Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Day


Yesterday was the first day of May, May 1st some would say. Wikipedia tells us: "May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls exactly half a year from November 1, another cross-quarter day... and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations."
   Well I'm all for that! I could certainly use a raucous celebration about now. Two or three in fact.
   When I look up the term "raucous celebrations" on the Internet, I keep getting referred to a news story concerning a man in Kentucky who got his foot shot after that state won the NCAA basketball championship requiring it to be amputated, and Guy Fawkes Night.
   I don't need anything that raucous.
   May Day has a complicated history. Some sort of transition took place that changed a spring festival into a commemoration of the May 4th, 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, which occurred after an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed a public assembly during a general strike where workers were fighting for an eight-hour workday. In response, the  police fired on the workers killing dozens of demonstrators and several of their own officers.
   In recognition of this tragic event in the history of labor, May 1st was declared International Workers' Day in 1891 by the Second Congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle.
   Always the iconoclasts, the United States and Canada, however, made the official holiday for workers as Labor Day, the first Monday in September, a month when no discernable massacres took place (except during the French Revolution, which didn't have a great deal to due with worker's rights, or America and Canada).
   Here in the U.S., we don't care about massacres that haven't taken place yet, so the idea of Labor Day, which celebrated middle class workers and unions, began as a state issue. Accordingly, Oregon was the first state to make it a holiday back in 1887. By the time it became a federal holiday in 1894, thirty states officially celebrated Labor Day. Following the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike (a nationwide conflict between labor unions and railroads in 1894. The strike was broken up by United States Marshals and some 12,000 United States Army troops, sent by President Grover Cleveland on the premise that the strike interfered with the delivery of the mail, and other BS excuses, including a threat to public safety, prompting an attack on the strikers, killing 13 of them, and wounding 57, which seems more of an act against public safety than the strike was, and an early example of our military and police being used as an industry's private security force). Fearing further violence, Cleveland and Congress rushed through legislation making Labor Day a national holiday, which was unanimously signed into law six days after the strike ended. The September date originally chosen by the Central Labor Union of New York and observed by many of the nation's trade unions for the past several years, was selected rather than the more widespread International Workers' Day because Grover was worried that observance in May would be associated with the Communist, Syndicalist and Anarchist movements that had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair on International Workers' Day.
   Still, in the United States, efforts to officially switch Labor Day to the international holiday of May 1 have failed. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, in 1921, May 1st was promoted as Americanization Day by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups as a counter to communists. It became an annual event, sometimes featuring large rallies.
   In 1949, Americanization Day was renamed to Loyalty Day.
   In 1958, the U.S. Congress declared Loyalty Day a national holiday; that same year, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 Law Day as well, so May 1st became two holidays in one, sort of like Wrigley's Doublemint Gum. He did this to dissuade citizens from being inspired by the populist tones of May Day, and what better way to do that then associating it with the law and lawyers.
   Law day and its observance was later codified into law by Public Law 87-20 on April 7, 1961.
   In 2001, immigrant rights groups in Los Angeles resurrected May Day as an occasion for protest. The first few years saw small rallies with several hundred participants, but in 2006 the numbers increased dramatically. That year, millions of people in over 100 cities — including more than a million in Los Angeles, 200,000 in New York and 300,000 in Chicago — participated in May Day demonstrations. I remember innocently walking out of the Little Tokyo library branch into the midst of thousands of Hispanics trudging toward the downtown area, big ones, little ones, male and female, a lot of them carrying signs proclaiming they were not criminals, responding to Congress's assertion that many of them were, by a bill, sponsored by Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisc.) and passed by the House the previous December, that would have classified as a felon anyone who helped undocumented immigrants enter or remain in the United States.
   This year the Occupy  movement has launched its own protest actions. Branches of Occupy  in some cities have called for a May Day “general strike” to demand jobs for all, immigrant rights, a moratorium on foreclosures, and recognition of housing, education and health care as human rights.
   A general strike means everyone should have not gone to work yesterday. Everyone! Accordingly Joyce's Take was dark yesterday, and did not post as we are in solidarity with the Occupy movement and the proletariat. I shouldn't even be writing this right now, as as I write this it happens to be yesterday. Damn! What a conundrum.
   Herkimer, my invisible cat, is a true labor cat, and must be out there protesting along with the millions currently doing so in the streets of our cities nationwide. As a matter of fact I haven't seen him all day.
   What exactly is everyone protesting? Well a whole bunch of stuff, some of it I listed above, jobs for all, immigrant rights, a moratorium on foreclosures, and recognition of housing, education and health care as human rights.
   The good folks at Think Progress have identified 3 national trends which may have something to do with why protestors are protesting, and which are associated with the 3 charts reproduced above:
1. The 99 percent are extremely productive workers, but aren’t compensated for their productivity. While productivity has been on the rise among workers, average wage and compensation has remained nearly flat. That means while workers are producing more, they’re being compensated the same. The first chart above from the Economic Policy Institute details the change:
2. Corporations don’t notice income inequality, but workers sure do. The 99 percent may be pivotal in the productivity of a company, but they aren’t reaping any of the benefits of success. The second chart above from the New York Times illustrates exactly how companies profit while workers do not:
3. Workers who don’t organize are getting the short end of the stick. While productivity goes up and wages stay flat, the middle class sees itself shrinking. This income inequality is in direct correlation to union participation. As union membership falls, the middle class shrinks.
   Well known troublemaker and mountain freak, Beth Buczynski, offers 5 ways you can participate in this movement, perhaps next May, although anytime would be good. For example, I never do any of the 5 things listed below. Never. So in a real way I am in a state of constant protest.
   I am a stringent example of what 99% of America should be.
1. Don’t Shop: The middle-class consumer creates the incentive to conceive, manufacture, and sell what our economy produces. That demand drives business opportunities and spurs investment. If the 99% stops spending its giving its hard-earned money to global corporations, crooked CEOs won’t be able to afford yet another lobbyist to help bend the laws to their own advantage. By not shopping, you will hit corporations where it really counts, the wallet.
2. Don’t Bank: Big banks are some of the worst criminals in the United States. Their fraudulent lending practices are what crashed the economy, and their complete disregard for the welfare of their customers has led to millions of foreclosures, many unnecessary, over the past few years. May 1st is a great day to move your money out of a corporate bank, and into a community controlled credit union.
3. Don’t Go To School: American student debt just passed the $1 trillion mark. The quality of education in the United States is falling further behind other countries every day, yet it costs more to go to school here than almost anywhere else in the world. The government, private lenders, and for-profit colleges tell students that getting an education is a good reason to go into mountains of debt, even as they push to increase student loan interest rates. For one day, refuse to participate in this racket. Gather your fellow classmates and take to the streets to educate each other about what’s really happening to students in America.
4. Don’t Drive: In 2011, oil companies raked in $261,000 in profit per minute, while middle class families struggled to put food on the table. Despite this obscene profit, most oil companies paid zero dollars in federal taxes, and some even got a refund. Why? Because they enjoy millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies for polluting our planet and exploiting the last bit of its natural resources. Ditch your car, and ride a bike or walk instead. Refuse to be a part of the problem, even just for a day.
5. Don’t Work: Times are hard, and not everyone can simply walk out of work without facing serious financial repercussions. Still, consider taking a personal day to join demonstrations, marches, disruptions, occupations, and other mass actions. You can take your lunch hour to write personal letters to your state and local representatives, asking them to take action on an issue that’s close to your heart. Or simply take five minutes during your day to talk to a fellow member of the 99% about why you support the Occupy movement, and why they should get involved.

   According to the news organization Reuters, Hundreds of thousands of workers across southern Europe protested against spending cuts at May Day rallies yesterday, before weekend elections in Greece and France where voters are expected to punish their leaders for adhering to failed policies of austerity. Here's a link to find out about May Day protests overseas:
   At approximately 2:00PM PST, yesterday, which was approximately 2:45 this morning in Kathmandu, Nepal, I left the Las Americas, after briefly talking to my neighbor Lester in the lobby, who was eating some breaded chicken. I noticed some potential protesters across 6th Street apparently getting ready to go protest after having found a good place to park their cars.
   I walked west on 6th toward downtown. No body tried to stop me so I eventually made it down there where it was much busier than usual.
   The L.A.P.D. was out in force. Fortunately we were not in New York, so the cops were not engaged as yet in violent responses to the protests that were about to occur.  
   Helicopters hovered overhead in stationary positions, observing the gathering crowds below.   
   It's dangerous for them to do that. If their engines should fail while they are stationary, they would fall like rocks out of the sky.
   At the intersection of 6th and Broadway I found a whole bunch of people milling around, mostly adults. I didn't see any kids actually... that doesn't mean they weren't around hiding somewhere. In the intersection were placed mats, or a series of rectangular sheets of plastic, in a square, that reached the 4 corners of said intersection. The sheets had markings on them, and all together resembled a great big Monopoly game board, with each sheet making some kind of statement appropriate to the protest. For example, there were rectangles with the word "A.L.E.C. printed on it, referring to A.L.E.C., The American Legislative Exchange Council, which is an organization backed by several industry leaders that seems to have been writing the laws of the land for years by ordering republican legislators what to do. There was one representing "Water Works," as on a real Monopoly game board but with a picture of John Boehner bawling his eyes out, as is his custom. One corner square reminded us "CEOs -- Don't Go To Jail."
   On and on, all the way around.
   Pretty soon a group of about 2 hundred marching protesters rounded the corner from Hill Street coming towards us. They were banging drums and yelling out chants.
   Soon they merged with the crowd already at the intersection. They said hello, and then instead of heading south on Broadway, which had been cordoned off and cleared of traffic, they continued east toward Spring St. where traffic was still moving. 
   And they hit a line of immobile police people, about ten of them, spread across 6th, just before Spring, who were determined to not let the protestors pass... on the street, and thereby disrupt the traffic that was being allowed to move north and south on Spring, which was being directed by a hapless traffic officer.
   For a minute or two there was a stand off between the police, who soon donned riot helmets, and mostly young protestors, who were determined to move on.
   After a tense confrontation that lasted about 100 seconds, the protestors figured out that if they temporarily broke up and moved along the adjoining sidewalks the police would be powerless to stop them. Which they did, and after they did that, they reformed on the other side of the police line and continued their march east to Main Street, where they turned the corner and moved north to wherever it was they went.
   I know this because I marched with them for an entire block, and witnessed the encounter, which ensured I was photographed by separate agents of the FBI,  CIA,  NSA, and Jewish Defense League, as I might be a potential domestic terrorist.
   I left them at Main, and began to walk home. The protests would continue well into the night.
   Someone handed me a bumper sticker which had these 3 slogans printed on it: "Human Need Not Wall Street Greed," and "People Before Profits," and "We Are The 99%." I took it, intending to give it to my case manger, Robert, as he has a car and presumably, a bumper.
   Unfortunately, the police were now pretty pissed off due to the protestors circumventing them, and as I passed a large group of cops standing on the east corner of 6th and Main, they noticed my bumper sticker, thought I was a wild out of control protestor, and summarily arrested me on the spot for disturbing the police, transported me to the 6th Street police station where I was booked and given a sandwich of mystery meat before being transported to the physically largest jail in the world, the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, where I was summarily corrected by being stripped naked, deloused and sexually abused repeatedly by female members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, before being swallowed into the bowels of the jail, never to be heard from again.

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