As warm weather returns and the Village’s trees begin to bloom, a hibernating force stirs after a winter out of the public eye. Since the forced eviction of Zuccotti Park on November 15, Occupy Wall Street has had no permanent home in New York City, and the sporadic marches and rallies haven’t attracted the huge attendance that previous assemblies received. Now, with the probably prematurely-named “American Spring” dawning, there’s something rising on Occupy’s horizon: May 1.
Occupy sites across the globe signed on to a general strike on May 1. On that day, participants will boycott “school and the workplace, so that their absence makes their displeasure with this corrupt system be known,” according to OccupyMay1st.org. General Assemblies from Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Portland, Occupy LA, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Boston and Occupy Chicago lead a long list of participating occupations.
May Day is significant for a number of reasons. Primarily, it’s a make-or-break moment for the Occupy movement. Over the winter, the eviction of most Occupy sites around the country combined with the season’s short, cold days found the movement largely lacking the widespread awareness and mass participation it enjoyed in the fall. Although localized actions continued with great energy and some successes, Occupy failed to reach critical mass and never ignited the popular uprising that the founders of the movement hoped to inspire.
During this time, more radical groups within Occupy did remain active. In some cities, like Oakland, more aggressive Black Bloc tactics were adopted. Such tactics lost public support and generated critiques from some of the movement’s most prominent writers. The May 1 General Strike, therefore, could represent a turning point for Occupy. Can it generate the same popular support and participation that seemed so promising in the fall, or will it fade like yesterday’s fad?
May Day is important for a second reason, which holds the promise of seeing Occupy back in headlines — for better or worse. This time, Chicago, not New York, will be the center of Occupy. On May 20, more than 7,000 NATO delegates and 2,000 journalists will meet in Chicago for a summit. There, the international treaty organization will discuss its recent action against Libya, the continuing war in Afghanistan, and the threat of war with Iran.
Adbusters, the anti-consumerist magazine behind the original idea of Occupy Wall Street, responded with a call for May 1 to mark the beginning of a month-long occupation of Chicago: “On May 1, 50,000 people from all over the world will flock to Chicago, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and #OCCUPYCHICAGO for a month. With a bit of luck, we’ll pull off the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen.” One can’t help but notice that much of the language is recycled from the original announcement of Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Chicago could end up looking much the same, then — minus the never-been-done-before novelty, plus the extra policing and restrictive legislation associated with the high-security summit.
That formula could be a recipe for disaster, or the perfect environment for a massive action worth paying attention to. Given the history of protests against international summits like this one, spectacle is assured either way. The U.S. government is clearly aware of, and seemingly worried about, this assembly. Originally, the G8 group of 8 leading developed nations was to meet in Chicago together with NATO. However, President Obama recently announced that he would be moving the G8 meeting to Camp David, the President’s high security retreat.
The third significance of May 1 is its symbolic value to the labor community. Internationally, May 1 is celebrated as International Workers’ Day. The date commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when the police fired upon workers striking for an eight-hour work day. Despite the American origin of the holiday, Labor Day in America is officially celebrated in September. In an almost sardonic twist to dissuade popular action, May 1 is officially recognized in the US only as Law Day (previously, Loyalty Day; earlier, Americanization Day).
Some unions still commemorate May 1. As the attacks on unions in America continue, some labor organizers are choosing to fight back more aggressively. May 1 may provide that opportunity. Further, it serves as a barometer to the mood of labor groups and their constituents — is the situation dire enough to break with conventional collective bargaining and adopt direct action tactics?
If you’re not frantically canceling your travel plans to Chicago or eagerly packing your tent and goggles, take a moment to mark May 1 on your calendar. Regardless of your perspective on Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement at large, the date is sure to mark a new chapter in the history of one of the most unique political movements of our time.