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May Day and the Revolution of Everyday Life

Marina Sitrin offers her take on the May Day actions in New York.
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all the same by eyes of new york

Photo by Eyes of New York

We succeeded before we began. May Day has been retaken in the US. We are now again a part of the rest of the globe, where May Day is a day to celebrate our power—people's power, that of workers, precarious and unionized, immigrants and migrants, radicals of all sorts, from the anarchist to the democratic socialist. People around the world were talking about May Day in the U.S. before May Day began. And now, those of us here in the US, have begun something new, something that is old, and yet has been reinvented.  ... the future of which is still being determined, as so many things are in our new movements. But the question is again posed—as with democracy and power.

The new May Day we have created is inclusive, directly democratic and both antagonistic and celebratory. The position from which I write this tonight is from New York City.

Thousands participated in the dozens of direct actions, rallies, protests, popular education and marches throughout the day. Many wore the sticker of the 99 percent—though it was no longer necessary. There were families, older people, high school students, tattooed and pierced youth, workers, union members, immigrant rights groups, community groups, local Occupy Neighborhood Assemblies, Occupy working groups and then countless others, there on the streets with friends and even individually. All seeing themselves as the 99 percent, even without the button. The identification was not necessary.

To wander the parks and plazas today was to encounter hundreds of circles: people sitting together, face to face, discussing perhaps what they were going to do today, or maybe participating in a legal solidarity workshop, or a popular education discussion in Madison Park, or maybe it was just a group of friends talking together about what they thought—not intentionally creating an “assembly” or direct democracy, but in their form and practice, they were face to face, listening to one another and sometimes arriving at conclusions. The day of May Day was filled with direct democracy.

But to come back to the success before it began. Directly democratic assemblies, often in the form of the spokescouncil, took place for weeks and weeks leading up to May Day. Participating in these assemblies were Occupy participants and working groups (often helping to facilitate) along with trade unions, radical union caucuses, immigrant rights groups, migrants, community groups and countless individuals. All came together to talk and find a place of compromise for May Day—not necessarily a perfect place of agreement, but that is not what consensus seeks. It is not about an absolute, but a place where all can be heard and a decision reached that all feel ok with. This was done for weeks before May Day. We succeeded before we began. We formed the relationships with one another we desire. And then we had May Day. And it was beyond most of our imaginations.

And now the day — May 1, 2012

I have not been home even an hour, writing much of this by hand on the subway on my way home. I have teared up so many times today. The last time I had tears of power was in October, when thousands mobilized to defend Liberty Plaza. And then, like now, it was in large part due to the diversity of those participating and willing to put themselves on the line for something they believe in —something so much bigger than us—and something we also have yet to imagine.

On my way home on the subway there was a man reading the Occupy Wall Street Journal, another couple going over a pamphlet about May Day and another woman dozing wearing a TWU (Transportation Workers Union) bandana. I live pretty far out there in Brooklyn, and they rode most of the way here, with the woman with the bandana sharing my stop, which to me also represents how deep and far reaching the movement of the 99 percent is. We are everywhere.

The last time I had tears of power was in October, when thousands mobilized to defend Liberty Plaza.

Today was filled with not just the diversity of people mentioned, but of activities and groups organized. The morning began in Bryant Park, with the 99 Pickets, groups organized together to target—yes, antagonistically—different sites of power that are hurting the 99 percent and our ability to survive, including banks, workplaces that do not allow unions, corporate centers, and many others.

Then a little later the Free University began in Madison Park. A week before May Day, they had over 100 proposals for popular education and were already thinking they might have outgrown the possibilities of the park—before they even began. I participated in one discussion on the meaning of solidarity, with a few people kicking it off by each speaking a minute on their reflections on the meanings of solidarity to them, and then offering questions. We self-facilitated, with each person calling on the next who had their hand raised and all spoke for only a minute, but sharing profound thoughts and questions as to what solidarity means to us. We closed with each person sharing a word or phrase we heard spoken by another that resonated with us.

Then there was Union Square, where thousands gathered, in friendship groups, affinity groups, and in workshops to prepare for the march, and many gathering socially, though of course politically, just be together. Here I will tear up again. So many people greeted one another with “Happy May Day.” Our day. We, regular people, workers, migrants, students, old and young, all together to remake our day. A day of popular power.

There were speakers and musicians, from the "famous" to many yet unknown. And then we marched to Wall Street—the symbol of financial power, the symbol of the 1 percent. The march lasted hours, there were that many people. And, many parts of the march did not stick to the permitted route, so by the thousands people just took the streets, sometimes in the midst of traffic. We marched, we chanted, and we sang. Our power and joy was palpable. I was to tear up again on this march many times. (Does that not happen to the person reading this—when you are so full of emotion that tears are the only things to come?) The groups ranged from women and families grouped together, to many immigrant groups walking together, workers organized by unions and not, as well as progressive union caucus, radical groups, from Latin American socialists to anarchists, and then students from CUNY to high schools, along with environmental groups and the various Occupy neighborhood assemblies, from Sunset Park and Queens to Long Island and the Bronx—all walked together.

The walk was of the new radical movements and the old radical movements all coming together to create this new revolutionary moment, and movement. It was revolutionary as a question, as democracy is... a revolution to be determined. Or, to borrow a phrase, a revolution of every day life. To quote from a chant I loved today (and one must imagine the dance that goes with it): "Get Up— Get Down—There’s Revolution in this Town!"

The future is yet to be determined, but with our diversity, direct democracy, and power against and for, I do not fear this future. I welcome it.

Happy May Day!


Marina Sitrin is a participant in the Occupy movements, the editor of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina and author of the forthcoming, Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Committee on Globalization and Social Change.

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