Two people were arrested Tuesday during a day of Occupy Philly protests held as part of a worldwide celebration of May Day, or International Workers’ Day.
The demonstrators were taken into custody following a scuffle in front of the Wells Fargo branch on the 1700 block of Walnut Street. Protesters standing in front of the ATM allegedly blocked a customer trying to withdraw money, words were exchanged and the man sought help from the phalanx of bicycle police that had amassed and formed a blockade around the demonstrators.
One man is charged with disorderly conduct, the other with assault on a police officer, a spokeswoman with the department said.
The hourlong sit-in began when, after snaking around Rittenhouse Square, marchers laid down in the street outside the bank, blocking vehicular traffic between 17th and 18th streets. “This is the unofficial Labor Day,” participant John Philips said. “We’re dominating the streets.”
Demonstrators demanded a shutdown of the branch and that workers be let out for the day – with pay.
According to protesters, the melee that led to the arrests touched off when the bank customer shoved his ATM card in one of the female protester’s mouths. “He obviously provoked us,” Philips said.
Reactions from onlookers ran the gamut from annoyance to empathy. “To tell the truth, it’s a waste of time to me,” said Rick Wilson, who lives on 18th Street. “I don’t think anything is going to be accomplished the way they’re going about it. It seems like they’re doing anything and everything to accomplish something that’s not going to happen.”
But at least one passerby was enthused. “I think what they’re doing is right – they should be marching,” said Philadelphia resident Charlene Scott. “I am a United States disabled veteran, wounded in Vietnam, and I can’t even get in the hospital for the treatment I need.”
“By no means should the government be held responsible for what Wall Street is doing,” she continued. “It’s 1929 all over again looking like something different.”
Participants from several demonstrations later met up in Rittenhouse Square, where they scrawled protest slogans on the sidewalks in colored chalk and enjoyed some downtime. A group then headed to a School Reform Commission meeting at 5:30 p.m,.
Occupy has issues
Occupy chapters across the country yesterday called for a general
strike, encouraging people to refrain from working or engaging in
commerce. While the movement held multiple rallies throughout
Philadelphia yesterday advocating for workers’ rights, an end to home foreclosures and a shrinking of the prison-industrial complex, in Center City, they focused on an issue central
to the movement since day one: bank bailouts.
“Wells Fargo, what the f–k / we bailed you out and you still suck,” demonstrators chanted outside the Walnut Street branch,
Marchers also addressed the state of the school system. “Our school district is in peril, it is in debt,” a Cheltenham High School student announced into a bullhorn. “But next year they’re cutting things like bus services and extracurricular programs. … Where is the federal and state government?”
A date with deep roots
May Day, or International Workers’ Day, has been a historic date for the labor and protest movements since 1886, when police opened fire on protesters in Chicago who were demonstrating for an eight hour work day in what came to be known as the Haymarket Massacre.
Socialist organizations called for an international day of action soon after, and the holiday became largely associated with left-wing politics through most of the 1900s. The holiday reached a larger audience in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when a series of massive May Day marches were held in New York City.
In recent years, several high profile immigration rallies have been staged on May 1st. Labor union locals also often observe the date unofficially in many areas.
More May Day mayhem
– In Oakland, Ca., police made several arrests as protesters attempted to force businesses to close shop in observance of the general strike, even storming a diner. A crowd was tear gased, though it is unclear whether police fired it, the Associated Press reported.
– In the San Francisco Bay area, though demonstrators canceled a planned protest on the Golden Gate Bridge, ferry workers went on strike, shutting down the service. A group of bus and bridge workers said they would not cross the picket line.
– In Seattle, the mayor granted police emergency powers to confiscate items that could be used as weapons after a group of “black bloc” protesters used sticks, hammers and tire irons to smash windows of cars and businesses, including several banks, the Federal courthouse and an American Apparel.
– In Portland, at least a dozen protesters were arrested during a march through traffic and at least two banks reported damage to their ATMs and glass doors.
– In Cleveland, Occupy organizers canceled May Day rallies after the Monday arrest of five men associated with the movement for allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge and possibly target cargo ships on May 1.