Occupy Protesters Hit U.S. Streets Amid Music, Tear Gas

Occupy Starts New York May Day Protests With Chants, Waltzes
A demonstrator affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement holds up a sign in front of the Bank of America Corp. tower in New York on May 1, 2012. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Demonstrators took to the streets in May Day protests across the U.S., sending a singing “Guitarmy” to Manhattan’s Union Square, smashing windows in Seattle and seizing a vacant building in San Francisco.

Organizers said the events marked a springtime resurgence of Occupy Wall Street, and they punctuated their message with trombones, hand-held drums, a San Francisco kayak flotilla and a crowd a half-mile long moving down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Calls for a global general strike with no work, no school, no banking and no shopping were heard in Toronto, Barcelona, London, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney.

In Oakland, California, police used gas to break up confrontations with demonstrators, some bearing shields made out of garbage cans cut in half. In New York, police made more than 30 arrests as a crowd of thousands gathered at Union Square and marched on Wall Street.

“Occupy Wall Street is alive,” said Cynthia Price, a 48-year-old real-estate investor, as she marched down Broadway past City Hall. “The challenge is now, what do we do to really make a difference?”

She bore a sign: “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’re trying to change the world.”

Occupy groups across the U.S. have protested economic disparity and high foreclosure and unemployment rates that hurt average Americans while bankers and financial executives received bonuses and taxpayer-funded bailouts. In the past six months, similar groups, using social media and other tools, have arisen in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Wall Street

In New York, whose Wall Street is synonymous with a financial system protesters said discredited itself in the 2008 crash, the Occupy movement has relied on demonstrations and marches since Nov. 15. That was the day that police ousted hundreds of protesters from their headquarters in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, where they had camped for months.

Organizers described the May Day events as a coming together, with activists also calling for more open immigration laws, expanded labor rights and cheaper financing for higher education. Financial institutions remain primary targets.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011. That’s equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, compared with 43 percent in 2006, according to the Federal Reserve.

Waltzing for Justice

At JPMorgan Chase’s building on Park Avenue in Manhattan, about 40 protesters waltzed to a 12-piece band featuring trumpets, flutes, trombones, drums and an alto saxophone.

Thousands made their way down Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park to Union Square, including the squadron of about 20 guitar-strummers singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” At Union Square, they met guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, a rock band with radical politics.

“Some people have the freedom to choose, and they chose to buy a Lamborghini, while others are choosing which Dumpster to pick their dinner from,” Morello said in an interview.

The crowd in the three-block-square park was shoulder to shoulder at 5 p.m. local time. Organizers said as many as 20,000 were present; there was no official count.

About 6:30 p.m., columns of marchers headed toward Wall Street. Police herded them through closed intersections as onlookers poked their heads from apartment windows. Hundreds of officers walking, on scooters and in vans and unmarked sedans brought up the rear. Some were in riot gear. Plastic handcuffs hung off their pants.

Sympathy for Protesters

Gustavo Maria Giugale, a banking lawyer visiting New York on business from Buenos Aires, said he sympathized with the protesters as he watched them assemble in midtown Manhattan.

“The interests of capital and employees must merge,” Giugale said as he sipped espresso at a cafe, dressed in pinstriped suit, Hermes tie and Burberry coat. “It’s a matter of striking the right balance.”

Occupy-related events were planned in 115 cities across the U.S., from college towns such as Amherst, Massachusetts, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Los Angeles, Houston, and Philadelphia. In Chicago, about 1,000 protesters escorted by police cruisers and helicopters and a dozen mounted officers marched two miles into downtown.

In Seattle, a group of about five people dressed in black broke ranks with an Occupy march and broke windows in three storefronts and half a dozen cars as they threw flares.

“These protesters are under the umbrella of anarchists, but what do they really stand for?” said Michael Aycock, 43, who watched from across the street as protesters spray-painted and broke glass. “There are plenty of jobs out there, but these people are not interested. It’s the age of entitlement.”

Emergency Order

Mayor Mike McGinn signed an emergency order allowing police to seize any item that might be used as a weapon, such as flag poles, said his spokesman, Aaron Pickus.

In downtown Los Angeles, demonstrators rode a bus labeled “Queers Against Foreclosure,” while hundreds of others advocated the legalization of illegal immigrants.

Ten protesters were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport about 1 p.m. for blocking Century Boulevard, a major access road, said Rosario Herrera, a police spokeswoman.

In Oakland, police used tear gas against a crowd that had surrounded and thrown objects at officers as they attempted to make arrests, Karen Boyd, a spokeswoman for the city, said in a statement.

As many as 5,000 protesters marched downtown at about 6 p.m., she said. At least nine people were taken into custody during the day, Boyd said. Vandalism was reported at Bank of America and Bank of the West offices, and protesters broke windows of a police van and punctured tires of a news vehicle.

Takes All Kinds

Karen Hancock, a 63-year-old Oakland resident, said she had grown frustrated with a stalled economy that kept her from finding a job and by U.S. wars. She was arrested in a January demonstration. As protesters taunted police, she said she was untroubled by potential mayhem.

“I don’t like violence, but if you just stand on the sidelines with a poster, it never gets us anywhere,” Hancock said. “It takes all these kinds of people and these kinds of actions.”

Across the bay in San Francisco, morning ferry service was canceled due to demonstrations. As 65 workers picketed the waterside Ferry Building, accompanied by a seven-piece band and a juggler, Occupy protesters in eight kayaks approached, chanting “We are the 99 percent!” and displaying flags reading “99%,” “Health Care!” and “Dignity.”

Television images showed demonstrators take over a two-story building owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. A month earlier, the same property was occupied by activists who announced plans to turn it into a community center.

The property was one of two parcels acquired for Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High School, “intended to become revenue producers to assist students,” George Wesolek, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said last month in a statement.

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