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Thu May 3, 2012, 10:29 AM

OWS marks May Day with a beatific vision and a big march


I’ve been attending Occupy Wall Street planning meetings for May Day since they began in New York four months ago — twice as much time as there was to plan the initial occupation itself — and I still went into the day feeling like I had no idea what would come out of it.

All along, May 1 has been talked about among Occupiers in apocalyptic, beatific terms, which was what got me so addicted to the meetings in the first place. In the process of getting my fix, I also became witness to the politics of assembling a coalition of Occupiers, labor unions, immigrants’ groups and community organizations — not always pretty, though occasionally it actually was. Much the same could be said of the day itself: Come for the dream, trudge through the reality.

Occupy’s ambitious calls for a general strike and mass economic noncompliance appear to have gone mostly unnoticed. The financial markets followed a trapezoidal journey over the course of the day — apparently unperturbed by the movement’s threat to shut down the flow of capital with “99 Pickets” across Midtown — spiking in the morning and crashing back down to where they started by late afternoon. The mainstream press has been predictably, conspiratorially silent, which may or may not have anything to do with the morning pickets at News Corp. and the New York Times Building. But when has the U.S. media ever done justice to big days of popular protest?

A few hundred people slogging their way through pickets on a rainy Midtown morning swelled into closer to a thousand filling Bryant Park at midday. There, hard-boiled eggs, first-aid and the movement’s latest publications were on offer, while across the park Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello led a rehearsal for the Occupy Guitarmy, a hundred-strong orchestra of guitars that played old protest songs, a Morello original, and a particularly hypnotic arrangement of Willie Nile’s “One Guitar.” By early afternoon, the Guitarmy steered the crowd at Bryant Park in a march downtown. Picking up students from the Free University being held at Madison Square Park, the first wave of marchers defied police attempts to keep them on the sidewalk and took over Broadway before arriving at Union Square, where they were greeted by a maypole topped by a sign proclaiming, in the words of last September’s Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, “All of our grievances are connected.”

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