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Heavy Police Presence At Mainly Peaceful NYC May Day Demonstration

Union Members, Immigration Reform Advocates Among Those Marching
May Day Demonstration (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

May Day Demonstration (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Thousands of activists armed with flags, puppets and cow bells took to the city’s streets on Wednesday to rally for immigration reform and labor rights as part of worldwide May Day protests.

In a scene reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street’s heyday, protesters marched in downtown Manhattan toward City Hall waving banners and banging on drums. The peaceful crowd was largely composed of unions and immigration reform groups, with some anti-capitalism and Occupy protesters mixed in.

A total of eight people were arrested in connection with the protest.

As WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported, demonstrators representing the Transport Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers and the Musicians Union all took part in the march down Broadway. It seemed that nearly every union in the city was represented at the demonstration, Diamond reported.

PHOTOS: 2013 MAY DAY RALLY AND MARCH

May Day Demonstration (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

May Day Demonstration (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Many of those marching held signs demanding immigration reform, Diamond reported.

One of them was Amy Velez.

“I’m Colombian. My country’s bleeding (because of) the U.S.A. intervention, and then when we come over here, we have no welcome,” Velez told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones. “Why the hell is that?”

Numerous other causes were also represented.

“All of the above, really everything – I mean, wars going on everywhere, you know – issues of peace, you name it,” said Margaret Rogers, who was carrying a banner opposing drone strikes.

There was a large police presence as the thousands of activists marched toward City Hall.

“We’re here because we are demanding legalization,” said Gonzalo Venegas, a 28-year-old member of a hip-hop activist group from the Bronx, who performed in front of the crowd during a rally in Union Square. “For us, the idea of immigrant rights and workers’ rights goes hand in hand.”

Bands of protesters joined marches and rallies throughout the city as the day wore on. The May Day rallies, a nationwide ritual, traditionally attract many labor leaders and elected officials.

Paper rats on sticks — intended to symbolize abused migrant workers — bobbed along Sixth Avenue as about 200 protesters set off from Bryant Park, chanting: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

“Every May Day, more groups that have historically considered themselves separate from one another come together,” said 26-year-old Becky Wartell, who was carrying a tall puppet of the Statue of Liberty.

May Day Demonstration (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

May Day Demonstration (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Immigration reform took on special significance this year as Congress considers sweeping legislation that would bring many of the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows.

In Union Square, some speakers alternated between English and Spanish for the benefit of the diverse crowd, which included a sizable portion of immigrant protesters who did not speak English.

Venegas, who was born in the United States after his family members fled Chile as political refugees, expressed frustration over the fact that he is a U.S. citizen but his brother and mother are not.

“The new Gang of Eight proposal for immigration reform is pretty much offering crumbs,” he said, “and creating a second-tier class of citizenship.”

Later in the evening, some protesters planned to gather in Zuccotti Park, the site of Occupy’s former encampment, which was disbanded in late 2011.

“The dreamers, the workers — all immigrants need to have a full life now,” said Mariano Munoz, a member of the Immigrant Worker Justice Group, which helped organize the protest. “They need full, basic human rights.”

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)