'Festive, Righteous Anger': Occupy Makes May-Day Comeback With Massive Demonstrations
Continued from previous page
-- Sarah Seltzer
The hundreds upon hundreds of protesters streaming into Union Square on May Day were greeted by an elaborate paper “maypole.” There was no need for explanation, as the top of the maypole read, “All our grievances are connected”—another way of saying 'We are the 99%.'"
Walk a couple hundred feet in the park, and there's an Occupy Wall Street group that fervently believes that maxim: the Occupy Wall Street global justice working group. A contingent of about 30 people affiliated with the working group had gathered before the union-heavy permitted march from Union Square to Wall Street. The reason? To “declare our commitment to resist and to end wars at home and abroad,” in the working group’s own words.
The names Iran, Palestine, Egypt and more were written on the activists' placards. They joined thousands of demonstrators for a march that capped off a day full of actions highlighting economic inequality, police brutality, immigrant rights and more. In the streets, NY-based Palestine solidarity activist Dave Lippman provided the guitar-strumming while others sang songs. “When you shop and when you dine,” they sang, “stand up for Palestine”—a plea for boycotts of Israeli products.
Activists from the global justice working group are full of knowledge and experience about struggles from Bahrain to Egypt to Palestine. It includes organizers involved with CodePink, the War Resisters League, Adalah-NY and more--key groups working on peace and justice issues in the city. They want to bring their knowledge to the broader world of Occupy Wall Street activism. The march, and songs about struggles here and abroad, were one way of doing that.
“Very often in OWS you get people who don’t know what’s going on across the water,” explained Udi Pladott, an activist and former soldier in the Israeli army. “We’re trying to inject global issues into Occupy.” Toward that goal, the working group has sponsored events on Bahrain and held a teach-in on the global tear-gas industry.
“We want to make connections between the war on the poor here and wars abroad,” said Nancy Kricorian, an organizer with CodePink. Conversations with working group participants made clear what those connections are: a system that rewards militarism with profits while demanding austerity for the poor.
Apart from Bahrain and Palestine, the specter of a war with Iran, and organizing to stop that possibility, was very much on the minds of participants. A number of signs at the march read “No to sanctions. No to war. No to state repression.” I spoke with Manijeh Nasrabadi, a PhD student at New York University and an organizer with Havaar, an Iranian group that now works with the global justice working group, for more on this subject.
“There are people in Iran organizing against the same things. They have a government pushing neoliberal policies,” she explained. Nasrabadi also criticized the tendency of some on the left to reflexively back Iran’s leaders since they are in opposition to the West, even as the regime violently cracked down on dissent. “There is a third way: global solidarity,” that isn’t morally compromised, Nasrabadi said.
I asked Nasrabadi what the connection was between Iran, the US and the Occupy movement. Answers abound to that question.
But she had a simple answer that helps explain the importance of the global justice working group: “If bombs fall, it would derail thinking about class.”
-- Alex Kane
Tom Morello and the Guitarmy, Union Square
Under unexpectedly sunny skies, thousands converged upon Union Square yesterday afternoon, their numbers growing as the Tom Morello-led “Guitarmy,” flanked by their acoustic axes, marched in from Bryant Park. One of the only spots with a city permit, the Square was the destination for the day’s live music, but it also served as a safe space for protesters unwilling or unable to risk arrest. As such: the undocumented faction came out in droves, and it became a symbolic place where unions and Occupy joined forces with immigrants' rights movements. People carried signs reading, “Amnesty Para Todos,” “Trabajando y Educación Para Todos,” “Stop the Raids” and, most crucially, “No a la guerra, ni a la militarización de la frontera.” It’s important not to forget the bigger picture: the border debates are an extension of our country’s war-obsession, and solve no problems.