May Day emphasizes community

May Day has, for years, served as a powerful and public source of solidarity for workers, activist groups and students in the Hudson Valley, and this year’s march and rally is no different. On May 1, community members and organizers will unite in celebration of May Day under the theme ‘Legalize, Organize, Unionize!’ The event, also known as International Workers’ Day, has in recent years grown to represent the struggle for worker’s rights and justice for immigrants.

The events will begin with a rally on the Vassar College residential quad at 2 p.m., then a march to the Family Partnership Center located on North Hamilton Street at 3:30 p.m. Talks by speakers and tabling will continue until 7 p.m.

More than ever before, the May Day Coalition is working to unite myriad Hudson Valley social justice organizations under the idea that all their struggles are deeply related. The march and rally are meant to energize the work ongoing in the area, helping to pull more people together under a set of demands.

According to Spencer Resnick ’15, an organizer for local anti-foreclosure organization Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, “Our program had a lot to do with reaching out to existing struggles in the community, to existing organizations to lift up people’s ongoing work. It’s really important to communicate to power holders that we are this united front, but there aren’t many opportunities to come together like that.”

Planning for May Day has been spearheaded largely by student organization Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan (MEChA), however the group has collaborated with a number of other social justice oriented groups from the area including Somos la Llave del Futuro, La Voz, End the New Jim crow Action Network (ENJAN), Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation, Community voices Heard, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson and Rural Migrant Ministry.

Alberto Wilson III ’16, a member of MEChA, explained the weight of such wide-ranging partnerships for the event: “I think this is democracy at its core, when people go out there and start rallying. When we show solidarity across movements, when we show they’re all interconnected, we are all in it together, we’re all struggling for the same cause. I think that’s the beauty of it.”

John Speedling, who works for the Hudson Valley Labor Federation (HVALF), echoed this sentiment, stating, “Even when grassroots organizations form it can still be difficult for them to get their voices heard or connect with larger groups. Events such as this are a great opportunity for groups to meet, discuss their action plans, and form larger coalitions.”

The demands and principles May Day events represent all draw from notions of a more inclusive, equitable livelihood for workers, immigrants and their children. According to the May Day Coalition’s Principles of Unity, this includes but is not limited to a fight for rights to education, housing, social services and an end to oppressive legislation levied against worker and immigrant communities.

Additionally, they seek the rights of workers to organize, to move across borders without fear of violence or exploitation and to end unlawful detentions, including mass incarceration. Demands also include a fight for full legalization of all undocumented people and end to discriminatory systems of oppression based on race, gender, sex and sexual orientations, and finally, the need to raise consciousness about foreign policy.

Undocumented workers throughout the Hudson Valley can face unfair treatment in the workplace. Speedling spoke to his experience organizing with the HVALF: ”More often than not, undocumented workers receive well below minimum wage, do not receive overtime pay, do not receive back pay, do not get a full 24 hours of rest (a weekend). They contribute to our Social Security system without ever being able to collect, and are subject to workplace violations that they can’t report because employers simply say ‘show me your papers.’”

The work done through organizing with the HVALF and May Day celebrations embodies a belief that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and experience livable working conditions, explained Speedling. “We believe all workers deserve a voice. All workers deserve the right to organize. All workers deserve a safe workplace. All workers deserve a livable wage. All workers deserve humane working conditions, and all workers deserve to the opportunity to join together to have their opinions heard and accounted for.”

In addition to the list of demands brought forth by the Principles of Unity, one main goal of the event this year is to create concrete changes in the lives of individuals within the community. Christina Martinez, a member of the Young Arts Group of Rural Migrant Ministry, is currently facing the potential deportation of her parents. The rally is one action to help garner support for her family.

May Day is a culmination of planning, preparation and partnerships; however, organizers for the event stress that the day must not be viewed in a vacuum—May 1 is simply one moment of many. Jennifer Lopez ’15, a student organizer for MeCHA, said, “It’s a matter of learning about different forms of involvement and engagement with this. May Day is one way that we have decided to take action, but regardless of where you come from, you are implicated and you are involved,” adding, “It’s a matter of learning what the implications of the way that we live our lives are. How to use that knowledge to then take meaningful and productive action.”

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