On Monday, hundreds of students and organizers gathered in Ann Arbor for the May Day Festival of Resistance, an event with a social and political focus.
The origin of May Day dates back to 1886, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed on May 1 that eight hours of work would constitute a legal work day. Since then, workers from all around the globe gather on that day to protest against harsh and illegal working conditions.
Despite the protest’s historical focus on denouncing poor labor conditions, May Day has grown throughout the years to tackle other issues, such as social struggles and liberation movements.
In Ann Arbor, specifically, protesters said they strived to not only criticize capitalist practices, but also to raise awareness about the water crisis in Flint.
Rackham student Katherine Crocker said she joined the protest because she is against both fascist and capitalist movements.
“A friend texted me saying there was an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist protest, so I got my red-shirt from my office and joined,” she said. “I am personally strongly against capitalism and all of the many racist policies and laws we have that were enacted by the Southern colonial project.”
At this year’s May Day event, representatives from several nationally-organized social movements protested in the streets of Ann Arbor. Among these groups were A Day Without Immigrants, the Movement for Black Lives and the Women’s Strike Committee.
Protesters were also careful not to identify themselves as leaders of the movement, calling it instead a “leaderless protest,” in the words of historian Peter Linebaugh. Now retired, Linebaugh has taught history at several universities including Harvard and Tufts University. He is also the author of “The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day.”
Linebaugh explained May Day is a celebration of life, as well as a gathering meant to enlighten students of the false information being conveyed to them. He referenced the struggle for water in South America. In an article Linebaugh wrote for CounterPunch on Sunday, he mentioned the struggle for clean drinking water in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
“May Day is a festival of life,” Linebaugh said. “It’s a festival of red blood whose basis is water. This is what is being threatened around the world, our blood and our water…The indigenous people of South America have fought for water as a human right rather than something to be privatized by the corporate pigs and butchers who rule us and through the International Monetary Fund with false ideological concepts such as progress and development. These are sham notions that are conveyed to our students as if it was knowledge.”
Students walking by the Diag said they recognize the protest’s aim to discuss social issue, but were having trouble identifying the main message of the protest. One student, Business sophomore Christina Panagoulia Triantafillopoulos, believed the protest was about police brutality.
“I really don’t know what it’s about; I think it’s about race brutality perhaps,” Triantafillopoulos said.
Education sophomore Madeleine Caughey said she thought the protest was about mass incarceration due to the group’s chants.
“I think it might be about mass incarceration,” she said. “They were saying abolish slavery, abolish mass incarceration.”
Linebaugh said that ultimately, the overall message of the protest was to bring awareness to, as well as change, the current class system based on the wealth of the one percent.
“In fact what we have organized is a class system for the enrichment of the 1 percent,” he said. “The final thought is that we can change this and that we intend to. This is our aim and this is why we gather.”