“Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here.”
The May Day Rally and march in New York City’s Union Square brought together a number of different groups with a single message: “Strike to defend refugees, migrants and all workers.”
The Green Party, Democratic Socialists and a multitude of different socialist groups, while occasionally drowning each other out in different small breakout groups, did speak as one when it came to this message. How they wanted to get there… was a different thing.
Recent years have seen a change in the view of unions on immigration. Previously unions were used as a way to get workers to fight against acceptance of immigration, but now at least a handful of unions are embracing immigrants – documented and undocumented.
Not all unions or workers agree with that plan – as seen in the 2016 election with the large number of union workers that voted for anti-immigrant candidate Donald Trump. But here in Union Square and at another rally near City Hall the solidarity was strong.
Union Square in New York City has a long connection to May Day, and workers struggles. As seen in this photo from 1913, people from all walks of life came together in this park to have their voices heard. Italian, English and Yiddish languages can be seen on the signs. This May Day it was Spanish and English that were sung, yelled and spoke over the megaphones. People performed numbers from a musical about Puerto Rican life. Others spoke about the detention centers and immigrant rights.
Susan Sarandon begged the crowd, in an impromptu speech to vote in the primaries – as it was the only time that progressives and more left-leaning voters could actually have their voices heard. Something that she learned the hard way from her work with the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The counter protestors at this gathering were as far as I could tell, merely trolls – chanting “Helicopter Rides” and “Pinochet” over and over again any time that a news camera or lefty activist came near them. “Helicopter rides” calls back to the practice of Latin American dictators kidnapping their opponents and dropping them over the sea to their death. The protestors here will claim that they’re not white nationalists, nazi’s or fascists… they’re just trolling. Which is the source of this young Jewish man wearing a flag created to look just like a Nazi flag, but actually it’s “just” from a meme. While that may be true it’s very much modeled on the real thing.
The “Make America Great Again” hat wearing counter-protestors – or trolls or whatever they were – did their own flag desecration. A Hillary Clinton campaign flag was doused in milk, and then as they posed for photos with it they gave the flag the middle finger. I pointed out that this wasn’t just a brilliant idea in 80-degree heat. Regret washed over their faces and they began wringing it out with their feet on the sidewalk. If these kids are a master race… we’re doomed. Even the NYPD that was protecting the small group were rolling their eyes. While the numbers of marchers were in the low thousands at it’s peak, the pepe-loyalists caged away from the the main part of the square never was above a dozen.
As the day went on and the speeches ended the rally turned to the march, which was continually drowned out (towards the front) by an NYPD LRAD (basically an incredibly loud speaker that can be used to disperse crowds) continually looping the threat that if they blocked the sidewalk or went on the street they were subject to arrest. Organizers kept the marchers calm and on the sidewalk, with the occasional stop in the middle of an intersection. Personally, I didn’t witness any destruction of property and there were “only” 14 arrests.
The end of the march did showcase the discord between the Union Square, more lefty/anarchist focused rally and the official union/De blasio rally in Foley Square. An organizer from the Union rally (several years ago there was a split in the May Day rallies, as the Unions wanted to separate their message from the more extreme Union Square rallies) confronted the Union Square rally about the noise their chants were making as they descended into Foley. After a couple of heated moments of Spanish language (sadly, I am not anywhere near fluent) back and forth they decided to go their separate ways.
It’s not surprising that this happened when you look to the larger political happenings on the left. On one side a party that wants to keep the status quo and on the other a growing progressive population that is demanding that their voice is heard. Who will win? All that’s known is that we will all lose if they don’t figure it out. (steps off soapbox).