Demonstrators worldwide took to the streets for May Day, aka International Workers Day, a celebration of the labor movement and workers’ rights. Here in Albany, a coalition of Occupy Albany, the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District and the Capital District Area Labor Federation put together a program that included a protest march, speeches, teach-ins,
workshops and entertainment.
The day began and ended with clashes with the police. In the morning, New York State Police confiscated tables, chairs and water bottles set up in Lafayette Park. Three people were arrested. Apparently, had Occupy Albany obtained permits for what they wished to do, there would not have been a problem. At the end of the day 20 protesters were arrested for refusing to leave Lafayette Park after the curfew time, 11 PM.
From the perspective of the protesters, the real story was not the arrests. It was the collective effort of concerned citizens who put together an interesting and thought provoking program. At roughly 12:15 PM a lively crowd of 150 to 200 people set out for a march though Albany. With police blocking traffic in front of them, the chanting protesters made stops at a Verizon office, a Bank of America branch and Greyhound Bus Station. Brief informative speeches telling of corporate greed and labor disputes were made at each stop. Some onlookers cheered in solidarity with the marchers, but more impressive was the number of people who came out to take pictures with their cell phones.
Back at the side-by-side Lafayette Park (owned by New York state) and Academy Park (owned by the city of Albany), the afternoon’s agenda was kick-started with an talk about the history of U.S. workers’ labor struggles by Larry Wittner. Wittner is a retired University at Albany professor and the executive secretary of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor. Susan Dubois, a member of the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, followed, chronicaling Solidarity’s nearly 30 years of activism on behalf of workers’ rights, social and economic equality and the environment.
After more speeches by Occupy Albany members, the crowd broke up into small groups to attend teach-ins and workshops. For two hours, people talked about how to bring about social change and equality. The 15-minute sessions covered topics such as closing corporate tax loopholes, overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, neoliberalism, alternatives to capitalism, and anarchy. People came and went all day to what turned out to be a very well-attended event, with representatives from many local groups.
The Occupy May Day event was run, literally, off an “occupied” energy source: the Energy Bike, a pedal-powered generator that occupiers took turns powering up. A New York City-based direct action environmental group, Time’s Up, was responsible for providing this alternative energy source.