May Day: One Love, One Struggle
Updated: Feb 1
Just like Life, all Struggle is interconnected. What goals and objectives do anti-war protesters, immigrant rights activists, death penalty abolitionists and other social justice activists share? We are all fighting for universal Human Rights which include the right of self-determination for all Human beings. Essentially, we are fighting to bring about progressive change in the current social structure striving to instill a peace-based morality in the collective psyche of the masses. Liberty, Justice, Freedom, Equality. Today is a day to remember.
May 1, 2006: Rush Limbaugh, the righteous and pious conservative Republican commentator has just been officially arrested on drug charges. 22 Hindu’s were slaughtered in Kashmir by Muslim extremists. Three years ago today George W. Bush, the appointed President of the United States, stood proudly under a banner which read Mission Accomplished and declared the illegal and genocidal invasion of Iraq a victory.
As of today, 2400 U-S soldiers have died in Iraq and the brutal occupation is costing 6 billion dollars a month. Massive anti-war protests have occurred across the nation over the past 2 days and record breaking immigrant rights marches are being held as I write. The world’s largest food producer, Tyson Foods, has shut down most of its production plants in anticipation of massive worker walk-outs. In Texas (of all places!) 800 major restaurant chains have closed (1).
10 men on Texas Death Row are sitting on “death watch” with execution dates set and over 400 men and women sentenced to death in Texas are now waiting to find out their fate. In most countries in the industrialized world, today is a state holiday, International Workers' Day. Today is May Day and a vibe of opposition is in the air. Perhaps, this same vibe was circulating in the wind 120 years ago…
1886: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s path-breaking work Beyond Good and Evil was published. The anarchist teacher and freedom fighter Louise Michel was released from a French prison after serving 3 years for an 1883 Paris bread riot. Also in France, the Russian revolutionary and principal theorist of anarchist-communism, Peter Kropotkin, had just been released from prison after serving four years for his political activities. Ideas such as mutual aid being the primary condition of successful social living did not sit well with the authorities of Kropotkin’s time.
In the United States the foundations of some of the largest and most powerful corporations we know today were being formed. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated a year earlier and North and South tensions were still high. In Chicago, events were unfolding that would change the fabric of society not only in the US but across the entire globe.
May 1, 1886: Workers begin striking, demanding an 8 hour work day (instead of the current 10-12 hour day), decent working conditions and a livable minimum wage. A rally was called for May 4th by a group of anarchist workers. The city granted a permit for the rally which was to be held at Haymarket Square in West Chicago.
When the 1st of May passed the fervor of resistance and opposition was so great amongst the citizens of Chicago that the mayor, Carter Harrison, went to Haymarket Square to listen to the speakers. The majority of the audience and speakers were immigrant workers from Germany, France and other European countries – the “foreigners” of the day who were victims of xenophobic prejudice and demonized for “taking jobs from Americans”. Many civil war veterans and African Americans were present as well.
The mayor watched as an Englishman who was once a Methodist revivalist gave a speech. Many children were present and everyone was peaceful. It was an overcast night and when it began to rain most of the crowd left. The mayor informed the police that everything was alright and peaceful then he went home. As soon as Mayor Harrison disappeared from sight a small army of 176 police officers stormed the meeting in defiance of the mayor and ordered the crowd to disperse.
Suddenly, a bomb was thrown from an alley into Haymarket Square and it landed in the middle of the police. 7 officers died and 50 were injured. A massive manhunt ensued and 8 social justice activists were arrested and indicted for murder: Spies, Fischer, Lingg, Parsons, Neebe, Schwab, Engel and Fielding. Though all of these men were completely innocent, 7 were sentenced to death and Neebe was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Due to massive public protest the governor of Illinois commuted the sentences of Fielding and Schwab to Life but the 4 others were executed, by hanging, on November 11, 1887. Lingg committed suicide. (The future governor of Illinois, John F. Altgeld, pardoned Schwab, Fielding and Neebe in 1893.) All of these men were completely innocent but they were wrongly convicted because of their activism. As the famous attorney Clarence Darrow noted: “The judge instructed the jury that if they believed, from the evidence, that these speeches [the men made] and articles [the men wrote] contributed toward the throwing of the bomb they were justified in finding the defendants guilty of murder”(2).
This system does not care about the betterment of society; all it cares about is maintaining power. When someone challenges that power then this system will attempt to silence that person; even if it means executing those who are innocent. Albert Parsons explained the “morality” of his and his codefendant’s unjust conviction and sentence best when he quoted the state’s attorney in an essay he wrote just before his murder: “These 8 men are picked by the grand jury because they are leaders of thousands who are equally guilty with them and we punish them to make examples of them for others” (3) (The state’s attorney used similar arguments in my trial and I am sure he and other state’s attorneys have done so in many other cases).
Through sacrifice the 8 hour work day and a minimum wage was won and child labor was abolished. Men and women died for these Rights. Immigrants took to the streets in 1886 to fight for Rights which we take for granted today. 7 men were sentenced to death and 2 of those escaped execution because of public protest. Today, 120 years later, tens of thousands of immigrants are protesting all across the U-S, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Anti-war activists continue to protest and organize.
They are fighting for Human Rights, fighting a new “morality” to the masses – a morality based on Peace, Love and Equality; just as those brave men and women remarked that present morality was “Herding-animal morality; human morality, beside which, before which, and after which many other moralities, are or should be possible” (4). Struggles of his day, the point stands: we can bring about a higher morality (centered on the virtue of compassion).
We all have to work together in order for Peaceful Coexistence to become a Reality. The fight to abolish the death penalty is just as important as the fight to end the occupation of Iraq. All Struggle interconnected. Liberty. Justice. Freedom. Equality. Today is May 1, 2006, International Workers Day. A vibe of self-determination is in the air and the origins of May Day definitely need to be remembered!
1.This brief synopsis of news is based on the May 1, 2006 edition of Democracy Now hosted by Amy Goodman. www.democracynow.org
2. Darrow, Clarence. The Story of My Life. Da Capo Press (1996) p.98.
3.Parsons, Albert. Laws Used as Weapons. Under the Yoke of the State: Vol I, 1886-1929. London: Kate Sharpley Library (2003) p.5 www.katesharpleylibrary.net
5. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. by Helen Zimmern (Orig. 1886) New York: Dover (1997) p.68 www.doverpublications.com