Social activists celebrate May Day

May 2, 2013

By Daniel Huang

 

The New York City Student May Day Convergence, a daylong demonstration that spanned lower Manhattan, brought together students from all over the city. University student activists joined in the march.

The NYU Student Convergence began at 1 p.m. at Washington Square Park. Within half an hour, what had started as a handful of students — indistinguishable from dozens of others enjoying the sun — had ballooned to a crowd of at least 60 vocal advocates. Baring cardboard signs declaring their cause, students discussed their message with each other and passersby. At one point, a street musician joined in, plopping down in the middle of the crowd and crooning old folk songs to a nostalgic guitar riff.

“We wanted to bring out as many social justice groups as possible to this convergence,” said CAS sophomore Kristina Mayman, one of the event’s organizers and a leader of Students Against the Sexton Plan.

Before long, the ground was covered in messages of protest. These signs called attention to an entire spectrum of issues. One read “System change, not climate change.” Another “Free Palestine.” Many mentioned John Sexton, from printouts of his face and reminders of his $1.3 million salary, to ones that read, “How’s the business, Sexton?”

Members from NYU Divest, SLAM, Students for Economic Justice, Students Against the Sexton Plan and many other clubs were in attendance. Their presence was reminiscent of the way Occupy Wall Street gained strength — by being an umbrella movement that absorbed the causes of many into one unified stand.

“We have the highest total student debt in the nation,” said Gallatin junior Riley O’Neill, another organizer of the demonstration. “At a basic level, this alone should be something students care about.”

CAS junior George Georgiadis broadened the scope of the day’s protests.

“This is a movement for everyone that feels disaffected somehow,” Georgiadis said.

At 3 p.m., the  protesters headed to Cooper Square and joined a small but dense assembly of students from other schools gathered in front of the Cooper Union Foundation Building. Different speakers took turns in the center, sharing their thoughts and passions, their voices amplified by the entire assembly through an Occupy-style mic check system, with the crowd echoing a single speaker.

An hour later, they were chanting the word “March,” as the group headed to Union Square with signs bobbing in the air, where it fed into a larger, citywide rally for labor and immigration reform.

“We’re reviving a tradition that’s been lost in this country,” explained Jonah Birch, a graduate student at the NYU department of sociology. “It’s so important for us to rebuild a movement that can fight for the working people.”

For many, not being able to see immediate results is taken as a sign of ineffectiveness.

Julian Gonzalez, an LSP sophomore, ignored the cynics and focused on the positives.

“Hope is the only thing we have,” Gonzalez said. “The origin of the word radical comes from the Latin meaning roots. So a radical is somebody who is firmly rooted in his beliefs. What kind of soil is a radical rooted in? It’s rooted in hope.”

The last event of the day brought NYU students back to Washington Square Park. In a gathering dubbed Dance Your Debt Away — more party than protest — participants were invited to celebrate their stand and reflect on the day’s successes. As Riley said, “At the end of the day, activism is and should be fun.”

Additional reporting by Casey Dalrymple. Daniel Huang is a contributing writer. Email them at cstate@nyunews.com.

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