Occupy movement sparks May Day strikes

The Takeaway

May Day is not generally celebrated in the United States, but this year the occupy movement tried to change that.

The Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Elsewhere movement for economic justice in the U.S. aimed to make a resurgent impact on May 1. The movement’s leaders asked participants to make their presence felt through their absence today: no work, no shopping, no banking, no school. It was billed as “a day without the 99 percent.”

Janet Byrne, editor of the Occupy Handbook — a collection of essays on the movement — said there were a variety of Occupy activities scheduled throughout the day.

“There is a consortium of universities that have pooled their resources, and up in Madison Square Park there is a form of ‘teach in,'” Byrne said. “People can go freely to this site and learn from the masters, David Graeber who came up with the slogan ‘we are the 99 percent,’ Chris Hedges, and lots of others. That’s just one of the manifestations today.”

On Tuesday morning the Associated Press reported a low turn out at designated protest hot spots across New York City. Speaking with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, Occupy organizer Jesse LaGreca said the report was inaccurate.

“AP isn’t doing they’re job,” LaGreca said. “We had massive numbers of people very early in the morning when they weren’t there yet, they’ve all fanned out. We have about 40 different roving pickets moving around. I’ve been at pickets at Bank of America, at Chase Manhattan, at Fox News, at the New York Times, Disney, so there’s a whole series of roving pickets through midtown.”

By the end of Tuesday, New York police had made about 30 arrests, but clashes between law enforcement and protesters there were minimal.

According to LaGreca, the Occupy protests scheduled for May Day have straightforward goals.

“The demands that we have today are the same ones we had in the beginning,” LaGreca said. “Accountability, oversight, a political system not predicated on who makes the biggest campaign donations. Right now neither political party is discussing a serious jobs bill or investing in infrastructure whatsoever.”

Byrne thinks an important cornerstone of the ongoing movement is amending tax rates and fixing the growing income gaps between top earners and lower class workers.

“In the Occupy Handbook Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez offer a proposal for raising the marginal tax rate on the highest earners,” Byrne said. “That we go back to the 1970s when the highest marginal tax rate was approximately 70 percent, it reached 90 percent in the 50s, and right now its 35.”

Byrne said there wasn’t a general strike on May 1 because unions are not legally allowed to strike in support of other workers. But even without a general strike, Bryne said there would be coordinated action throughout the day.

“The point is to get a lot of bodies out on the street again,” Byrne said.

In Oakland, four people were arrested after police launched tear gas at an occupy protest, while San Francisco blamed occupy protesters for a night of damage inflicted on local businesses. Generally, though, officials reported peaceful crowds across the country.

Video from of the occupy movement’s May Day protests in New York City

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