Boston's May Day Event Needs to Move Back Downtown
This week I have basically one point to make. I think it's time for the organizers of Boston's main May Day march and rally to bring the event back to downtown Boston. When the holiday started getting revived around the turn of the millennium, I was part of the coalition of mostly immigrant organizers that ran the main local May Day action in tandem with various left-wing organizations and left-wing elements of the labor movement. And we would usually hold the event downtown. Over the years, some groups started doing a May Day event in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods north of the harbor parallel to the downtown event. More recently, that event has become the main May Day event in the city.
I understand why many immigrant organizations and allies like to do a May Day event in immigrant neighborhoods like East Boston and Chelsea. Many immigrants come from countries where May Day is celebrated as a national holiday, and many immigrants who are political activists here in the US have left-wing politics. So it has always made perfect sense that the fight for a rational immigration policy would be front and center in Boston's May Day events - as is the case around the US. It also makes sense that grassroots "base-building" organizations in the communities in question would want to put a lot of effort into turning out their consituencies - which is easier to do if a key event like a May Day march and rally is held in their home neighborhoods.
However, it's important to remember that May Day is International Workers' Day. That it represents the old left-wing dream of humanity united under the banners of socialism, democracy and peace. And as much as American capitalist political and corporate leadership has tried to bury that tradition, they were never able to eliminate it.
It should also be understood that the first political May Day was celebrated right here in the United States, and that May Day was a big deal in many areas of the country until the McCarthy era shut down the American left for the better part of a generation. It would therefore be great if the holiday could be fully rehabilitated, and celebrated by a much wider swath of American workers as it once was. That cannot happen if May Day organizers in Boston and beyond focus their outreach primarily on immigrant communities, and hold their main events solely in those communities.
So it's vital that May Day organizers think carefully about who their audiences are for the annual event - and shoot for much bigger impact.
The six key audiences for the Boston May Day event are:
1) its participants
2) the people who live and work adjacent to its traditional march and rally
3) the constituents of the non-profits, political organizations, unions and religious communities that organize it
4) the mass media - that telegraphs and defines key issues of the day for the vast majority of people
5) the political establishment that the aforementioned groups are trying to pressure or replace
6) the Boston area working-class, broadly defined
At the moment, the Boston May Day event is reaching the first three groups strongly, and second three groups weakly.
Yet the event will only have the possibility of more significant political effect if it reaches all six groups strongly.
I understand that media work is tricky, and the dominant capitalist mass media is not falling all over itself to cover left-wing political events, but I think if the May Day event comes back to downtown Boston - and especially if it focuses energy on the Mass. State House and Boston City Hall and on various major corporations and banks - it will get more coverage. Causing the Commonwealth's political establishment to feel some heat, and more working families who are citizens and who can vote to make common cause with immigrant communities.
Which is a critical advance if immigrant movements expect to win some kind of real amnesty and related fights. After all, most recent immigrants - and a significant percentage of all immigrants - cannot vote. So they need all the citizen allies they can get.
They are unlikely to sway many citizens if May Day - like too many other immigrant-related political activities - remains a more-or-less marginal event that takes place in disenfranchised neighborhoods, and that only gets significant media coverage in the regional immigrant press, in the remnant of the once relatively strong "alternative" weekly press, and here in Open Media Boston.
In addition, we need to think critically about the failure of the mainstream of the local labor movement to participate in May Day in any significant way. Sure, left-leaning labor officials will speak at May Day rallies, and immigrant-led unions will turnout in more significant numbers. But the labor movement as a whole hereabouts doesn't turn out the serious numbers necessary to get the point across that labor has at least two holidays - Labor Day, and the original labor day ... May Day. Let alone score any political points with their participation.
So that's basically it. The main Boston May Day event can be bigger, better and more effective if it moves back to downtown Boston, if it does stronger outreach within the labor movement - as well as working and middle class communities all over Eastern Massachusetts - and if it develops a better press strategy that gets broader coverage for the event in the mainstream media.
That simple shift in strategy will likely result in much stronger support for workers rights and immigrant rights from more communities around the Boston area.
Happy to get some feedback on this, as usual. Do you agree? Disagree? Post some comments and we'll discuss.