The Occupy Wall Street movement has kicked off its most anticipated action of the year, with a series of May Day protests in major US cities.
Protesters spent the day alternately celebrating in a New York park and branching off on “wildcat” marches around the city. There were about 15 arrests by the end of the afternoon, and isolated clashes with police.
Occupy activists had said they planned to bring business to a standstill, but while traffic was severely disrupted in some parts of Manhattan, commerce seemed to carry on much as usual.
In Oakland, California, stinging gas sent protesters fleeing a downtown intersection where they were demonstrating. Police arrested four people.
Black-clad protesters in Seattle used sticks to smash small downtown windows and ran through the streets disrupting traffic.
Threatening letters containing a white powder that appeared to be corn starch were sent to some institutions in New York. Three letters were received Tuesday, two at News Corp. headquarters and addressed to the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, and one to Citigroup. The message in the letters said: “Happy May Day.”
Seven letters were received Monday at various banks. One was sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Protesters in the city gathered in Bryant Park in the morning, and set off on marches around the area. Dubbed the “99 Pickets” campaign, protesters set their sites on 53 confirmed locations. By 9am more than 20 of the sites had been visited by demonstrators.
Outside a branch of Bank of America, protesters chanted: “Bank of America, bad for America.” One protester, Jason Ahamdi, said he was ready for a long day of demonstrating. “I’m prepared for the whole day,” Ahmadi told the Guardian, saying that he had been involved in preparations for weeks.
As demonstrators marched past the headquarters of News Corp, the Fox News ticker read: “May Day, May Day, May Day, police set to deal with Occupy crowd that vows to shut down the city”, and “NYPD and big corporations braced for trouble”. But the extent to which Occupy will be able to disrupt business as usual in New York City seemed limited.
In San Francisco, the Occupy movement was blamed for a night ofviolence in which cars and small businesses were vandalized.
A crowd of protesters, dressed in black and wearing masks, gatheredat Dolores Park at 9pm on Monday and marched into the Mission district, smashing property and throwing paint bombs along the way.
Diners at the Laconda restaurant were enjoying their meals when thegang tried to break the reinforced windows. The manager, Adam Koskoff,was hit with eggs when he went outside to remonstrate.
He told the San Francisco Chronicle: “They’re coming through the Mission, where there aren’t any corporations, just a lot of small businesses, which is what they’re all about. It doesn’t make sense.”
The Mission police station on Valencia Street was hit with pink and yellow paint although a small group of riot police soon gathered to protect the building. One arrest was made.
The protest had been planned in advance by people claiming to be partof Occupy SF. Describing the event online as a “ruckus street party” organisers said they were rallying against gentrification, racist police murders, outrageous rent prices and “the displacement of all that is queer”.
However, posting on the area’s popular Missionmission blog on Tuesday morning, there was an attempt to distance the Occupy movement from the night of violence. Writers for the blog said a group of black bloc anarchists were responsible, and called for peaceful protests on Tuesday.
In Bryant Park in New York, a focal point of the protest in the city, there were many of the staple elements of Occupy’s original encampment, including a library with works from Thoreau, Alice Walker and F Scott Fitzgerald.
A screenprinting table was set up where participants could “up-cycle” their clothing, taking old their clothes and adding Occupy logos and imagery to them.
“Why buy something new when you can improve something you already have?” said David Yap, who was volunteering at the stand.
Eileen Maxwell arrived in New York on Saturday, motivated by the influence of corporate money on the political process. “We’ve got to get corporate money out of Congress,” Maxwell said. “I’m gonna be here all day, all night.”
Maxwell dismissed the idea that the protest movement had declined in relevance. “People think we’re invisible. We’re not,” she said.
At least for the day, it seemed Occupy had managed to once again grab national headlines.
Occupy organizer Chris Longenecker said he was satisfied with the day’s actions. “I’m happy so far,” Longenecker said. “Considering the rain, it went really well.”
Reactions from New Yorkers who witnessed the early marches were mixed. “Is this Russia?” asked Harold Barksy, as he watched a contingent of chanting protesters pass.
“It looks like a communist country – all this bullshit,” Barksy commented. “I think they should get jobs instead of fucking around.”
Lifelong Manhattan resident Ron Thomas disagreed. Thomas nodded as head to the beat of the protesters’ drums as they crossed his path on a midtown sidewalk.
“They call it the city of dreams,” Thomas said, referring to his hometown. But, he added: “There’s a lot of things that need to be addressed.”
“People need jobs,” he pointed out. “I think it’s necessary that we do things like this.”