‘Around the world, people have taken to the streets,” the speaker shouts to the crowd gathered in Manhattan’s Union Square. “There are 90,000 people protesting in Moscow!” I think to myself that, if they’re anything like this crowd, they’ll feel right at home marching through Red Square.
In 2011, the Occupy movement had a distinct lentils-and-patchouli air. Now, it has taken a hard leftward turn. Che, Lenin, Mao, and Chávez all make appearances on signs distributed by a group calling itself the “Red Youth.” Flip their faces over and you’ll find either “Long Live Marxism-Leninism” or the more modern “Long Live Kim Il Sung!” written on the back.
“Down with Capitalism! We need Communist Revolution!” reads another group’s banner. Next to it, “Revolution — Nothing Less!”
The “League for the Revolutionary Party Proletarian Revolution” is here too, handing out its home-printed magazine. One young man, replete with a characteristically scrofulous beard, boasts a CCCP T-shirt.
Hammers and sickles are ubiquitous. It strikes me that the loneliest person here must be the Obama-flag saleswoman. She is not doing much trade today. In speeches and on flyers, the president is cast as a fully paid up member of the enemy class, although I note that the emcee feels no guilt in simultaneously slamming him for being a sell-out and appropriating the UFW slogan that he helped make famous. “Si se puede! Si se puede!” she shouts.
“When workers’ rights are under attack,” she continues. “What do we do?” “FIGHT!” the audience shouts, joyously. “FIGHT!”
Eliminationist rhetoric? Nah. Being on the left, Occupy will remain immune from accusations of that. But the signs are revealing: “Revolution,” “Smash the state,” “Communist Revolt — No substitute.”
Borders take a bashing too. The protest is billed as a “Unified Rally for Immigrant Rights & Worker Rights,” and the transnational crowd is out in full force. “The rally will be a mix of speakers and entertainment drawing attention to the struggles and victories of labor unions, workers, immigrants and the 99%,” promised Occupy’s website. It didn’t disappoint. “No to E-Verify” chants the Socialist Workers Campaign, which is supporting its own member, Dan Fein, for mayor. Next to the subway station, the Workers World Party flies its flag: “La Lucha Obrera No Tiene Fronteras!” (“There are no borders in the workers’ struggle”). A series of speakers explain that they are illegal immigrants and feel oppressed by America’s “unfair laws” and “racist deportation.” Across the road, a handful of counter-protesters from the “New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement” stand behind the barriers. They can’t compete with this.
You know you’re in hard-left territory when Chuck Schumer is your bogeyman. He appears on a host of placards, the poster boy for the loathed Gang of Eight. Schumer is a “racist” and a “fascist,” apparently, standing against the people on behalf of the “1 percent.” He and Obama are described as “frauds,” who oppose “full citizenship rights for all immigrants.” Predictably, Schumer’s co-religionists are scorned, too. “Smash the Jews,” one guy with anarchist patches on his jacket shouts. “Terrorists!” (A guy from Breitbart, who almost started a brawl for defending Israel amid the maelstrom, had his camera rolling, so hopefully he caught this.)
Occupy attracts malcontents, May Day doubly so. The hard fringe is out in force today. The woman who told me in 2011 about the scourge of “Nazi bankers” is here with her ever-silent husband. They’re both carrying signs with Che Guevara on the back. A few other hangers on are here. I see a smattering of Planned Parenthood buttons and anti-fracking slogans; the Save the Post Office brigade has a stall; one girl is wearing a Guy Fawkes mask; another man tells me that 9/11 was an “inside job” that was carried out to justify “repression” against people like him. He goes oddly quiet when I ask how he manages to protest with impunity if that is true.
But Occupy in 2013 is different than was Occupy in 2011. Then, it was an inchoate mess, a public meeting for generally disaffected people who were drawn to protest like so many moths to a flame. Now, a collection of more serious provocateurs — people who sincerely want to tear down society and start over. This is May Day qua May Day, and the second of the month cannot come too soon.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.