What to expect on May Day

No one knows quite what Occupy's general strike will look like, but police are reportedly preparing for action

Topics: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Occupy, General Strike,

What to expect on May Day (Credit: AP/Paul Sakuma)

With just one day to go until May Day, the Occupy-planned general strike remains a largely unknown quantity. How many people will skip work to take to the streets? The Occupy call, which has gained support from numerous labor and immigrant justice groups, reads “No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping. Take the Streets!” It’s just a matter of hours before we see whether and how it will be answered.

have written here at some length against judging this May Day by standards of traditional general strikes — not seen in the U.S. since the 1940s — or contemporary mass strikes in Europe, where unions have not been politically pummeled into weakness, as they have in this country. And although pundits are looking at May Day as a referendum on Occupy’s relevance, it’s unclear what success in this case means or would look like. Marches (both permitted and un-permitted), free meals, teach-ins, college student and high-school walkouts and roving dance parties have been scheduled in 115 cities around the country. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and other well-known musicians will be joining a “guitarmy” — 1,000 guitarists marching (and strumming) from New York City’s midtown to Union Square. Clearly, the general strike organizers in New York are less interested in affirming the strength or relevance of a movement than they are in experimenting with new tactics. Still, there’s a feeling that somehow, and in some bold way, it’s got to be big.

Eyes will be on New York and the Bay Area when it comes to setting the tone. On the West Coast, a major May Day plan has already changed at the last minute. The plan had been to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge in support of bridge unions, which have been without a contract for a year. The Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition renounced its original bridge blockade plans on Saturday, however, asking supporters instead to join its hard picket lines shutting down ferries and buses (the coalition of bridge worker unions will be striking that day). The Port of Oakland Longshoremen have called for a daytime work stoppage and over 4,000 Bay Area nurses also without a contract will be striking, although the majority of May Day activity has been outside of union organizing.



In New York, back-to-back (and overlapping) actions will be taking place across Manhattan and in some outer-borough areas. Numbers in the tens of thousands are expected at a permitted “solidarity march” in the afternoon from Union Square to Wall Street, jointly organized by OWS, the Alliance for Labor Rights, Immigrant Rights, Jobs for All and the May 1st Coalition. Organizers have been keen to stress that different marches and actions carry different levels of risk. Schedules demarcate rallies as permitted or unpermitted, or “green” or “red” (from a color-code for assigning risk dating back to the late ’90s anti-globalization movement) — enabling individuals with, say, precarious immigration statuses, to avoid activities that might put them at risk of deportation.

There will be unpermitted, unpredictable actions a-plenty — including an autonomously organized Wild Cat march, with the “wild cats” consisting of various anarchists, anti-capitalists, anti-authoritarians and their allies, beginning in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Its call states, “if we wanted to protest we could carry a sign and walk within police barricades, safely cordoned off in a free speech zone. On May 1st, we aren’t working and we aren’t protesting. We are striking.”

Much of the activity will depend less on the strikers themselves than on the police response and crackdown. The Village Voice’s Nick Pinto noted on Twitter Sunday that according to a “well-sourced” colleague, the NYPD assigned to cover May Day demonstrations “have been ordered to bring ‘hats and bats’.” Conveniently, New York will see increased security and police vigilance on May 1, following warnings from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security about potential terror risks on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death (even though the Al Qaida leader was actually killed on May 2. and Police Commissioner Ray Kelley notes there is no known terror threat to the city). At a Sunday press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, with regards to policing on May Day, “We will do what we normally do and find the right balance.” So if we are to go by the normal police response to Occupy mobilizations in New York, we can expect vast police presence, mass arrests, aggressive crowd handling, swinging batons and pepper spray at the very least.

In my view, there is little point in predicting in advance what the May Day General Strike will do. As I argued, writing in the most recent n+1 Occupy! Gazette, Occupy’s zeitgeist-shifting events have never gone according to plan. Even setting up camp at Zuccotti Park — the unmiraculous corporate plaza, which became the epicenter of a radical political opening — was a backup plan after the first choice spot in Downtown Manhattan was blocked by police on September 17.  And so I’ll repeat here what I wrote in Occupy!, I don’t know what a success might look like on Tuesday, rather “I hope for a May Day, which— like other Occupy actions have—re-orients how we feel about failure and success altogether.”

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>