Midtown Occupied as May Day Kicks Off with 99 Pickets, Bryant Park Mutual Aid
Midtown is a great place for chanting; your voice echoes off the tall buildings and you can hear it blocks away. Even better for marching bands, bells and whistles.
There may not actually be 99 pickets, but midtown Manhattan is clogged with them in the morning, and they're inside the heads of the people on the street--I walk past a couple discussing our "cruel," unequal society as I hurry from picket to picket.
I made it to Bryant Park a few minutes after eight in a haze of rain, and found a crowd of around a hundred huddled under their umbrellas or the ones at tables in the park. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra were clustered around their instruments but not playing, and Occupiers chatted with one another.
My first picket stop was at the New York Times building, where the United Auto Workers (UAW) were picketing under a lovely awning in support of the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, (UAW Local 2320). The lawyers and legal support staff of Legal Services NYC provide free legal aid to New York's low-income folks who need support--they help fight evictions, support the unemployed, work on benefits for the disabled, and more. And they're facing cutbacks from their board, who want them to give back part of their healthcare benefits--not to mention cuts to the services they provide. "We make next to nothing," a legal services worker told me, pointing out that her benefits allow her to do a low-paid service job and take care of herself and her family. Meanwhile, none of the cuts have hit management. Their target for the day's picket was Michael Young, the vice chair of the Board of Directors at Legal Services NYC, who has been the point person in negotiating with the union.
As we stood talking, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and a small march rolled in, playing "Which Side Are You On?" and thrilling the workers, who didn't seem terribly connected at first to the larger May Day celebrations. The picket line turned into a dance party, and the band played along with chants of "Hey hey rich boy, my job is not your toy" and "We're legal services for the poor, fired up won't take no more."
From Twitter, colleagues Allison Kilkenny, John Knefel and I heard reports of arrests at the Bank of America tower, which was surrounded by barricades when we arrived but quiet at the moment, so I moved on to News Corp headquarters--where the ticker outside the building warned "Occupy plans to shut down city today, gathering at Bryant Park". It made a lovely backdrop for the lively picket line, featuring several members of OWS's Direct Action working group as well as banners and activists from Picture the Homeless, SEIU, VOCAL-NY (including Wayne Starks, who I spoke with on Tax Day), and other local groups.
As they marched, the crowd repeated the crimes of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp--not only "Murdoch spies," a reference to the phone hacking scandal in the UK, but "News Corp called for closing HIV food pantries, housing for people with AIDS."
From News Corp, I moved on to Chase, where a small but determined band was chanting "Save our homes, modify loans!" outside the branch on 47th and Madison, but no one had made it to the main headquarters, location of many an Occupy event, yet. I saw a march rounding the corner as I headed the other way, trying to catch a march that had left News Corp for the headquarters of the Paulson Group, one of the world's largest hedge funds, but instead I crossed paths with a small march flying an anarchist flag, singing "Ain't no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don't stop."
The marchers were young, mostly white, but the one arrest came when a young black man, whose name, I was told, was Gregory Walker, was slammed against a glass window and thrown to the ground--I didn't see what happened to cause his arrest, but I did watch him loaded into a police van and the crowd spontaneously broke into "Solidarity Forever."
Back at Bryant Park, the scene had picked up and the feeling was more Liberty Square than grim determination. A woman mic-checked to offer belly dance lessons, and I chatted with Betsy Fagin at the Library, back in action. Screenprinters had the next table over from the Library, and were churning out prints of a Guy Fawkes mask decorated with spring leaves. I caught up with Pam Brown and Suzanne Collado of the Occupy Student Debt campaign, who had been at their own picket outside of NYU, protesting student debt and the university's expansion plan (financed, of course, with students' money).
The park is also serving as a staging location for marches--I spoke with organizers pulling together an immigrant worker justice march, departing at 11 to his Praesidian Capital, Wells Fargo, the Capital Grille, Chipotle and Beth Israel, in support of workers trying to organize, Wells's support for anti-immigrant legislation through ALEC, wage theft and discrimination, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Campaign, and laundry workers who clean hospital sheets, respectively.
On the way out, I spoke with Jerry, who told me about the Summer Disobedience school that will be held every Saturday in Bryant Park, training activists in pickets, marches, street theater, and much more.