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May 1 is International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day. Inspired by the events surrounding a huge labor strike for an eight hour work day in Chicago, it has become a holiday all around the globe, recognized by more than 80 countries. Except in the US, where until yesterday, no one has given it much recognition.
May Day 2012 was full of events across the globe and across the nation, and Boston was no exception this year. Labor groups, community organizations, immigrants, immigrants rights’ groups, and Occupy Boston spent the day rallying for fair wages, fair business practices, and fair immigration policies.
First Annual Financial District Block Party
Occupy Boston‘s first May Day event is underwhelming in a few ways. A far cry from Dewey Square, a group fluctuating from around 20-30 people occupies the corner of Federal and Franklin Streets, the same block as the giant Bank of America where Occupiers have protested before.
The early 7am start and cold rain turned away many potential protestors. And even when people trickled in at later hours, it was still disappointing to several Occupiers.
“It’s more than I feared, but less than I hoped for,” says an older man upon his arrival.
This said, the first annual Financial District Block Party is no failure.
The small group was full of energy, thanks to young members singing songs from the Little Red Songbook, who showed determination and resiliency after hours of rain. The group picketed the entrance to Bank of America and even marched through the streets of the Financial District, blocking traffic on Federal Street at one point.
One woman in a yellow coat asked passersby, both in suits and casual clothes, if they were on their way to work.
“It’s May Day — celebrate yourself!” she says to each one.
It’s important that Occupy take part in May Day.
“May Day’s the real workers’ holiday. There are people protesting all over the world,” says Enaa of the Boston Occupier. “We’re showing off our international credentials by trying to help take back what has been an oppressed holiday in the US.”
Enaa isn’t discouraged by the turnout at all.
“Boston weather sucks.”
After 10am, the young protestors of the group announced that the Anti-Capitalist March from Copley to City Hall Plaza was about to take place, and that they planned to attend. Most of the Occupiers followed them, ready to join another cause in solidarity.
Occupiers arrived at Copley Square to find a group of Student Anarchists staying dry beneath the archway of Trinity Church, red and black flags raised and bandanas over faces.
The group grew larger over the next twenty minutes, nearly packing the archway end to end with people, songs, banners, and flags. A man in a red and black hat announced that it was time to march — the first stop was St. James Street to meet up with picketing SEIU Local 615 reps.
Dressed in purple, a few reps denounced the practices of Capital Properties, specifically its foreclosure on an office cleaner. They’d return to St. James St. at 4:30pm with more members to protest and march.
— SEIU Local 615 (@SEIU615) May 1, 2012
After SEIU joined, it was time to go to City Hall for the Boston May Day Rally. The march, led by members of the Student Anarchist Federation, moved past Copley, past the the Common, and into Downtown. Passersby on the sidewalks stop and stare. Some enjoyed the sight more than others.
When a man who wasn’t a member of the march was arrested for some unknown reason, the crowd stopped and booed the police.
“That was really stupid, officer,” says Vermin Supreme through a bullhorn. “You only had to wait five minutes for the parade to pass by.”
Eventually the march arrived at City Hall Plaza, where they were warmly greeted at the May Day rally.
Boston May Day Rally
Rain didn’t ruin the May Day Rally — sponsored by the Boston May Day Coalition -- at all, as they brought in a wide selection of speakers to keep speakers up and goals focused.
James Herod, author of Getting Free, gave the history behind May Day and posed questions about what’s next for the post-Occupy world in the fight against corporate greed, advocating direct action and unity.
Romina Akemi of the Student Anarchist Federation also spoke, detailing growing up poor under a dictatorship in Chile and how it related to the struggling workers in the U.S.
Emily MacArtuth of Occupy Boston demanded that politicians stop using the promise of the DREAM Act as political leverage and denounced the idea that oil pipelines would create jobs.
“I want green jobs and I want ‘em now!” she roared.
City Councilor Charles Yancey read part of a resolution the city council will vote on soon that “proclaims Tuesday, May 1, 2012, International Workers’ Day in the city of Boston.”
“Remember him? He was set up,” says one woman in the crowd.
In his statement, Turner congratulated Occupy for enlightening people, but also asked, “Now that there is recognition of the imbalance of wealth and prosperity… what do we do?”
“The struggle cannot just be about better housing, available health care, fair wages … It has to be about improving the principles we live by. This country has to be built by [the workers].”
There was a brief song about the Haymarket Massacre and several other speakers discussed immigrant rights, the importance of remembering domestic abuse victims, and ethnic tolerance and solidarity.
“The One Percent tries to divide us,” said Chris Gonzalez of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “They blame the illegal immigrant, or the single mother … The real enemy is in the corporate boardroom, in City Hall with Mayor Menino.
“We need to take up anti-racist issues, [fight against] racial profiling. Unity cannot be in word alone — it must be in deed.”
The crowd was energetic and cheered often, sometimes louder than the sound system.
The May Day rally ended with activist Sergio Reyes playing guitar and singing “The Internationale,” with a verse for workers and a verse in Spanish for Latino immigrants. When the rally ended, everyone was encouraged to hop on the Blue Line to East Boston for another rally and march into Chelsea and Everett.