Occupy Bushwick deploys to Manhattan, with police escort
It was a gentle start to May Day in Bushwick, as Occupy Wall Street protesters sought to reinvigorate the movement that quieted down over the colder months. The weather was raining, a bad sign.
Still, there was some activity this morning in Maria Hernandez Park, a patch of green in this mostly working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. Around 8 a.m., a dozen protesters were standing in a tight circle wearing ponchos and holding umbrellas; they were one of the mini-groups that would be cycling into Bryant Park and Union Square for protests through the day.
They had bagels and drinks in boxes. Most of them were recent arrivals to the neighborhood and members of Occupy Bushwick, an Occupy spin-off that formed earlier this year.
“I don’t care about the rain,” said Stephanie Shroder, laughing. “I’m from the Midwest.”
She had high hopes for May Day.
“I think today will coalesce a lot of people, it will inspire a lot of people,” she said. “I think there’s going to be less of a turnout because of the rain. The intrepid will go.”
She suggested that sympathizers who couldn't actually leave their jobs to make it to the protests could work from the inside, by wasting corporate time or resources like printer paper.
“I do strikes at work all the time,” she said. “Just personal strikes, like don’t do work for an hour or the whole day, you know.”
Over the next hour the small circle in the center of the park grew into about 50 people, as a small contingent of bored-looking police officers watched from a distance. Community affairs officers periodically walked up to talk to organizers, to coordinate a planned 9:00 march. Things were calm, bearing little resemblance, for the moment, to the scenario outlined in a police document leaked yesterday that warned of potential violence.
“Nobody’s trying to get arrested at 8 in the morning,” said one Occupy Bushwich organizer, 27-year-old Kyle Depew, who led some early mic checks and chants.
He said he hoped the group’s first major action would help gather attention for the smaller neighborhood-based Occupy movements springing up around Brooklyn.
He said the group, whose loose membership he estimates to be between one or two dozen, meets weekly, and attends community board meetings.*
Depew said that as the creator of the group's Facebook page, he was probably on the NYPD's radar.
“I know the police are going to be monitoring my Facebook account for the rest of my life,” he said.
DePew walked around with cards with chants on them
“Who wants a chant card?” he asked people in the crowd.
“How about a knife?” said a bagel-wielding protester, who picked up a tub of unopened cream cheese.
Others stood and held signs, including Lisa Flax, 45, who is unemployed after having been laid off from a vitamin company in October.
“For the past several preceding quarters, they failed to meet their projected profits, so instead of improving their product, they fired a bunch of people,” she said.
She said she asked people who couldn’t make it to today's protests at least to refuse to buy anything or do any banking today.
By 9 a.m., the waterlogged group prepared to leave. Members with drums, flags, signs and an “Occupy Bushwick” banner slowly began to march out of the park and passed by storefront Spanish-language churches, bodegas and graffiti-covered walls. Some members handed out fliers and recent issues of the Occupy Wall Street Journal to people on the sidewalks, while the group was escorted by a handful of community affairs officers and a group of 12 police vans and unmarked Jeeps.
Brian Douglas, 34, walked among the back, strumming a makeshift cigar-box guitar hooked up to a battery backpack amp. He’s lived in the Bushwick area for two years, but is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, by way of Astoria.
“For me, Occupy’s become like a civic obligation, just because the bipartisan consensus just left me behind,” he said. “There’s nowhere in either party that I can really go, it’s either Occupy or just sit back and watch the status quo destroy itself.”
He said he had handed out fliers in the neighborhood and made announcements about today’s march on subway trains, but thought the group could be doing more to engage the community.
“It takes a lot,” Douglas said. “I’m a performer, so I can muster up the courage to do that and connect with people. But a lot of people with outreach, we’re still very timid about that.”
He was on strike from making banner ads for an advertising agency whose primary client is a bank.
“I work,” he said. “No one would guess what the fuck I do from the outside, being in this. Yeah, I’m in corporate hell, I have been, but for a long time, I’ve just been like, ‘Am I just some kind of a sellout or whatever?’ But then something like this comes along and actually appreciates the insights I have in corporate America. You have some more credibility to attack the beast when you’ve been inside of it a bit.”
The 50-odd marchers continued under the J-M-Z line along Broadway. Some paused over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to hold up signs at passing cars, before police officers urged them along. Then, at the Williamsburg Bridge, the group made a right, settling at the foot of a statue of George Washington, near lines of waiting police, a National Lawyers’ Guild representative with a green cap and television news trucks.
As the crowd waited to cross the bridge, the guild lawyer advised them, among other things, to write phone numbers on their arms in case of arrest.
Then, at 11:15, the group, up to about 80 people, crossed the bridge into Manhattan.
*This line has been modified from the original version of the article.