(This article originally appeared on Real Change and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
Across Skagit County and Seattle, hundreds of workers and their families marched and celebrated International Workers Day, popularly known as May Day. Organizers highlighted the struggle for better wages and conditions as well as a variety of other progressive causes.
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May Day is a historic and celebrated day for Seattle to honor its labor movement. This May 1, at Volunteer Park, a few runners and dog walkers passed by a group of “Black Bloc” protesters carrying handmade signs and East African flags. Black Bloc, the term used to describe the black-clad protesters usually associated with anti-capitalist, anarchist movements, was defined by one park-goer as “people who just want to smash something,” but the sincerity of their cause on Saturday was clear: They were there to protest the genocide taking place in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Whether you call it a civil war, ethnic repression, or genocide, it’s clear people are suffering. Millions of Tigrayans have lost their jobs, faced violence and drone strikes, or been thrown out of refugee camps by the Ethiopian government and simply scattered across the countryside. First-hand reports describe sexual violence being used as a daily weapon of war. International aid has been cut off. It is, by all accounts, a nightmare.
Around 150 people marched from the Central District to downtown on Saturday, May 1, as part of El Comité’s annual May Day or International Workers’ Day march. It was one of the smallest turnouts in two decades, but the spirit of the protesters was undeterred as they walked on behalf of immigrant and workers rights. On their way, attendees passed through Chinatown-International District where JM Wong, co-founder of Massage Parlor Outreach Project, spoke out against the recent rise in hate and violence against Asian Americans. Other speakers included Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Washington State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos.
This year’s Trabaiadorxs Esenciales y Excluidxs (Essential and Excluded Workers) march highlighted the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on vulnerable and essential workers. “2020 became a major challenge for workers,” reads the event listing on El Comité’s website. “As a result of the virus, thousands of businesses closed, some forever. Millions of workers were furloughed or lost their jobs. Many lives were thrown into a world of unemployment, poverty, compounding rental debt, and homelessness.” Protesters also marched for immigration reform, equitable vaccine access, cancelling rent debt and evictions, and solidarity against police brutality, white supremacy, and systemic racism.
On this year’s May Day, as we grieve and witness the calamity of state-sponsored or state- manufactured violence; the premature (because utterly preventable) COVID epidemic deaths raging from India to Brazil due to fascist governments more invested in power than people; and the unceasing state lynchings from Columbus, Ohio to North Carolina and Seattle, Washington — we need the memories that Lucy Parsons bequeathed our struggles for which this day, International Workers Day, was created.
Lucy Parsons should be a household name at any May Day celebration. She had a vision of freedom for the working classes who had been made by histories of colonialism, slavery, settler violence, and migration. Her vision challenged the internationalism of capitalists who professed a right to universal exploitation while creating borders and racial systems to divide those they exploited or killed. Today, Parsons’ erasure is part of the whitewashing of labor history in the United States that abets American empire. Remembering her is a reminder that she and so many others, even in the belly of the beast, left us the foundation and resources for a workers’ internationalism that revokes capitalist claims to exploitation and reconstructs our global connections for the purposes of shared freedom.
May Day arose as a day to celebrate the working class and our life and death struggles for liberation. We honor that legacy of resistance and solidarity today.
We are facing an unprecedented situation in the history of workers’ struggles and the racial capitalist system of exploitation and expropriation. Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, the rich continue to prioritize profit, private property and control over our bodies and labor. The police and military surveil and criminalize our acts of resistance. They will gladly sacrifice human life to continue the relentless pursuit of profit.