About this time every year, when spring sparks life all around, humankind gets busy as well. We are found celebrating, remembering, crusading – and taking it to the streets, as was the case Saturday, April 29, in Washington, DC. The People’s Climate March brought 200,000 activists to swelter in global warming-style heat in the swamp, where they called out the deniers and demanded action. The march originated in New York City in 2014, but carried a particular urgency this year.
Just last week we celebrated Earth Day, first observed in 1970, and thousands more filled the streets across the nation to “March for Science,” and specifically the science that helps us protect the planet that sustains us. Friday, April 28, was Arbor Day, celebrating trees, and these living reminders of our bond to the Earth. Through photosynthesis, the trees yield oxygen for us and absorb the carbon dioxide that otherwise would degrade our atmosphere, and threaten life.
We live in a Green House, and our life depends on it. We are reminded of its splendor each year at this time. The air is moist with the stuff of life. We breathe deep and find renewal in the rebirth of the Earth. We try to reach beyond the bonds that hold us to this fragile planet, as the Christians do with Easter, as the Jews do with Passover, as Muslim sufi mystics and early pagans did with rebirths like Ishtar, or the Egyptian Horas. The spring equinox has always been a time of spiritual, as well as physical, renewal.
Thus, it’s not surprising that the last Saturday in April is designated “World Tai Chi and Qigong Day,” also celebrated as “World Healing Day,” when people all over the world spend an hour or two in group energy transference, through Taoist meditation, internal martial arts, and therapeutic breathing exercises. There are natural hazards this time of year with these outdoor exercises, as deep breathing may be interrupted by an assault of pollen and a sneezing attack. But being mindful brings qi energy to absorb the pollen and restore inner balance.
Ah, spring. It is a season that inspired the now ritual “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” the fourth Thursday of April, April 27 this year. The Ms Foundation for Women concocted the event – originally just for daughters – to empower girls to excel in their eventual workplaces. The first celebration was in 1993, and I remember how some feared that the labor movement’s embrace of the event would overshadow a seminal marker in labor’s history, Workers Memorial Day.
The AFL-CIO designated April 28 as Workers Memorial Day in 1972, when unions also were successfully pushing Congress and the Nixon Administration to create the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Each year since, the federation has demonstrated the need for new standards to protect workers on the job, even as each year the business lobby successfully fended off new standards and regulations to protect workers’ safety and health.
In the early 1990s, with support from Robert Reich and the Clinton Labor Department, we were close to gaining new standards for ergonomic safety – providing medical relief and workplace redesign to prevent injuries from repetitive motion – chronic problems for some factory workers, cashiers, office staff and others. Journalists are particularly vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome, a crippling condition caused by repetitive motion on keyboards. During the Bush administration, the business lobby blew away the ergonomics standard, and it is even more empowered under Trump.
Nothing matters to our government today more than the bottom line of corporations and rich investors – and particularly those connected to Trump Inc. That’s why the most important celebration, remembrance and crusade of this time of man – May Day – is so important this year. It is the historic symbol of resistance to corporate greed and economic injustice.
May Day, May 1, has been observed around the world as International Workers Day since 1889, commemorating protestors killed at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 1, 1886, as they demonstrated for the eight-hour day. It was the beginning of a revolution in attitudes, legal precedent and government policies about how workers are treated vis-à-vis business organizations, and it sparked a wave of worker self-organization in the United States and around the world.
Now, with the resurgence of the corporate code of greed, we need this revolution more than ever. But our time of greatest need corresponds with the greatest decline in labor numbers and influence. There is a strong correlation between the two trends, and you can see how it has been manipulated through corporate campaigns that created right-wing think tanks (from Heritage to Cato), the so-called National Right to Work Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Commission and Astroturf groups like Americans for Prosperity.
Billions of dollars in corporate campaigns by the Koch brothers and others, empowered by the nefarious Citizens United ruling, have overwhelmed us with images and noise – and the greatest distraction of all, a hotel and casino magnate running the show, shaking us down. We face an enormous challenge to restore and renew our democracy against this corporate onslaught, but we can draw on the courage and convictions of those women and men who stood up and fought for the rights and protections we have today, and dare not give up.
So, let’s take heart in the people in the streets this year – from the Million Women to the People’s Climate marches. It’s spring, when a free people’s fancy turns to rising again. Happy May Day!