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Posts Tagged ‘May Day’

That Thing About May Day

In Geography/ Spatial Justice, Identity Politics, Philosophical Musings, The Revolution on May 1, 2014 at 2:34 AM

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There’s something about May Day that still does it for me.

Jaded as I am about many of the current leftist political formations in the U.S.—particularly when it comes to the ritualized dilutions of identity politics and political nuance–I still find myself drawn to the basic message of the big ol’ General Strike.

As I re-examine the May Day poster circulated by Dignidad Rebelde two years ago at a peak of revolutionary revival, there is something very material, very real, very primal about its messaging: “TOMA LAS CALLES” and “Ni Trabajo, Ni Escuela, Ni Compras, Ni Actividades Bancarias” (“Take the Streets” and “No Work, No School, No Shopping, No Banking”).

I’m ambivalent, of course. In thinking about the post-Occupy landscape of New Left movements and their linkage to the radical origins of May Day, I feel a faint nostalgia and sense of loss. Behind me are the days of organizing against gentrification or police occupation or wage theft …and ahead? After all is said and done, where has endless critique taken

Into this downward spiral, I wonder:

  • Where am I in this new swirl of discombobulated movement activity?
  • How did I survive a traumatic auto-immunological assault on my midbrain, the torture of endless head pounding, and a dragnet that nearly sucked me into a suicidal black hole?
  • How did I survive the soul-crushing loneliness wrought by my positionality as a sick and queer working-class second-generation immigrant with roots in the global south?

These questions have plagued me in such a way that they challenge my pursuit of an impermanence-appreciating dharmic temporality. I become lost in this haze of old wounds and a pessimism about the future. And as another May Day rolls along, I am made aware of the stark reality: I have become another one of those revolutionaries who’ve receded into the shadows. The disaffected New York City leftist.

But maybe there’s room to hope. After all, May Day has something to it, something that captivates my often-schismatic and contradicatory personas and sensibilities.  Being a bit older and weighed down by a baggage of pain-induced awareness, I appreciate the simplicity of a call to take the streets and stop working. In a city like Gotham, it’s simple…yet complicated.

In a time when political questions around space have commanded the public imagination, when neoliberal gentrification has turned neighborhoods into war zones, and when Facebook event invites have become poor substitutes for wheat pasting and door-knocking …there’s just something about an event that does the damn job of bringing workers, immigrants, students, and the unemployed together into the same physical space.

In an alienating metropolis like New York, where “business as usual” equates to postmodern isolation, there’s something powerful in simply standing our ground, together, in a space we can claim.

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Two Years ago at Union Square

After all, how often to the disparate groups of the NYC Left physically congregate, separated as they are by ideologies, positionalities, boroughs and neighborhoods? For all its ugly shortcomings, I think my slight nostalgia for old labor politics stems from a basic appreciation of taking the streets.

And although many rallies at Union Square are admittedly redundant and stale, I appreciate the importance of such convergence. Even if only temporarily, the centrifugal machine-logic of the city is arrested as otherwise far-flung people chant, commiserate, gossip, and bullshit.

Even when the chants become repetitive to the point of irrelevance, it is the very real, material gathering of people that sparks possibility. For who knows what will spark the next revolutionary moment?

I might have become disillusioned with many things, but I also understand that the ongoing capitalist wreckage won’t be stalemated by cynicism. Neither will it be arrested by an imprisoned imagination or a blasé mentality. And it most certainly won’t happen with business as usual.

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Pigs protecting the heart of the heart of capitalism: Wall Street.

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Whose Day? Our Day!

In Class Politics, History, Identity Politics, The Revolution on April 30, 2013 at 10:30 PM

It’s May Day, or International Worker’s Solidarity Day. If you are reading this in the U.S. and are currently employed, you’re likely not observing this historical day due to some forfeiture by the corporate state. Instead, if you’re “off” today, it is likely because you called in sick, used a personal day, lied to your boss, etc., all of which are ploys and tactics to get around your typical work-slave drudgery.

This year, I join rank with the millions who are jobless or underemployed. And given my various ailments pertaining to meandering medical treatments and relentless chronic pain—problems which I attribute to this country’s for-profit medical-industrial complex, the pollution of our planet, and the crude misinformation that is presented in our media—I still plan on marching on May Day. If there’s anything I’ve learned, May Day is the closest thing to a well-acknowledged global event where the issues that affect us all—workers, students, immigrants, the incarcerated—have some presence in the explosion that has yet to reach its fruition. That is, May Day is a day of possibilities, a day to unshackle ourselves from the servitude for which we’ve been pummeled into accepting, a day to create a world we say is possible. As the son of immigrants, I don’t need a lesson on the global consequences of our ‘postmodern’ neoliberal order, where 1% of the world owns 40% of its wealth. As a working-poor queer Latino, I don’t need to be told how identity politics converge with material politics to oppress my people. As someone with chronic conditions emanating from the abuses of industrialized society (our so-called civilization), I don’t need a lesson on environmental degradation or the threats to our physical survival. What I need is solidarity from the people who claim to be comrades in the struggle for our freedom. What I need is empathy from the people who claim to care.

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Heavily promoted poster in Seattle comparing May Day 2012 with the memorable rioting against neoliberal globalization during the 1999 WTO conference.

For me, May Day is a day that has folded within itself the plentiful struggles and hopes that come from a people dying to be free. My first experience with May Day was back in 2006—the year anti-immigrant legislation was being considered before Congress (H.R. 4437). I was a senior in high school at the time and, as I was making my way home from school that day, I noticed the large procession marching down Broadway, with many signs in support of just immigration reform or against anti-immigrant sentiment. I had only recently opened my eyes to the possibility of community organizing, so I stuck, watching as an onlooker. In the years to come, I saw May Day as another chance to raise awareness about immigrants’ rights issues with fellow comrades doing work in that amorphous realm of “social justice”—a phrase that I’ve come to be more critical of as I delved deeper into the euphemistically categorized “grassroots” “non-profits.” It was only this previous year—in preparing for May Day 2012—that I began to truly research and understand the holiday’s radical origins.

I won’t bother to give details about a day that has been historicized and romanticized enough. Suffice it to be said that a celebration of workers’ solidarity on May 1st came out of several decades’ worth of unionization efforts around the world. What we gently call the “Haymarket Affair” (yet another example of de-radicalization in North American history books) was actually a massacre and pinnacle event stemming from a long history of labor resistance against capital. Preceding the massacre, the American Federation of Labor had adopted a resolution in favor of an eight-hour work day with May 1st, 1886 as their deadline.

Tens of thousands of people took the streets that day, risking their jobs as they fought for this now-commonly-accepted (and continually abused) labor condition. Despite the lack of support by local media, the fervor over a worker’s revolt took hold in Chicago, where labor conditions (including the infamous meatpacking factories) were worse than in other cities. On May 4th, after consecutive days of mobilization, people rallied in front of the McCormick Reaper Works factory near Haymarket Square; there, while police attempted to dismiss a peacefully assembled crowd, a bomb and several police guns went off. Revolutionary anarchist leaders, including August Spies and Albert Parsons (whose roles in the bombing are still debated), were sentenced to death and essentially martyred in the eyes of the labor movement.  In the following years and decades, anarchists, socialists, and communists alike chose May 1st to both honor the anarchist leaders murdered by the amerikan state as well as to commemorate the ongoing fight against capitalist hegemony.

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Before marchers even arrive, police are all “prepared” (and lined up) by Wall St and Broadway

My initial associations with May Day were issues relevant to immigrant justice. Years later, I’ve come to see May Day as being a day for workers, a day for students, a day for the chronically disabled or unemployed. Whether the “turn out” is as high as it was last year is unlikely—but we should also question our understanding of success, if it is defined by numbers, when we are challenging basic capitalist assumptions. This is one year in which I wasn’t actively involved in preparing for May Day events, and having become recently unemployed, I can’t say what resonance this particular May Day will have for me. Regardless, I know there’ll be something in the air as I try to reconcile the different meanings of solidarity. What does it mean for a single Latina mother to join with a white male activist? Or when professional organizers join with unpaid anarchists? Or when we try to assemble such seemingly disparate issues as the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline and the efforts to end stop-and-frisk and police terrorism?

I guess there’s only one way to find out: on the streets.

Kristin Richardson Jordan

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