What I saw at the (Occupy May Day) revolution today

It is 7.53pm and New York has sounded like a city under military occupation.  Helicopters have hovered overhead all afternoon but the thrum of their rotor blades has come to sound like an echo as they’ve grown more numerous.  They move in circles through lower Manhattan, then up the east side to Union Square, then downtown again.  Sirens blare, then fade away.  A couple hours ago, a caravan raced east on 4th Street: a police car, then vans filled with uniformed police, then unmarked black cars with sirens and lights going.  On Bond Street, a taxi driver had parked and was telling a young Indian man, “No, Union Square is a disaster area, you can’t get through it all day.”  A police car raced north on the Bowery and the thrum of the helicopters is getting louder.  Car horns and more sirens now, near and far, while people walk by carrying on their usual banal conversations as if unaware of the charged feeling in the air.

I left for Broadway, where the Occupy May Day protests were making their way from Union Square back to lower Manhattan, from which they were evicted late last fall in a stealth raid that cleared Zuccotti Park.  The rally goes on for blocks and blocks, gathering together every conceivable cause: worker’s rights, health care, saving the postal system, Occupy Wall Street, and many, many more.  This can border on parody; indeed, is parodied by the participants themselves, with signs like, “Down With the Transphobic Racist Heteropatriarchy.”  [Click images to enlarge, use arrows to scroll through slideshow]:

Other signs are so gleeful as to sound glib, such as “Our Revenge Is to Be Happy.”

But the joyfulness was palpable, as people sang old folk tunes:

And carried a sickly Statue of Liberty, as a sign of the state of the nation:

Some blamed Bill Clinton and George Bush:

Others blamed George Bush for blaming Barack Obama:

The NYPD lined the route, some on foot and others on motorcycles or sitting in parked vans:

They were wearing clusters of white plastic handcuffs just in case:

One sign, juxtaposing a Kent State photo from 1970 with the current day, challenges them, asking, “Why Is Free Speech Still So Dangerous?”

But, in fact, the police strategy (mostly) is to contain not confront so the long protest march passed unmolested, despite a number of arrests earlier in the day.

Finally, the point of the protest was summed up on this sign, “Memo to the 1%: This Is So Not Over”:


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