Looking at the 2009 May Day Rallies

MayDaymarch.jpg picture by adam_freedom

    The piece below from Chicago left blog Pilsenprole anlyzes the political terrian that led to the smaller turnout of the 2009 May Day rallies around immigration rights- though still more than the conservative media and well funded founcation sponsored Tea Party Protests this past April 15th. I couldn’t help but see many of the similarities with San Jose and I’m sure other cities as well.

  At the march in San Jose the role of Obama’s election was both a driving force (signs were emblazened with his image almost invoking him as a reason for the march itself) but also a damper as more institutional organizations took the stance that lobbying for immigration changes were more important and marches and movement (see post below for more). Following his nine point discussion on the immigration marches is a comparison between the media coverage around the Tea Parties and the May Day rallies. Read the original post here.


OK, I will be honest – this year’s May Day march in Chicago was small. Much smaller than the 750,000 to a million who marched in 2006. Smaller even than the tens of thousands who marched last year. After lambasting the mainstream media for their horrible coverage of last years march, I feel the need to be honest about the fact that this years turn-out was the smallest since 2006. And this pattern was repeated around the country, coast-to-coast. That said, this was a surprise to practically no one. Sure there were a few immigrants rights activists that predicated bigger turn outs, more out of the hope that their enthusiasm might encourage more people to show up. But I think everyone pretty much knew that this would not be the best of May Day celebrations.

The reasons are a multitude and quite obvious to anyone who has paid any attention to the political terrain as it relates to both the labor and immigrant rights movements:

1. Barack Obama’s election has diminished rather than encouraged increased activism among members of a number of social movements, including the immigrant rights movement. We saw this with the anti-war movement in previous months. The attitude is, we did our part in November, now let’s let Obama make good on his promises and give him some space and time. Unfortunately history shows that without mass mobilization, Obama will be less likely to remember promises made.
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The Right Raises an Ugly Face with Nationwide Tea Party Protests


counterproest2.jpg picture by adam_freedom

Counter-protests draw out the racist and anti-immigrant themes of the San Jose Tea Party protest. (Photo credit: Debug)

  As part of a nationwide day of protest on April 15 Tax Day, various right groups mobilized their supporters through conservative talk radio and FOX News, holding a rally in downtown San Jose’s Cesar Chavez Park. With between 500-1,000 attendees waving American flags and signs denouncing Obama’s tax and bailout policy, as well as a vague notion of “socialism,” organizers whipped their base into a frenzy. It was mostly a predictable mostly middle aged, suburban, and middle-class white crowd, though a few people of color were present as well. An impromptu coalition of San Jose community and left groups, who previously came together to oppose a small grouping of anti-immigration activists rallying in a nearby white suburb, brought together about 30 or so folks who marched from San Jose State and clustered to the side of the rally stage.

  Amid chants of “USA! USA!” the counter protesters managed to draw out the racism of the crowd with their pro-immigrant rights themed signs as Tea Party participants yelled a standard barrage of comments, such as the ever original “go home!” This was despite Tea Party organizers asking attendees to not bring in signs or messages relating to social issues such as immigration and abortion.

 Crowd1.jpg picture by adam_freedom

The face of the Right: San Jose Tea Party attendees. Absent from the picture are some of the more extreme signs of participants on “socialism,” Obama, and with clearly racist themes. (Photo credit: Tea Party organizers blog, link below)

 It helps to “know thy enemy” as they say. The organizers were far right conservative activists, but the tiny San Jose Minute Men wannabe group that counter organizers expected to find were actually just hangers on to the event. The main group organizing the nationwide movement (the idea that this was some type of ‘spontaneous’ and ‘grassroots’ upwelling is simply spin from the organizers) is well the funded conservative foundation FreedomWorks led by people like wealthy, conservative magazine editor Steve Forbes, and racist/sexist/homophobic former Republican House of Representative leader Dick Armey, who is now a lobbyist. As part of a broad mobilization strategy, organizers attempted to downplay any association with social issues such as race or immigration, while billing the event as “non-partisan” and focused on the issues of debt, taxes and pro-America themes.


  These folks are clearly whipping up their base with age old strategies of trying to play on the racism and scapegoating of largely white middle class individuals angered by the economic downturn and the political shift in the White House following the election of Obama. Opposition to taxes has become the right-wing’s code phrase for public services such as education and social services like public health and public assistance- that in the public’s mind they have worked hard to associate with people of color and immigrants. Also, using a strategy of right-wing populism, I feel that these forces are wisely attempting to strategically focus their message and outreach in an attempt to tap a very genuine vein of anger about the bailouts from regular people that I think would be equally open to a critique of Obama’s bailout from the left (Read a critique of the bailout here and of the complicity of the Democrats here). Of course the irony could not be thicker here as federal spending and the national deficit dramatically increased with the Bush administration’s military quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were largly supported by these same forces. Still though, the better folks on the left can offer an analysis and response directed towards regular folks to these issues, the less ground these extreme conservatives have to maneuver with their messages. I hope we can call them out for who they really are next time.


  These Tea Party protests raise important questions, such as whether a new movement of the far right will emerge in response to not just Obama but largely in reaction to the effects of the economic crisis?


  As the Republicans loose more elected offices at the national and state wide levels and the far right-wing and more hard line segments feel further politically marginalized, it seems a turn to their version of “the politics of opposition” might be a strategy they are willing to undertake. This of course opens the field for a dangerous situation- one where Republican Party officials, whom usually shy away or at least publicly hide their association with farther right and openly racist elements, begin to encourage and support these right wing populist mobilizations in order up their political capital. In some ways this has already happened with the likes of conservative figures such as Newt Gingrich. But this combination is dangerous indeed. I do not think we are anywhere close at the present, but this could be the first step towards the emergence of a widespread New Right, or neo-fascist movement. Let’s hope not.



counterproest3.jpg picture by adam_freedom

(Photo credit: Debug)


Links and related media:

Photo essay and commentary by DeBug members Tiburon F.B. and G. Melesaine (check her blog G$ in the links) describes their experience with the racism and stereotypes of participants.

San Jose activist Diane Solomon gives an in depth account of the rally with quotes from the attendees and photos on local political blog San Jose Inside.

Indymedia commentary and pictures

San Jose Mercury News article on the event, which belittled the counter protest efforts as  “banging drums, shouting epithets, screaming about immigrant rights and promoting anarchy.”

Blog set up by organizers of the event:    www [dot] sanjoseteaparty [dot] blogspot [dot] com (cut and paste this into your browser and add the dots, this makes it harder for these folks to find this page)

Wallerstein on the fears of the elites about the conflict that the economic crisis might brew, “Civil War in the United States?”

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