Occupy Guitarmy Hoping to Make Music a Central Part of May Day


You can’t arrest a song!

That’s part of the idea behind one faction of a large network of demonstrations and protests planned for May Day — the day of action this Tuesday that some suspect will push Occupy Wall Street into the spotlight again in a major way.

The group Occupy Guitarmy has actions planned all day Tuesday and held a rehearsal this afternoon for anyone who wanted to show up in Tompkins Square Park.

We thought we’d stop by and chat with some of the folks behind this portion of OWS and May Day to hear what their goals are for Tuesday.

A few of them gathered by 9th Street and Avenue B this afternoon with guitars, though things were pretty quiet when the Voice got there around 3:30 p.m.

Alphonzo Terrell, 29, and a co-organizer with Occupy’s music working group, told us that Occupy Guitarmy is about making music a central, nonviolent part of the day. “Music has always been…a part of every major social movement,” he said, pointing to one of his favorite expressions that says that renaissances of humanity always come with a song.

“This is a really exciting platform and space for like-minded musicians to come together for something that really matters,” he said.

Goldi, another occupier behind Occupy Guitarmy in the park today, said that bringing music to May Day is a way to focus on the message of OWS and not on tensions with the NYPD. “We don’t have guns, just one guitar,” he said, with a laugh.

The two recited lyrics to us from one song that they plan on singing in a large jam session on Tuesday: “I’m a soldier marchin’ in an army / Got no gun to shoot / But what I got is one guitar.”

“This is the biggest celebration of our history of Occupy Wall Street,” Goldi said of May Day. “[We want] to have music at the center of that instead of violence…We’re hoping the NYPD will dance along with us, instead of harass us.”

He added: “You can’t arrest a song. You can’t beat a song with battons.”

It’ll be interesting to see how much the arrests and conflicts with law enforcement on Tuesday end up shaping the day and the media coverage of it — a question that is sometimes a topic of debate among those participating in OWS. On one hand, massive arrests, like the ones that took place in March when OWS re-occupied Zuccotti Park, do sometimes lead to more mainstream media attention. But others within the movement sometimes feel that these clashes with the NYPD take away from the message of Occupy Wall Street, which is about economic inequality.

“Music is an important outreach tool,” Goldi said, noting that it gets more people who might not traditionally be involved to participate. “We want to fill the streets with music and…people.”

The group is assembling at noon at Bryant Park by the Gertrude Stein statue. They are marching from around 2-4 p.m. to Union Square where they will play music until 5:30 p.m. At that point, they are planning on joining the larger Occupy demonstrations with immigrant and labor groups to head to Wall Street. Guitarist Tom Morello, from Rage Against the Machine, will be supporting them along the way, and the two we chatted with today said they think Ben Harper and others are likely to join.

Terrell said that Tuesday on the whole is about bringing more people into Occupy and reminding folks that the movement hasn’t gone anywhere.

“The common myth is that just because Occupy is not in the press, we don’t exist,” he said.

Goldi added, “We are working tirelessly. We do exist. In fact the movement’s never been stronger.”

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