Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deep South May Day

May Day in the Southern U.S.

About a 100 people gathered at the corner of Broad and College in Athens, Georgia for a May Day march and event.  It was on the site of the annual "Human Rights Festival" in downtown Athens.  This had only happened once before.  This crowd was certainly larger than I expected, so perhaps there is a new spirit afloat in this passive country.  A large group of Latino activists, some black activists fighting for a living wage, a group of students (mostly young women), hippie greyheads and townies all united.  "Obreros Unidos!" was the chant.

The Famous Fist
After some speeches by a Latino activist in Spanish and an older black activist from the music stage, the demonstrators marched to the office of the president at UGA to demand a living wage, then back over to City Hall. However it was Sunday and no one was home - though it probably wouldn't matter if they were.  Inequality and working-class rights are not something that is tackled by either.

Athens/Clarke County is one of the most unequal counties in the U.S. - hosting a layer of mostly high-paid academic professionals and administrators, as it is the site of the University of Georgia's largest campus.  And then a 30% poverty rate of mostly black workers.  Your ethnicity almost determines your class standing.  But there are many underpaid working class whites in Clarke County too.  Added to this is about 40,000 students, many of whom are attracted by the state-paid HOPE scholarship - which allows almost free tuition with a B average.  If Georgia can do it, there is no reason why every other state can't. 

Unions are virtually non-existent here, even among teachers or other public employees like maintenance workers at UGA.  Fear and intimidation, as well as the law, almost prohibit unionization in various industries, according to one public teacher activist.  A Caterpillar plant has just relocated near Athens, of course without the UAW.

Being a unionist, activist or socialist in this town is pretty hard.  As is being black or Latino!  The 'mellow' mood and right-wing and religious surroundings mitigate against radicalism - except reactionary radicalism.  The vast numbers of students have not made Athens a more radical Berkeley, a Madison or an Ann Arbor.  The students are mostly interested in shopping, drinking, eating and music.  And their careers, of course.

This gathering shows that May Day is not dead yet in the U.S., even in the South.
Happy May Day!

Red Frog
May 1, 2016

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