Boston’s May Day Rally

On May 1st, International Workers’ Day, or May Day, members of  the Boston Revolutionary Socialists attended the Boston May Day rally at the bandstand in Boston Common along with the follow-up march through the streets of Boston. Read what JF and EH have to say about the day.

Report Back from the Rally by JF:

International Workers’ Day at the Boston Common on May 1st was sponsored by the Boston May Day Coalition. It was warm and sunny with a turn out roughly of a hundred or so people. The event started at 1pm at the Parkman Bandstand and had various speakers addressing issues surrounding workers’ rights from the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Boston Education Justice Alliance, Boston Teachers Union, Boston School Bus Drivers Union, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH), Extinction Rebellion Boston, African People’s Socialist Party, Boston South Asia Coalition, Mass Peace Action, Workers Party of Massachusetts, Workers World Party – Boston, New England Front Against Fascism, Boston Food for Activists, Boston Labor Solidarity Committee, Julian Assange Defense – Boston, Freedom Fighters Coalition, Massachusetts Standing Up for Racial Justice, Blue Crime Blue Dime, Eastern Service Workers’ Association, Worcester Independent Socialist Group, International Marxist Tendency – Boston, Refuse Fascism New England, Uhuru Solidarity, CPUSA – Boston, July 26 Coalition – Boston, Little Liberty, Boston Socialist Alternative, Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts, and Greater Boston Libertarian Party. Unfortunately, not far from the event, an anti-vaccine rally was being held, though I could not confirm which groups were present or sponsored this event and did not see it myself. It was reported by various attendees who had to pass by the reportedly larger gathering to get to the May Day event.

Universal healthcare, fair wages, safe working conditions, police brutality, stopping deportation of undocumented people, imperialism, the looming environmental crisis and safety and inclusivity for transgender persons were some of the issues addressed by speakers, though the loudspeaker system made the speakers difficult to hear at times. “Radical” organizers clearly don’t have a big budget for sound equipment.

Initially, my colonized mind swiftly assessed the fashion sense of the crowd. The New York Times, Washington Post and Politico seem to believe that reporting on the style and brands at political events is relevant and indicative of some deeper understanding. I will admit that this training made me notice that the pragmatic fleece and functional footwear crew was well represented as well as the crusty, patched crowd with DIY fashion sense. Anarchists with black Converse? Check! And through this bougie gateway of superficial identity and tribe, I noticed that it became easier to dissect and magnify the differences I had with my fellow attendees. But that is bullshit! The dogmatic wars of the Left only keep us from effectively fighting together. The fact that 100 people showed up on a beautiful Saturday giving their time to keep from normalizing the devastating conditions surrounding the working class is amazing no matter their thoughts on Mao or the DSA. A united front is desperately needed in the Left. How do we effectively support each other when we are all in small little bands divided by territorial pissings or even just lack of awareness that there is already a working group in existence?

As evidenced by the Portlandia-esqueness flyer passing at the event, the ratio of flyer passing to receiving was hysterical: I received at least one flyer for every one I handed out. As a flyer passer, I feel like spending some time and thought on this problem matters in order to effectively organize the Left.

Report Back from the Rally by EH:

I took the T (Boston subway) to get to the May Day rally in Boston. When I got off the red line at Park Street (subway station), I was a little early for the rally, but I heard shouting through loudspeakers and chanting in the distance. I realized the noise was coming from the direction up on top of Beacon Hill at the State House. I decided to walk up there to see what was going on and was surprised and upset to find that there was a large crowd (I estimated about 200 people) of anti-mask, anti-vaccine protestors. They were protesting in front of the state house, protected by several police officers, behind police barriers set up along the sidewalks. They held signs denouncing vaccines and mask-wearing, and were proudly out in public, deliberately not wearing any face coverings and not practicing any social distancing. I took some photos of them and headed down towards the bandstand in the common. 

When I got to the rally, just before the start time, my first impression was disappointment at finding a smaller gathering than the anti-mask, anti-vax protest. The numbers weren’t even close, we were outnumbered by a lot. The May Day rally had at most 100 in attendance at its peak, while the protestors in front of the State House were well over a hundred. 

Attending alongside me were two of my BRS comrades, Julie and Bobby. We handed out flyers, printed in both English and Spanish, crafted by comrades in the network to which we belong, the Revolutionary Socialist Network. We also held signs that read, “Boston Revolutionary Socialists,” and “Workers of the World, Unite!” Julie and I handed out about 30 flyers as we split up and walked around trying to engage in conversation with rally attendees. Only a few people actually engaged, but some sounded genuinely interested and expressed that they currently don’t belong to any political group but would like to learn about what’s out there in the Boston area. I spoke with a couple members of the International Socialist Group (ISG) and expressed my solidarity and appreciation of their organizing efforts in Worcester, especially at the St. Vincent’s nurses strike. 

Some of the other groups present were the Workers Party of Massachusetts, Eastern Service Workers Association (ESWA), the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), Boston May Day Coalition (of course), my comrade representing the Partido da Causa Operaria (PCO, or Workers’ Cause Party) of Brazil, and the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), which was book tabling. One thing I found interesting was that there was no sign of Boston DSA at the rally.

Some speakers spoke about protecting immigrants and immigrant rights, especially in the wake of violence towards the AAPI community. There was a focus on the need to tear down walls and to center politics around the working class internationally. An Asian woman and her little daughter gave a heartfelt speech, calling for peace and love with one another. One quote from a speaker that stood out to me was, “Just because there was a guilty verdict two weeks ago doesn’t mean that America is a f*cking peachy keen place. So I say all that to say, stay active, stay busy, and figure out how you can help the people.” There were speeches given by folks from Boston May Day Coalition, ESWA, and many others, but I admittedly was not paying close attention as I was mingling with folks in attendance.

After about an hour and a half of speeches on the bandstand, a truck with rally leaders chanting through loudspeakers led us all out of the park and into the streets. We were told the march would go through Chinatown and ultimately end up at Nubian Square, where it would connect with the second Boston May Day rally for the day. We started our march up to Beacon Hill, passing by the State House, but by this time, the anti-vax and anti-mask protestors were nowhere to be found (with the exception of one of them sticking around to exchange some unpleasantries with a May Day rally-goer). The significance of the march route was unclear as we continued following the truck by Government Center and eventually in the direction of the North End. At one point, the truck took a turn and separated from our march, as rally organizers called us all into the covered sidewalk area of Gov’t Center to regroup and to hear some more speeches in front of the FedEx store, while the truck made its way back to continue leading us. When we began marching again, many people started peeling off to leave, seemingly because the route was clearly going to be a lot longer than folks had expected and was a little disorganized. Us BRS members also left by the time we were being led into the North End.

Concerns (EH):

I couldn’t get over the fact, and was very unsettled, that the Boston May Day Rally was significantly outnumbered by a seemingly impromptu anti-vaccination protest. But there were several things to consider here for the reasons behind the small turnout. The Boston May Day rallies, organized by the Boston May Day Coalition since 2006, tend to be smaller than the other May Day rallies around the Greater Boston Area, like in Chelsea, Everett, and East Boston, where average workers, union members, and community organizations show up in large numbers. We are still in the midst of a pandemic, which inhibits many people’s desire to gather publicly, especially those who have been responsible for the past 14 months and taken preventing the spread of Covid-19 seriously. On the contrary, the entire purpose of an anti-mask, anti-vax protest is to do the opposite of take the pandemic seriously, and so there’s no doubt that also led to their group having more in attendance. 

The facebook event for the rally was created back in the beginning of March, and I remember RSVP-ing to the event about a week later. At that time there were less than 10 listed as “going.” I checked back from time to time, with the obvious hope that the numbers would surge the closer we got to May Day. By May 1st, there were 71 listed as attending the rally. Not to harp on the Boston May Day Coalition, but I really feel like this rally could have been more publicized and better organized. I don’t mean to shift the blame entirely on to one group or entity, because we all share the responsibility of getting more and more comrades out there. 

And while the northeast generally didn’t “wake up on May Day to red flags, radical posters, graffiti…” as this Instagram post had hoped for, it definitely riled some alt-right reactionaries into creating this just days before May Day. While I never really worried about the NSC showing up because I was confident that they would be significantly outnumbered, I worried when I saw the large anti-vaccine rally in front of the State House. However, they never showed themselves or confronted us in Boston.

Afterthought (EH):

Even with all the pandemic context in mind, there was still something that felt disappointing about the left’s organizing as a whole, not only on this day, but in Boston over the past few months. Last summer, the police murder of George Floyd was a catalyst that set off record numbers of protestors in the streets nationwide, even in the midst of the pandemic, which we were only 3 months into at the time. In Boston in the summer of 2020, several thousands marched through the streets demanding an end to police brutality, even while any prospect for a vaccine was still far away. Now that more and more people are getting vaccinated (more than one-third of the population of Massachusetts is fully vaccinated as of this report) and the weather is warming up, one would imagine that the left’s organizing efforts would be easier to get people out there in increasingly larger numbers. Yet, despite the fact that we hear of equally egregious murders of Black people at the hands of police, sometimes several times per week, protests have dwindled, calls to “defund” and abolish the police have significantly diminished, and what is felt could accurately be described as a lull.

So what happened? Is lack of motivation preventing leftists from organizing large impactful demonstrations? It’s certainly something to consider. Since back in November when it became clear that Biden won the presidential election, and then officially took office in January, folks on the left seemed to have largely stayed inside and gone “back to brunch.” BRS held an online public discussion warning about this very complacency on November 17 2020, titled “Back to Brunch? Or Back to the Streets!” There are other factors, like the New England winter, which no doubt has a negative effect on organizing outside. But now, in the dead center of spring, with comfortable temperatures, and with more people vaccinated, the question comes naturally: why aren’t there more of us out there?

The simple answer always comes back to mind: we are the only ones responsible for getting organized. We need to be the ones getting out there and encouraging others to join us. We need to be the ones organizing large protests demanding to abolish the police, to abolish ICE, demanding the end of all forms of oppression, thwarting the rise of fascists, and calling for the overthrow of capitalism. We can try to pinpoint a single culprit or several factors that hinder organizing. Critiquing the left and all its organizations with varying levels of class consciousness and ideologies is necessary in order to improve our organizing and develop our policies as revolutionary socialists. It’s also beneficial to look at and discuss what has and hasn’t worked for the left in organizing rallies and protests, such as Boston’s May Day rally this year.

So why does it matter how many people attend things like International Workers’ Day rallies and marches against police brutality? The revolution may not be in sight yet, but public demonstration is one of the main ways we as revolutionary socialists grow our numbers, by having a public impact and influencing others. Reforms are not the goal, though we recognize that they only come as a direct result from our public pressure. The murder verdict of Derek Chauvin did not come from having a Democrat as President, or from the Minnesota judicial system, but from mass working-class direct action in the streets over the course of months. International Workers’ Day in Boston should be huge. Boston is home to some of the most exploited working-class neighborhoods in the state – Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and East Boston – which happen to be the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods of the city at this time, under the constant threat of overpriced “luxury apartment” complexes being put in against the desires of those communities, and rising rents which are pushing working class people out of the neighborhoods. If we claim to have the back of the working-class in the Boston area, we should be tapping into their struggles, building relationships and spreading class consciousness, so that by the time next time May Day comes around, the exploited workers of the city feel compelled to come out in large numbers to unite and fight against the oppressions of capitalism.