My camera leaves home everytime I do – Which makes for a lot of pictures to sift through. Here are 6 of my favorites from September, 2012:
The first of May has a fascinating folk history. In pre-Christian tradition, it was the first day of summer and a day to celebrate fertility. But beyond maypoles and bonfires, the Industrial era gave the day a wholly new meaning.
On May 1, 1886, workers throughout the United States struck and rallied for the establishment of the 8-hour workday. The largest participation was in Chicago, a rapidly expanding industrial town that had seen a huge influx of immigrants, many of whom were exploited as cheap labor by Gilded Age robber-barons. After a few days of protest, a bombing and subsequent shooting at Haymarket Square led to a massive crackdown on worker’s groups which resulted in a number of executions based on inconclusive evidence.
Over the next decades, the 1st of May became a rallying day for socialists and anarchists around the world, and in an attempt to distance itself, the U.S. government decided to set aside the first Monday of September to recognize Labor. Eventually May Day became a focal point for Communist nations, which made its celebration complete anathema to America. Its name was changed for a time to “Americanization Day”, and then to “Law Day” and “Loyalty Day” (which is today is the official name for May 1)
Nonetheless, International Workers’ Day, which has become an official holiday the world over, and has been dedicated to “Saint Joseph the Worker” by the Catholic Church, never stopped being remembered in the U.S., though never to any great extent.
That is, until this year. It’s been festering for decades, but the past months have seen a distinct resurgence of the concerns of class inequality and of corruption of a government closely tied to financial interest.
Early in 2012, during the winter in which it was said that the Occupy movement was over, Occupy LA called for a May Day “General Strike”, a day in which the so-called 99% would not work, go to school, nor participate in the economy in any way. The move was quickly approved nationwide, and over the next months gained support and endorsement from a number of unions, immigrant groups, and labor coalitions. Of course, no one truly believed that a vast number of the population would strike, but the goal was rather to make a large statement of solidarity and to demonstrate the power regular people can have if they band together, even outside of the traditional frameworks of American politics.
And so, on Tuesday, May Day returned home to the United States for its largest commemoration in generations. With the old labor movements and the Communist era receding further into history, the day is no longer about Socialism per se, nor does it carry antiquated “un-American” connotations any longer.
There were participants in hundreds of places across the country. But of course, urban centers attracted the most attention. In New York alone, upwards of 50,000 turned out, and other cities had proportionally similar attendance. In addition, there were countless online supporters who could not participate in person.
Most of the mainstream media have painted an awfully skewed picture of the day, focusing primarily on arrests and a handful of shameful vandals. I was out for 12 hours on May Day, covering miles of Manhattan, and the following was my experience, and the experience of many others:
“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out…”
The first stop was Bryant Park, the rallying point for numerous small-scale pickets to various locations throughout Midtown Manhattan. At 9am, it was rainy and the initial turnout was disappointing. This very quickly changed over the next few hours. The first picket that I went with numbered in the hundreds and wound its way through Times Square and around various bank office buildings along 6th Avenue near Radio City. On the way we passed and supported pickets of employees who’d walked out of their workplaces. The group, while spirited, kept to the sidewalk and remained resolutely peaceful. Of course, a small army of police tagged along.
“When immigrant workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Next from Bryant Park we went with an immigrants group picketing various locations guilty of abuses towards restaurant and service industry workers. The police somehow missed this one, and the march took to the roadway, moving along the middle of Madison Avenue and then into the streets surrounding Grand Central Terminal. When the riot police showed up, the crowd immediately decided to return to the sidewalk and continued on with no loss of inspiration.
Meanwhile, Occupy Williamsburg and Occupy Bushwick had come across the Williamsburg Bridge (on the pedestrian walkway) and some were about to set off on a “wildcat” march – Historically, a wildcat strike is one in which people are participating without the consent of their unions. We were unable to catch up with it, but later heard reports of vandalism and purposeful taunting of police committed by idiots dressed in black, who were bent on tarnishing the day’s positive spirit to satisfy their own destructive impulses. Their actions have been condemned by the vast majority of May Day participants, but this unrepresentative 15-minute incident is one that the media chose to latch onto in their coverage of the day, in a strange attempt to amplify what they called “clashes with police”.
“Who do you protect, who do you serve?!”
We caught up in Washington Square Park, where a rally of NYU students was taking place. By now, the sun had appeared and the temperature was rising into a summerlike humidity. Many of those in the park eventually set off on a march towards 6th avenue with the ultimate goal of arrival at Union Square, where thousands were already converging, including the huge contingent from Bryant Park. Very soon after setting off, a few protesters on bikes were arrested, a couple first being thrown to the ground, and one suffering a bloody nose. The arrests were seemingly random, as we observed no criminal act and no warning; the ferocity of the police attack was completely uncalled for. Immediately the cops shut down the avenue and hundreds of officers in riot gear swarmed the block, creating a disruption far worse than that of the sidewalk protesters.
“We are the 99%”
Every demonstrator across the city now arrived at Union Square, site of the labor and May Day protests of the Progressive era. At 4pm there began a brief rally of short speeches and a few musical performances for what was now a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands; the entire park and surrounding streets were completely packed. It had turned into a beautiful afternoon and evening. At 5:30, the main event of the day, the march to Wall Street, set off down Broadway. It took around an hour to move the entire park out, and the line stretched for blocks, perhaps around 3/4 of a mile long.
The march demonstrated the wide variety of causes at work: the United Federation of Teachers, the National Alliance of Filipino Concerns, the Transit Workers Union, solidarity groups from Montreal and the suburbs, construction workers, Socialists, immigrant groups, Ron Paul supporters, and of course, Occupy Wall Street, to name only a few.
People watched from their windows and fire escapes while bemused tourists on the sidewalk snapped photos. There were many shouts of solidarity from the bystanders, and a handful of taunts from others.
“Get up, get down, there’s revolution in this town!”
The participants could be numbered in the tens of thousands. Though impossible to accurately count, my conservative estimate was roughly 30,000. As the march approached the financial district, the mood rose to a joyous fever pitch climaxing into euphoria as it arrived at Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement. Compared to the numbers on the streets, the park looked small – an inspiring testament to what had became of a handful of campers back in September, not all that long ago. Wall Street itself was guarded by a phalanx of cops on horseback, and the march ended at the Battery where there were speakers, a small free-food kitchen, and a large General Assembly that celebrated the day and discussed the future. A few hundred yards away the New York Bay was silent, untouched by the fervor of the streets.
The whole way down, an army of NYPD, including 3 helicopters, “guarded” the demonstration, moving walls of scooters alongside protesters, despite the fact that the route was already barricaded in the manner that all NYC parades are. We witnessed one seemingly pointless arrest as riot police plucked an individual from the crowd for who-knows-what.
Despite isolated incidents of this sort, the march was hugely peaceful. The local media reported that the Office of Emergency Management had issued an advisory of “emergency street closures”. In fact, the march had city permits, was anticipated, and followed the protocol of all New York parades. There were no “emergency closures”. Along with the isolated “clashes with police”, traffic disruptions were another fixation of the day’s mainstream reportage. Surely, there was a disruption, but certainly no more than that caused by sports victory parades, St Patrick’s Day, and scores of other parades that happen year round across the city.
The mainstream media has regularly proven itself skewed across the board. But this is becoming less and less important as independent journalists have increasing ability to get their stories out there.
My 12-hour, citywide, May Day experience was wholly positive, communicated very serious issues, and brought together a plethora of causes in a spirit of solidarity and common goals. All this was conveyed with much vigor, but, to my eyes, always remained peaceful. Aside from the handful of despicable vandals, disruptions were relatively few. No matter one’s position, how can one hold in contempt the fundamental right of citizens to petition their grievances? “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” it has been said. If people are passionate enough to take their message to the street in significant numbers, who can say that their voices should not be heard, and their actions not reported with accuracy?
But no matter- it was certainly the largest protest since the autumn, and the future promises exciting developments. This May Day, as recognized by folk tradition, was truly the beginning of summer.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.“
It’s almost unbelievable that this precept must still be asserted. I saw for the first time the “free speech zone” at the steps of Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. A recent development of Occupy Wall Street has brought protesters back to the old colonial streets surrounding the NYSE. Other than those who choose to sleep on the sidewalks there (as allowed by a 2000 city law), there has been no permanent occupation set up. However, OWS has been maintaining a daily presence in the neighborhood, and particularly at Federal Hall.
In response, the powers-that-be have erected a barricade on the steps, in which one is “allowed” to protest. Outside this so-called 1st Amendment Zone one is “not allowed” to protest. Only 25 people are allowed inside the space at any given time. In being held so, protesters’ ability to display their message is drastically hindered.
The entire idea is completely absurd. Cross an arbitrary line and one is permitted to exercise their right to free speech. Cross back and one is not permitted. This defies all common sense. However, it has been deployed for decades in the United States. Among many other instances, the abhorrence of the “free speech cage” reached an apex during the 2004 national conventions, when such places were placed at a considerable distance from the actual events and from media attention.
“…abridging…” – shortening; condensing. Doesn’t confining people to a small area abridge the right to free speech? And doesn’t telling citizens where they can and cannot assemble abridge the right to peaceful assembly and petition?
What makes this all the more disgusting at Federal Hall is that it is the site (though the present building dates from 1842) where George Washington was inaugurated our first president; and where the Bill of Rights was first passed by Congress. This is happening right beneath the famous statue of Washington.
Even in the face of such indignity, one must keep a sense of humor. Tongue-in-cheek, it was suggested that the statue be counted among the 25 people “allowed” to protest in the cage.
Today was a joint march with Occupy Wall Street and ACT-UP, a group that, in the 1980’s, was at the forefront of the fight for the rights of people suffering with AIDS:
Major NYC blog, Gothamist.com, used my photo for a piece last night –
This was taken on Wednesday at Bryant Park, right before OWS’s march on Bank of America and other Midtown financial headquarters (as part of a national day of action that saw demonstrations across the nation).
Even the police were cracking smiles at this comic relief. Though about 15 minutes later, one of their clown friends was arrested.
***This past Monday, December 12 (also known as #D12) , saw the largest coordinated action by the OWS so far. In a bid to halt shipping operations on the West Coast, many of whose ports are held by companies of a particularly anti-labor portion of the 1%, Occupy’s in at least 11 cities, marched on their ports and managed to completely shut down the Ports of Oakland, Portland, and part of Long Beach. The stance of the port workers was divided between support and disdain and the action’s success overall is questionable.
— Solidarity marches were held in many cities, including Tokyo. In New York, birthplace of OWS, protesters marched on the Goldman Sachs headquarters and the World Financial Center. They ended their march at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden.***
I have mixed feelings about what happened Monday, but one nasty facet of that day has stuck in my brain:
Photographers are becoming increasingly targeted by the police. It’s been this way since day-one, but efforts to censor what’s happening are becoming more and more bold.
In the three months that the Occupy movement has grown from one park into a global phenomenon, countless pictures and video of heavy-handed police behavior have circulated the internet and the media (graphic language warning):
A compilation of raw video from Occupy Oakland, showing the injuries that put Iraq veteran Scott Olsen in the hospital with a skull fracture. As protesters rush to his aid, a tear-gas grenade is thrown at them:
This incident from New York from back in September, which now, disturbingly, seems tame:
And this now infamous photo from UC Davis:
These images expose the violent crackdown on what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful movement. Needless to say, images carry a lot of power, and now more than ever. Something that happens most anywhere in the world can be seen by anyone else in the world in a matter of seconds. People are less and less reliant on a handful of media outlets. Anytime the police act with undue violence, a chant rises from the crowd: “The whole world is watching!”. From the Middle East to the U.S., 2011 has exemplified this fact more than in any other year in history. (Just yesterday, Time magazine declared “The Protester” as person of the year)
And so, there’s been a concerted effort by authorities to target photographers, journalists, and even regular people documenting on their phones.
This was abhorrently clear on Monday –
In Houston, a tent was placed over arrested protesters, and officers had duct tape covering their badge numbers – The reason for this is unclear, but the only logical answer is that the police wanted to hide something. And this begs the question – why the need to hide what should be a routine arrest?
At the Winter Garden in Lower Manhattan, the first people arrested were those toting livestream cameras, and some just taking video on phones. As has happened numerous times in the past months, even credentialed members of the press were blocked. This was the experience of a NY Times photographer:
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, fast forward to the 2 minute mark.
(The Times has issued a formal complaint to the City)
By law, a citizen is entitled to photograph and document anything that happens in public space. The law even provides that anyone in public is denied right to privacy (except in reasonable cases like bathrooms, and places which have special security needs, like bridges). Documenting police actions in public have no restrictions, except in cases where the photographer is deliberately obstructing the police. Private property, like the Winter Garden, is of course allowed to make its own rules on photography. But the Winter Garden has no restrictions, except in cases of photoshoots involving an obstructive amount of gear. Earlier this year, even, I was at a photoshoot of a toddler inside the atrium.
Of course, police are obligated to enforce the law, and civil disobedience/arrests are a key component of any movement of fundamental change. That’s beside the point here though. The point here is that if nothing unusual is happening, then why the need to hide actions from view? You can turn on “Cops” and watch full-on police work against hardened criminals, but why is it that that you can’t watch the arrest of someone who, at worst, is resisting arrest for not following police orders (or in many cases not following them quickly enough due to crowds, etc)
To an OWS supporter, the answer is clear, but twisted: For whatever reason, American cities do not want the world to watch. But the blatant logic of this argument should stir concern even in the non-supporter, or the indifferent. We’re all watched by camera every time we enter a store, and the common perception is that: “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why care?”. Shouldn’t the same be applied all around? If the police feel they are doing nothing wrong, why care if they’re being watched?
As a funny side note –
After their arrest at the Winter Garden, a number of livestream videographers were held at a local precinct. A fellow livestreamer came to await their release and kept filming inside the station lobby. In the back, police were monitoring live feeds and suddenly realized that one of them was coming from right under their roof! I saw this live…
Another side note –
In a Quinnipiac Poll yesterday, it was found that 49 % of New York City voters approve of the mayor’s handling of the protests, and only 44% approve of the NYPD’s response to OWS. 81% agree that OWS has a right to protest, and 68% support the movement. http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1302.xml?ReleaseID=1680
It’s been an unprecedented week of an unprecedented movement. The ideology of Occupy Wall Street is nothing new, but the methods- applying a leaderless, direct consensus democracy – have not been seen on this planet since ancient Athens. Most revolutionary though, is that this is a truly global movement: technologically coordinated in ways that were impossible even just 5 years ago.
In just two months, an experiment of a handful of people, in a small park, has reached massive proportions. On November 17, in a global “Day of Action”, tens of thousands took the streets in cities across the world. On the West of the U.S., bridges were disrupted, and buildings were occupied throughout the country.
Here’s how I witnessed this historic week from the streets of the movement’s cradle in Lower Manhattan:
November 14 –
Over the past week or so, I’d noticed a growing presence of extremist “fringe” elements at the encampment- More and more overly sloganistic rabble-rousers, some darkly unhinged. The core of the park was definitely still exuberant, focused on pioneering new ways of thinking and acting. The kitchen and library were larger and more organized than ever, there was now a more fully equipped first-aid tent; and there were open forums tackling an ever-expanding array of important issues. I was concerned that the extreme contingent would only serve to distract from the optimism, and might turn-off much of the “99%” for whom the movement is supposed to include.
As I walked from Zuccotti Park during the evening rush, there was a feeling of foreboding in the air – an increased police presence on the surrounding streets, command-post trailers that had not be there before, and a greater number of undercovers. During the night, of course, the encampment was forcibly evicted from the park. In a way, it was a good thing- the park had become a bit too insular and was perhaps starting to stagnate. It seemed to be a step in the right direction to turn the park into a symbol and to start a broader dialogue with the 99%
November 15 –
The morning after the eviction of Zuccotti Park. A group marched to a park privately owned by Trinity Church (one of NY’s oldest parishes) and attempted to take it- climbing over a wall and unlocking the gates. The pastor and clergy from the church arrived, negotiated, and, in the end, denied access. Most left the park. Others stayed and tried to barricade the gate with benches. Very quickly after, riot police moved in and arrested the remaining protesters, with their usual finesse.
Afterwards, everybody converged back to Zuccotti Park, which was barricaded by police. Protesters surrounded the square until evening, when the court ruled that the park should be reopened, under the condition that no one set up structures or sleep there.
November 17 –
Definitely the biggest day of the global movement, with coordinated protests around the world – Bridges shut down, buildings taken, crowds turning out en masse.
NYC, as the movement’s birthplace, was the center of the action. The goal of the morning was to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, or at least to disrupt it. By some accounts the opening bell was delayed by 15 minutes. Police barricaded the entire surrounding area, cutting off marchers and dividing them. Despite the failure of the NYSE takeover, business was disrupted throughout the Financial District. Small, colonial streets shut down, and Lower Broadway crippled. Multiple marches throughout the area were trying to keep one step ahead of the police, whose presence was a bit stretched. Many office workers watched from lobbies and windows – a few shouting taunts, but many applauding and holding signs of support. Finally, the protest turned its attention to taking back Zuccotti Park.
In a triumphant scene, the park was stormed and the barricades torn down. Riot police moved in, but protesters used the barricades to push them back. They eventually had to back down. Emboldened, the protest again marched down Broadway to Wall Street, which was entirely blocked with multiple barricades. The scene on the protected side of the police line was eerily silent, considering that it is one of the epicenters of the global economy. There was a something of a stand-off in front of the iconic Trinity Church. For a moment, it seemed that there might be a rush on the police guarding Wall Street. Eventually, however, the marchers went back to Zuccotti. The police returned in triple strength, and surrounded the park, but did not attempt to clear it. However, there were a number of police beatings on the periphery. At any chance they were able to, the police unleashed their violence on countless, shameful incidents.
Things calmed as a light rain started to fall around lunch time.
The biggest triumph of the day, undeniably, was in the evening, when up to 40,000 turned out in Foley Square for a mass rally and march over the Brooklyn Bridge, from which messages were projected onto skyscrapers.
I first went to Occupy Wall Street on its Day 9. Inspired, I covered it. It was just a smattering of people then, barely even acknowledged by most New Yorkers. Over the past 6 weeks, however, it has bloomed further than many would have ever expected. There are now more than 1,000 occupations in more than 85 countries. What began in a lonely square in Lower Manhattan has spread far and wide- Though the movement is still in its infancy, its fervent global participation is unprecedented. Fantastically so.
Zuccotti Park, increasingly known as Liberty Square, has become the modest epicentre of an aspiring global revolution. There’s nothing there now that is actually much different from 40 days ago. Volunteers supply the food, the general assembly convenes, much is discussed, the library thrives, sanitation is well maintained. The cold New York winter is ahead, and tents have gone up and supplies are being gathered in preparation. The community has become more organized. The worldwide community is becoming more connected.
These scenes are a slice of November 2, 2011 at OWS:
We must never act in accordance to laws blindly. By the grace of our Constitution, drafted during a time of almost worldwide dictatorial monarchy, the laws to which abide come from the consensus of the people.
Until 1870 this standard excluded blacks and other minority races.
Until 1920, this standard excluded women.
The Constitution is brilliant in its ideals, but must also be monitored so it is effective for all. (Which is the purpose of Amendments) At this time in our history, laws can be flagrantly bought and sold. The political process at all levels inherently engages the need for money. And so those who hold the money hold the power. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about being wealthy. But once you exert wealth to service your own needs at the expense of others, something MUST be done.
Tonight the city is moving to evacuate OWS from Zuccotti Park.
If forced to leave, leave it spotless, and then move to a different park, or multiple parks- confound the powers that be as much as possible. The movement has become bigger than a park, so it doesn’t matter so much where the headquarters is. Occupy everywhere!
UPDATE – Oct 16 – As most of you know, at the last minute, discouraged by 300,000 complaints, and a large physical presence, the mayor and police stood down. What followed was an amazing weekend.
On Saturday, Oct. 15, 50,000 flooded Times Square and there were rallies and marches throughout the city- overwhelmingly peaceful. 1,500 other cities in 82 countries staged their own occupations.
What started as a small gathering in Lower Manhattan has now exploded across the globe. When people begin to say the things that are on the lips of millions, fantastic things are born.
October 11, 2011
Now in its 4th week, the Occupy Wall Street movement has picked up tremendous steam, despite inattention from most of the nation’s media. The movement has inspired similar occupation protests around the world, in more than 600 cities. Each one is bound by a realization that all governments must answer to the people, the common people who labor for their living and pay the taxes that keep society running.
On Saturday, October 15th, 662 cities around the globe will protest in a day of solidarity against the corrupt economic and political practices of their governments. In NYC, this day will include rallies in Lower Manhattan and Washington Square Park; and a mass march on Times Square. <a href=”http://15october.net/” rel=”nofollow”>15october.net/</a>
Today, #OccupyWallStreet led a march through the Upper East Side of Manhattan, home to some of the richest and most corrupted people on Earth. Along the way, the demonstration stopped and chanted in front of the homes of selected billionaires, including Rupert Murdoch, and other leaders of business who benefited from federal bailouts on the people’s dime.
It seemed media was there from all over the world, from Japan to Italy. There was a lot of positive energy in the march, and there were no notable confrontations with the police.
Two chants stuck out:
“We are the 99%!” – which has become the movement’s battlecry
“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” – aimed, obviously, at the rich CEO’s who live in the neighborhood
Along the way, many bystanders paused, and expressed their support. They far outnumbered the scoffers…
A similar thing happened in 1884, in Chicago – though that was a bit more sinister. On Thanksgiving Day, protesters marched past the mansions of the robber barons on Prairie Avenue.
”On Thanksgiving Day 1884 the anarchists [of Chicago] unveiled their new symbol. The black flag of hunger and death joined the red flag of social change. Playing the anthem of the French revolution, the Marseillaise, they began a march which took them past Potter Palmer’s elegant hotel, the Palmer House. Then on to the Prairie Avenue mansions of the capitalists who had “deprived them,” their leaflets said, “of every blessing during the past year.” “Every worker, every tramp must be on hand to express their thanks in a befitting manner….
…And they’re going up and they’re ringing the doorbells. And of course nobody’s answering the doors. But they’re screaming that they want bread or power. There’d just never been a direct demonstration quite like that…”
Many more pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattron/sets/72157627754699192/with/6238183718/
A chief criticism of Occupy Wall Street is that there are a lot grievances with no proposed solutions. We forget, though, that our most sacred document, the Declaration of Independence, was itself a list of complaints offering few answers. Answers come after the inspiration.