Tuesday marked a noisy return to the national stage for the Occupy movement, which had been dormant for much of the winter. Activists called it “A Day Without the 99 Percent.”
But as protesters across the country responded to the movement’s call for a general strike, the 99 percenters seemed to be everywhere: marching to the White House and through Midtown Manhattan; smashing windows in downtown Seattle; and forming picket lines at restaurants, banks and hospitals.
Marches and rallies in several cities drew thousands, and there were reports of violent clashes on the West Coast, where police arrested more than a dozen people in Seattle, Portland and Oakland. More than 35 people were arrested on a day of wide-ranging demonstrations throughout New York.
Occupiers believe they have made a lasting contribution to the national debate about income inequality since their high-profile camps were closed in the fall and winter — with terms such as “the wealthiest 1 percent” and “the 99 percent” now part of the general lexicon. They have spent much of the spring debating their future and their tactics.
“We need to remind people that what we’re doing is still very relevant and still very important,” said Jackie DiSalvo, a part-time English professor with Occupy Wall Street who helped organize Tuesday’s events. “This is our coming out. We’re calling it our spring awakening.”
May Day — a holiday that honors the international labor movement — is typically celebrated more boisterously overseas, and tens of thousands came out for marches in Spain, Turkey and Greece and throughout Asia. This year, the Occupy movement embraced May 1 as “A Day Without the 99 Percent,” urging students to skip school and employees to miss work to show their support for the movement’s goals.
In the District, Occupy D.C. protesters engaged in street theater — dumping a load of coal in the downtown branch of a bank that they say finances mountaintop coal mining — and rallied in Meridian Hill Park for a march to the White House on Tuesday evening. Downtown, a protester spray-painted the word “Forclosed” on a Bank of America branch.
“Hopefully this is a new era,” said Rob Brune, 46, a Howard County resident who was in McPherson Square. “People are speaking out. People are reacting.”
On a day that historically honors workers, impromptu pickets popped up in front of corporate bank branches and restaurants coast to coast, including striking ferry workers in San Francisco and service workers at Los Angeles International Airport.
In New York, protesters first gathered in Bryant Park and later filled a block-long stretch of 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal. Some carried signs that said “Tax the Millionaires.” They formed picket lines in front of chain restaurants such as Chipotle and the Capital Grille and chanted “Stand up, fight back!” as drums and a marching band added to the din. A group of guitarists — including Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine — marched while strumming and singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
Later, hundreds of union representatives, Occupiers and immigrants rights groups massed near Union Square for the day’s big march to Wall Street.
In Washington, more than 100 supporters of Occupy D.C. gathered in Meridian Hill Park before the march to the White House, joined by local members of unions such as the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO and the Amalgamated Transit Union. They unfurled red flags, played guitars, painted cardboard signs and played “Inequality Pong,” a game whose players tried to drop a Ping-Pong ball into a cup labeled “1 percent.”
As the march began and the protesters moved down 14th Street toward the White House, participant Brittany Duck, 24, a student, said she hoped that the day would reinvigorate the local Occupy movement.
“I think we’ve been successful in being able to change the discourse in America,” Duck said. “Before, there was no one talking about the 99 percent. But there’s still a lot to do. Politicians say the economy is turning around, but for many people out here, the blue-collar workers, it hasn’t.”
Staff writer Robert Samuels contributed to this report.