Around the world, International Workers’ Day commemorates the historic and ever-present struggle of working-class people, and it is recognized on May 1st in nearly every country except the United States, Canada, and South Africa. Interestingly, although May Day’s roots can be traced back to Pagan origins that pre-date Christianity, the modern-era holiday began in 1880s America in a fight over an eight-hour work day coinciding with the beginning of the factory system in the United States. Today, in 115 cities across the nation, the Occupy movement will gather together with labor and immigration activists to march, strike, and engage in all manner of civil disobedience to call attention to abuses of power and wealth represented by the Republican Party.
Occupy activists have been promoting a general strike with no work, no school, no banking and no shopping to send a message and disrupt the status quo according to an April 26th memo. In San Francisco and Oakland, a coalition of bridge and bus workers promised they would honor protestor’s picket lines, but activists will not shut down the major bridges in the region, but in Los Angeles, organizers promise the May Day events will be “city-paralyzing” to draw attention to the movement’s message. In New York, activist will join forces with labor organizations and called on people to use creative forms of civil disobedience to send their message to a wide range of businesses, schools, and governments that they have had enough economic disparity, high unemployment, and home foreclosures that affect working-class Americans. Occupy organizers are not just calling attention to income inequality and favoritism for the one percent, they are calling for more open immigration, expanded rights for labor, and cheaper financing for higher education.
This May Day is not only to protest for workers’ rights, but to object to conditions set up by the wealthy elite and their corporations that have hurt average Americans while banks and financial executives reap outrageous profits funded with taxpayer-funded bailouts. An Occupy spokesperson said “banks that anticipate outrage from everyday citizens reveal their own guilt,” and that “if they hadn’t been participating in maneuvers that sent the economy into the ditch, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.” Whether or not the Occupy movement knows it, they are protesting the Republican agenda that is part and parcel of the reason Americans’ wages are declining, unemployment remains high, and the rich keep getting richer at the expense of the poor and working-class, but financial institutions remain the primary target of the protests.
If Americans knew that banks that received their tax dollars increased their wealth after causing the global financial crises, they would riot in the streets. The five largest banks, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs Group together held assets worth $8.5 trillion at the end of 2011 equal to 56% of the American economy, and it is up from 43% at the end of 2006. Indeed, four years after the financial meltdown, every one of the too-big-to-fail banks are larger and Republicans are still protecting them with promises of repealing the Dodd-Frank law with Willard Romney chief among those promising an immediate end to regulations that protect consumers and the health of America’s economy.
The Occupy organizers say they hope to make a splash and “give an outcry about Wall Street and greed” and it is a worthy endeavor, but bringing attention Wall Street misses the point. Wall Street, bankers, and financial institutions could not continue their agenda without the blessings and assistance of Republicans in Congress. This protest is against everything the Republican Party stands for and works diligently to perpetuate with their relentless Draconian spending cuts to fund corporate and wealthy tax breaks that are slowly decimating the people and increasing the nation’s deficit they claim is responsible for Americans’ woes. The Paul Ryan budget and Willard Romney’s proposed grand economic plan are cruel policies that rob the government, the poor, and middle class to further the income inequality the Occupy movement decries and they would be better served mobilizing into an electoral machine to end the GOP’s tenure and never-ending gifts to high-income earners. Bringing attention to the source of bank and Wall Street atrocities will motivate voters who are weary of being raped by corporate greed to once and for all end the demonic Republican reign of terror.
Today’s protests have the potential of starting a wave of activism to evict Republicans from office. However, marches, walkouts, and protests are worthless unless there is voter outrage in the general election in November. It is a good first step and if it is large and loud enough to grab the attention of voters who will carry their outrage to the ballot box, then real change may actually occur in our lifetime. If the Occupy movement wants to neuter big banks and Wall Street, they first have to neuter Republicans who protect, embolden, and empower them to continue destroying the middle class and sending the working-poor into poverty, and the only way to neuter Republicans is voting them out of office and out of Americans’ path to prosperity.