May Day: Occupy Sympathizers Skip Work To Protest, Hang Out And Rail Against Greed
Robert Harrington comes to his Midtown Manhattan office each day wearing a businessman's trenchcoat. At 65, he runs his own apparel-import business. But he decided to close shop on Tuesday, May 1.
Instead, he left his office to take part in the protests marking the 2012 May Day, the first to coincide with the Occupy movement. Harrington (pictured at left) says that he hasn't taken part in political protests since the Vietnam War era.
"It took two years for the protests against Vietnam to become effective," he says, adding that he hopes this protest will lead to similarly big change -- criminal charges against Wall Street financiers and greater financial regulation and oversight. "For me, the banks are at the epicenter of an enormous problem for this country."
Harrington stood among several hundred people in Midtown Manhattan's Bryant Park on Tuesday, holding a white poster on which he wrote out a list of grievances against the economic establishment. In not working, Harrington joined the movement that sought to show corporate America how much it depends on the labor and consumption of the 99 percent.
Harrington called for the return of the separation between investment and retail banking activity, as outlined by the Glass-Steagall Act. (The 1933 New Deal act was repealed by Congress in 1999.)
Not 'A Crazy Communist' Anymore
Although not all protesters may share the same policy goals, Harrington's overall views were in line with the 2012 May Day, which also took place under the banner, "A Day Without the 99 Percent." That slogan derives from Occupy Wall Street, which was launched last September around the idea of increased democratic participation during the financial crisis. Since its launch, the movement has had its share of run-ins with authorities, including pepper-spraying incidents. And yesterday's rally in New York was no different; some 50 arrests were made during the day's events. And while critics attack the Occupy movement for both disrupting civil order and the lack of a single action plan, that lack of a defining goal has allowed it to attract a diversity of supporters.
That range was on display on May 1, the first nationwide organized activity to take place this spring. Interviews with more than 20 protesters on Tuesday suggests that there is a wide spectrum of workers -- from professionals like Harrington to blue collar workers and full-time activists.
And the workers coming out in New York on Tuesday said they've already sensed a change in the national mood, as the country approaches the fourth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers' meltdown.
"I have been coming to May Day protests since I came to this country 10 years ago," said Libor von Shonau, a 34-year old Czech-born construction supervisor who works on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "Now, you are not a crazy communist for talking about free health care, and for asking why do all of us taxpayers have to bail out the banks?"
And while many like Harrington and Von Shonau took off work to take part, the wider majority were able to fit in their participation while dipping out from work, according to the unscientific sample surveyed by this AOL Jobs reporter.
"I don't think I was educated enough on every aspect to commit full-time and take off work," said 29-year-old Matthew Shapiro, who works as a consultant for the intellectual property firm Charles River Associates in Midtown Manhattan.
So instead, Shapiro (decked out in business casual wear including a blue, buttoned shirt) took leave from his office to show his support.
"I am definitely sympathetic to the Occupy Movement," he said. "Some of the demands are disjointed, but I think the underlying problem is the wealth gap. So if this is an agent of change for that, I support it."
Came For The Music
Shapiro also says that he was attracted to the rally by the prospect of an appearance by Tom Morello, a guitarist for the band Rage Against the Machine.
Indeed, the rallies on May Day were accompanied by a range of activities, ranging from musical performances to educational seminars on issues like climate change.
And it was the chance to take part in a learning experience that attracted headband-wearing Matt Davis to spend the day in Manhattan and take part in the rallies. The 24-year-old is an assistant manager at a Lawrenceville, N.J., location of the Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant chain and he said that he was eager to share the knowledge that he gleaned while studying at the College of New Jersey.
"The first lesson of quantum studies is that we are all connected," he said. "So in this country there should be enough for all to have health care, and food and jobs. So I came to find out why we are all so separated."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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