May Day Rallies, Though Diminished from Last Year, Show Alliance-Building for New York’s Left


So much can change in a year. Last May Day, the amount of organizing energy and media hype surrounding plans for the annual holiday was staggering. For the first time in recent memory, unions and immigrant organizations, which had historically held separate May Day rallies, came together for a huge convergence, joined by other activist groups on the left. Among those was Occupy Wall Street, which publicly pinned its hopes to reclaiming the momentum it lost after the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park on a massive showing on May Day.

The turnout last year was indeed spectacular, with tens of thousands of marchers filling Broadway from Union Square clear down to the Financial District. But it failed to spark the sort of renewed movement Occupy Wall Street organizers had hoped for, and after Occupy’s one-year anniversary on September 17, occupiers have eschewed grand one-off spectacles, distributing their energy instead into myriad smaller projects.

Slideshow: New York’s May Day Protests, 2013-Style

As a consequence, this year’s May Day activities felt almost low-key in comparison to the frenzied organizing and sky-high expectations of last year. That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot going on; students from across the city gathered in Cooper Square for Free University classes and a discussion of the city’s education issues, Transit Workers’ Union members and allied activists stormed midtown lobbies, Sandy victims agitated for relief, and immigrants-rights groups called for an end to President Obama’s escalation of deportations.

In what has become an annual tradition, an unpermitted anti-capitalist march, composed in large part of young people eager to tangle with the police, set off from Tompkins Square Park, leading police on a chase through the East Village. Marchers repeatedly took to the center of the street, stopping traffic and provoking a swift and ungentle police response, with officers chasing down at least five marchers and pushing their faces into the pavement as they arrested them. Even so, there was little urgency in the march, and at times it seemed that both police and the masked-up marchers had made a date for joint exercises on a fine spring day in New York.

But if the stakes and urgency felt diminished relative to last year’s May Day, that’s not to say it was without significance. The fact that labor, immigrant, and other activist groups closely coordinated their rallies again this year, speaks to an ongoing era of alliance-building among groups that have historically had trouble seeing eye-to-eye.