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Reclaiming May Day as a Commons Holiday

Protesters around the world rallied for economic equity May 1

May Day is the missing holiday in America. It’s noted on the calendar as Law Day, and remembered as either a spring celebration with pagan roots (think maypoles and may baskets) or the international workers’ holiday (observed most conspicuously in the Soviet Union with huge military parades) mostly by those old enough to recall where they were on Nov. 22, 1963.

But things looked different this year, as the Occupy movement reclaimed the idea of May 1 as a Workers’ holiday to protest the continuing government and corporate policies that enrich the pockets of the one percent and leave 90 percent of Americans facing a precarious economic future.

The accompanying photograph by New York visual artist and photographer Alice Attie captures how the ideals and practices of the commons can point us toward a different future. She shot it yesterday (May 1) at protests in Manhattan.

May Day is still celebrated as a Workers’ holiday in many parts of the world (including Mexico), and yesterday saw large protests against severe free market policies throughout Europe and parts of Asia. More than a million people marched through the streets of Spain.

In the years to come, let’s celebrate May Day to appreciate and stand up for all that we share together— both as a spring festival observing nature’s gifts and as holiday honoring all workers’ contributions to society. These themes blend well, as witnessed by the “epic May Day parade and festival“http://www.hobt.org/mayday/: that draws tens of thousands every year here in Minneapolis. (It happens Sunday May 6 this year.)

And if it feels odd for American commoners to celebrate what sounds like a foreign holiday (with severe Soviet associations), keep this in mind that May Day’s political origins date back to Chicago, where 35,000 workers walked off their jobs May 1, 1886 to support the eight-hour workday. The protest spread across the city over the next several days, eliciting a violent police response and further clashes in the streets. Workers around the world later designated May Day as a holiday to commemorate the ultimately successful campaign for an 8-hour working day.