In grade school, May Day consisted of a basket, some candy, and little humor. Sadly, that glossed over the history of International Worker’s Day and the struggle for workers’ rights in decades past. In 1886, demonstrators in Haymarket Square and police clashed, leading to a bomb thrown by an unknown person, which killed 11 people.
This year, Occupy movements, unions and activists utilized the holiday to spread their message around the country. Scores of people rallied and marched in New York City, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago. The crowd in Chicago surpassed 1,200 at Union Park and slowly marched to Federal Plaza in the downtown area.
“Workers united, will never be defeated,” was chanted as the rain drizzled on the beginning stages of the marchers. But the largest contingent of the crowd came from the immigrant community that called for an amnesty program. Local unions members from Unite HERE, SEIU, ATU, and National Nurses United also came out in support.
The messages varied throughout the march: taxing the rich, disparaging Mayor Rahm Emanuel, amnesty for immigrants, stopping the attacks on unions and health care. Critics point to the disparity in messaging, including a couple of older white men who lamented to each other that the protests seemed to be about everything.
It is the system itself that people are frustrated with and want to see changed. It is no longer working for the middle class and has never worked for those struggling below it.
People are angry, as evidenced by some of the chants: “hey Rahm Emanuel, take your cuts and go to hell.” Or “They say cut back, we say fight back.”
Something is bound to happen when people in positions of power continue to push citizens into a corner with serious budget cuts to vital programs. At this moment in time, rallies, marches and demonstrations pervade the movement. Occupations like Wall Street last fall or at the Woodlawn clinic just a couple weeks ago escalate the protests, yet remains a non-violent means of direct action.
Along the march, a speaker summed up the message well, “We are asking for a dignified life. An opportunity to pursue it.”
An agenda by elected officials to cut their way out of debt further prevents that pursuit. Protesters typically call it austerity, a strict economy, which means defunding public assistance programs, transit, job programs and further limits government spending. Think of it as choking yourself to death because that is what Greece is doing right now and what many officials want the United States to do.
Abel, from Occupy Chicago, captured some elevated footage of the march. He stood in the flowerbeds at Willis Tower where security held and threatened him with arrest. They released him as members from the Lawyers Guild talked some sense into security.
What happened elsewhere? In Oakland, there are reports of police using teargas to disperse a crowd. Thousands took part in New York. Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine fame, performed in Bryant Park and a wildcat strike took place in another part of the city.
Gregory, a doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant at SUNY Stony Brook College also came to use the wildcat strike as an opportunity to express himself in protest.
“I’m a union member, I’m a public employee of the state–and as a public employee, we are legally not allowed to strike. The wildcat strike provides a space for those of us who can’t strike for whatever reason to still express ourselves in protest.”
What did you see happen on May Day?
Photo by Aaron Krager