Solidarity in the streets for May Day

May 2, 2017

Alan Maass compiles reports from socialists around the U.S. to provide an on-the-ground snapshot of the demonstrations, strikes and other actions of May Day 2017.

ON MAY Day around the U.S., immigrants, union workers, anti-racist activists, students, low-wage employees and more celebrated an international workers' holiday born in America by raising their voices for justice here and around the world.

May Day had a new urgency this year because of the bigot who occupies the White House. Donald Trump wants to intimidate those who oppose him into silence--but the chants that echoed off the skyscraper canyons in U.S. cities show that he won't get his way without a fight.

May 1 has mainly been a day for immigrant rights mobilizations since the "mega-marches" of a decade ago that defeated Republican legislation to criminalize all the undocumented.

If immigration was front and center again this year, though, it wasn't only for reasons of tradition. The Trump administration's war on immigrants has had perhaps the most drastic and immediate impact of any of its actions.

Trump has unleashed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--which was already setting records for deportations during the Obama years--sending a wave of fear flooding through immigrant communities. Millions of people are terrified that their family, friend circles and communities could be ripped apart at any moment.

Marching through Oakland on May Day
Marching through Oakland on May Day (Annette Bernhardt)

So the chant "No borders, no nations! Stop deportations!" again rang out on May Day. But there were many other struggles represented at the marches and rallies. For one thing, immigrants are directly connected to those struggles--for union rights, a $15-an-hour minimum wage and more.

But like all the other eruptions of protest since Trump took power, there was a strong spirit of solidarity--an acknowledgment of the labor movement slogan coined not long after the first May Day: An injury to one is an injury to all.

That was clear from the opening days of the administration, when Trump's executive orders for construction of a border wall and for a Muslim travel ban led to unprecedented demonstrations at international airports, with protesters rallying against Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hate.

On May Day, a Los Angeles Times report on the 20,000-strong march described a gathering that "looked like a mash-up of recent protests across the country"--with shirts from the January 21 Women's Marches, pink signs defending Planned Parenthood and others about climate change.

People are opposed to the Trump administration for all kinds of reasons, but they are recognizing that we have to stand together. At a rally in Chicago's Union Park, Patricia Johnson, a member of the AFSCME local at Northeastern University that is fighting drastic budget cuts, said:

I see all of these things--that Chicago Public Schools have closed, how Black and Brown people have been terrorized by police or by threat of deportation. All the people who have been marginalized are connecting the dots. It's great that people are making those connections and realizing that we have to resist because there's strength in numbers."

The sense of standing together was evident at campus mobilizations that often took place as a warm-up for citywide demonstrations later in the day. For example, at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, seven campus groups spanning an array of struggles worked together to organize a "May Day of Action," based on seven agreed-upon demands, including that UMD be a full sanctuary campus.

The sanctuary question is pressing on campuses as ICE goes on the offensive, even threatening students who are supposed to have protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by Obama.

THE ROOTS of May Day go back to an 1886 nationwide general strike for the eight-hour day, and the tradition was revived in the U.S. in 2006 by the uprising of immigrant workers who went on strike or otherwise stayed away from work in large numbers as part of the May 1 protests that year.

Given this history--and the urgency of confronting the Trump onslaught--hopes were high earlier this year for large turnouts at the May Day protests and a similar wave of strikes and workplace actions.

These didn't materialize. The biggest protests in any U.S. city numbered in the tens of thousands at most--a significant mobilization, but far smaller than 2006--and the numbers of people who stayed away from work, while it is impossible to calculate exactly, were not nearly as large.

In Philadelphia, about 1,000 teachers--or one in eight educators in city schools--called out on May 1 in a protest against the city's failure to negotiate a contract with union teachers for nearly four years. The action was reportedly spearheaded by members of the Caucus of Working Educators.

But this action was the exception and not the rule on May Day. In Chicago, for example, turnout was only a fraction of the "mega-march" of May Day 2006, when hundreds of thousands of workers stayed away from their jobs and overwhelmed downtown for hours.

One major factor is the raw fear of the Trump offensive. "A lot of people are afraid of the deportations--and the fact that home raids are happening," said Antonio Gutierrez of Organized Communities Against Deportations.

This is true even in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims the city isn't cooperating with immigration enforcement. Gutierrez says that's a flat-out lie. In a speech at one of the Chicago rallies, he denounced the Chicago Police Department for sharing its database of alleged gang members with ICE.

This sets a challenge for supporters of immigrant rights, said Elsa Lopez, an activist with the Casa Michoacan community organization. "The most important thing," Lopez said, "is to be able to convince people not to fear coming out so that things can change."

"I came here undocumented as a child and joined the military," said Lopez, who was in the U.S. Navy, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005. "I grew up here. This is what I know as my home. After taking the risk of losing my life over this country, I think we have the right to be here."

Fernando Huerta, an activist with Chicago Community and Workers Rights, a center for Latino immigrant workers, agreed that fear was a major factor in the turnout, but he pointed out some positives about this year's march, too: "It is multinational and multiracial," he said. "Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, other Latinos--the most important thing is that we are all here."

For this reason, this year's May Day march can provide a springboard for further organizing, he said. "The working class has to be more united and more organized."

There is another issue that the movement needs to come to grips with. The 2006 movement that pulled off a massive "Day Without Immigrants" helped put Barack Obama in the White House two years later--but it went dormant after that, waiting for Obama's promises of reform to materialize, which they never did.

This means there is rebuilding to do as the resistance to Trump goes on--and with a clear understanding that the Republican racists have to be challenged, but so do the Democrats who concede to them on every issue.

In Los Angeles, the call for May Day brought out tens of thousands of people for a march that ended with a rally in Grand Park in front of City Hall.

At the gathering point in MacArthur Park, 12-year-old Joseph Moreno met other protesters with a message of resistance that conveyed the spirit of the day. "If you build a wall, my generation will knock it down," read his poster.

There were many families on the march. Juan Becerra brought his 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter along rather than send them to school, even though the Los Angeles Unified School District defied a call from the teachers' union to close schools for the day.

"I want my kids in school because it's good for them to be in school, but I feel they should be here because [Trump's immigration policies] affects them, too," Becerra told a Los Angeles Times reporter. "My daughter is so afraid she thinks she'll get deported. And she was born here."

As in other cities, a handful of racist Trump supporters showed up to heckle the marchers--and naturally, mainstream media coverage gravitated to the bigots, even though they were vastly outnumbered. In LA, the right wingers actually played the Vanilla Ice song "Ice Ice Baby" in between shouting racist abuse.

By contrast, Crecencio Bacilio conveyed the dignity of the May Day demonstrators as he marched with his wife and three sons. Bacilio closed down his fruit shop for the day to attend. The decision to lose a day's business was hard, he said, but "[t]his year, of all years, we need to be a part of this fight. To let people know we're not criminals. We are hard workers, and we are going to fight to the very end."

In Chicago, some 15,000 people representing more than 100 different immigrant rights organizations, unions, anti-racist groups, and other political and workers' organizations defied periodic downpours to march together in solidarity with immigrant workers.

As people assembled in Union Park, the different contingents mingled together, alongside many individuals or families carrying homemade signs, showing the amazing breadth of the march.

Members of UNITE HERE; Black Lives Matter and Fight for 15 activists; Chicago Teachers Union members, a dozen people carrying red hearts broken in half that read "Our families are broken"; a woman standing defiantly with a sign that read, "You can't oppress people who are not afraid anymore"--they came together in their own wall of solidarity to counter Trump's racist border plan.

Two young men said the owner of the Mexican restaurant where they work decided to shut down for May Day. "We come from all these different places, and yet there's a sense of community," said one.

His co-worker continued, "It's amazing to see everyone come together. I'm not an illegal immigrant, I was born here, but I noticed that there are a lot of people just like me who are here to show support. They know it's a problem. We all have our own little worlds that we live in, but we came together to make an impact."

Hours before the 1 p.m. rally, other actions took place across the city, with morning rallies of teachers and students at several Chicago Public Schools, as well as student rallies on college campuses.

Bridget Broderick, who was part of the Chicago May Day Coalition that organized the event, talked about what the day accomplished:

For a number of years, under Obama, there hasn't been much coalition-building for May Day. This year was a deliberate attempt to bring together previous forces fighting for immigrant rights with other forces, like unions and some of the struggles that have more recently emerged, like Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project, the movements against police brutality and the Fight for 15.

In that sense, it was a very politically powerful march. Not as many people came out as during the massive immigrant rights marches of 2006 obviously, but it shows us where organizing needs to happen in communities that are under attack--specifically immigrant communities that are facing deportation. It was good to see these groups all in the same room and seeing what can be done.

In San Francisco, some 5,000 people rallied on May Day in support of immigrant and worker's rights, marching from Justin Herman Plaza through downtown to the Civic Center.

Unions were out in force, especially teachers represented by AFT, members of SEIU 1021 and members of the International Longshore Workers Union. There were other groups of immigrant rights activists, students and left organizations. One of the highlights of the march was a 75-strong socialist contingent jointly organized by the International Socialist Organization, Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative.

Asked why she attended, Lisa Mestayer, an activist with the Justice for Alex Nieto campaign and a San Francisco native since she came to the U.S. at the age of 4 from Nicaragua, said: "I owe it to my future, and I owe it to my past as an immigrant myself and as a child of immigrants. As a mother of three boys, I'm here because they need me, and they need to know how to show up and be present in the movement."

Daisy, a San Francisco State student, said she came out in honor of her parents, who emigrated to the U.S., but also "because we have classmates who are undocumented who were scared to be here, so we're not going to let undocumented students be here by themselves."

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, at the University of California at Berkeley, around 100 people gathered on Sproul Plaza to demand that administrators declare the school a sanctuary campus and refuse to cooperate with ICE. The protest also called on UC to pay a living wage to undergraduate student workers--and back wages for student workers fired for organizing.

"One of the reasons why we're here today is to make UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus," Erica West, a UC undergrad and member of the ISO, said in a rally speech. "Being at the 'public ivy' doesn't mean anything when you are racially profiled or deported or sexually assaulted by a professor or fired for trying to unionize. The things we are fighting against--racism, sexism, policing of our communities--are present right here on our campus. And we have to fight back."

Meanwhile, several hundred people protested at ICE offices in Oakland and San Francisco, blockading the entrances.

At Stanford University, some 150 students rallied at an event coordinated by Stanford Sanctuary Now, the Stanford American Indian Association, Student and Labor Alliance, SEIU United Service Workers West, and the International Socialist Organization.

After speeches by representatives of various groups, the protesters marched to the president's office to present demands that Stanford be made a sanctuary campus, before getting on buses to join the afternoon demonstration in San Jose.

In New York City, nearly 1,000 people began their May Day with a demonstration in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, where they listened to speeches, musical performances and street theater by immigrant workers and activists.

Several blocks away, almost 1,000 people rallied at Union Square. With the sun beating down, people listened to speeches about the need for solidarity, workers' rights and opposition to U.S. support for anti-worker regimes around the world. Nearly 200 black bloc activists were a prominent component of the crowd.

Nearly everyone at these first two protests eventually made their way to Foley Square for a rally that featured speeches by union officials and politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio.

A few thousand people listened to Yahaira Burgos, a property service worker and member of SEIU 32BJ, recount the horrific story of her husband's detention after a mandatory ICE check-in. He was eventually released after spending two weeks in federal detention centers.

"I want to thank everyone who helped me," said Burgos. "All the people who signed the petition, made the phone calls, sent the letters that made it so my husband wasn't deported and is back home. That was a great victory."

Chase, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, was attending his first May Day protest and had just returned from the climate justice march in Washington, D.C. "I'm here to stand with immigrants and refugees and the working class around the world," he said. "But for me, I'm here because of the whole war. We're creating refugees but we're not allowing them in."

In Portland, Oregon, more than 1,000 people, including some families with children, gathered in Shemanski Square, before marching through downtown. The turnout was largely left individuals and organizations, rather than immigrant groups--likely due to the terror from ICE, but preceding media coverage that focused on the threat of violence.

The march was loud and spirited, with chants focused on immigrant rights like "Power to the people, no one is illegal!" and signs reading "Education not Deportation" and "No Ban, No Wall!"

Halfway through the march, police announced over loudspeakers that the march permit had been canceled due to projectiles thrown from the back of the crowd, and that anyone who remained was subject to arrest. Families with children bolted down side streets, and the march had dwindled to a couple hundred protesters when police attacked, firing tear gas and flash bang grenades.

Had the police not decided to revoke the march permit, creating an unnecessary and unsafe situation for the 1,500 people in the street including families, the march could have continued on to the end, and so while we know the media will try to blame the protesters for causing this unsafe situation, we know who is really to blame.

While police claimed protesters themselves made the march unsafe for both the police and others, the real problem was their sudden announcement that 1,500 people had to disband, causing fear and chaos. The subsequent attack by cops led to an all-out clash with some Black Bloc protesters, making it difficult to even safely leave the area.

It's unclear if the police actions were truly provoked by a handful of activists throwing projectiles, but if so, this was utterly irresponsible in giving the cops the justification to go on the attack.

Prior to the march, organizers had coordinated with Black Bloc activists, arguing that the march should be a space where undocumented immigrants and their children could feel safe, not one to confront police. If these tactics were used, they went against the democratic decisions of those who organized the march.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 students, professors, unionists and community members rallied at Portland State University (PSU) before marching to the citywide event. A new emergency response initiative at PSU was announced as an ongoing way to fight back locally against deportations.

Speakers also focused on campus issues. Tuition has just gone up at the largely commuter campus by 9 percent, while campus workers make less than $15 an hour and many faculty are stuck in adjunct positions.

In Philadelphia, around half a dozen different protests converged in the early afternoon for a rally at City Hall to demonstrate for immigrant rights, a living wage, union rights and much more.

The protesters--mobilized by a range of groups, from the immigrant rights organization Juntos to left groups such as the Philly Socialists, Black and Brown Together and others--rallied to demand a stop to ICE raids and sanctuary status for city campuses.

News coverage of the May Day events in Philadelphia was dominated by reports that some 1,000 union teachers had called out of work in a protest against the city's failure to negotiate a contract nearly four years after the last one expired. Teachers have had to take on second and third jobs, some have defaulted on student loans, and all have had to struggle with making ends meet.

The action was organized by the Caucus of Working Educators. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers didn't sanction teachers calling out, though it organized a rally for after school hours at City Hall.

Philadelphia college students organized on their own campuses as a prelude to the larger protest in the afternoon.

At Drexel University, about 60 people convened on Perelman Plaza to demand that university President John Fry declare Drexel a sanctuary campus. Fry has said previously that he opposed declaring the school a sanctuary so that Drexel would be looked on more favorably by the Trump administration.

In Washington, D.C., some 2,000 people took the message of May Day to Trump's doorstep, rallying in Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House.

The march began in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, a mostly immigrant community, with several feeder marches from other areas joining along the way. The mostly Latinx crowd listened to speeches and joined in exuberant chants.

At one of the stops along the route, restaurant workers, both immigrant and non-immigrant, spoke about their working conditions and the abuses they face. Solidarity with immigrants of all countries and solidarity among workers regardless of race, religion or gender was the main theme of the march.

Before arriving at Lafayette Park, a section of the march stopped in front of Mayor Muriel Bowser's office to demand that D.C. be declared a sanctuary city, protecting all people who live in the community.

In Boston, as many as 1,000 people gathered at Boston Common for the late afternoon rally and march.

One of the speakers was Mahtowin, a member of the Lakota tribe and of United American Indians of New England, who said: "We have to tell you that there are no borders in the struggle. We stand with struggles from Puerto Rico to Palestine."

Other speakers likewise drew connections between the different oppressions facing those in the crowd and called for solidarity and a common struggle against Trump.

Jessica, a member of the Boston Teachers Union, called for sanctuary schools and drew cheers from the crowd when she said: "The fight for immigrant rights goes hand in hand with the fight for LGBTQ rights, for Black lives matter and the fight for public education."

Earlier, there were demonstrations and actions at numerous schools around the area. At MassArt, a college of art and design, around 45 students and community members gathered in the mid-afternoon, bringing together students from different campuses in the area, both activists with organizations like the ISO and those new to activism.

Juan, an undergraduate at UMass Boston and formerly undocumented immigrant from Argentina, talked about the need to connect struggles for economic justice, like affordable education, with the fight for undocumented immigrants.

"Immigrants can't vote, but the one thing we can do is withhold our labor," Juan said. "Look at Puerto Rico today--they brought the island to a stop. We can do that here. In the process of that struggle there are big questions: Can we change things within the system? Should we organize outside of the system? Should we do away with the system?"

In Austin, Texas, May Day protests focused not only on the Trump administration, but an immediate threat in Texas.

Senate Bill 4, which would effectively ban cities from taking measures to be sanctuaries by criminalizing law enforcement officers who don't honor ICE requests to detain prisoners pending an investigation into their immigration status. Several activists began May Day with a sit-in at Gov. Greg Abbott's office to protest the bill, which is expected to reach his desk soon.

At the University of Texas, about 70 students and community members gathered at the UT Tower in the center of campus for an event organized by Sanctuary UT, a group working for a sanctuary campus and racist immigration policies. Organizations involved in planning the event included the Austin ISO, United Students Against Sweatshops, University Leadership Initiative (an undocumented students group) and Amnesty International.

"We need to show the community we're here for everyone, not just UT students or in Austin, but everyone in the world," said Juan, a speaker from ULI.

The campus protest then marched to the state Capitol to show solidarity with the sit-in at Abbott's office.

In Burlington, Vermont, around 400 people marched on May Day with Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante for their Milk with Dignity campaign.

Chants of "Ben & Jerry's escucha estamos en la lucha" and "One, two, three, four Milk with Dignity's at your door; five, six, seven, eight, two years too late" rang out. The iconic liberal Vermont ice cream company committed to join the Milk with Dignity campaign in 2015 to give dairy workers "fair, just and dignified" conditions, but the company has still not signed the deal.

The May Day march stopped at a Ben & Jerry's scoop shop to drop off a 100-yard-long chain of postcards demanding that the company keep its promise.

The march then made its way to the federal courthouse, where recently released Migrant Justice leaders Victor Diaz, Enrique "Kike" Balcazar, Zully Palacios and Miguel Alcudia were greeted with loud applause.

Balcazar told the crowd: "We're living in a time that's harder than ever before to speak out for what's right and demand our dignity and our rights--and that's why Ben & Jerry's has to join the Milk with Dignity campaign, because they know what's happening to us when we show our faces."

In Orlando, Florida, more than 500 workers rallied indoors at the Hilton Buena Vista Plaza Hotel in Disney Springs to demand a $15-an-hour living wage for Disney workers.

UNITE HERE Locals 362 and 737 joined forces under the slogan of "Disney Needs a Raise." Demonstrators chanted that they would "shut it down" if the company didn't agree to the wage increase during upcoming contract negotiations.

Speakers addressed the protesters in Spanish, French and English. Many Haitians and Latinos--especially Puerto Ricans--work in the food, hotel and service sectors of Disney World. A key theme was solidarity among workers, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community both here in Orlando and across the nation.

In Atlanta, several hundred people came out under gloomy skies to rally on May Day. The demonstration called on the city to refuse to cooperate with ICE's "detainer" requests to police to hold suspects and to pay a $15-an-hour wage to the nearly 1,000 city workers making less.

'We want Atlanta to be a real sanctuary city, not just a welcoming city," Carlos Medina, of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, told the crowd. "We want a fair salary: $15. We want the people to respect gender identity. And we want them to stop the deportations."

The crowd of demonstrators ended their rally and packed into a meeting of the City Council to press their demands--the City Council president announced that that there were more requests to make a public comment than ever before.

Demonstrators are also hoping to pressure the city into working with community organizations to get Georgia State University and several real estate developers to sign a binding community benefits agreement in relation to a major development in South Atlanta to could accelerate gentrification.

In Columbus, Ohio, supporters of immigrant rights and social justice celebrated May Day with a full day's events.

In the morning, upwards of 100 people came out in the pouring rain to march for immigrant justice. The march arrived at the steps of the Ohio statehouse, where mainly immigrant speakers talked about the importance of all workers--regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexuality and faith--uniting together against ICE raids, Trump's violence and the racist police.

Rubén Castilla Herrera, one of organizers of the event closed the rally by saying, "Our stories are different, but our struggle is the same."

In the afternoon, the Students Together Against Trump coalition at Ohio State University hosted a teach-in on the history of May Day, the importance of the strike weapon and current student organizing around justice for farmworkers, a sanctuary campus and an end to Islamophobia.

In New Orleans, a May Day march of 500 people, organized by the Congreso of Day Laborers immigrant rights organization, wound its way through downtown with alternating chants in Spanish and English against anti-immigrant policies, as well as racist police violence and violence toward trans people.

Speakers condemned ICE's raids, as well as a plan of city officials to spend about $40 million on security cameras and more police for the French Quarter tourist district--when the police system has shown itself to be racist to the core, and the city has spent almost no money to expand job opportunities for young people.

In Western Massachusetts, some 400 people turned out for May Day march in Northampton from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center to City Hall, where immigrant workers gave a series of rousing speeches. In Springfield, a spirited crowd of 200 started its protest right in front of the local ICE headquarters.

At the State University of New York at New Paltz, around 100 students walked out of classes on the afternoon of May Day. The action was organized by members of the International Socialist Organization, New Paltz Action Network, Party for Socialism and Liberation and others.

One important issue at New Paltz was solidarity with adjunct faculty, whose chapter of United University Professions organized a rally earlier in the day. The administration is planning to fire around 160 adjuncts at the end of the semester, despite several teaching at the college for over 20 years.

After the student walkout, participants joined up with a second May Day action in nearby Poughkeepsie, New York, which was organized by Community Voices Heard. Several hundred people from around the Hudson Valley marched to the City Hall and occupied the space to hold a speak-out, which highlighted the oppression of immigrants and people of color.

Another local issue addressed is the privatization of buses, which will happen on June 30 unless the City Council votes to override Mayor Rob Rolison's veto of a resolution that would have kept the public transit system funded.

In Asheville, North Carolina, 100 people rallied and joined a march led by immigrant workers associated with Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA).

Speakers stressed the need for the working class to come together to fight Trump's action against immigrants from Latin America as well as the Middle East. The stress throughout was laid on the workers' struggle in all and from all countries. Other organizations that participated in organizing the rally included the PSL, IWW and ISO.

After a few months without much in the way of protest in Asheville, the Science March, the Peoples Climate March and May Day are reviving the struggle of workers and the oppressed in this corner of the South.

In Syracuse, New York, the May Day march and rally drew 150 people to hear powerful speeches from immigrant workers, many of the undocumented. At the rally, a speaker from the Black Lives Matter struggle related the history of May Day. As chants of "No borders, no nations!" rang out, one speaker noted the injustice of no one being arrested for corporate crimes, while "Eric Garner sells loose cigarettes outside a gas station and is murdered for it."

In Rochester, New York, several dozen students at the Rochester Institute of Technology marched through campus and rallied to stand in solidarity with immigrants against Trump's attacks, and together with the working class of the world on an international day of protest.

Later that day, despite a severe thunderstorm, nearly 100 people attended a rally organized by Metro Justice, the Rochester Worker Justice Center, and other labor and immigrant activist groups.

Maryam Abidi, Andrew Abreu, Jason Carmichael, Bill Crane, Elizabeth Dean, Angela Gwen, Christopher Hauck, Harry Hillenbrand, Danny Katch, Leonard Klein, Sarah Levy, Tom Lewis, Diana Macasa, Doniella Maher, Greg Morin, Katherine Nolde, Steve Ramey, Eric Ruder, Elizabeth Schulte, Diana Solano-Oropeza, Lee Sustar, Kay Sweeney, Jeremy Tully, Colin Warlick, Daniel Werst and Melanie West contributed to this article.

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