NEW YORK -- There are many things to protest against in the world, and people rallying against a fair number of them took to one of New York’s iconic squares on May Day as part of nationwide rallies in celebration of the traditional workers holiday.
Signs against fracking, post office closures, JP Morgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, corporate America, deportation, the “Gang of 8” immigration bill, and “naughty bankers” were just a few of those being paraded about on a sunny afternoon at Union Square, as a bunch of Raging Grannies wearing flowered hats prepared to take the stage. Puppets of rats were expected to arrive later in the day.
A amalgamation of Occupy protesters, immigrant rights groups and labor advocates organized events throughout the day in New York, beginning with a morning rally organized by Occu-Evolve, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement that seeks to represent the 99%. The day’s New York schedule also includes a meeting of people who want free education, a march to a post office in Chelsea and an immigrant rights rally in the late afternoon.
Few protesters seemed to mind that so many different causes were being represented at the New York rally.
“We’re protesting a million things,” said Lillian Pollak, 98, one of the Raging Grannies, who said she was rallying for world peace, against corporate America and for closing detainee centers at Guantanamo Bay.
The atmosphere of the protests, concentrated in one area of the park, cordoned off by police barriers from where other New Yorkers ate lunch and held shopping bags, was circus-like at times. People waved giant flags and wore tutus and clothing made of protest signs. An event titled “Resistance is Fertile: Love Bomb Seed Bombs” was expected to bring plant seeds and yet more protesters.
Marni Halasa, 47, a performance artist, was dressed in a black figure skating outfit, wearing roller blades and a hat featuring fake roses and a skeleton. She held a whip and a blow-up doll of Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, along with a sign saying that he needed to be whipped.
“Big banks can do whatever they want and no one ever goes to prison,” she said.
A little excitement was generated when protesters began shouting, “Racist out!” at a man carrying an anti-Semitic sign. They yelled in his face as he walked out of the park, and then a few protesters grabbed the sign from his hands and tore it up. He took out some markers and held them up, also hoisting a sign that read “Freedom of speech.”
He then made another anti-Semitic sign, which was again shouted down and torn out of his hands. Occupiers being occupiers, there then commenced heated debate on whether he should have been jeered out of the park, or whether he had a right to express himself like the rest of the protesters.
Rose Genneralli, a teenager who skipped school to show solidarity with the protesters, said she believed in all the causes being advocated for at the rally.
“It’s all connected,” she said.
Still, for some, the turnout was a disappointment, both in contrast to the fame of Occupy Wall Street’s past actions and to May Day rallies in the past.
Israel Gallindo, 62, has been coming to May Day rallies in Manhattan for over a decade. He was there Wednesday, wearing a sombrero and holding a banner in support of YoSoy132, a Mexican students movement. He was also supporting immigrants in the U.S. without authorization, he said.
But “there are less people here than three-four years ago,” he said. “People have less of a conscience now.”
On Staten Island, Allan Eaton, a veteran of the original Occupy Wall Street crowd from Zuccotti Park, offered his take on the day’s event and the status of the movement. The 34-year-old Eaton is now devoting his time to helping victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York -- a shift that he says is emblematic of the way the Occupy movement had evolved.
“I think the future of Occupy is that it is going to shape itself into whatever it needs to be over time,” Eaton said as he dished out burritos to people on Staten Island whose homes lack kitchens or remain uninhabitable. “There are factions that are going to be environmental, factions that are going to fight foreclosures, factions that will be anti-corruption.”
Eaton then referred to his decision to volunteer full time at an aid hub near a desolate beach in the New Dorp area of Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit areas of the city. “This is a different form of activism,” he said. “This is an activism where I can actually see the results.”
Staff writer Tina Susman contributed to this report.
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