May Day brings Occupy DC, unions together in solidarity

(This article originally appeared on D.C. Mic Check)

The “American Spring” climaxed around the country with a celebration of May Day on Tuesday. Locally, Occupy DC organized a festival that drew hundreds to Malcolm X Park, which was followed by an impassioned march to the White House on behalf of the workers of the world. Planned in conjunction with several unions and other organizations, Occupy DC’s actions were part of a nationwide effort to hold a “General Strike of the 99%” on May Day – a holiday with its roots in the labor rights movement.

“[Celebrating May Day] helps create solidarity in terms of the working class of the world and help[s] in the fight against imperialism,” said Mike Golash, one of the organizers of D.C.’s event, emphasizing the importance of observing May Day. “Since 1947 and the Taft-Hartley Act, the capitalists have been on the warpath against the workers in the country. We can begin to rebuild our movement.”

The Taft-Hartley Act effectively made strikes of a political or solidarity nature, such as the one proposed across the country for May Day, illegal for unions to participate in officially. Neither that fact nor the weather could stop people from flocking to the park on this May Day to take part in games and teach-ins and cheering for the speakers, poets, and singers on stage.

Only one activity in Washington, D.C. met with police resistance. The traditional dance around the May Pole, which dates back to ancient times, still occurred in spite of Park Police Captain Phil Beck’s order that the May Pole be unplanted from the ground.

This conflict was minuscule in comparison with clashes experienced by some in some West Coast cities. In Oakland, for example, police used tear gas and and flash-bang grenades on protestors. Still, May Day activities were generally peaceful around the world. Large crowds turned out in Manila and Tunis, among other cities. In this country, there were estimates of 30,000 participants in New York City.

In Washington, D.C., several police cars and motorcycles escorted May Day marchers to the White House as the march widened to all four lanes of 14th Street NW. A sunflower-headed dragon, with a body of green leaves, snaked behind banners and red flags carried by those who gave full-throated support to justice for workers.

The marchers chanted, “”We are the working class, we are the 99%!” and “Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (“Obama listen!  We are in the fight!”) as numerous people snapping cell phone photos looked on. Once in front of the White House, the heads of unions from Honduras, Bangladesh, and the Philippines addressed the boisterous crowd, thanking them for being part of the struggle for workers’ rights around the world.

Several participants thought the day was a good one for the Occupy movement. “This is a good way to kick off all the actions we’re doing for the summer,” said Javier Ocasin. “I want to see Occupy start a damn revolution. If I have to, I’ll start one myself!”

Barry Knight also thought the turnout was positive. “We need this. We need the masses to get out. This town is full of apathy,” he said. “As long as people say they support the Occupy movement while they sit in their Barcaloungers, that ain’t gonna do it. They gotta get out on the streets.”

“Don’t count Occupy out,” said Rob Brune, echoing the sentiments of many in the crowd, “This could be part of a new surge. It’s possible.”

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