as far as we could see. Shortly after departing the march went “off of the sidewalks and into the street” as hundreds of protestors moved in between traffic which had come to a standstill. That continued for a block or two before the NYPD managed to corral everyone back onto the sidewalks. Excitement and morale grew as as energetic chants broke out and small groups of musicians would periodically pass by. At one point Chrissy saw a police officer tapping his baton against his hand and it broke – just fell right apart, handle in his hand and stick laying in the street. Sort of took some of his threatening mojo away, lol. The “Guitar Army” which Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine had organized was actually more like a small “Guitar Clump” but they were still fun and we made our way across the march to join them as they played a variety of songs. Finally a bunch of Green trees loomed up ahead and within two blocks we arrived at Union Square.
At Union Square:
The first thing we saw at Union Square was a May Pole being wound. On each ribbon of the maypole grievances were written. It was great fun to watch the participants wind their way around the pole weaving intricate braids down the pole as they likewise wove themselves around each other in a circle. Its always funny to watch as maypole-rs start to reach the bottom of the pole and have to get all bendy so as to make it all the way to the bottom. When the ribbons reached the bottom there was a spirited mic check explaining, a bit about he celebration of may day in ancient times, as well as listing a couple of the many grievances that were written on the ribbons.
We wiggled ourselves through the massive crowd and into the interior of Union Square. We stumbled upon the main stage. Unions had signed a permit for the rally at Union Square and the next leg of the march that was to follow so we had access to electricity and permission for the stage. We had a good vantage point for the Tom Morello led concert that would begin shortly – or we thot shortly. We backed in the sun which had dispersed the earlier rain clouds and waited, and waited, and waited. Suddenly Tom and his Guitar Army were on the stage. The crowd went wild and Tom led us in a simple (and frankly rather sucky) song he had written for the occasion.) Once that was finished he launched into “This Land is Your Land” telling us that almost all of the original lyrics had been censored by our grade school teachers which was a shame because they are truly radical: they tell of how Woody Guthry had come upon a sign that said no trespassing “but on the other side, it didn't say nuthin' – and that side was made for you and me!” The third stanza tells of him encountering a long line of men waiting outside a soup kitchen (the song was written during the Great Depression) and he questions whether “this land is still for you and me?” This song was a much bigger hit than the first one. Tom Left the stage and Das Racist and Immortal Technique some other groups took it from there – video of the performances can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/01/immortal-technique-occupy_n_146... . By now we were hot and bothered so we took advantage of that time to go find a coffee shot and recharge my cell phone as well as our bodies with some caffeine.
The March to Wall Street:
As we were walking back to the Square from our little break we could see what looked like the march already passing by an intersection a few blocks away. We zig zagged and joined the march as we caught up to it. Unbeknownst to use the police had barricaded the park shortly after the first few contingents of the march had embarked and the situation had become tense as protestors confronted the police about this arbitrary closure of a legal permitted march. According to reports the police soon relented and removed the barricades. The remaining thousands streamed out of the park and caught up to the rest of the march.
This was the largest of the three marches of the day. Estimates of the number of marchers range from 10,000 to 30,000. I guess I will go with the middle number and estimate 20,000. I’m not sure of the history of NYC but this may have been the biggest economy/labor related march in NYC since the Great Depression of the 1930s. We repeatedly turned around to try to see the end of the march which took up the entire width of the wide avenue. The same went for each time we crested one of the higher points of the avenue and saw the march extending before us as far as the eye could see. The Unions led the march and each Union had hundreds of participants – the Electrical Workers, The Transit Authority, The Nurses Union, The Service Workers Union and other Unions – even a coalition of Street Vendors had a contingent and a big banner. After what seemed like a couple thousand had marched past our little perch on the sidewalk the Occupy contingent of the march began. Again, thousands upon thousands.
It was refreshing to see many migrant rights, Hispanic, Asian and African American groups participating in the OWS part of the march since Occupy is often criticized as a very White people heavy movement (this is true but not on May Day in NYC!) Additionally, Miss Piggy, Elmo, A nearly naked “Jesus” dragging a large wooden cross and a slew of other colorful characters made appearances. Eventually we left our sidewalk and rejoined the masses in the street (we were “allowed” to be in the street – a rarity in NYC marches - due to the Union permit .)
Eventually we had to go potty so we entered a Mcdonald's, bought two sodas as an excuse to use the restrooms and stood in line for our turns to pee. About five minutes later we emerged from Micky D's and the march still extended in both directions for as far as the eye could see. During this part of the march many spectators gathered at upper floor windows, on roofs, and on fire escapes to watch. A lot of them screamed or waved in support as did many passersby on the sidewalks. Occasionally very well dressed and exceptionally sour faced people could be spotted, obviously trying to hold their tongues and not scream obscenities at us as we marched by. A rather sexy man in his underwear waved down at us as did a man hanging out of a window dressed in a very convincing Captain America costume.
Me, Johnny and Chrissy were starting to drag as the march seemed to be lasting for eternity. Finally approaching the vicinity of Zuccotti park the three of us made a quick detour to go look at the new World Trade Center building rising a floor or two higher into the stratosphere as each day of construction passes. It is almost never mentioned that Zuccotti Park is directly across the street from the site of the former World Trade centers. We passed Zuccotti Park and, as is the case with everyone who sees the park for the first time, Johnny and Chrissy were astounded by how very very small the park is! We turned the corner to rejoin the march and walking along the side of Zuccotti we could see a handful of workers and a couple occupiers, all mainly eating snacks or a late lunch/early dinner here and there on the benches. Hopefully they didn't get sleepy from their meals and drift off as that is an arrestable offense in NYC parks.
The march proceeded a short distance and arrived at its end point – Wall Street. I had wondered what would happen once we got there since there was nothing planned and it's not really a post march rallying spot like a park or something for the crowd to decompress and let of some steam before dispersing on their own. Would the Police crack down on the march as it reached the intersection of Wall Street since that was the end of the permit? Would the masses of people try to take the barricades and go down the forbidden street? A line of “white shirts” backed up by a line of police horses blocked entry to Wall Street. No one messed with them, which was good since stampeding frightened horses charging the crowd and bucking around wildly would have been a disaster.
It appeared the police were allowing the march to continue in the streets past the official end point of the march. The three of us were on the other side of the barricades on the sidewalk and we took a chance to sit and watch events unfold. After a large part of the march had been allowed to proceed dozens of cops began to amass and it appeared the police were preparing to forcibly cut off the rest of the marchers. They halted the march. 5 or 6 people were arrested, apparently for no reason at all – snatch and grabs. They were loaded into a waiting police wagon and disappeared into the night. The police who had been shouting aggressively at people to stop and not walk suddenly began shouting aggressively for people to march and NOT stop moving. Those who were deemed to be going to slowly or had stopped momentarily to take a picture or something were threatened with arrest. A Vietnam Veteran was being loudly told to MOVE MOVE MOVE. He turned and began walking, very very slowly, backwards. He yelled at the cop who was following him closely and still harassing him “I fought for my freedom to be here in the streets expressing my first amendment rights, long before you were even born!” The cop turned around and moved on to other subjects he could mess with.
We tried to find a spot to rejoin the march but barricades lined the streets for blocks and kept us on the sidewalk. We finally found an open cross street and popped out at the Wall Street bull. This Golden Calf Idol was being meticulously guarded against anyone who dared desecrate the Great And Worshipful Symbol of Greed to which the lives of our children are sacrificed daily. It was here that we witnessed a protester being restrained by the police on the ground. The protester was not going to be arrested easily as he flailed and tried to kick at officers and flee and clearly did need to be restrained for the arrest to proceed. The police brought out this really creepy medieval full body restraining device and spent a good five minutes strapping him to this disturbing device. Everyone on the sidewalk including non occupy passers by looked on with horrified faces, some saying “what the HELL are the DOING?” Eventually the immobilized protester was lifted up and loaded into a police van. Some flex ties around his feet and hands would have done the trick but the police probably wanted to try out their new toy and this resistant protesters presented the perfect excuse. Apparently some video footage of cops brutally beating protesters in other spots in the city are showing up on you tube but we did not witness and one being beaten near us throughout the day.
Final rally (for us at least) at some random park:
We continued to march, not knowing where the heck the crowd was going. Eventually we ended up at the very bottom of Manhattan in some random plaza at the Hudson river's edge. A few thousand people were gathered in a sort of amphitheater area in the middle of the plaza. “Stack” was taken somehow and multiple mic checks echoed through the crowd which was so large that the mic checks were transmitted through the crowd in 3 waves instead of the usual 1 so that those at the very back of the crowd could hear. It was mic checked that this park “closed at 10pm” (I thought NYC was the city that never sleeps – I guess its ok to be awake and spending or making money, just not to sit on benches or gather in a public park after 10pm... you know, because 11pm is totally different from 10pm.)
We mostly sat on benches at the very edge of the park near some exits that were being blocked by 3 or 4 cops at each one. They were allowing people to exit the park but not to enter – even though the park was technically still open for another 45 minutes and hardly full at all. Johnny and Chrissy grew increasingly uneasy as more and more police began to amass on the sidewalks behind us. I wandered into the crowd and then back to them periodically. Eventually a few hundred cops were at each of the exit points of the park and Johnny and Chrissy were not allowed to exit. They found me on an overlooking terrace looking down upon the increasingly energetic drum circle that had formed below as 10pm approached. Riot cops arrived poured into the park and a dispersal order was announced. Johnny, Chrissy and Wayne from Philly, who we had FINALLY run into after a day of texting back and forth, decided to my slight disappointment that it was time to get out of the park. Johnny convinced me to follow them towards a corner of the park on the other end from where the hundreds of police had gathered at the exits. I was reluctant since earlier that area had been full of people in what looked like a face off with a line of cops blocking the street. When we got down there it became apparent that most of those intent on resisting the eviction had all swarmed over to the area where the cops were making the dispersal order and we slipped through a tiny little opening and onto the sidewalk where we were able to start moving away from the park. I heard reports later that there were no arrests at that plaza as the protesters were eventually allowed to disperse on their own.
The frantic rush to catch the bus:
Wayne informed us that the last Chinatown bus left for Philly at 11. I swear I saw the last one listed on their website as being midnight. We now had 45 minutes to hustle over to the subway towards the vicinity of Chinatown. We popped out on Canal Street and grabbed a cab and told him the intersection where the Chinatown bus station was located. It was a good thing we did that since we were way farther away from there than it looked on the map and we never would have made it there on foot by 11. It seemed the cab driver was maybe taking us to one of the other Chinatown bus lines and I repeated the intersection to him to make sure he had understood. He silently shook his head yes and I said oh, it looked different on the map. He answered in his deep thick Russian accent “Then don't look at the map.” I said nothing more.
We arrived at the bus station with 5 minutes to spare – otherwise we would have to wait until 5 or 6 AM to catch the next bus back to the City of Brotherly Love. Exhausted, we found our seats on the bus – which did not smell pleasant for some reason. As the bus went through the Holland tunnel and crossed into Jersey I tried to make myself comfortable enough to get some sleep in. I thought I had not fallen asleep yet when the bus slowed down and went through the turnpike exit near the Moorestown mall. Apparently I had slept through most of the trip. An eternity later we were back at my apartment. I went on the internet to try to check into some of the rumors that had been floating around on twitter regarding events in NYC that we had not witnessed as well as stuff that had been taking place in other cities. Hours later I finally managed to snuggle up in bed with coco and drifted off.
In other cities around the world:
The Oakland Police department was the only police department in world to use tear gas and concussion grenades on May Day protestors – they also debuted a full blown TANK, which actually seemed highly impractical for crowd control and I surmise it was there simply to intimidate and instill fear http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=292566934162377&set=a.18869475121... - the main entrance to the L.A. airport was shut down for some time by a coalition of union members and occupiers – massive actions had taken place in London, The Philippines, Spain, France and across Latin America to name just a few.
While we were in New York, back at Occupy Philly they had shut down Wells Fargo and Market Street. A female protester was arrested after a customer outside bank tried to shove his ATM card in her mouth. He was allowed to walk away, she is still in jail awaiting release as of the following morning.
Oh yeah, and a few windows got broken in Seattle. But I'm sure the corporate media already made sure you knew about that.