After an autumn marked by spontaneous marches, arrests and raucous street theater, Occupy Wall Street is changing tactics as it plans a march next month that some organizers hope will rekindle the movement's momentum.
Occupy backers say they will stage an official comeback with their call for a national general strike on May 1, a traditional day of left-leaning rallies and demonstrations, which they have billed as a "Day Without the 99%."
This time, however, there is a notable exception: The protest will be legal.
In a nod toward the needs of its more mainstream allies, especially labor unions, Occupy organizers agreed to obtain a city permit for the march from Union Square to Battery Park. The permit was secured by Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents city subway and bus workers.
"While we believe we have a right to rally and march, we don't want to expose our immigrant workers to police tactics," said Wilfredo Larancuent, 60 years old, manager of the laundry workers union, Workers United, who is also affiliated with SEIU. "If people don't have any documentation and they do get arrested, they can face deportation."
A TWU spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.
The compromise represents a shift in tone for Occupy. It launched onto the international stage in the fall after its anti-corporate message and tent city in a Lower Manhattan park tapped into popular anger over income inequality and joblessness. Its boisterous, unpermitted marches—over the Brooklyn Bridge and in Times Square, among others—led to hundreds of arrests.
But a November police raid broke up the encampment, and even the mild winter discouraged mass gatherings. Occupy has struggled to regain its energy, and the march could demonstrate whether it went into hibernation or has lost strength.
At the same time, labor unions have tried to maintain ties with the group, a natural ally that still draws crowds and attention.
The May 1 march existed before Occupy Wall Street. New York City unions have staged a May Day march for the past three years to mark International Workers Day, Mr. Larancuent said. To the best of his knowledge, he said, no arrests were made during those rallies.
A spokesman for the New York City Police Department didn't respond to a request for comment.
While organizers of this year's march—composed of representatives from the labor movement, immigrant organizations, Occupy Wall Street activists and others—agreed to secure the permit, the decision was met with some resistance.
"My personal opinion is that we don't need a permit. It's going to be thousands and thousands of people," said Occupy Wall Street organizer Shawn Carrié, 22, a member of the May Day planning committee.
But Andrew Smith, another protester in the loosely organized movement, believes the group has room for many different approaches. "If unions would like to get permits, then we can do actions that are high-risk. Things can happen simultaneously," said Mr. Smith, 26.
Even with the permit, some groups are keeping their distance from Occupy's call for a strike. Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the New York Immigrant Coalition, said she hopes participants will view the march as "a separate effort."
"We're being very precise about our march route so that participants know they can stay safe. This is not an action that is meant to disrupt. It's an action to get out our message," Ms. Hong said. "Legalize, organize, unionize are basic themes that are broad enough and strong enough to attract all different groups."
While the march is expected to be well-attended, most of the 50 participating unions don't plan to strike on May 1, a decision that has disappointed many Occupy Wall Street activists.
Mr. Larancuent said that unions are free to strike, though he believes political walk-outs aren't in line with U.S. labor movement traditions.