Winter came early to New York City last year, with the first snow falling in October and thinning out the Occupy Wall Street crowds at Zuccotti Park. Though the weather had warmed by November, the New York City government’s embrace of the protest had chilled, with the NYPD clearing out Liberty Plaza, as the occupiers had renamed the park, on November 15. Raids in other cities soon followed, and within a month, police in most cities in which Occupy movements had sprung up had done the same. Today, on May Day, organizers of the Occupy Wall Street tried to re-ignite the movement with an “American Spring.” In Manhattan, guitarist and activist Tom Morello led a Guitarmy protest march from Bryant Park to Union Square for a concert. "Every successful progressive movement in America's had a soundtrack," he said.
The original idea of “Occupy Wall Street” actually came out of Canada, from the minds at Adbusters, the culture jamming magazine which came up with the name, the date, and the place, Zuccotti Park. The park was chosen for a specific reason. Though it’s open to the public, Zuccotti Park is actually privately owned. It was built in the 1960s for public use by a private developer in exchange for the city’s permission for an office building. Unlike city parks, most of which close at dark, Zuccotti Park is open to the public 24 hours a day. That’s why Adbusters’ first ad said “bring a tent.” Though the intent was to occupy Wall Street, the centers of banking at which the protest was generally targeted were no longer anywhere near Wall Street. But the culture jam wouldn’t work in front of some bank’s office building or even on Wall Street itself, where your permit for a protest on a public street would end at a designated time.
Nevertheless, despite attempts to be a “leaderless” movement expressing the frustrations of the ninety-nine percent, old hat agendas took hold of the protests. (The same thing largely happened in the Tea Party movement, which looks little like what it did when it fomented nearly 5 years ago) What might have started in September as a popular expression of discontent with failing institutions, and continued in the winter, maybe, as an effort to provide President Obama a vigorous primary challenge focused on his failed promises (the way the Tea Party movement in fact has done to several old hat Republicans in the last election cycle), was instead co-opted by Big Labor and even members of Congress (two very untrusted institutions).
Fitting then that Occupy Wall Street would choose May 1st as a date to re-launch. May Day as a Labor Day actually began as a commemoration of police violence against striking workers in Chicago in the 1880s, with President Grover Cleveland opting for a date in September to avoid tensions that might lead to more violence. The rise of the Soviet Union saw May Day become a communist holiday. In the United States, May Day has been used as a day for left-wing/progressive protests for years. Perhaps the most prominent, if not the largest, May Day protests came in 2007, linking the day with the cause of illegal immigration.
Though Tom Morello noted the link between workers rights and immigrant rights in America’s May Day culture and the theme was hit upon in speeches later, there were few, if any, signs of protesters for immigration reform at the Guitarmy protest march in Manhattan. And though there were anti-war protesters and even veterans protesting the treatment of Bradley Manning, what started largely as a protest animated by economic concerns remained so. Unfortunately, Americans remain woefully misinformed and uneducated about economics, with no help from the President or his advisors. The President, too, has done his part to mute the movement, despite somewhat embracing it last fall. The kinds of people who make up the core of left-wing protests often got caught up in the emotion of President Obama’s election. Tom Morello admitted as much to Reason.tv (up later), dismissing the President as just another centrist Democrat.
And though this President shares many of the same policies as his predecessor, opposition by the traditional anti-war, anti-corporatist voices that were so frequent and loud during the Bush era have been muted for this President. One woman adamantly explained to us that President Obama is not much better than President Bush, and that she would not be voting for Barack Obama again. Instead, she explained, she’d be voting against Mitt Romney (and for President Obama).
No doubt President Obama knows this too. So his campaign tries to portray him as a regular guy (one of the ninety nine percent, even) and paint Mitt Romney as the one-percenter's one-percenter in order to avoid the tough questions about his own Presidency’s failings. One man explained to us that the renewed Occupy Wall Street was about finding a way to express frustration with a runaway corporate-government complex. Here’s hoping the occupiers learn to occupy the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has been trying with Republicans, and forget about trying to speak for the ninety-nine percent in a country where fifty three percent of the vote is a landslide.