'We Have Each Other's Backs': May Day Rallies Highlight Black Lives Matter Movement

With May Day rallies taking place worldwide on Friday, activists in the U.S. are expanding their message—historically focused on workers’ rights—to take a stand for racial justice, as the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality continues to spread.

The move follows days of protests in Baltimore demanding justice for 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after his spine was severed while in police custody. Solidarity actions quickly sprouted in other cities, including Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, the latter of which saw a violent police crackdown on Thursday night.

In Chicago, hundreds of activists began the day with a march to Cook County Jail, where they staged a demonstration to call attention to the “state repression of working class people… [and the] connection between May Day and recent demonstrations across the country,” organizers with the May Day Radical Coalition wrote in a press release.

“We cannot truly say ‘Black Lives Matter’ if we’re not also improving the material circumstances of America’s black and brown people, alongside fighting against police violence.”
—STL Socialist Coalition for Black  Liberation

“The acquittal of Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin, even though he admitted to killing Rekia Boyd, is only the latest in a long history of state murder and racist injustice,” said organizer Alison Olhava.

“We cannot truly say ‘Black Lives Matter’ if we’re not also improving the material circumstances of America’s black and brown people, alongside fighting against police violence,” organizers in Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri wrote in a press release (pdf) ahead of their May Day action, which also listed several demands for institutional reform in those cities, as well as in Baltimore and across the country. The unpunished police killings of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, and “and so many other women and men shows the real face of poverty, drugs, official neglect, law enforcement surveillance, deindustrialization, and endemic racism and oppression… The late Dr.  W.E.B. Du Bois’ words still ring true for black workers and youth: ‘A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.'”

In recent years, May Day rallies have also pushed for attention on immigrants seeking to live and work in the U.S. legally. While activists plan to uphold that message on Friday, the connection between immigrant rights also extends to racial justice, the Associated Press writes. “Broadening the message could help bring new supporters to the push for immigration changes, but doing so isn’t just a political strategy, leaders said, noting that immigrants share a distrust of police authority and concerns about racial inequality.”

“If our living and working conditions are similar, we might be able to create solidarity across racial lines.”
—Samaa Abdurraqib, Southern Maine Workers’ Center

“It is important to support movements and struggles that stand up for people being singled out by the system. Right now, immigrants share that distinction with African-American youth, that we are being targeted by the system,” Miguel Paredes, membership coordinator of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told the AP on Friday morning.


In New York, some demonstrators will carry a banner reading “No police from Baltimore to Ayotzinapa,” a reference to the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico last year, said Teresa Gutierrez, co-coordinator of the May 1 Coalition.

Workers’ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement “have a similar element of self-determination,” Samaa Abdurraqib, a volunteer organizer with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, told Common Dreams. “At the root of [the movements] is self-determination and self-preservation.”

May Day has its roots in the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, when a rally for labor rights in Haymarket Square was bombed, leading to several deaths and a violent police crackdown on workers and union organizing.

“We see a lot of those same situations in the Black Lives Matter movement,” Abdurraqib added. “Black and brown people want to live their lives without fear of police brutality or vigilante violence. Economic justice connects to that… If our living and working conditions are similar, we might be able to create solidarity across racial lines.”

The protests in Baltimore have drawn attention to the city’s long history of systemic poverty and racism that has contributed to extreme inequality for its majority-black residents. In an interview with Common Dreams last week, Laurence Brown, an assistant professor at Morgan State University and a member of the Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment, called that phenomenon “structural looting in form of policy.”

“People miss the underlying structural issues that are happening everyday… In this moment of national outrage, we’re at a crescendo where folks are fed up,” Brown said at the time.

Highlighting the parallels between the movements, and their historically similar fights against oppressive power structures, shows “how we can support each other, care about each other, have each other’s backs,” Abdurraqib said. “It’s not just one of us, it’s all of us. And all black lives matter.”

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