Saturday, May 07, 2011

San Diego Hosts Three May Day Rallies

Speakers Seek to Build Connections Between Progressive Communities


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Marching to the Federal Building; at the Federal Building (2 photos); May 1 Coalition; Carlos Pelayo; Martin Eder; Michael Anderson; Jeffrey; at the Civic Center (4 photos); Christian Ramirez and Lisa Maldonado; Lara Moreno; Greg Robinson

San Diego’s progressive community and labor movement had a hard time getting it together for May Day. After attempts to pull together a single powerful march and rally failed, various organizations — including labor, Latino groups like the nationalist Union del Barrio and socialist parties — put together a series of events. The Union del Barrio action began with a march from Chicano Park to downtown, while labor and the general Left assembled for a rally in Balboa Park between the Centro Cultural de la Raza and World Beat Center and marched to the Federal Building downtown, where they held another rally, following which they converged on the San Diego Community Concourse to meet the Union del Barrio march as it came in for their own rally.

The speakers at the Federal Building and the Community Concourse — which they had to share with the audience for the San Diego Opera’s final performance of Gounod’s Faust (a number of opera-goers muttered hostile comments about the May Day demonstrators) and food concession booths for a martial-arts convention in Golden Hall — tried to bring together various progressive issues. At times the rallies sounded like “The Left’s Greatest Hits” compilations, as the speakers attempted to link assaults on workers’ rights to bargain collectively, the record numbers of immigrants deported by President Obama’s administration, the continuation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and the new war Obama started in Libya), cutbacks in education funding and tuition increases at public colleges, marriage equality for same-sex couples and other progressive issues into a unified struggle.

Labor leader Carlos Pelayo told the audience at the Federal Building that San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who’s pushing an initiative to abolish defined-benefit pensions for new city workers and put them all on 401(k) plans, will leave them with “nothing” on which to retire because San Diego’s workers don’t get Social Security benefits either. “We see a service economy and outsourcing of city jobs at sub-union wages,” Pelayo said. He also mentioned that the workers at the major chain grocery stores in San Diego — Vons, Ralph’s and Albertson’s — recently voted to authorize a strike, and said “we need to be there when the grocery workers go out” so they don’t lose the strike as badly as they did in 2003.

Pelayo also criticized the Obama administration for giving “a lot of lip service” to supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would have made it easier for U.S. workers to organize unions. He also said many unions are themselves acting hypocritically by fighting their own staffs’ organizing efforts. “We need to start moving forward,” he said. “We’ve talked about immigrant workers bringing May Day to this country” — ironic because the first proclamation of May Day as a workers’ holiday came from an American, Terence V. Powderly of the Knights of Labor, in 1886 — “and we are not bringing union history into the classroom even though most teachers are union members.”

José Medina of the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) pointed out that his group and other Queer organizations have supported labor boycotts in San Diego, including one against hotel owner Doug Manchester — who’s not only anti-union but also contributed a six-figure sum to get Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, on the ballot. Medina also pointed to Queer support of labor boycotts against Fiesta del Rey in Old Town and Channel 10 news, and later at the Community Concourse he held a “Boycott Channel 10” sign in front of a Channel 10 camera to prevent them from being able to film the event. “On September 22, 2010, when a Gay health care convention occurred at the [Manchester-owned] Westin Hotel, S.A.M.E. picketed with such fury the convention organizers met the next day and promised never to break that boycott again,” Medina said.

“The world is in crisis,” said Martin Eder, founder and director of Activist San Diego but speaking on this occasion for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO). “The social movements are our only salvation. The Left needs to present a vision of what the world should be. Che Guevara said that all true revolutionaries are motivated by the power of love. We’re out here through a great love of the people, and if we listen carefully we will hear people on May Day declaring themselves for peace, justice, freedom and a new society with no exploitation. More than anything, as a San Diego community it’s up to us to build a united front against the oppressor, and to show how moneyed capitalism has stolen all the good things of the world from us, and brainwashed us to accept it.”

Michael Anderson, a founder of S.A.M.E. who with his partner Brian Baumgardner kicked off the Equality 9 demonstration last August when they went to the County Administrative Center and asked for a marriage license — instead, they and seven other S.A.M.E. members were arrested — spoke on behalf of a far more famous political prisoner, alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning. According to Anderson, not only is Manning facing 22 charges — some of which carry the death penalty — but he’s being held in solitary confinement. What’s more, President Obama has publicly declared that Manning “broke the law” — which, Anderson argued, makes it impossible for him to get a fair trial because he’s subject to military justice, and the officers who will try his case will inevitably be swayed by their commander-in-chief’s declaration that he’s guilty.

According to Anderson, Manning is really on trial for having exposed the “criminal” nature of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of WikiLeaks’ most famous posts was video of U.S. troops in Iraq shooting down innocent civilians from a helicopter, which later became the basis of a short film called Collateral Murder. WikiLeaks also published U.S. war plans for Afghanistan and, Anderson said, exposed “the policy of [creating] civilian casualties” through indiscriminate drone attacks. “Obama says Manning ‘broke the law,’” Anderson stated. “Where is the law for unarmed civilians shot down from Apache helicopters? Where is the law for the people who ordered the attacks? Where is the law for Obama and the U.S. government?” Anderson called on the government to drop all charges against Manning and release him immediately.

One of the most unexpectedly powerful speakers at the Federal Building was a man who identified himself only as Jeffrey from the recently formed group US Uncut. It’s an offshoot of a successful campaign in Great Britain, UK Uncut, that targets corporations who use legal loopholes to pay little or no taxes. It was inspired in Britain by the sweeping cutbacks in education and social services being made by David Cameron’s Conservative government, and it points out that virtually all the cuts could be restored if the companies they targeted were paying their fair share of taxes. American activists have been inspired to do similar actions against companies like General Electric (a major defense contractor and, until recently, the owners of NBC and Universal) that pay no federal taxes.

Though Jeffrey said he wasn’t used to public speaking and was nervous about doing so, he was actually quite eloquent. He pointed to his admiration for the original Star Trek TV show — which was visible in the yellow Star Trek jersey he was wearing — and said he remembered growing up on that show and in particular taking to heart its Prime Directive “to mind our own business” and not to interfere in the affairs of other countries — or other planets. He also quoted a line of the character of Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner: “In every revolution there’s one man with a vision” — and proceeded to outline a vision of America vastly different from the Tea Party’s call for a return to the 19th century and its understanding of the Constitution.

“Our vision is not of America as it was, and it’s certainly not what it is today, but what it still could be,” Jeffrey said, “a nation that by allowing us to pursue our best destiny fulfills its promise and becomes America’ best destiny. America’s best destiny is as a nation that remembers the preamble to the Constitution, particularly ‘to promote the general welfare.’ It is a vision that says there will be work that allows for me to care for my family and raise my children. There will be an opportunity to start and maintain my own business, if I choose. There will be schools and teachers that help me and my children to be smarter and wiser every day we want to learn. There is a commitment that the basic health of everyone is never superseded by the privilege of profit. There is protection from the greed of evil men who value profit over equality and social justice, and it will be enforced.”

Abel Macias, a teacher at Mesa College in the San Diego Community College District, talked about how budget cuts have forced the cancellation of summer classes, not only putting him out of work until the fall but also inconveniencing students who want to get ahead ¬— all while the U.S. spends trillions of dollars making war on Afghanistan and Iraq. “It may seem distant because your house is not being bombed,” he said, “but we are being attacked in the U.S. every day. We should be spending that money in this country. They shouldn’t be sending our brothers and sisters to die in that criminal war.” Macias also said that — despite the allegation the Right often makes against the Left of engaging in “class warfare” — that there really is a class war in the U.S., and “to the ruling class you’re just a part of the machinery.”

The event at the Community Concourse was co-M.C.’d by former San Diego City Council candidate Christian Ramirez and Lisa Maldonado, program coordinator of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. It featured a coordinated campaign to get the San Diego City Council to pass a resolution supporting the right of public workers to organize unions and bargain collectively — something the Councilmembers, including Democrats elected with union support, have so far been unwilling to do — and also to stop the city from impounding vehicles owned by undocumented immigrants.

“Working families did not create this budget crisis,” said student activist Lara Moreno. “Wall Street created this crisis. Education is our right, and we will fight for our access to a four-year institution. Our responsibility is to keep the university doors open to our children. Workers, students and people of faith are standing together. We are workers; we are one.”

“The workers are owed a big kiss from the elite,” said Greg Robinson, political director for local 131 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “We are systematically under attack. But there’s a solution. It’s called solidarity. The union movement is rediscovering that. I come from a working-class family and the dad said the thing you have to watch out for is the attitude of, ‘Fuck you, Jack, I’ve got mine.’ That is the mentality of all too many of us. In Wisconsin they pitted police officers and firefighters against teachers and social workers. We pit people with health care against people without it. We pit documented workers against undocumented workers. That has to stop.”

“Here we are, having to push back in the same fight our fathers and grandfathers fought,” said Frank Petaro, city carpenter and member of local 127 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “Public employees have become the scapegoats for the city’s problems. We’ve had no increase in health benefits for 10 years, no wage increases for five years, and we have employees who qualify for food stamps. While the city builds Petco Park, the new library and a bridge to Harbor Drive, they take it out on the lowest-paid workers. Twenty years ago, the city workers gave up Social Security to have health care for life, and now they say they won’t pay for it. We can no longer stand as individuals. Together, we must stand for workers.”