Krys Méndez

Archive for April 30th, 2013|Daily archive page

Whose Day? Our Day!

In Uncategorized 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.


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.


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.

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