Well, it happened — massive protests around the world, strikes across Europe, tens of thousands in the streets of New York City, student walkouts, radical art, banners hanging everywhere, slogans stickered to walls, occupation attempts, dozens of arrests around the country. This was May Day in a post-Occupy Wall Street world, but May Day was only the beginning. Again. Winter has peeled away, and the streets are getting warm.
Between May 10 and May 15, New Yorkers — in solidarity with global calls to action from around the world — will carry out Another City is Possible, Another World is Possible, a week of actions connecting the city budget to austerity measures around the world, all culminating on May 15 at 6 p.m. in a mass convergence in Times Square.
Here in New York City, we will confront a budget that has stripped our communities of housing, schools, services, jobs and other human needs for decades. We will fight to keep what we have and demand what’s been taken away from working people in the decade of cuts leading up to this. We will connect the struggle here to struggles against austerity-based policies around the world, which demand that working people sacrifice their salaries for basic services in order to protect the profits of the wealthy. We will use the many weapons we have — from teach-ins and flash mobs to mass marches and civil disobedience — to confront the bankers and politicians perpetuating injustice. We will transcend our small niches to bring together the big, broad movement that encompasses many groups and individuals, different methods of struggle with different levels of risk and multiple points of entry, and an array of demands, visions and goals.
We will fight back, but also look forward toward another city and another world. It will be a week full of different actions anchored by diverse groups to achieve a variety of goals, all in solidarity with one another — a week that looks like the movement we are trying to build.
Briefly Back to Bloombergville
Confronting austerity in New York gives me a feeling of déjà vu. In June of 2011, I was part of Bloombergville, a two-week occupation of a street corner outside of the City Council building near City Hall. The occupation was base camp for our resistance against a New York City budget that would cut funding from schools, hospitals, daycare centers, elderly homes, fire-houses, AIDS clinics, homeless shelters, transportation and other vital services, while the big banks and millionaires made record profits from an economic crisis they had caused.
People were fighting back all over the world, from Athens to Wisconsin. On May 12, 20,000 New Yorkers marched on Wall Street. And then we occupied, taking a last stand against the budget. We demonstrated, taught, learned, disrupted City Council meetings and, finally, in a dramatic culminating moment, delayed the vote by staging a sit-in in the lobby of the City Council building. But as we were hauled off to the Tombs in handcuffs, the budget passed with most of the cuts still intact. Bloombergville packed up a few days later, taking many of us back to the drawing board.
In some ways, Bloombergville was about posing a radical challenge to an economic, social, and political system that strips us of the things we need to survive, all in order to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. In that sense, it was a struggle against capitalism, which has austerity in its very DNA. But it was also a struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy and authoritarianism — because a fight for real freedom must face all of those systems that work in concert with capitalism against us. Like Occupy Wall Street was later on, it was the beginning of a dual power struggle — an attempt to experiment with the values and institutions of the society we are fighting for, while fighting against the oppressive institutions around us. And, of course, it was a struggle to scrape away at the apathy and cynicism that handicaps us every day, an attempt to contribute to the building of a movement and spark an uprising.
But it was also much simpler than that. It was about the issues. It was about austerity. It was about the budget.
It was about homes, about jobs, about Metrocards, about a safety net for the sick, the elderly, the homeless, and about education for all. It was about recognizing MTA fare hikes and tuition hikes at CUNY as nothing other than a tax on the working people who rely on those services. It was about demanding taxes on the rich and insisting that the wealth they generate by exploiting us should serve the city as a whole. It was about approaching these issues as gateways to radical social transformation, about helping people find their way into transformational movements through the issues that have real effects on their lives.
All in all, though, Bloombergville didn’t get much press, and we never had more than a few hundred people at a time. It didn’t spark the uprising we were hoping for. Yet we built important relationships, learned a lot about occupations of public space and experimented with tactics. When Adbusters magazine called for an occupation of Wall Street last July, Bloombergville organizers were among those who organized the assemblies to begin driving it forward. These days, despite its shortcomings, many Occupiers look back fondly on Bloombergville as one of the predecessors to the spark that finally came at Liberty Square.
Another City is Possible, Another World is Possible
Almost a year later, here we are again. The issues we faced during the Bloombergville occupation are the same ones that people around the world are rising up against still. We will confront the budget and austerity again, but this time as part of a global movement. And there is no other way to go; global problems require global solutions.
The week of actions from May 10 to May 15 will provide the space for different groups and individuals to fight around a wide array of interconnected issues in diverse ways. On May 11, we will see a string of actions dealing with housing, jobs and services — the basic human needs under threat in a society dominated by systems of greed and exploitation. On the 12th, we’ll focus on the things we need to have healthy communities — for a city with healthy food for all, a country with justice for its food workers, an ecologically sustainable world. On the 13th, Mother’s Day, we will resist police brutality and mass incarceration, injustices faced by immigrants and war abroad — things that tear our families apart, that take children from their parents, that inflict violence on the most marginalized people around the country and the world. May 14 will be a day to fight for education — for adequate childcare, access to quality public education for all and a world without student debt. On May 15, we will converge on Times Square — that shiny, neon capital of capitalism — to tie the issues together, to reclaim our city, to stand in solidarity with people doing the same around the world in a global day of action.
On one hand, the goals for the week are simple. It will be a fight to win back public schools so that our kids can stand a chance in this society, to keep shelters open for those people the system impoverishes so ruthlessly, to afford the public transportation we need to get to work and feed our families. It will be a fight over the very basics of a good society. But it will also challenge as a whole a system that allows the captains of capitalism to make record profits while we take pay cuts and cuts to services, a system whose very existence is based on exploitation and domination. The week will be diverse and autonomous, but unified and solidaristic. It will be grounded and real, but fierce and visionary. It will be safe and welcoming, but also daring and radical. We will fight about the issues, about the budget, about real human needs and about winning in the here and now, but those fights will become a way to dream another city, another world.
We will do our dreaming in the same place we do our fighting: together, in the streets.