Originally posted at Earth First!, May 1, 2014.
Arriving at May Day: Lockdowns, Throwdowns, and Direct Action
When the Global Climate Convergence announced the Earth Day to May Day series of events and actions, it revealed a gap between daily reality and Hallmark posturing. More than 100 actions—such as the occupation of the DEQ in Portland, Oregon, by Rising Tide—have taken place in dozens of cities as part of the Climate Convergence.
Over the last few days, IWW fellow workers in California have protested the Koch Bros PetCoke Facility in Pittsburg, the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, and Crude by Rail at the Union Pacific’s Ozal Train Yard in Martinez.
One Wob organizer named Elliot Hughes U-locked himselfto the gate of the Koch Brothers facility to halt business as usual. “Our goal is the liberation of the people on the planet that is our home. With the increasing amount of industrial disasters, we cannot wait any longer because the health and safety of all workers of the world is on the line.”
EF! shares numerous crucial membranes with the IWW and the labor movement, dating back toJudi Bari’s founding of the IWW timber workers local #1 in Northern California in the late 1980s. The goal of uniting loggers against Maxxam’s junk bond dealing, land grabbing, and clear cutting was to restore timber lands to the public interest. While some hardcore EF!ers were repulsed by the notion of chatting up loggers, let alone working to move timber lands into the hands of communities that would take part in “sustainable logging,” most agreed that the terms were vastly superior to clear cutting old growth.
Indeed, growth from the Redwood Summer movement at the turn of the 1990s fed the entire radical movement, developing critical understandings that would be cultivated and emerge in Seattle 1999 and again during Occupy. According to stories passed down to us over the years, activists being shot at in Northern California’s redwood forest by the same loggers they were trying to organize later on that night in the barroom would, ten years down the line, take part in the free states of Cascadia, and the No Borders Camp of the Sonoran desert five years later.
In the words of Buenaventura Durutti, “The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute.” The inter-generational movement of Earth First! grows in the interstices of stories and ideologies, yet we often lag behind when it comes to social analysis.
According to Hughes, “We must reclaim our lives and the land from the ruling class that oppress us every moment. I call on the workers of the world to form a united front and spend this next year to prepare for a global general strike. We build strike support in the form of self-sufficiency and mutual aid, as well as sharing our skills and trades with all. From guerrilla gardening and land reclamation to wildcat strikes and workplace take overs there are many ways to abolish wage slavery and live in harmony with the earth.”
A history of May Day and the struggle for an 8-hour work day provides space for the roots of a possible development towards an ecology of understanding to push further. It started as a strike against infrastructure—the Texas and Pacific Railway had fired a unionist with the Knights of Labor, sparking a traffic-snarling reaction of sabotage and direct action. 12 locomotives were dismantled, and pitched battles between workers and cops saw the deaths of 7 strikers in St. Luis. A freight depot was then torched, and a general strike sent paroxysms through the economy; in Chicago, anarchists held a meeting that was shut down by a police riot followed by the martyrdom of 7 prominent anarchists (for allegedly conspiring to throw a bomb). Before he was hanged, one of the martyrs, August Spies, proclaimed, “the day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” Indeed, the movement only swelled after the statist repression, and the 8 hour workday was soon won. The IWW thereafter immediately began campaigning for a 6 hour workday.
The struggle against the Tar Sands, the KXL, oil by rail, and other fossil fuel infrastructures is just the same old struggle for survival, the same struggle against the forces of capitalism and imperialism, and we can learn a lot from the origins of this day. The latest frame-up against anarchists in Chicago was concluded this week when the NATO 3 were sentenced to 6-8 years in prison for making private jokes. One of the three activists, Brent Betterly, is a father, and spoke outwith these words, “I think of parents like me all around the world, who stare into their child’s eyes, just as I do, and see only pain and suffering reflected back. These parents are beyond consolation and light years past moral anguish due to their complete helplessness and inability to protect their children and prevent their suffering. These people are our fellow human beings and are viewed from afar as abstract numbers and statistics, little more than collateral damage or sacrificial pawns in this human chess game that western powers are engaged in for material gain.”
Although the unions of today are a far cry from the solidarity shown in the late 19th century, those of us EF!ers who still support the labor movement have abandoned the antiquated ideas of development as mines, monocrops, and timber sales; with IWW muses like T-bone Slim, Lucy Parsons, and Joe Hill, we think through a collective imagination of joyful play, dignity, and shared values; we are brought to think of the world and our place in it by beginning with strong hearts and open minds. With an anti-oppression analysis, we can recognize that “No Compromise!” means allyship—while EF! has always been comprised mostly of white people, yet we must be a movement that stands in solidarity with people resisting industrial civilization; from Indigenous peoples sustaining ancestral ways of life to longshore workers blocking fossil fuel infrastructure; communities of color standing against urban blight to migrants resisting the police state and LGBQTTI folks demanding safer spaces.
In a rare essay, Bakunin asks how such a small minority of exploiters—less than 1 percent of the population—can hold the sweeping colossal majority of people back. Is it because they are naturally more intelligent or physically stronger? One-on-one, the answer must be no! For Bakunin, it boils down to education—the privilege of the elites, which is dedicated to sustaining the elite system. The challenge today is to link together with one another, recognizing our common bonds and taking part in that education that can only be forged together in the streets as we continue the people’s history of survival and resistance in the face of the brutal police state.
Hence, the power and force that remains with us through the gigantic Occupy movement is not simply that a renewed class consciousness has entered the public, but that this consciousness is tied to the taking back of land, the cultivation of alternative structures for popular autonomy, and the growth of harmonious livable systems as a widespread phenomenon.
There is no reason why dreams of Big Wilderness are not compossible with rewilding urban spaces to make cities livable—in fact these ideas are interdependent on one another while necessitating the obliteration of the present economic and political systems. There is a reason May Day shares its date with Beltane, the pagan festival of the Springtime. The forces of capitalism that we join in resisting on May Day are the same forces of cultural and economic oppression that have existed throughout the history of Western Imperialism. That International Workers Day has become as much a celebration of migrant justice as anything else also shows the inclusivity of this day, and the necessity of recognizing that the patriarchal, white cultural hegemony is an important aspect of the oppressive system against which we struggle on a daily basis.
But that struggle doesn’t have to be limited to any particular form. Some dress like clowns for May Day rallies. Some spread street art. Some bloc up and get ready for the struggle, while others bring their kids. Above all else, May Day is a time of celebration and solidarity, so Happy May Day, and see you in the streets!
The Earth First! Newswire is a free service of the Earth First! Journal. With over 30 years of publishing news from the frontlines of radical ecology movement, the EF!J continues to be an independent and reliable publication, but we need your help! Donate today, if you can, by going up, up, up to the top toolbar up there and clicking the Donate Now button. Otherwise, if you’re lazy like me, you can just click here.