We Need May Day More Than Ever: Unite to Dream and Fight for a Better Tomorrow
April showers bring May flowers, and this year, following a positively dreadful April, the flowers of revolution – black flags and red banners – will bloom alongside the crocuses and daffodils. May Day, the pagan feast turned workers’ holiday, has always belonged to the people, whether they were hoisting maypoles or hurling molotov cocktails, and the first of May’s revolutionary roots will be on full display this year.
This year marks the centenary of the Russian revolution, so it’s already a big year for the radical left and for revolutionary thinkers everywhere. But that’s not why May Day 2017 stands to be remembered as the most important since 1886, when American labor activists intensified their campaign for the eight-hour workday, and seven American and immigrant anarchists were executed in the Haymarket Square show trial.
Calls for general strikes have been crisscrossing the globe for months, as labor unions and radical activists ramp up their preparations for the day’s festivities and pressure large companies to refrain from retaliating against workers who choose to participate in the strike (so far, heavy hitters like Google, Facebook and several other tech companies have agreed). Banner drops and calls to action have urged people to take part, and the air is positively thrumming with excitement as more and more people take up the rallying cry of “strike!”
After Donald Trump’s wholly unexpected victory in November, many people mourned … but many more organized. So far Trump’s sham presidency has been characterized primarily by his failures, and by the massive mobilizations against the bigoted, repressive policies he’s struggled to implement.
Only 100 days into his fitful reign, the US has been rocked by waves of resistance to Trump and everything he stands for, whether that be capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia or xenophobia (or all of the above – after all, this is Trump we’re talking about).
On the day of his inauguration, as part of the Disrupt J20 action, hundreds of activists took to the streets in Washington to protest; more than 200 were cornered by the police, trapped in a kettle for over eight hours, arrested and thenslapped with grossly inflated (and largely unprovable) charges for “felony riot”. It was a shocking display of police brutality, and a sobering look at the kind of draconian measures that protesters, activists and anyone who decides to publicly express an opinion may have to fear under the Trump regime.
As this situation was unfolding, the Women’s March prepared to descend on Washington – and descend it did, to the tune of 500,000 people, nearly three times as many as turned up to cheer on Trump’s ascendence the day before. Sister marches took place in 679 American cities and 137 other countries, and many who participated continued to harness that energy in further protests.
In February, the Day Without Immigrants protests and boycott brought together immigrant workers and those who stand in solidarity with them. They demonstrated the importance of immigrants’ contributions to the US economy and culture, and to condemn Trump’s racist border policies, deportations and plans for a border wall.
Several weeks later, the people once more laid down their tools and took to the streets for the 2017 International Women’s Strike. This global action – which took place on 8 March and was organized by a network of women spanning more than 50 countries – took aim at corporate “lean in” feminism and demanded a new, anti-capitalist feminism for the 99%.
In April came the Tax March – which urged Trump to release his tax returns – and the March for Science, a nonpartisan effort which aimed to emphasize how science upholds the common good, and to protest his administration’s hostile approach to science, especially the looming dangers of climate change.
It’s extremely heartening to see so many diverse groups, focusing on specific but interlocked struggles, coming together to rally under the banner of a rejuvenated anti-authoritarian left dedicated to resisting not only Trump, but the harmful economic and political systems he props up.
The most exciting thing that all of these massive mobilizations have had in common is the energy crackling around them. People are angry, they’re excited, they’re motivated – and they’re not stopping. The fact that May Day, a traditionally more militant day of action as well as celebration, is here means that that energy will have yet another direction into which to flow, and ample opportunities to make an impact.
Communities around the world will celebrate May Day with marches, protests and demonstrations, and the organizing behind those efforts is happening at the ground level.
In New York City, for example, in addition to the Day Without Immigrants strike, a variety of radical marches and direct actions have been planned, with groups as diverse as feminist group National Women’s Liberation, immigrant rights organizations Movimiento Cosecha and Make the Road, the Brandworkers retail workers rights organization, prison abolitionist group Hoods 4 Justice and the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council working together and sharing resources to craft action plans in solidarity with the most marginalized and exploited of workers: immigrants and prisoners.
These May Day plans have not been hatched by large institutions or mainstream political parties, but by everyday people in general assemblies and councils, similar to the ones that drove movements like Occupy and the Arab spring.
The use and continuing success of these bottom-up, horizontal and radically democratic procedures in social movements suggests that previously marginal anarchist and anti-fascist ideas are catching the imagination of the world at large for reasons that go far beyond “Nazi punching” memes or Berkeley’s recent confrontations.
May Day promises to be yet another example of the people’s overwhelming desire for political alternatives in America, and of the new willingness to believe that politics can be participatory, liberating and defined by more than technocracy or greed.
Between Trump’s war on organized labor, the rise of digital labor unions, the powerful feminist response and pushback to his administration, the fight for trans rights that is now headed to the supreme court, and the increasing visibility of anarchism and anti-fascism, May Day 2017 very well may be the explosive catalyst for a number of slow-burning movements which have recently caught fire thanks to Trump and his far-right administration.
On this day, the world will see a resurgent anti-capitalist left, something few thought we would see in the US, ready to confront the newly emboldened right-wing forces that threaten our freedom. It’ll be a day of joy, of action and, for some, of perhaps less than legal pursuits undertaken against a state whose legitimacy fades with every passing day (and with every bungled tweet).
So this May Day, take some time to enjoy that energy, to see the excitement on the faces of your friends and comrades, and to take a few precious moments to dream of a better tomorrow. The worker must have bread – and a living wage, and the right to unionize, and the right to live her life as she sees fit – but, especially now, she must have roses too.