Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
84 Arrested as Occupy Activists Mark May Day
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Activists with a variety of causes spread out over the city Tuesday on International Workers Day, or May Day, with Occupy Wall Street members leading a charge against financial institutions.
According to police, 84 people were arrested during the day's events, as activists and their supporters confronted police sporadically throughout the day. Of those arrested, 34 were kept overnight, while 52 were issued desk appearance tickets.
Occupy activists had said they planned to bring business to a standstill on May Day, but the crowds protesting in the rain Tuesday morning were modest. Organizers had called for protesters to block one or more bridges or tunnels, but there was no evidence of success by midday. By the evening rush hour, thousands of protesters did clog sidewalks as they marched from Union Square to Wall Street, briefly flooding the street before police pushed the crowd back onto the sidewalks.
Eamon O'Rourke, 24, said the day long protests were exactly what organizers hoped for. "It was a huge morale boost and now everyone is starting to get on the same page — lots of people who weren't involved are now involved and it's going to be a great, great summer."
Dorothy Pita, 85, came from Teaneck, New Jersey, to participate. She had seen a lot of May Day protests over the years but was glad to see people exercising their free speech. "There was a time when you just took care of your own business and everybody took care of theirs. Now there's a sense that we belong in a group. Now what will ever come of this, that remains to be seen."
Earlier in the day, police in riot gear lined the front of Bank of America on West 42nd Street, facing several dozen Occupy activists marching behind police barricades.
Michael Pellagatti, 24, was among the protesters who gathered at Bryant Park in the morning. The unemployed student has been involved with Occupy Wall Street since its genesis last September.
"The march down to Wall Street is symbolic," he said. "So if we ... can convey that people from all different races, all different backgrounds and creeds are coming together to say we’ve had enough of the corporate bail outs and the corporate influence that corporations have on our government, I think that’s going to send a powerful message."
Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, was also present in Bryant Park and described the Occupy protests as a "genie in a bottle that won't get back in."
"It's not like we're a homogenous country that just high-fives at the Super Bowl," he said. "We're a country of have and have nots."
Another group picketed outside New York University to protest the university's expansion plans in Greenwich Village.
In Brooklyn, protesters began marching over the Williamsburg Bridge alongside a marching band playing The Doors' "Riders on the Storm." They arrived in Manhattan after noon on Tuesday and started marching past the Lower East Side.
"The 1 percent needs the 99 percent, and I just wish that more people would participate in the movement. That's what it needs," said Lisa Flax, 45, a nutritionist from Bushwick who was laid off, as she stood in Brooklyn at the mouth of the Williamsburg Bridge and prepared to join others in Washington Square Park.
Brian Douglas, 34, a member of Occupy Bushwick, said he regularly joins a group of more than a dozen protesters and was happily surprised by the turnout Tuesday.
"It really reinvigorates the whole movement knowing that there's people ready to show up," he said.
Protesters outside Sara D. Roosevelt Park in the Lower East Side dressed head-to-toe in black and carried some explicit anti-Wall Street and anti-NYPD signs. They chanted "anti-capitalism" in Spanish, and as they moved into the street, several were detained by police and taken away.
Some activists said they're willing to get arrested, staging surprise actions to make their point - that financial inequality is destroying our society.
The New York Police Department was ready to respond to the protests, which come a day after a lawsuit was filed by five people who said their constitutional rights were violated when officers kept them inside an area surrounded by metal barricades for nearly two hours on Nov. 30 as they tried to participate in a demonstration.
The Occupy movement in New York has relied on demonstrations and marches around the city since Nov. 15, when police ousted hundreds of protesters from their base in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, where they had camped since Sept. 17.
Paul Browne, the police department's chief spokesman, said recently that his department is "experienced at accommodating lawful protests and responding appropriately to anyone who engages in unlawful activity, and we're prepared to do both."
Kathleen Horan contributed reporting