MANHATTAN — Thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets Tuesday for a series of marches timed to coincide with May Day — sparking clashes with police and leading to dozens of arrests.
While the marches were largely peaceful, police said more than 50 people had been arrested at various spots around the city during the day of protest. There were also several bomb threats and packages mailed with suspicious substances.
In the afternoon, dozens of riot police lined Union Square bracing for the throngs of marchers that filed in from in from Bryant Park, Madison Square Park and Downtown.
The protesters later marched down Broadway, which was shut to traffic, to Lower Manhattan, largely without incident, past Zuccotti Park, where the movement began last September.
Some businesses in area, which was surrounded by police barricades, locked their doors in preparation for a showdown that never came as a police helicopter hovered overhead.
A pair of Starbucks stores — one on each side of Union Square Park — shut their doors with staff and patrons inside.
A Chase branch locked all of its doors except one guarded by security personnel. And a Bank of America branch at 14th Street and University Place bolted its doors after some half dozen protesters stood in front with a shopping cart, bearing a "Burn the Banks!" sign.
Spike, a 26-year-old landscaper from the Lower East Side, was one of the protesters outside the Bank of America.
"We are picketing because they are responsible for thousands of home foreclosures," Spike said.
But a McDonald's on Union Square West remained open for business, despite its parent corporation being one of the mulitnational companies often targeted by protesters.
At the north end of the park, many parents and nannies ignored the protesters as their children frolicked in the springtime sunshine.
Bushwick resident Graham Parsons, 32, brought his 2-year-old son Gus to Evelyn's Playground on the north end of Union Square as helicopters swarmed overhead.
"What else are you going to do?" he said. "We live on top of each other here and you learn to ignore a lot."
But the calm of the late afternoon rally came after a series of incidents earlier in the day. Protesters clashed with the NYPD on Waverly Place and Sixth Avenue and there were suspicious package reports and bomb threats during the day that were linked to Occupy Wall Street, police sources said.
An envelope containing a suspicious substance that turned out to be harmless was found in the mail room of the News Corp. building in Midtown and several bomb threats were phoned in to local businesses across the city. Police sources said the incidents were linked to the protesters.
About 150 protesters gathered at Bryant Park earlier in the day, including Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
"[Occupy Wall Street] puts us in sync with a global solidarity of people who stand on the side of the working class," he told protesters. "It reflects the 99 percent of America who do the working and living and dying in this country but do not have their hands on the wheel of history in this country.
"And what this movement is about and today is about is jerking the wheel out of these sons of bitches' hands and putting it back in our own," he added. "The thing about the Occupy movement is that it isn't the usual suspects. It isn't aging hippies and anarchists."
Another 100 protesters marched over the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn Tuesday morning before gathering in the Sara D. Roosevelt Park at Chrystie and East Houston streets.
An activist got into a scuffle with a police officer at the park. It was not immediately clear whether the protester was taken into custody or if either person was injured.
Four people were cuffed and taken into police vans on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge when protesters marched across the span around noon.
The demonstrations involved students, too, many of whom were protesting school closures or tuition hikes.
Twenty-five students walked out of Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn to protest the closure of the school, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the act was unrelated to the Occupy rallies on Tuesday.
But Heather Axe, 32, a teacher at an Upper West Side high school protesting at Bryant Park, said she hoped to bring a message back to her students income inequality.
"My students get it," she said. "The people who I don't think get it are the people who have some wealth and something to lose.
"Even if you're making $100,000 a year, you're still not a millionaire," she added. "You're still working for someone else."
Angela Gelso, 26, who grew up in Mali, Africa, said the rejuvenated Occupy movement was unifying people from different walks of life.
"This is to bring people together," Gelso said. "This is the start of people seeing the need for change in this country."
Additional reporting by Andrea Swalec, Jill Colvin, Ben Fractenberg and Jesse Lent