Why Some of Us Are Marching an Extra Mile on May Day

Representatives of OCAD, Mijente and Black Youth Project 100 speak at the #RealSanctuary press conference in Chicago, Illinois, on January 26, 2017. (Photo: Sarah Ji)Representatives of OCAD, Mijente and Black Youth Project 100 speak at the #RealSanctuary press conference in Chicago, Illinois, on January 26, 2017. (Photo: Sarah Ji)

Chicago—May Day is now a worker’s day observed all over the world, but its origins are in Chicagoans’ fight for an eight-hour (as opposed to unlimited) workday. On May 1, tens of thousands of Chicagoans will take a day off work and school to commemorate May Day. This year, the protests are being organized with a greater sense of urgency, given the racist and reactionary policies coming from Washington, DC, the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield and Chicago’s City Hall, and new forces will be participating.

One of these new forces is the six-month old “Resist. Reimagine. Rebuild.” (R3) Chicago coalition, which includes 30 grassroots organizations primarily led by Black, Latinx, Arab, Muslim and Asian-American activists, many of them millennials. R3, which is part of the national Beyond the Moment Coalition initiated by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), is planning to rally on May Day outside of two sites of repression and injustice: the Chicago FBI headquarters and the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The group will then join labor and immigrant rights groups in Union Park for a mega-rally and march to downtown.

Why are some of us walking that extra mile? We are marching to underscore a specific political message, to make more visible certain sectors of our growing progressive community and to show what a principled coalition looks like in one local context.

The message is this: Beginning with the powerful and historic immigrant rights marches of 2006, May Day in Chicago has focused on immigration and labor, and has been primarily based in our large and diverse Latinx community. This year the scope and complexion of the march will change, while still honoring its origins.

Building upon the leadership of M4BL, R3 is emphasizing the importance of naming police violence and the increased criminalization of Black and Brown communities as a critical part of our May Day agenda.

Black Youth Project 100 and Mijente have teamed up nationally to help frame this new emphasis as a call for an expanded notion of sanctuary, and Organized Communities Against Deportations in Chicago is part of this call as well. Through racial and ethnic profiling, and the harsh and violent policing of certain communities, and with laws that target and punish marginalized people, we are seeing a growth in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers as a corollary to the persistent plague of racist mass incarceration.

This country imprisons more than 2 million people, mostly poor and unemployed workers, who are treated like non-citizens when they are incarcerated and like second-class citizens when released. So, the precarious relationship to citizenship is something poor people of color and all immigrants have in common.

All Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, have been essentially criminalized through the malicious and racist rhetoric of the 45th president. Police violence and shootings in Black communities continue unabated, although the press seems to have lost interest in them. Meanwhile, the new attorney general, former segregationist Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, is threatening to “revisit” DOJ consent decrees that sought to at least modestly deter police violence and corruption.

While much of the media focuses on the theatrics of tyranny in Washington, we cannot afford to ignore or minimize the ongoing reality of police violence in Black communities and the racist raids, deportations and harassment of Black, Brown, Arab and South Asian immigrant communities. Arabs and Muslims, in particular, have been typecast and vilified as “terrorists,” and a blatantly discriminatory immigration ban looms. “Criminalization” is the method by which many of us have been deemed “other,” undeserving of rights and deserving of containment, harassment and persecution.

It is not enough to say we agree on all these things. We have to recognize the organizing that preceded Donald Trump’s election as we build coalitions and united front alliances in this surreal era of looming fascism. We have witnessed a resurgent Black Freedom Movement in recent years, marked by some of the most intense and consistent protests since the 1970s, with Black, queer folk and Black, feminist organizers in the lead. Under the rubric of M4BL (formerly, and inclusive of, Black Lives Matter), thousands of rallies, disruptions, shut downs and marches brought the issue of systemic racism and state violence to the attention of a broader public.

M4BL activists have consistently linked their opposition to police violence to their critique of economic injustice and racial capitalism, which have ravaged Black and Brown communities coast to coast, and north to south.

There is an erroneous argument coming from some sectors of the left that suggests we need to put our differences, our identities and our competing priorities on the back burner for the sake of an ill-defined “common good.” That is the formula for a fragile, brittle coalition that will not stand the test of time. However, if we forge a united front that is unapologetically anti-racist; that recognizes the fact that class exploitation has always been unevenly suffered; that refuses to choose between “good” and “bad” immigrants; that rejects anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia; and that supports the rights, issues and well-being of LGBTQIA people, then we will stand a better chance of enduring and winning.

So, in addition to marching for labor rights and against the increasing wealth disparity in this country and the excess of the 1%, we are also marching this May Day to say no to the racism and xenophobia that has fueled the current mess we find ourselves in. As US bombs fall on Syria and Afghanistan, we are also reminded of the dangers of militarism as another form of state violence.

So, here in Chicago, many of us will get up early on May Day. At 11 am, we will gather at the corner of Ogden and Roosevelt to underscore the call for expanded sanctuary. The logic of our feeder march is to underscore critical ideas that are a part of the larger effort. We can be united without being uniform. Building coalition is messy but necessary work.

As civil rights activist and cultural worker Bernice Johnson Reagon once wrote, “if you are in coalition and you are comfortable, your coalition is probably not broad enough.”

With this in mind, we seek to broaden our coalition based on the analysis that even if we speak different languages and feel the blows of oppression differently, we have a shared interest in resisting the attacks being waged against us, collectively reimagining something better and building a viable alternative.

Note: Readers in Chicago can join the R3 coalition feeder march on May 1 at 11 am at the corner of Ogden and Roosevelt. The R3 march will head up Ogden Avenue to join the Union Park march at 1 pm, at which point the combined marches will head downtown. For more information follow the Resist Reimagine Rebuild Chicago page on Facebook or email resistreimaginerebuild@gmail.com.

Readers in other locations can learn about their local marches by visiting the Beyond the Moment website and are encouraged to follow the #beyondthemoment hashtag, and text the word “updates” to 90975.