by Alex Collins
May is one of the busiest months for Socialist organizers. May 1st is International Workers Day and working class people across the world celebrate one another, express pride and solidarity, and protest their oppressors. May 5th is a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Both occasions showcase the evils of capitalism and colonialism, and in both cases participants wear red. As the month goes on, Gardening Season gets underway and we plant new seeds for growth. We also prepare for Pride Month in June.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it is increasingly difficult to gather large crowds, and participate in rallies, marches, and protests. Concerned with public safety, as well as negative optics, organizers across the world wrestled with how to best deal with the situation.
At the same time, business and states began to reopen and reactionary protesters showed up armed to demand workers die for their small comforts. Pressure from the reactionary minority, operating at the behest of fascists and capitalists as per usual, has begun to affect policy for the worse, against public opinion and at the cost of human lives. This is even true in Nebraska, where the working class and immigrant communities are being hit especially hard in Grand Island.
In response to these conditions, the Nebraska Left Coalition and Omaha Tenants United planned a virtual rally and a car rally for May Day. Participants were encouraged to display signs, banners, and red flags from their homes, with slogans such as “people over profit” and “the rich got bailed out; the poor got left out.” Omaha Tenant’s United’s car rally began at 72nd street, moving down Dodge street and to the courthouse, displaying signs advocating for a rent freeze with slogans such as “No work? No rent”. The day closed with Livestream interviews and discussions surrounding the events of the day.
These attempts to get creative and maintain safety were just a few approaches taken by working class people across the world. People in France sang from balconies. In Greece, demonstrators carefully lined up in rows 6 feet apart, using tape measures and colored squares to ensure protestors were positioned safely. In Turkey, several demonstrators were arrested as they marched towards Istanbul’s symbolic Taksim Square. In the United States, workers protested across the country. Amazon and Instacart workers, among others, arranged strikes to protest unsafe conditions for workers.
Yet in the first week of May, we saw more coverage of the reactionary protests than the revolutionary. This is despite public opinion, where more people are concerned about opening too soon. Those of us concerned about negative optics evidently had little to worry about. Rather than trying to paint working class protestors as dangerous and unsafe, they have opted to ignore us. This is because public policy has decided our lives are expendable in the name of profit. These protests, even slightly risky, ultimately serve to advance public safety against the whims of the rich and powerful.
Small business owners, as much at the mercy of landlords as working class people, are being pressured to reopen against their will. Pressure from above is causing these middle class to pressure the workers below them. With equal pressure from the working class, they would switch sides. Unfortunately, that bottom-up pressure has not emerged in a significant enough manner yet. We need to use our collective strength to apply that pressure. We must continue to demonstrate. We need to rally. We need to demand. We must stop cooperating. We need to stand up together against rabid Capitalism. We must apply enough pressure to make those in the middle cooperate with us. If we do not, we will leave the COVID crisis in a worse position than before. We have nothing to lose but our very lives to gain.