Posted May 12, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Features

From Earth Day to May Day


A group of traditional Mexican dancers lead Seattle’s afternoon protest for workers’ rights. EMILY McHUGH

A group of traditional Mexican dancers lead Seattle’s afternoon protest for workers’ rights. EMILY McHUGH

Some came to demonstrate for workers and immigrant rights. Some came to celebrate the coming of spring. Whatever the reason, May Day in Olympia turned Sylvester Park into a small hub of music, community discussion, and activism for anybody aiming to reform local and national policies.
May Day (or International Workers’ Day) was established to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket Massacre. At the time, labor unions across the United States demanded an eight-hour workday, and planned for a national general strike on May 1, 1886. In A People’s History of The United States, historian Howard Zinn puts the number of strikers in the U.S. at 350,000. In Chicago on May 3, with 40,000 workers on strike in the city and while “most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed,” the police fired upon a group of strikers outside of McCormick Harvester Works, wounding many and killing four.
In response to the police violence against the strikers, the German language newspaper Arbeiter Zeitung (Workers’ Times), edited by anarchist August Spies, called for a meeting at Haymarket Square. According to Zinn, about 3,000 people attended, but as the meeting was winding down, and only a few hundred people remained. When police showed up tp remove the protestors, a bomb was thrown and exploded in the midst of the police, “wounding 66 policemen, of whom seven later died. The police fired into the crowd, killing several people, wounding 200,” wrote Zinn.
Although Zinn wrote that “to this day it has not been discovered who threw the bomb,” eight anarchists were arrested and found guilty in connection with the explosion. Four of the convicted anarchists were hung, and Louis Lingg committed suicide on the eve of his execution. Another two received life imprisonment, while another was given 15 years.
Six years after their imprisonment, the three surviving anarchists were granted a pardon by Governor of Illinois John P. Altgeld. His reasoning was, “The state has never discovered who it was that threw the bomb which killed the policemen, and the evidence does not show any connection whatever between the defendants and the man who did throw it,” Altgeld wrote.
In 1890, International Workers’ Day was officially established by the Second International, (which was an influential political group made up of prominent leftists from many countries), to commemorate the Haymarket Martyrs.
Now, May Day is a demonstration for labor and immigrant rights. Activists all over the world demonstrate for higher minimum wages, against international borders or for the protection of undocumented immigrants (like Sanctuary Cities), fair working conditions for migrant workers, and for a general un-fucking up of the world.

What is more effective? One cameraman’s opinion

While most May Days in the Pacific Northwest are calm, and sometimes even festive events, several May Days participants in the past have used direct action, or become violent, as local media would report. The May Day demonstration in Olympia in 2008 and in Seattle in 2011 are two such events, when downtown buildings in both cities were damaged.
KOMO 4 news cameraman Dan Strothman (Evergreen alum ’01) filmed this year’s May Day even at Sylvester Park. Strothman has filmed May Day events in Olympia and Seattle over several years. Based on his experience watching peaceful demonstrations, civil disobedience protests, and even riots, the CPJ asked Strothman what the best way was for demonstrators and activists to bring about the change they want to see.
“If there is no violence, what is going to get the airtime is sound bytes from people talking about their issues and what they hope to see happen,” he said. “In that way, they are effective in not being violent, because they’re going to get some airtime on TV to talk about what they want to talk about. The minute someone starts breaking stuff, or throwing rocks into a bank, then that is what dominates the news coverage, and that is what takes the message.”