Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 2, 2012

John Halle report on Occupy May Day

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 2:16 pm

So it looks like the corporate media has declared a blackout on reporting the huge Occupy May Day rally in New York yesterday. That means we’ll need to supply our own reports to find out what went on. Unfortunately, I’m buried under school work so this will have to be short and unedited-so with than in mind here goes. I decided to take my six year old Ben figuring this would be a much better education than anything he would be likely to get in his first grade class-no disrespect to his excellent teacher Mrs. Bell. Having Ben limited my options a bit.

We got there at around 12:45. At Grand Central there were large numbers of cops stationed at the subway turnstiles with signs itemizing the charges which turnstile hoppers would face. So that quashed one possible form of CD which had been discussed.

My plan was to go to a few of the Open University sessions at Madison Park on 23rd st. but these seemed to be winding down. Also, while Parents for Occupy Wall Street had set themselves up in the playground, Ben was the only big kid there. (It seems I was among a relatively small number of parents encouraging their kids to boycott their classes!). They told us that Parents for Occupy had set up a Hogwarth’s academy in Bryant Park. Harry Potter. Cool! So we got in a cab and headed 18 blocks North. The cab driver-possibly in a show of solidarity-didn’t start the meter. We had a nice chat about Mayday.

Bryant Park when we got there was crowded with what seemed to be a throng of about 2-3000 people at least and which swelled larger after feeder marches from other demonstrations ended up there. After checking out some of the Hogwarth academy classes, including Defense against the Dark Arts (Capitalism), we went over to the rehearsal for the Guitarmy which was to start its march to Union Square at 2 PM. Ben sat on the shoulders of the Gertrude Stein statue and listened intently taking pictures on my I phone of his new favorite rock star Tom Morello. After a bit of milling around we headed south on sixth avenue. It was hard to get a sense of the size of the crowd though clearly enough to create a traffic problem (other reports indicated something like 20-30,000). Ben sat on my shoulders most of the way (oh my aching back!) taking videos and joined in with the chants including an excellent new one “One-we are the people. Two-we are united. Three-the occupation is not leaving.”

At around 28th st. (?) after the demonstration had spilled into the streets, blocking traffic, the cops managed to separate the crowd into at least two groups. We were right at the separation point and it appeared that a physical confrontation might be in the offing so we kept walking downtown, pretending we were normal pedestrians. Not sure if there were any arrests of demonstrators trying to break through the police lines. What we did see was a procession of probably sixty to seventy police cars come down Broadway on the now vacant street ending up, as we were to discover, at Union Square.

By the time Ben and I got to Union Square, we were hungry so we slid into a coffee shop on the west side of the park, sitting at a booth next to two cops, and getting two excellent though overpriced cheeseburgers. After a brief lesson on radical history, Ben was appropriately prepared to attend his first major demonstration. His reading lesson for the day consisted of various signs denouncing capitalism functioning as his “See Jane run.” primers. Hope that’s OK, Mrs. Bell!

We managed to set ourselves up on stairs about 100 feet from the stage but Ben insisted on getting closer to the stage to see his new friend Tom Morello (who had given us a thumbs up when we were next to him during the march down). So, at the cost of what remains of my hearing, we moved to to the front of the stage, in the midst of a throng of mostly 20 something fans of the various bands who would appear. And so began the main lesson for the day turned out to be, of all things, a music lesson-for me and Ben. The speeches from the stage turned out to be for the most part boiler plate union and immigrant rights blather. (Incidentally, did it occur to anyone that Wall Street, for the most part, is in favor of unlimited immigration? Goldman Sachs, for example, spends millions of dollars in legal fees attempting to secure O visas for Bengalore Institute of Technology grads to work on their trading algorithms, but let’s let that pass).

What was absolutely awesome were the musical acts. Tom Morello, who I had high hopes for, was pretty good at getting the crowd going in a post Guthrie-Seeger singalong. But he was overshadowed by the other acts. Percussionist Bobby Sanabria of Local 802, after a rather peculiar and incoherent rant about the Grammies having withdrawn the “latin jazz” category with a surprisingly engaging salsa arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s now three quarter century old anthem “Be-bop”. The saxophonist (who I didn’t know-I guess this means I’m finally off that scene) managed to breath new life into now age old Coltrane licks.

Next came Das Racist, who I of course, had never heard of, but everyone else had, as most of the crowd somehow managed to recite along with them quasi dadaist, rhythmicized texts-this is what the youngsters call “rap” or “hip-hop” I’m told. (That’s a joke, but not so much of one.)

They were followed by Dan Deacon, who I had heard of since he had just collaborated on a piece for the group the Now Ensemble (on whose board I sit). This was truly weird and truly wonderful-I suppose this is what is called electronica and consisted of two uptempo happy pieces being channeled through the sound system as someone named Greg (I think) was dispatched to the crowd to lead us all (including Ben who is normally hugely resistant to this kind of thing) in a kind of Grateful Dead style interpretive dance. Now that sounds absolutely horrible but it was truly wonderful-a triumph of nerd musical populism. If there’s any aesthetic I can get behind, its that. And to top it off, Deacon was able to make it relevant to Occupy in his introduction-maybe even mentioning (though I’m not sure) the recent A.P. report on 53% unemployment among recent college grads. Lord knows they need this ultra-optimist, soothing and crowd friendly music desperately. Post-Webern atonalism was perhaps the appropriate music for the affluent society, come to think of it.

Next came the now geriatric New York labor chorus and my heart sank expecting the worst-and out of tune rendition of some old labor chestnut which would have no meaning or resonance to the demographic assembled in front of the stage. But you can’t imagine my joy and relief when they pulled of a spectacular gospel version of Solidarity Forever with a black church lady soloing in the classic Mahalia Jackson style. We all sang along-I’ll be damned.

The best came last: Immortal Technique. I don’t know anything about this guy, of course. All I know is that this was utterly compelling on all of the levels on which it was operating: rhetorical, musical and political. Again, as with das Racist, hundreds of audience members reciting the words in unison, seemingly page after page of direct, passionate and uncompromising class politics. So everything that was lacking in the political content of the speeches was there in spades in the music. If this movement takes off, just as was the case in the sixties, its foundation will be not in this or that ideological tract produced by some dissident intellectual, its foundation will, apparently be in the music it has spawned and which is giving rise to it.

The bottom line was that this felt like a new Woodstock-with the difference being that the New York Times sent its reporters to Woodstock. Times readers, and those whose reality is defined by it, are now completely unable to see a reality which is taken shape under their noses.

Finally, Immortal Technique left the stage to those who were responsible for the whole thing to begin with-the core organizers from the New York General Assembly and who had set up the infrastructure which would become Occupy Wall Street last September. I had tagged along with my friend David Graeber to the organizing meeting where what they would say on stage how they would say it was being discussed last Friday. I was a bit apprehensive that they would be able to pull something together that would both engage the crowd and would provide the right kind of direction for the march downtown to Wall Street which would materialize immediately after. But again, I’ll be damned if they pulled it off, introducing the lexicon of CD techniques which the crowd could make use of in the march to follow and leading the crowd in some of what are now the defining chants of the movement.

I would have loved to be a part of the march which followed which was supposed to go straight down Broadway, terminating at 2 Broadway, wherever that was. The cops, apparently, blocked the march, preventing it from getting started, bottling up a throng of what must have been at least 50,000 people, some of whom were plenty capable of doing what was necessary to break through the police lines-a potentially tense scene was starting to materialize.

At this point, however, Ben was completely burned out, and told me so. And so, we got on the subway, headed to Grand Central and got on the 6:12 express train back home.

Thanks for reading what is, I’m sure, a complete mess. I’ve got to go grade harmony exams!


  1. The march was really big, and the left was certainly out in force. Was hard to see very much of it from inside it, but it was pretty amazing to be part of such a huge event where the basis of unity was anti-capitalism.

    Comment by ish — May 2, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

  2. I’ll give a somewhat detailed explanation of how this great event was organized later. Suffice to say that the cops did not block Union Square. They just let the labor and immigrant rights groups, which were on the side streets, out first, according to prearranged agreements.

    Comment by RED DAVE — May 2, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  3. Was great to see older (over 30 like me) demonstrators wearing red shirts and holding picket signs calling for a RED COMMUNIST AMERICA! You go comrades! On a side note, thanks to Obama and Congress for the GRADUAL reduction in unemployment benefits. I was given 2 weeks notice that my benefits are being cut. Yep that’s their idea of gradual NOT!! Down with the bourgeois dictatorship government that calls itself a democracy.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 2, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

  4. Let’s face it folks. This nascent Occupy Movement is every bit as important in this historical conflagration as the Flint, MI. Sit Down Strike, it’s just that the fruits of this endeavor are far more complicated in this age of atomized individuals and therefore more ephemeral. This is the greatest movement of the masses in our lifetimes and the struggles ahead with their obstacles to overcome are ginormous, epochal in scope, and like the revolutionary organizer and Red Army General Trotsky reiterated, “the biggest crisis in the world today remains the crisis of proletarian leadership.” Comrades & Anarchist youth please think about those words. The world is ours so long as we can organize our energy and not squander it through discombobulated actions and pointless provocations. Win the masses over through hard work, dedication to the cause and organizational prowess and victory will be ours.

    Long Live Occupy!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 3, 2012 @ 12:57 am

  5. Hi Lou. Thanks a lot for running this. If you feel like fixing some of the numerous typos in the original that would help enhance my sagging credibility with various Bard administrators who read your blog religiously.

    Hope you’re well.


    Comment by John Halle — May 3, 2012 @ 1:11 am

  6. Karl I agree with you. The Occupy movement is very important, will be historical and should NOT be discounted by bourgeois conservatives or our propaganda media’s reporting of it. I just think they need to get a clear vision of what they want to achieve instead of so many people with different agendas. They have to make a strong stand and have a primary short list of goals and demands.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 3, 2012 @ 2:54 am

  7. What I mean is they need to thin out all of the injustices they are protesting about and make demands on the issues that are most important. There are many splinter groups that have formed out of Occupy and it’s making it confusing for the average American to support or even understand what they want or what they’re about.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 3, 2012 @ 3:04 am

  8. Anarchists, Revolutionists, out on a spree
    Remember the words of your Ancestry
    Don’t mourn but rather Organize thee
    Organization is the key to Victory
    The future rests with such as we
    Forever reigns solidarity

    — Battle Hymn of the New Republic — KFS — MayDay 2012

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 3, 2012 @ 5:09 am

  9. Well said Karl. The magic word is organize.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 3, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

  10. […] John Halle report on Occupy May Day […]

    Pingback by Darwiniana » John Halle report on Occupy May Day — May 3, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

  11. The American system made simple: Wealthy CEOS give campaign contributions (bribes) to have their lobbyists push for corporate interests and regulators accept gifts (bribes) to find loopholes for businesses. This system is based on corruption. Wall Street and Bernie Madoff prove this argument.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 3, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

  12. I know it’s a digression, but Immortal Technique has always been fabulous. Got this video through Lenin’s Tomb several years ago.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 3, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

  13. I attended the NYC Union Square May Day rally and march on May Day as well. It got so crowded anywhere near the south side of the park where Tom Morello, Immortal Technique etc. were on stage, I just stayed clear of it. I ran into some Wobblies I knew. Saw ex-WU Laura W. with some people. Also saw the RCP, WWP, PSL, and LRP-COFI.

    Regarding union/immigrant blather as Halle put it, blather is fine by me, but when people feel the need to scream for their ten minute speech WEMUSTSMASHTHECAPITALISTSTATE!!WEMUSTOCCUPY!! or whatever – I don’t even know what they’re saying when they scream into the microphone, which is then amplified by the sound system. The young OWS crowd is miles ahead of these WWP screamers in every respect. Inspid blather is fine by me, these WWP morons get a woody when they know their screaming will be amplified by speakers though – the higher the decibels, the angrier you sound, the more revolutionary you are, I guess.

    We started the march.

    The parade started with the taxi drivers, followed by unions like SEIU and so forth. There was a fair amount of unions marching, a lot of the marchers were people of color. There were also ethnic contingents – Hondurans, Salvadorans, Filipinos etc. many with banners about immigrant rights. Then there was a large, and young, Occupy Wall Street contingent, which was probably the most energetic of them all. As Halle and people there said, the NYPD was purposefully trying to slow down the march, and also divide the march. Something it did with some success.

    At some point on Broadway there was a small contingent of right wing protestors (3 or so together, and further down the block 2 more). An Otkaznik and friend had a sign “Hey communists, go to North Korea!” I accosted him to find someone already arguing with him – Jed B., who writes for the Occupied Wall Street Journal, and who Glenn Beck featured a tape of on his program once.

    I was initially at the front of the march because the Wob I ran into had to go home to his family early and he left halfway through the march. I got past Canal where Broadway becomes more elevated and looked back and the march went back aways.

    Wall Street was occupied – by the cops. There was barricade upon barricade blocking Wall Street from Broadway. Behind that stood a number of policemen mounted on horses. I wonder how many photgraphers got a good shot of that. On the other side of Broadway were barricades, in front of them a line of police officers. The march had to squeeze through this intersection slowly, probably a maximum of 5 people at a time, or even 4. The tightness depended on what group was marching – it went to 4 when the OWS kids marched by (I saw several of them arrested on Broadway and Wall and put in the paddy wagon, one saying continually “I didn’t do anything”).

    Since there was such a massive slowup, I don’t know the point of people marching anywhere aside from slightly past Wall Street. I think they should have stopped there, or in front of (or in) Zuccotti park. Wall Street was very heavily defended, Zuccotti park not so much.

    Comment by Adelson Velsky Landis — May 4, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  14. […] First published by Unrepentant Marxist. […]

    Pingback by John Halle Report on Occupy May Day — May 4, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

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