New York, NY – Well, it’s been six months since my last adventure in NYC with OWS after slugging it out with Occupy Muskegon all winter, fighting for the clean-up of a local paper mill that is being demolished, demonstrating with and for a slew of local schools that are closing, attending inter-occupy summits around Michigan, including a wonderful retreat at Circle-Pines—a co-op activist family campground—and starting up a local, community-based newspaper with fellow OM members—OMNews (www.occupymuskegon.net/omnews
I left late in the day Sunday, around 4:30, with a questionable truck, limited funds, and a load of revisions piled up in my classes at WNMU, in addition to a pile of grading at Everest. Cranked up on coffee and good music, I drove as far as mile marker 78 in Pennsylvania and crashed in the back of my truck at a TA Travel Center with the parking lot lights shining through my tinted windows. The next morning I drove the rest of the way into Brooklyn, found a spot to park after a bit of driving around, and spent the rest of the day at Milk & Roses trying to return grades to my students at Everest with a laptop that refuses to connect to the internet. After four hours of slugging it out with faulty internet, I was tired of sitting on my ass, so I swigged down a glass of wine, packed up, and headed back to my truck to take it easy before the May Day General Strike the next day. Sitting in my truck, imbibing on the few treats I’d brought with me, wondering what the next day
would bring, full of hope for a massive showing, but also filled with anxiety that the day would be small, splintered, and the movement dying, I couldn’t help but think how odd it was to find myself there, sitting in the back of my truck, back in Brooklyn for OWS, without my cousin, Joe. (You sure missed a beautiful day, Joe. I wish you could have been here…)
I couldn’t get over to Manhattan until I moved my car to the other side of the street, so I slept in a bit, killed some time having a cup of coffee at Julie’s—a great gal who’d befriended Joe and I when we were in town last October (I haven’t seen the older lady, Alice, who lives next door, yet) and took a quick shower. (Thanks, Julie!) A few minutes to 1 pm, I moved my truck and headed into Manhattan. I was hoping to link up with the Guitarmy to sing along with them as we marched.
In Manhattan, I found my way to Bryant Park. There was a large group gathered there to be sure. Teach-ins were taking place in various pockets around the park, a large group was meditating on a set of steps with an Occupy Wall Street banner, and the Statue of Liberty puppet was there dancing to the drums. The air smelled of sage and the crowds energy filled me with happiness.
I walked around and dug Bryant Park, checking out the protestors, the teach-ins, the literature being passed out, the signs and flags waving in the air, even the spectators watching from their tables. The crowd was smaller than I’d hoped, but still large, alive, and kicking. I also knew from the schedule that many groups were out and about the city protesting at various locations. Many of the unions were off doing just that. Soon enough, a march started, leading the way to Union Square, where Tom Morello, Immortal Technique, and many others were to perform.
The march to Union Square was fairly tame. We took the streets a few times, but the cops continually pushed us back onto the sidewalks. The police presence was large, but nothing like we’d see as the evening progressed. At one point, I actually came across my old professor and mentor, Anne Waldman, who I was thrilled to see. We chatted it up on the street for a bit before she ran off, away from the bus fumes blasting our direction. The most beautiful moment in the march was once I caught up to the Guitarmy and we were trapped by a traffic light away from the rest of the march. We had an enormous group of marchers behind us, and we ended up at the tip of a triangular median, playing and singing, “This Land Is Your Land.” We marched and chanted to Union Square, and then the marchers diffused into all directions around the park.
I had no idea how big the group was at Union Square until I saw an aerial shot later that night online, but you could feel it as we were often pressed against each other with nowhere to go. The police brought in an army of mopeds then, literally a platoon of cops ready to run you down—there were so many of them! The police who were not on scooters formed human barricades in addition to the metal barricades that were up everywhere you looked. They did an annoyingly good job at compartmentalizing people and squishing us together. People were getting irritable and claimed the police were trying to incite a riot. I think that has a lot of validity from what I saw and felt. We all wanted to kick those barricades down and push those cops back just to breathe. There were women with strollers who grew more and more concerned as people were pushed into the park and not let out. Finally, after the crowd continued chanting “Let us out! Let us out!” the cops opened a barricade and let a group of tens of thousands of people file out between them and their barricades like a bottleneck. It was aggravating to say the least, but we kept the peace, showed our strength, patience, and simply marched by them. All day, all night, I saw no signs of violence and somehow missed the group of Vets and clergy who were arrested defending our GA at Battery Park later in the night.
From there, we marched and marched and marched. It’s a bit of a blur, really. We danced in the streets, chanted, sang songs. I ran all over the place taking pictures and videos until a guy marching next to me asked if I’d push his bike so he could take out his drum and join the drummers. I obliged him long, long after it was necessary, as it turned out he was the best drummer there. Finally, after dusk had turned to night and we’d passed by Zuccotti Park, which I thought was our destination, I gave him back his bike by the bull and the crowd of tens of thousands of us stopped.
Each time the police stopped the march, people would think it was over and trickle off. We started a sit-in in the middle of the street, but the drums were still playing and all those thousands of people in the back couldn’t see or hear what was happening. We were halted for so long, we lost a lot of people then. Finally, after the sit-in communication failed and the police bowed to the crowd and let the march continue, we headed to Veterans Plaza for a GA.
Veterans Plaza was packed. It was there that I really reflected once again, on what an honor it is to be here, to be part of this, to be with these people. We talked about the fact that the police were surrounding us and had cut off a majority of the march back on the other side of the street. The GA filled Veterans Plaza, but many thousands were not able to be let in, due to the police and the size of the park. The more people announced the police surrounding us, the more people would trickle away, until finally there were maybe a couple hardcore hundred who stayed and talked about the tactics we would use to defend the park. As more and more police formed around us and more and more people trickled away as we neared the 10 pm curfew, we decided the risk was too futile, so we tapped back into the crowd on the other side of the street to march to a 24 hour location. Unfortunately, by then, our Vets and clergy had been arrested defending our GA and much of the thousands of people had splintered off. Some headed to the waterfront, I later learned, but I never did see that group again.
The rest of us marched, noting how small we were by then, considering the tens of thousands we’d started out with. The police planning to splinter us off from each other and continuously herding us around through barricades, scooters, and their own bodies, worked fairly well. In the end, after trying to take Wall St. through any crack we could think of, including the subway underpass and cutting through a large store, always meeting with more barricades, we did a temporary sit in on the street to discuss our next action. In the end, we opted to go home to Zuccotti, where only a couple hundred of us, if that, gathered. There we went through park defense training, talked about how we would hold the park down, and waited for the folks from the waterfront to show up before the cops raided the park. As midnight approached, there was no sign of the crowd from the waterfront, and though a few more police showed up, the park was largely free from officers compared to many other nights. Last night, they were scattered all over the city.
After a small GA to discuss if and how we would try to hold the park, we all waited around to see if we would be kicked out, or if our reinforcements would show up. Around 12:30, seeing no reinforcements and no raid from the police, watching more people trickle home, I decided to head back to the truck in Brooklyn and catch some z’s. My legs were stiff and it takes a while to get back to Brooklyn at that time of night, so off I went. Today is largely uneventful for me, unfortunately. I haven’t checked the schedule for OWS yet, as I have to sit in this coffee shop and get some writing done for my WMNU classes. I will have to do the same tomorrow, but if I get up early I am hoping to make it over to Manhattan for the night’s activities after I help Julie move a refrigerator up from her basement apartment in the evening.
Editors note: Inspired by Occupy Wall Street and angered by the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, Dylan drove to NYC to join the movement last fall. Read about it here.
And read the rest of our May Day coverage here.