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'Festive, Righteous Anger': Occupy Makes May-Day Comeback With Massive Demonstrations

Yesterday, Occupy recaptured the public's attention with rallies, marches, parties, and yes, arrests all over the country.

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But the overall spirit at Union Square was one of joy and enthusiasm and united strength. A large stage was set up to accommodate the performers and speakers and the message was clear: through art, activism can glean both power and relief. At around 4pm, the show started with the beloved Tom Morello, aka the Nightwatchman, aka guitarist in Rage Against the Machine (which we recently learned is Paul Ryan’s favorite band, and who we hope will act on the knowledge by writing a song about him).

Because of the abundance of artists and speakers in the lineup, each act only got to perform two songs, and Morello used his time effectively. Playing after a speaker announced, “We’re here to announce that another world is not only possible, but on her way,” Morello brought his 20-person Guitarmy onstage to a fired-up crowd ready to party for justice. He kicked off his set with a singalong of “World Wide Rebel Songs,” which pays homage to union classics, and got thousands of protesters singing the chorus (and freaking out when he played the harmonica, because the proles, apparently, love a harmonica).

Then he noted that, were Woody Guthrie alive, he’d be 100, and that if he were still with us, he’d be headlining the event. Morello’s next song? “This Land is Your Land,” which resulted in another joyous singalong and pogo session. His parting words: “Take it easy, but take it.” Morello’s performance was followed by a speech by Emily Park, who announced herself as an undocumented student at CUNY. “DREAMers like me are the future of later,” she said, and advocated the New York DREAM Act that’s currently underway at the state level. Then Joyce Lyon, of the Domestic Workers union, reminded us that, “The thousands of you standing here are the engines that make the economy run,” whether documented or not.

Their speech was followed by a performance by a multinational Latin jazz band representing Local 802, the musician’s union, during which the drummer protested the elimination of 31 multicultural categories at the Grammys. (Including the award for best Latin jazz album and best Native American album, among others.) The band was followed by performances by rap trio Das Racist (full disclosure: my family members are in the group), noise-pop musician Dan Deacon, and rapper Immortal Technique, all of whom celebrated the energy and presence of the thousands in the crowd. A

While the focus was certainly on the arts, the most salient point of the rally was made by a speaker later in the day, who reminded us that the Supreme Court is on the cusp of legalizing Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, and that it was up to us to stand against similar racist laws like it. “This is not an immigration issue,” she said. “This is a people issue.” The crowd was penned in by barricades, guarded by ever more police as the protest geared up to march downtown, but her message was more powerful than the city’s ominous message. Immigration is a people issue, and this was a joyous, inspiring peoples’ protest.

-- Julianne Escobedo Shepherd




 

Marching from Union Square After the Rally, 5:30pm

Artists for Occupy and immigrant rights groups kicked off the long march from Union Square to Wall Street down Broadway. Despite the barricades and unnecessarily huge numbers of cops on both sides of the street, marchers headed downtown undaunted. Among their numbers were groups like the Teamsters, the Transit Workers Union, and student and community organizations.

Groups let out chants like "We are students, not statistics!" the very May Day-appropriate "Black, Latin, Asian, white! Workers of the world unite!" As we entered the shopping district they playfully shouted "Out of the shops, and into the streets!"

 
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