May Day A Crucial Test For Occupy Wall Street

May Day A Crucial Test For Occupy Wall Street

NEW YORK — Occupy Wall Street protesters will fan out across Manhattan and the nation on Tuesday in an effort to breathe new life into a movement that has sputtered since bursting onto the national stage last September.

The “nationwide emergency outcry” by activists intent on showing America what a day would be like without the “99 percent” — workers of all stripes who don’t rake in millions at financial firms — represents something of a gamble, as months of anticipation and hype have raised expectations and put the burden on Occupiers to demonstrate continued, broad appeal.

“The lazy narrative is Occupy Wall Street is dead because we haven’t been having as many large demonstrations,” said Mark Bray, a member of the Occupy Wall Street press team. “We want to get across the message that it’s the labor of the 99 percent that makes this country run, makes it tick.”

The action comes after several months of hibernation for Occupy Wall Street, where the focus has shifted from civil disobedience to targeted actions, like halting home foreclosures and protesting rising student debt.

Events are planned in over 100 cities, and in New York, there will be 99 pickets at banks and other institutions to “disrupt the one percent.” There have been reports that major bridges and roadways will be blocked and that activists will attempt to shut down the city, but while acknowledging civil disobedience and direct action were likely, Bray indicated they were not on the formal agenda.

“It’s not something that was planned at any official capacity or any public meeting,” he said.

Cognizant of the risks associated with potentially delaying commuters and alienating workers — most national unions have officially declined to take part in the May Day action even if locals like the powerful 1199-SEIU in New York have pledged support — ‘Occupy’ has determined that to shake things up and get some of its magic back, a show of force is necessary.

“We sympathize with people who are trying to get somewhere who are delayed,” Bray said. “If simply petitioning the government were sufficient to get the kinds of political changes we’re looking for, we wouldn’t be bothering with all of this. You need to look at in the context of crisis and desperation; the normal means of political change aren’t getting the job done. That’s the way groups have responded to similar crises in the past. It was not uncommon in the Civil Rights era to block bridges. We’re simply tapping into that tradition because that’s how we can grab people’s attention, and show our collective action.”

A direct action on the Brooklyn Bridge not long after the first Occupiers entered Zuccotti Park in September ended with 700 arrests, but it also seemed to garner the kind of press coverage necessary to grow the movement and create buzz. The best case scenario for die-hard activists is that May Day brings a similar infusion of new blood.

“It’s going to be important for the morale one way or the other of the movement,” said Todd Gitlin, a social movement historian and Columbia professor who led Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s and is the author of a new book on Occupy Wall Street. “If you want to convince people who are not inside the circle of the committed that the movement is back then you have to be able to make a case to them. Numbers are the easiest way to do that.”

If righteous indignation is the lifeblood of popular social movements, it doesn’t hurt that bankers have enlisted Pinkerton security consultants — yes, that Pinkerton — to help them prepare for May Day, one top Pinkerton analyst comparing banks bracing for occupation to elk fending off wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Demonstrations will focus on midtown banks for the morning and early afternoon, when activists will march from a pop-up occupation of Bryant Park to Union Square and hold a 4 p.m. rally. Later, there is a city-approved march from Union Square to Lower Manhattan, where Goldman Sachs’ headquarters could be targeted for protest.

“A success would be relatively good press and relatively decent numbers,” said Gitlin. “If the numbers in New York turn out to be much smaller than the numbers from the big marches in October and November, it will be hard to spin that.”


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