May Day: Here, There and Everywhere

A reader asks why I did not stay home from work and join the May Day protests today, and I feel like this question deserves a serious response.

Partly, I have always had a phobia about crowds, and never willingly put myself into a crowd situation.  I don’t even like to go to an agricultural fair, or a peaceful parade.  In my Manhattan youth, crowds and violence often went together, or at least crowds and the fear of violence.  I am a wimp.

Partly, I felt like I could do more good in my classroom today than anonymously out on the streets.  It is the last full week of classes at my institution; students are finishing up projects that need response and guidance.  If I didn’t show up to work today, it would throw a monkey wrench in the plans I made for a graceful and productive ending to our semester together.

Partly, I don’t have any beef against my own employer, so not showing up for work today would affect the wrong target, while making no difference at all to the intended target, the 1%.

I guess the biggest reason I felt like my presence was expendable to today’s protest is because no one would notice if I was or was not out there on the street, but I would definitely be missed from my classroom.

However, in at least one of my two classes today, I did spend some time talking about May Day and the reasons for the protest.

I was surprised to learn that very few of my students had any clue as to what May Day signified to the labor movement, or why the protests today were taking place.

I don’t know why I assumed that my students would be more politically aware than I was at their age.

Turns out, few of them even realized there were going to be significant protests today, much less what they were all about.  Some also had their doubts as to whether the Occupy approach was likely to be effective.

Well, I pressed them, if occupying public spaces is not an effective means of protest, what would be more effective?  Joining a political campaign?  Writing a letter to the editor?

No one had an answer to that, but I could see the wheels turning.

And that’s why I am glad I decided to stay at work today.  At least with this one small group of students, I was able to foreground these historic May Day protests in their minds, and ask some questions that no one else probably would have asked them today.

Maybe as a result they will be paying attention to the news in a different way, and thinking more concretely about how the issues blazoned across all those posters and banners are relevant to their own particular lives.

Whether working on the small canvas, in the classroom, or the big canvas, out in the street, we are working together to build up the necessary momentum to blast our way to a better world.

 

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15 Comments

  1. leavergirl

     /  May 1, 2012

    Jennifer, I appreciate you trying to think it through, and responding.🙂
    Nevertheless, I think this is important, and so, here’s a response.

    This was a strike. Not an “occupy action”. A strike urging us not to work, not to do school, not to shop. Other activities were optional.

    So fear of crowds has nothing to do with it. does it? A strike is about abstaining. And by abstaining, showing solidarity with those who say no to the Machine [my words], no to the 1%.

    Doing “good in the classroom” also does not enter it, and may in fact be a rationalization. (viz my previous comment). Endless people could rationalize that they can do more good at work… more good than what? This was a strike! (And btw, it has nothing to do with your employer either. It was a strike against the Empire. Against the system you rail against. Whatever you wanna call it.)

    “If I didn’t show up to work today, it would throw a monkey wrench in the plans I made for a graceful and productive ending to our semester together.”

    That rings true, at least to me, and does not smell like rationalization. But then…. strikes are typically inconvenient of people’s plans. And since it was long in the making, you could have planned your semester otherwise. If you cared enough, right?

    I am not trying to pull a holier than thou, Jenny. I am on disability, and so it was easy enough to abstain. I am just saying, if you are not willing to put your “money” where your mouth is, then leave off the exhortationism.

    It would have taken so little. But it would have messed up your plans. Next time you rail here about how “we” need to stop this or do that, maybe, just maybe, you could reflect a while on this MayDay, and what in all honesty *you* yourself are willing to do. Apart from words, I mean.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  May 1, 2012

      Believe you me, I reflect on that all the time.

      I do what I can….I would like to do more….I am working on it.

      Reply
      • leavergirl

         /  May 1, 2012

        No no no… we are fall in that bucket. That’s not what I meant. I meant, if you are not planning to strike, then cut the speechifying and exhorting. Unless you want to sound like a rationalizing hypocrite. Eh? That’s the crux of what bothers me. If you had said, the strike means little in the scheme of things and so I am going to work, I’d probably agree.

      • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

         /  May 1, 2012

        But I actually think the strike is important! The sight of all those people out in the streets is so heartening for those of us who are just watching and hoping from the sidelines. I am on the frontlines of other arenas…in the classroom…in words….so I don’t feel like a total hypocrite. The beauty of the Occupy movement is its flexibility, its stretch. Maybe that’s part of the cyberspace era, that we can all participate in so much, even if we’re not physically present. Who’s to say that virtual engagement is less real than physical engagement these days? Watching the Livestream I am struck by how many CAMERAS and other recording devices are whipped out any time there is the least hint of police aggression. Whatever happens in that moment will be more powerful in its online reverberations than it was in the present moment. And I can at least be part of amplifying those reverberations….

        You are not being too harsh, I appreciate your comments as always. Keep setting a high standard for us and keep us honest!

  2. leavergirl

     /  May 1, 2012

    Eh, I am being too harsh. Would you be so kind and erase the majority of the last paragraph after “messed up your plans”? Because you are willing to do some stuff… just not this one.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. leavergirl

     /  May 1, 2012

    Oops, our comments have crossed. Well, leave it or not. Up to you.

    Reply
  4. leavergirl

     /  May 1, 2012

    Creepers. I can’t write today. I meant to say “we all fall in that bucket”… sigh

    Reply
  5. Hi Jennifer.

    I love that you inform and “exhort”. I believe we should all utilise our existing talents in the collective efforts to bring about bearable outcomes – from the lousy situations we are facing – while expanding our skillset to attempt further areas of participation in the zeitgeist (I’m starting to formally teach gardening for resilience, an unnerving venture for an essentially shy woman….).

    We need to be as constructive as we can, and supportive of those who do stuff intended to soften the effects of the upcoming crises. We have to pull together.

    Those of us given to judging others need to examine what’s motivating us and whether anyone else actually benefits when we put negativity out there. It’s so easy to criticise and complain, but it deters people from trying. Sure, picking holes in others’ endeavours and assertions is all fun and intellectually stimulating, but there are other spectacular candidates for critique right now, at the end of this human epoch. Go Leavergirl!

    No doubt you knew you’d cop a caning, Jennifer. Congrats for being honest, and for not getting defensive. Wish I could do that!!

    I like the world you occupy. It has a heart.

    You are an excellent consciousness-raiser. Straight forward and real. If there is any hope, it’s in that aphorism; A problem identified, is a problem half-solved (or something like that). The identifying is evidently underway, and blogs such as this can only further the process.

    Thanks also for helping me to keep my chin up through some dark times,
    Angie.

    Reply
  6. Hi Jennifer.

    I love that you inform and “exhort”. I believe we should all utilise our existing talents in the collective efforts to bring about bearable outcomes – from the lousy situations we are facing – while expanding maybe attempting further areas of participation in the zeitgeist (I’m starting to formally teach gardening for resilience, an unnerving venture for an essentially shy woman….).

    We need to be as constructive as we can, and supportive of those who do stuff intended to soften the effects of the upcoming crises.

    We have to pull together.

    Those of us given to judging others need to examine what’s motivating us and whether anyone else actually benefits when we put negativity out there. It’s so easy to criticise and complain, but it deters people from trying. Sure, picking holes in others’ endeavours and assertions is all fun and intellectually stimulating, but there are other spectacular candidates for critique right now, at the end of this human epoch. Go Leavergirl!

    No doubt you knew you’d cop a caning, Jennifer. Congrats for being honest, and for not getting defensive. Wish I could do that!!

    I like the world you occupy. It has a heart.

    You are an excellent consciousness-raiser. Straight forward and real. If there is any hope, it’s in that aphorism; A problem identified, is a problem half-solved (or something like that). The identifying is evidently underway, and blogs such as this can only further the process.

    Thanks also for helping me to keep my chin up through some dark times. There’s solace in finding work such as this.
    Angie.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  May 2, 2012

      Thanks for your encouragement, Angie, I always appreciate your comments! I appreciate all comments, actually, it’s just great to be in conversation with kindred souls across the planet. I wish I could take your gardening for resilience class! I have raised beds in my backyard and always plant veggies, grow raspberries, have a peach tree, etc, but I feel like I’m too dependent on my local garden supply store, and I still don’t know how to can or properly cold-store root vegetables. Permaculture is getting big in my area too, and I am paying attention….

      BTW, I picked up Future Scenarios by David Holmgren and read it with great interest. It’s on my desk and I keep meaning to blog about it, but getting distracted by other things…or perhaps hiding my head in the sand a little….

      “Bearable outcomes”–yes, this is probably all we can hope for at this point. There is a part of me that recognizes that for all other life forms on the planet, the best outcome would be the collapse of human civilization entirely–I mean a major population crash that will send us back to a few resilient bands of hunters & gatherers.

      We certainly are living through interesting times.

      Reply
  7. Martin Lack

     /  May 2, 2012

    You should need to justify your action (or inaction), Jennifer. However, for the record, I find your logic perfectly rational. There will always be those who accuse us of hypocrisy. Just look at the way I have been attacked for flying in an aeroplane; and admitting that I retain – as a lifetime goal – a desire to see the Grand Canyon…

    However, no matter how loudly they protest, the real hypocrisy is to be found in those who seeks to judge us using criteria or standards they do not themselves consider valid. As I have said to my critics, they are like non-Muslims seeking to have me stoned for adultery in accordance with Sharia Law. Their position is completely indefensible.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  May 2, 2012

      BTW, I share your love of rocks! I prefer rocky coastlines and craggy green mountains to the desert Southwest, though–although I have never yet been to the Grand Canyon, only flown over it–

      Reply
  8. leavergirl

     /  May 2, 2012

    I was wondering where everyone was!
    After our discussion, Jennifer, I was pretty depressed last night. I was talking about participating in a general strike, and you were talking about watching May Day marches on television and doing the hopey-changey cha-cha. We are not even in the same ballpark. Weird.

    Angie, I have no use for “bearable outcomes”. What a sad thing, no? I find the whole scenario fad depressing. Glad you are back in the discussion.

    Martin, was I using criteria I myself do not consider valid?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  May 2, 2012

      I don’t watch television, leavergirl–don’t have one in the house. I am talking about “participating” in the May Day events via the internet, which is a whole different medium, one in which there is the possibility of dialogue, as we are having here.

      I agree that looking at future scenarios is “depressing,” but it’s real and we need to be looking squarely at what’s coming, and beginning to prepare, as Angie is doing. What’s really depressing is the amount of denial and avoidance in human societies, and lack of emphasis on what’s really important–sustainable survival.

      Martin, I was also a little confused by your first line. I should or should not need to justify my actions? My own response to this question: one should not take public actions one can’t justify. But also, one is accountable to no one but oneself.

      I agree with leavergirl, glad to be having this conversation!

      Reply
      • leavergirl

         /  May 2, 2012

        Damn. I forgot you don’t have the “stupid box”. My apologies!🙂 Still though, there is a world of difference btw marches and strikes. I find the latter useful; indeed, under the right condition, a general strike can bring a govt rapidly to its knees. On the other hand, 99.9% of marching does nothing much apart from feeding the spectacle. I supported the general strike. I gave up on May Day marching when I was a girl of about 11….finally daring to sneak off the march meeting point to go wandering in the woods. In nature is where the real May Day happens in my world.

        Scenarios do not show what’s coming, and that is the crux of the problem. They are just computer exercises that often lead people astray into pencil pushing instead of doing, and serve the panic mongers. Nobody knows what’s coming. But the earth being a capricious goddess, and us humans being limited and fallible, we should always focus on building resilience. So there, we agree!

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