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Protesters hit streets for May Day rallies; violence flares in Oakland, Seattle

As the Occupy Wall Street movement comes out of hibernation, a day of protests are planned around the nation. MSNBC's Richard Lui reports.

Updated at 03:38 A.M. ET: Protesters across the world marched through the streets Tuesday toting signs, playing instruments and wearing costumes to rally against austerity measures, call for more jobs and seek greater immigrants' rights on May Day.

Marches turned violent in Oakland and San Francisco, where a protester was throwing what appeared to be bricks and metal rods from the roof of a building into the crowd of demonstrators, reporters, and police - injuring at least one person, according to NBC Bay Area.

In Seattle, protesters dressed in black smashed windows and police pepper-sprayed some in the crowds. 

In the United States, the protests are seen as the biggest test for the Occupy movement since many of its camps were shuttered late last year. Occupiers in more than 100 cities across the country were expected to protest on the day that traditionally celebrates workers’ rights.

In New York, demonstrators held a “free university,” and a “guitarmy” led a march.

“It was a long, energetic day with scores and scores of events and protests that is another step in building a movement for economic justice,” said Bill Dobbs of the Occupy Wall Street public relations team. “Occupy has re-blossomed in over 100 cities."

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Earlier Tuesday, about 1,000 Occupy protesters gathered in New York's Bryant Park, home to the main city library, with hundreds assembling the “guitarmy” and making posters before they left to march downtown. Chanting "Out of the stores, into the streets" and "Banks got bailed out; we got sold out," they filed down Manhattan’s iconic Fifth Avenue.

“There's too much fear for the general public to actually want to strike. They don’t want to lose their job. ... We haven’t reached that tipping point where people are more frightened for some place to live," said Robby McGeddon, 47, a tech worker carrying a maypole for May Day. "It will get to the tipping point but right now we're just practicing."

Miranda Leitsinger / msnbc.com

A protester representing the Musicians Union in New York's Union Square calls for eliminating "sour notes."

Of the protest, Daphne Carr, 33, co-organizer of the Occupy Music Working Group, said: “We're trying to find new, positive community-building ways to engage and protest and be a part of the burgeoning civil dialogue about what this country should be doing."

She also noted that music making "has been eroded from our public sphere so we're taking and re-claiming the right to play music publicly together in the streets, in the parks, without permits.”

The crowd swelled to a few thousand later in the day in Union Square as immigrant rights groups and unions representing teachers, transport workers, nurses, musicians as wells as others joined in a lively afternoon of art and music.

But the day was not without its detractors: at least one man heckled protesters and another yelled “Get a job!” as he elbowed his way through the crowd.

That didn’t get the protesters’ spirits down.

"This is like the resurgence of the Occupy Wall Street movement," said photographer Joel Simpson, 65, of Union, N.J., as the "guitarmy" sang "This land is your land" nearby. Though most of New York City didn't know the May Day protest was going on, he said, the movement "touches public consciousness in a very broad way and politicians have to at least pay lip service to it."

The New York protesters then streamed downtown, in an early evening march heading past the former Occupy Wall Street home, Zuccotti Park, to Bowling Green park near the southern tip of Manhattan. Occupy sent out a text message saying 30,000 people were in the streets, though it was not possible to determine how many were and police do not give crowd estimates. At one point, the protest appeared to stretch about 15 city blocks.

“We’re not so fragile that a day is going to make or break things but this was you know, a great … step,” Dobbs said, noting that the “organizing that goes on day-to-day and week-to-week is just as important in building a long-term sustainable movement.

New York police reported 15 arrests by late afternoon for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, the New York Daily News reported. Several demonstrators were caught carrying hammers but there was little vandalism, police said. Later Tuesday, Occupy said more arrests had been made.


Oakland police and May Day protesters face off. Watch video courtesy of KNTV.

San Francisco: Police armed with non-lethal pellet or bean bag guns aimed them at a protester who was throwing objects from the roof of the building,  located at 888 Turk St, according to NBC Bay Area. The protester, dressed in black with a handkerchief covering his  face, was throwing what appeared to be bricks and metal rods into the crowd  of demonstrators, reporters, and police. Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak told NBC News the individual threw several items off the roof for several minutes, including two bricks and pipes. One brick struck a person and hit them in the head. The injured person refused treatment from medical personnel. NBC News reported that the rooftop protester was arrested and taken into custody.

Oakland, Calif.: Protesters playing cat-and-mouse with police pounded on windows of banks and other businesses, SFGate.com reported. After surrounding a downtown Bank of America branch, protesters chanted, "Oakland is the people's town; strike, occupy, shut it down." they also gathered at a Wells Fargo bank branch. Police later confronted demonstrators marching through downtown. Video by NBCBayArea.com showed at least one protester being dragged away by police. Protesters hurled items including a paint bomb at police and windows out of a police van, NBCBayArea.com reported. Police fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades before the skirmishing crowd dispersed. Police arrested at least four people. 

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Police tape off a Wells Fargo Bank in Seattle Tuesday after protesters broke the banks windows during a May Day march.

Seattle: Windows were broken and police arrested a handful of protesters as about 100 marched in downtown, NBC station KING reported. Many marchers were dressed in dark clothes, wearing face makeup and carrying sticks, live TV video showed. Police pepper-sprayed several protesters as problems developed. KING reported numerous tires slashed and large amounts of glass on the ground from vehicles and buildings, including the federal courthouse, smashed by protesters. Peaceful protesters remained at the downtown Westlake Plaza, where speeches and concerts continued, KING reported.

John Brecher / msnbc.com

Trumpeter Opaulo Mekkelsen marched with the Movitas Marching Band in Seattle. He said he was motivated by immigrants' rights.

"Part of me, I want to understand where they're coming from and then they pull something like this," said Sam, who would not give his last name, as he saw the back window of his car smashed out by protesters. Sam was on holiday from his home in British Columbia. "I'm from Canada," he said, "imagine the impression this gives me of the United States."

At an afternoon press conference, Mayor Mike McGinn said a group known as the “Black Block” did extensive damage to the Federal Courthouse, then moved on to block traffic. The mayor signed a proclamation authorizing police to seize from protesters any items that could be used as weapons, KING reported. Evening marches and protests were planned.

A group of May Day protesters dressed in black clothes and wearing face makeup smashed windows in downtown Seattle. Video courtesy KING.

Photoblog: May Day protests turn violent in Seattle

San Francisco: Golden Gate ferry workers picketed ferry terminals in the North Bay, but union organizers canceled a protest on the Golden Gate Bridge to give support to the ferry workers, the Oakland Tribune reported. However, scores of California Highway Patrol officers with helmets and batons lined the bridge and gathered around the toll plaza just in case. Bridge traffic was not disrupted.

Albany, N.Y.: State police arrested two men who set up a table without a permit in Lafayette Park, where Occupy protesters assembled Tuesday, the Times Union newspaper reported.

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Sam (who declined to give his last name), left, speaks to local media after protesters in a May Day march in downtown Seattle smashed out the rear window of his car on 6th Avenue. "Part of me, I want to understand where they're coming from and then they pull something like this," he said. Sam was on holiday from his home in British Columbia, Canada. "I'm from Canada," he said, "Imagine the impression this gives me of the United States."

Chicago: Protesters and union supporters held rallies and marches with little disruption to the business district, the Chicago Tribune reported. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told the newspaper there were no arrests among the crowd of 1,000 as rallies wrapped up at Federal Plaza.

Denver: Nearly 200 people marched downtown before turning onto the 16th Street pedestrian mall, blocking mall buses and traffic as they walked. The marchers also stopped in front of the Federal Reserve Bank. Police did not interfere, and only one person reportedly was arrested.

Los Angeles: Several demonstrators were taken into custody during a protest on Century Boulevard near the entrance to Los Angeles International Airport as union members, workers, immigrant-rights activists and others demonstrated for better-paying jobs to changes in immigration laws, NBCLosAngeles.com reported. However, about 2,000 police officers prepared to deploy early at a staging area in Elysian Park before a ralliers were to converge downtown Tuesday evening. Los Angeles County activated its Emergency Operations Center.

Dorian Warren, an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University, said he thought Tuesday would be the “biggest test since the fall of where Occupy is.”

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“I think it’s still alive and thriving. I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon,” he said. “But I think after [Tuesday] we’ll know whether or not they were hibernating all winter and now they’ve re-emerged, or if they’ve died out.”

Occupy held protests during the spring on student debt and worker rights. They also have been working on a rollout of new versions of outreach web sites to facilitate coordination among different Occupy outfits. But a lot of effort has been focused on holding a May Day that will make a splash. 

“Many activists have been working toward May Day for months and so they’ve decided to make it a test of strength,” said Todd Gitlin, a former leader of the 1960s-era group Students for a Democratic Society who has just published a book on Occupy. He added: “A lot of people in the larger society don’t think the movement still exists, so there’s some need to prove to them that it does exist.”

Occupy Wall Street has struggled during the last months without a camp, with some members starting their own groups while keeping a loose affiliation to the movement.

“It’s become fractured over time and I think people point a lot to that to the breakup of Zuccotti Park, and the natural disagreements that people had came more to the fore when people were separated and people formed their own circles upon which they continued. But it wasn’t the circle of great diversity that was right there at Zuccotti Park and people could grow from,” said William Johnsen, a 63-year-old veteran activist from Staten Island, N.Y. “It’s obviously a long-term process right now which will ultimately change into something else.”

But Konrad Cukla, a 23-year-old graduate student who has been helping with Occupy May Day planning, said that since the park shut, occupiers have been engaging in key coalition building work, such as with immigrant rights groups in the city.

“All the labor unions have come together and for the first time are going to have a unified march with immigrant rights groups and Occupy,” he said as he walked with a musical band of occupiers -- the Rude Mechanical Orchestra -- dressed in green and black on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. “I think the movement is evolving, it's taking on more concrete allies and issues, engaging more with labor struggles -- also just expanding its horizons and bringing more people into the movement."

Rain City Superheroes: Midnight Jack, left, El Caballero, center, and Phoenix Jones relax Tuesday at a downtown Seattle Starbucks.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com's Jim Gold contributed to this report. Follow Jim Gold at msnbc.com on Facebook here.

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