I wake up to the sound of helicopters. Living in Oakland, the city of beautiful rebellion and tragic violence, I’ve long since learned to recognize the distant buzz of police choppers, but I usually don’t hear it before 8 am. Then I remember: Today is May Day! The revolution is starting early today!
Okay, maybe not the revolution, but like activists across the country, I looked forward to this May Day as a chance to re-energize and unite the diverse working-class movement now called the 99%.
I spend the day on the streets of Oakland, marching with over 5,000 people – from Salvadoran immigrants to striking nurses, from white-haired professors to black-clad anarchists, some of whom did attempt to storm the barricades and received a dose of tear gas in response. For the most part, though, May Day in Oakland is less an insurrection and more a festival of solidarity, full of music, street theater, and an immigrant-led march that reminded everyone that border walls and racial profiling have no place on International Workers Day — or any day.
Despite the hype promised by the helicopters, the events in Oakland get off to a quiet start. Occupy Oakland has put out a call for a general strike, but unlike the 30,000-person strike of last November that shut down much of the city, the early May Day crowd is noticeably smaller, as is its impact. Throughout the morning, several hundred masked activists march through downtown Oakland, at times blockading various banks and government agencies but mostly drifting around aimlessly, unsure where to direct their anger.
By noon, 500 demonstrators converge on Frank Ogawa / Oscar Grant plaza in front of City Hall. They soon move into the streets, where they are met by over 100 cops in full riot gear and – surprise, surprise – we have our first clash of the day. The cops attempt to clear the streets, using flash grenades and arresting the first of what will be 25 people throughout the day. Meanwhile, a group of militants throw paint and small objects at the police lines. As more cops storm in, an Occupy activist on a bullhorn gives loud, contradictory instructions to the crowd: “Stay calm! Fuck the police!”