For a dead movement, Occupy Wall Street packs one helluva wallop.
The populist protest against economic disparity, political corruption, and predatory banking practices joined with organized labor Tuesday to spark May Day protests in more than 100 U.S cities, which drew more than 80,000 participants and resulted in at least 56 arrests. The largest gathering occurred in Lower Manhattan, where more than 50,000 people marched in the single biggest turnout in the brief history of the 8-month-old movement.
The strong showing was a collective rebuke for the political pundits who pronounced the American pro-democracy dead over the winter, after big-city mayors launched a coordinated series of raids against Occupy’s tent camps.
“Today’s May Day march was a massive success, considering the protesters used a grassroots organizing strategy and lacked the support of major media outlets that the Tea Party enjoyed,” said Occupy Pundit Jesse LeGreca. “If we keep it up our political leaders will not be able to ignore the pushback against austerity and shock doctrine disaster capitalism that the financial elite are so hell bent upon. Remember, they only call it a class war when we fight back.”
“This country is really going to hell,” 83-year-old Barbara Donaldson said as she held a sign reading ‘Wombs of the World Unite (below right).’
“I don’t even know how we got here,” she said. “Things were OK for a few decades and then the Evangelical Christians got together with big business and decided they could tell the rest of us how to live our lives. It’s very important for women to be angry and disgusted and show these morons that we won’t take it.”
Tuesday’s march never fulfilled the aspirations for a national general strike that Occupy had initially hoped for, before backing away from that goal at the urging of organized labor. However, the strong turnout among independent voters sent the kind of message political incumbents understand as they gauge the winds of societal change.
Photo By Gretchen Robinette
It suggests Occupy is not only alive, but is a growing political force in a 2012 election cycle already being defined by record donations from monied interests. Companies and wealthy individuals are expected to donate more than $7 billion worth of legalized bribes in a record bid to purchase influence in our pay-to-play government.
May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, traditionally has been a time for organized labor to hold demonstrations and marches, but U.S. events are usually more sedate and sparsely attended than those in other nations. Not so Tuesday, when union members, Occupiers, and angry independents railed against a status quo in which both major parties pander to the 1%.
“We’ve been building important alliances and radicalized people in what they’re willing to endorse,” David Graeber, an anthropologist and author active in the movement told Reuters. “I mean, we never even used to celebrate May Day. Now look at this.”
The main protest march in Manhattan snaked down Broadway for a half-mile, running south from Union Square to Wall Street, as police helicopters hovered overhead and officers lined either side of the route. NYPD declined to estimate the crowd size, but streets around Union Square were closed for several blocks due to the overflow crowd that fed the march from a free concert featuring Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and rappers Das Racist and Immortal Technique.
“I’m trying to save the world – just like Don Quixote,” said Bernie Venditto, a 70-year-old from Queens. “That’s what we’re all trying to do.”
The ranks of protesters were heavy with military veterans like Shamar Thomas (right), 26, of Long Island. The former U.S. Army sergeant served two tours in Iraq and says he feels that his service as a domestic Occupier is even more important.
“It seems like all the hard work Occupy did over the winter is coming to fruition,” Thomas said. “What I’m doing now is a lot more important to me than what I did in Iraq, because we were going up against an oppressed people over there, whereas here I’m trying to help my own people by uniting them.”
Occupy and organized labor combined to launch more than 25 other New York City events Tuesday, which ranged from several hundred protesters to several thousand. They were overwhelmingly peaceful, but the New York Police Department still tallied more than 30 arrests by 6 p.m. Most of those detained were charged with disorderly conduct.
Numerous additional confrontations were occurring as day turned to night and marchers were blocked from approaching the public plaza outside the New York Stock Exchange. A group of two dozen police officers around the bronze Wall Street Bull jostled with thousands of protesters who disapprove of the iconic image of the financial sector’s irrational exuberance.
Photo By Gretchen Robinette
Dozens of additional arrests occurred in other cities Tuesday. At least 12 protesters were arrested in Portland, 10 in Los Angeles, and nine in Oakland.
“I’m very impressed by the Occupy movement,” Morello (below right) told Bloomberg News, which is owned by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s the first time where, in my view, the correct villain’s been identified – those who propagate the kind of global economic inequality that hurts millions of middle class families and is absolutely devastating to the poor. And at last Occupy Wall Street has put their finger on that problem and has shined a bright light on it so we all know who the villains are.”
Morello indicated that America is now struggling with its own caste system due to decades of winner-take-all politics, which have given birth to an entitled political and business aristocracy.
“The hidden, dirty, five-letter word in the American media is ‘class,’ ” he said. “It’s something that (we pretend) doesn’t exist here – that we’re all Americans and we all high five at the Super
Photo By Gretchen Robinette
Bowl, but this is a country where some people have freedom of choice to choose whether they want to purchase a Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce and others have to choose which dumpster to get their meal out of. Some people choose which farms and houses to foreclose on and which yachts to float around on, while others choose which bridge they’re going to sleep under tonight. It’s not just wrong, it’s a crime, and those criminals need to be held accountable.”
Union employees at Los Angeles International Airport and unionized ferry workers in San Francisco also took to the streets Tuesday. Occupiers in Portland rallied around a woman trying to move back into her foreclosed home and marched to City Hall, Georgia protesters rallied against a law targeting illegal immigrants, and more than 1,000 pro-democracy activists marched in downtown Chicago.
Not all the protests were peaceful, particularly on the Pacific Coast where hard feelings remain from the brutal tactics of militarized police agencies, which resulted in the pepper spraying of 84-year-old Dorli Rainey, a tear gas canister that left Iraqi War veteran Scott Olsen with a fractured skull, and several unwarranted mass pepper sprayings on university campuses. Hundreds of protesters in Oakland clashed with police, while those in Seattle allegedly vandalized local businesses.
Occupy Cleveland canceled its events after five self-described anarchists were arrested for allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge. The cancellation decision was meant to reinforce Occupy’s message of nonviolence to a growing and increasingly boisterous membership.
The day also generated an anthrax scare when envelopes containing a white substance were delivered to seven banks, two media organizations run by right-wing media champion Rupert Murdoch, and Bloomberg’s office in New York City. Notes in the envelopes wished the recipients a “Happy May Day” and warned them “you are not in control.”
Indeed, the 1% seem increasingly adrift in repsonse to the new activism of the poor and faltering middle class as their paid defenders among police and elected officials weary of class warfare.
Bloomberg made no public comments about the May Day protests and administration spokesman Stu Loeser did not respond to a request for comment. Bloomberg’s personal website makes no mention of Occupy and the mayoral website has not mentioned the group since October.
Yet, Bloomberg remains Occupy’s most productive ally. The wealthiest elected official in U.S. history described NYPD as “my own army” in November and challenged Occupiers to march against Wall Street in March, saying “you want to get arrested – we’ll accommodate you.”
Only a person insulated from reality by money could have expected a positive response to such inflammatory language from the city’s notoriously direct and short-tempered natives. The unwise remarks by the one-time presidential hopeful also reflect Bloomberg’s fustration with Occupy’s rapidly evolving status as his political Waterloo.
The Boston transplant’s White House aspirations have been soundly scotched by his plummeting popularity among working-class New Yorkers. They’ve grown surly in the face of the escalating bridge, tunnel, bus and subway fees he’s embraced in an effort to shift a disproportionate share of the city’s post-crash financial burdens to the 99% and are weary of the endless dictatorial minutia associated with the Bloomberg Nanny State.
Under Bloomberg, cigarettes are taxed so heavily that many smokers now head to bordering states to make their purchases, huge fines are imposed upon motorists who honk their horns, and exceptions have been carved for 37,000 people in the city’s notoriously uncompromising handgun ban to enable icons of the 1%, like Fox News chief Roger Ailes, to pack heat. Bloomberg also tried and failed to impose a congestion pricing plan that would have extended the financial apartheid he’s created in New York City to motorists by making it too costly for the 99% to drive in Lower Manhattan.
One contingent of marchers Tuesday carried nothing but signs sarcastically describing Bloomberg as “Wall Street’s Mayor.”
New York City remains the epicenter of the Occupy movement largely because of the billionaire-mayor’s presence there. The 70-year-old owner of the Bloomberg LP financial information network has actively sided with the 1% against Occupy in a bid to protect his customers on Wall Street.
More than 6,000 Occupiers have been arrested since the movement began in September and NYPD has accounted for more than any other law enforcement agency.
Neil Fabricant, the retired president of George Washington University’s graduate school of political management said it’s important to keep in mind that Bloomberg’s wealth has exploded from $3 billion to $20 billion during his time in Gracie Mansion. He’s now the 11th richest person in the U.S.
“Bloomberg is the canary in the coal mine for politicians because Mitt Romney only has one tenth of his money,” said Fabricant, 74, of Brooklyn. “When big money occupies the government they stop influencing the government and they become the government. It transforms those of us in the 99% from citizens into subjects.”
Occupy also appears poised to benefit from the elitist ways of Romney, who has a personal wealth estimated at $190 million. Like Bloomberg, he seems bent on leading by fiat instead of example.
Photo By Gerard Flynn
Romney has profited from practices Occupy opposes as an enthusiastic job destroyer, an overpaid chief executive officer (CEO), and tax evader. All three qualities are viewed as toxic by a faltering middle class infuriated with the avarice of the worst corporate managers, who have adopted the belief that “all profit is moral.”
Romney is the founder and former CEO of Bain Capital private equity fund, which specializes in buying companies and then cutting costs through layoffs. He also has large holdings in investment funds located in the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven, and closed a Swiss bank account before pursuing the presidency. Swiss accounts are popular with people who need to conceal wealth.
Romney is a serial tax dodger who enjoys a 15% effective federal tax rate that’s considerably lower than the burden imposed by DC-lawmakers upon the faltering working class. About half of the members of the U.S. Congress are now millionaires like Romney, compared with only 1% of the national population.
Taxation without representation? You’re living it.
“Part of what Occupy is about is raising consciousness,” said Doug Ficek, a philosophy professor at John Jay College in New York City. “The movement was effective last year at changing public discourse and it was reflected in the State of the Union Speech. And with Romney and his wealth there has never been a candidate who was more offensively and obscenely wealthy. It’s a perfect opportunity for Occupy.”
Occupy groups across the U.S. have protested foreclosure and mortgage fraud, excessive borrowing rates and high unemployment, which have hurt the 99% to support profit growth for the 1%. The populist protests began last September as somem of the nation’s money center bankers wallowed in bonuses and taxpayer-funded bailouts after their bad investment bets helped undermine the global economy.
Photo By Gretchen Robinette
Tuesday’s turnout was hampered by early rains in New York City, which prompted at least one local news organization to prematurely label the march a “dud.” However, once the skies cleared the ranks of protesters began to swell.
The turnout was comforting for the veteran Occupiers who labored to keep the movement alive through the winter. Not so much for financial professionals, who hustled through downtown streets crowded with people who despise the manner in which they enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow Americans.
Many Occupiers now view the 1% as little more than a derisive middle finger in the face of the poor and faltering middle class due to decades of legislative moves that support profit growth by shifting the tax burden to the 99%, transferring jobs to low-wage economies, raising interest rates and health care costs, and diminishing civil rights – like the right to privately voice a personal opinion that doesn’t dovetail with that of your employer. Half of the members of the U.S. Congress are now millionaires.
“I have no gauge of the numbers here, but judging from all the other people and the stories I’m hearing it’s a helluva success,” said veteran Occupier Justin Stone-Diaz. “We’re in the news, we’re steering dialogue, we’re shaping discussions and May Day has been talked about for a month now.”
Most of the photos on this page were taken by Gretchen Robinette. These photos are not free to reuse. For more information about the work of Gretchen Robinette please visit www.gretchenrobinette.com
Photo By Gretchen Robinette