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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘This is not only a celebration, [but] a call to action’: Boston May Day march emphasizes solidarity with Gaza

Bryan Hecht
May Day protesters gathered on Liberty Mall by the State House to make speeches and chant before marching to City Hall on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 (Bryan Hecht/Beacon Staff).

Nearly two dozen protesters from different organizations gathered at Liberty Mall near the Massachusetts State House in the late afternoon on Wednesday to rally and celebrate International Workers Day. International Workers Day, or May Day, is a holiday celebrated in over 100 countries on May 1 that spotlights workers’ rights. 

Though it has its origins in the unionization movements and labor reform advocacy of the late 19th century United States, May Day is not officially recognized in the United States, as the country instead celebrates Labor Day in September. The day is designed to celebrate the progress of work reform and the importance of workers, and it is also a day with a rich history of political protest.

It is in that spirit that many members of local advocacy groups gathered with signs, flags, and banners to rally for a variety of causes for this year’s May Day celebration in Boston, ranging from worker’s rights to freeing Palestine, freeing Julian Assange, and promoting the Socialist Party. 

A message of solidarity with Gaza especially took center stage at this year’s rally and march, with organizers draping a large “Free Palestine” banner over the steps leading up to the State House. In addition to signage, two protesters boasted brass instruments, playing renditions of “Oh When the Saints” and other march tunes on the trumpet and sousaphone as the group marched to City Hall through Downtown Crossing.

Marchers enter Downtown Crossing chanting and playing music on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 (Bryan Hecht/Beacon Staff).

As the protesters marched, they regularly received support from the Boston community through people honking horns or joining in on chants. Once at City Hall, they delivered more chants before disbanding.

The city’s May Day celebration is an annual event organized by the Boston May Day Coalition that many independent local organizations sponsor. Among some of this year’s sponsors are the Boston Area Assange Defense, Socialist Alternative, Battle First Aid Responder Services, Mass Peace Action, Veterans for Peace-Boston, and Massachusetts’s Poor People’s Campaign, among many others.

“We’re promoting May Day awareness as well as, of course, solidarity with Palestine and celebrating May Day and workers’ rights and union’s rights around the world,” said LaQueen Battle, the founder of Battle First Aid Responder Services, who helped organize the event. 

“[May Day] is [about] celebrating the needs of the community and fighting for people who are in underserved communities … [and] a lot of the voices are not being heard in Palestine,” she continued.

Battle said she sees a lot of the current wave of pro-Palestine activism, like the rise of encampments on college campuses, as a step in the right direction but also a misguided focus on political rather than humanitarian causes. This includes Emerson’s encampment that was formed and subsequently dismantled by police last week.

“I do agree with [the encampment]. I just wish that we would be in unison together … we need to focus on the humanitarian efforts,” Battle said. 

She believes efforts like protesting politicians at the State House and raising money and awareness for humanitarian issues in healthcare, security, and other areas of welfare in Gaza do more to help the cause.

“Right now, there’s just so much press coverage on the political side. It needs to be focused on the people and the needs of the people,” Battle said.

Patty McCormick is a Dorchester resident and Boston May Day Coalition volunteer who marched holding a “Let Gaza Live” banner between her and her teenage son. She said that worker’s rights “[are] probably the most important social justice cause there is.”

McCormick participates in the May Day festivities every year because she says it is “very empowering to me, and I’ve been raising my kids the same way … [bringing them to] rallies with me ever since they were babies.”

She sees the pro-Palestine and pro-workers movements as advocacy areas that run parallel to each other.

“The worker is exploited … to fund that conflict in the Middle East … [and if we didn’t give money to Israel] we could house our citizens, and we could make sure that people could actually afford food,” McCormick said. “It’s just senseless to me that we would have just given $15 billion to a foreign nation just to kill people.”

In 2022, the United States provided Israel with $3.3 billion in foreign assistance, which it receives annually, with 99.7 percent of the aid going to the Israeli military.

John Harris, one of the Boston May Day Coalition organizers, explained his view of this year’s May Day as being marked by both feelings of hope and discouragement regarding social justice issues.

“I think the young people are stepping forward, and I’m very happy about this. I think it’s also up to working-class people to do our job, to organize, mobilize, [and] defend the rights of working-class people in Palestine, in the United States and all over the world,” Harris said.

Harris said that he visited the Emerson “Popular University Encampment” before it was raided, and what he saw there was “a bunch of young students who were peacefully sitting around holding signs … not hurting anyone.” To Harris, the police intervention was “an abomination” and an imposition of “force and violence upon innocent, non-violent, peaceful protesters.”

For Harris, the dual spirits of celebration and activism of May Day were visceral this year.

“This is not only a celebration. This is a call to action,” Harris said. “[We’re] calling on youth and working people to … do whatever you can [to] peacefully mobilize massively in defense of the working people and children of Palestine.”

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About the Contributor
Bryan Hecht
Bryan Hecht, News Co-Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.

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  • J

    jaye yanovitch / May 18, 2024 at 9:56 am

    May Day is a Communist Celebration it is still Celebrated in Russia…the former USSR for you younglings….the same Country that has killed millions of its own citizens…..and has also invaded a neighboring country….Be Proud young Commies……..!