In spite of organizers providing free coffee and bagels, planned May Day demonstrations across New York convened by the loosely organized movement against social and economic inequality known as Occupy Wall Street got off to a wet, slow, sleepy start.
Much like the day itself, however, the street actions began warming up into the late afternoon and, by lunchtime, seemed to be close to going into full swing. From a few dozen muted protesters at the beginning of the day's activities, the headcount at the movement's morning logistical hub inside Manhattan's Bryant Park seemed close to 1,000 people by lunchtime. Text messages and Twitter feeds buzzed about several hundred reinforcements marching from Brooklyn.
The day's planned activities began with a somewhat scattershot action that saw dozens of protesters target the Midtown headquarters of various corporations with flash picketing. While Sotheby's, Chase Manhattan, The New York Times, and a couple of investment management firms were among the list of officially targeted corporations, crowds ranging from a handful to a few dozen protesters shouted slogans and chanted in front of Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, Barclays Capital, and News Corporation. At one point, various pickets converged, forming a crowd of several hundred that marched along the famed Fifth Avenue shopping district decrying capitalism.
Onlookers, for the most part, either seemed to ignore the commotion -- a not uncommon reaction for New Yorkers -- or offered faint cheers. A man on the corner of 48th Street and Fifth Avenue, however, not so gently shouted back at protesters to go f-----g live in a Communist country.
Police had tight control of the situation, shadowing each picketing group with a detachment of officers so that, in a few cases, the number of police exceeded the number of activists. Once the street actions converged, scooter-mounted units arrived to keep marchers on the sidewalk as paddy wagons loomed threateningly nearby. There were a handful of arrests and a few shoving matches, mostly occuring after protesters walked onto vehicular traffic on East 42nd Street.
But the police also seemed to have taken a wider strategic tack. Gawker reported early in the morning that warrant officers had raided the homes of several prominent organizers overnight, in actions the National Lawyers Guild said were targeting protest leaders. They also took a conspicously uneven approach to setting up physical obstacles to likely targets of occupation. While Union Square was heavily barricaded, as were certain streets in Manhattan's Financial District and the cross-county bridges, mobile gates were notably absent around Foley Square, a large public area in downtown Manhattan by the federal courthouse. Most glaringly, there were no gates bordering the perimeter of Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of protest activity last fall, although a cache of them was stashed to the side of the public plaza.