May Day in Chicago: Live Updates

Rebecca Burns

NOTE: This post is being updated througout May Day with news from street actions in Chicago

4:45 p.m.: The rally at Federal Plaza is over, but Occupy Chicago demonstrators say they are planning more blockades of Bank of America branches tonight and for the rest of the month. Meanwhile, a small group is leaving from the rally for Joliet, Illinois, where 800 International Association of Machinists workers went on strike this morning after their contracts expired.

4:20 p.m.: After occupying Rahm Emanuel’s office yesterday in protest of the planned closure of 6 of 12 of the city’s Mental health clinics, a member of Southsiders Together Organizing for Power reiterates that the movement will continue fighting until the city agrees to keep all clinics open and end the privatization of healthcare.

4:15 p.m.: A Japanese delegation to Chicago’s May Day is on the stage to announce their solidarity with Chicago’s action, ask for support in demand for zero nuclear power being issued across Japan for May Day today.

3:15 p.m.: The rally at Federal Plaza is underway with an estimated 3,000 2,000 in attendance. A speaker from Immigrant Youth justice Jeague announces his undocumented status to crowd, says I am here to tell you that I am a person,” and leads chant of undocumented and unafraid!”

3:00 p.m.: The march is stopped at Jackson and Lasalle, the headquarters of Occupy Chicago. Speaking outside of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Federal Reserve, an Occupy organizer addresses the crowd : Everyone here today is an organizer. We need everyone to tell their friends and their family to join us in showing the 1% that we wont be their puppets anymore.”

2:20 p.m.: The march has stopped down the street from the Haymarket Memorial as May Day committee organizers call for a moment of silence to remember those who died in the struggle for the eight-hour working day. At the request of one of the speakers, the crowd goes down on one knee.

1:30 p.m.: The march from Union Park to Federal Plaza is getting underway, with demonstrators chanting, Money for jobs and education, not for racist deportations.”

12:05 p.m.: Occupiers have briefly taken the streets while marching to Union Park for the start of the mass rally. Some marchers say that CPD is running into them with their bikes.

11:45 a.m.: Demonstrators are preparing to end the standoff with the Chicago Police Department and begin the march to Union Park for the May Day rally. A member of the Occupy Chicago Press Committee says that today’s action was planned in solidarity with the 99% and all of the other groups that will taking to the streets for May Day. Bank of America is a corporate criminal … that in 2009 paid no taxes even while posting a profit. We’re saying that’s it’s time for the 99% to stand up and demand that this country be run by people instead of corporations.”

11:30 a.m.: Accompanied by a line of bike police, about 50 Occupy protesters have marched to a second Bank of America on State and Dearborn, where police immediately established a perimeter around the bank’s doors to block protesters from entering. Demonstrators begin chanting, I pay, you pay, B of A has got to pay!”

10:45 a.m.: In a direct action separate from the main mass march and rally planned for 1 p.m. today, Occupy Chicago is amassing outside of a Bank of America branch on State St. with the stated intention of shutting the branch down. About 15 Occupiers tried to enter and were thrown out by police, who are now blocking the doors of the branch. More than 20 additional Chicago Police Department officers just arrived and have ordered demonstrators to disperse.


Chicago, center of the historic struggle for the eight-hour working-day in the U.S., is today one of the more than 135 cities holding actions to mark International Workers Day. As Bhaskar Sunsara wrote yesterday on Uprising, there is substantial disagreement over whether the nationwide actions should be called a general strike.” While in many cities a substantial amount of on-the-ground organizing has gone into reaching out to the many groups affected by the increasing causalization of work, the action is still primarily an exercise in meme-making: A handful of walk-outs and shutdowns will be supplemented by online platforms like a how I strike” Tumblr in order to give meaning to the declaration of a nationwide general strike.

The clearest precedent of the“wildcat strike” that many activists are calling for were the 1968 student strikes in Paris that, assisted by the propaganda of the Situationists, eventually drew participation from about 800,000 workers for a one-day general strike. A central idea of the Situationists — that a potent narrative, introduced into a ripe environment, can inspire an uprising — has found updated relevance in the meme-cum-movement of Occupy Wall Street.” But as Occupy launches a strike that attempts to bypass many of the traditional forms of organization in favor of newly-signified forms of protest, how much has social media — and the horizontal organizing structure it supports — really changed?

In Chicago, the city’s May Day actions seemed briefly at risk of being overwhelmed by the significance being attributed to it from outside — calls for a May Day general strike began circulating early from Los Angeles and New York, and in January Adbusters put out a call for 50,000 people to converge on the city in advance of the NATO and G8 summits. Multiple Occupy Chicago” Twitter hashtags sprung up, and harried organizers struggled to field e-mails from out-of-town demonstrators wondering where they should pitch their tents. 

Occupy Chicago ultimately welcomed this outside call, and declared victory when the G8 was suddenly relocated to Camp David. But the May Day Committee in Chicago voted early on not to endorse a general strike, opting instead to focus on the day’s historic connections to local struggles for immigrant and worker rights. As Joe Macare noted yesterday at the Occupied Chicago Tribune, this decision was not without controversy within the movement — some participants bemoaned the idea of having just another march” — but it was based on the idea that a general strike is something more specific and powerful than a day with No Work, No School, No Banking.”

We wanted to preserve the political potency of what a general strike is: workers shutting production down themselves,” Andy Manos, a member of the May Day Committee, told In These Times. The call for a general strike is getting people excited, which is great, but what’s going to happen in most places is that people are going to call in sick and go to a march … That seems to evacuate the political edge of what a general strike actually is.”

In 2006, a massive demonstration in Chicago against the Sensenbrenner bill, which would have denied citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants, sparked a series of May Day protests dubbed A Day Without Immigrants.” Thousands of immigrants boycotted work, school and commerce in a powerful show of what tighter immigrations restrictions would actually mean for the economy. This year, due to a combination of economic downturn and a spate of new anti-immigrant measures, more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than entering it for the first time since the Great Depression.

Maritere Gomez, a member of Occupy El Bario in Chicago who has also been organizing the May Day mass march and rally, says that the meetings leading up to May Day this year have been bigger than she’s seen in years.“Immigrants are being attacked in a very brutal way, and we need to take a stand and demand not to be treated this way,” she toldIn These Times, nothing that the rally in Chicago will seek to highlight the impact of the Secure Communities and E-verify programs that are used to track undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, though no mass convergence of 50,000 has materialized, some folks were sufficiently inspired by the call from Adbusters to make plans to arrive in Chicago on May 1. Darrin Annussek, an out-of-work social worker from Philadelphia who has been marching from city to city since November as part of Occupy the Highway,” had just arrived in Atlanta when he about heard the call from Adbusters. He and a group of other marchers decided to continue onto Chicago in a project they’re calling Walkupy May Day.” After more than 1,000 miles of walking, they are down to five participants, but Annusek says that most of them plan to stay in Chicago for the entire month of May.

So does a meme a global uprising make? When In These Times reached Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters, in his office on Monday, he acknowledged that it was difficult to predict what would happen next, but said he inspired by the strikes of 1968. Except this time,” he mused, there’s the real possibility that we’re not going to fizzle out … with the internet and the social media and the new [horizontal] model, I think this could well be the beginning of this global revolution that so many of us have been dreaming about for so long.”

Manos was excited about the organizing work that had gone into the May Day actions, but less sanguine about the promise of new forms of communication: The thing is, if you put out a call, you still have to actually organize people for it.”

Check back here for updates throughout the day on the May Day march and rally in Chicago.

Rebecca Burns is an In These Times contributing editor and award-winning investigative reporter. Her work has appeared in Bloomberg, the Chicago Reader, ProPublica, The Intercept, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

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