Photo by Jennida Chase

Organizing began this year for May Day / International Workers Day in Richmond, Virginia with some anticipation surrounding a dozen or so pieces of anti-worker and anti-immigrant legislation.

One bill in particular, HB 2332 would have given Virginia State Police the authority to ascertain citizenship of arrested individuals.

Just like the racist Bill which was passed in Arizona in 2010, the possibility would be left to the discretion of the state police in whether or not individuals are profiled and arrested based solely on the color of their skin.

Fortunately, this Bill along with others concerning immigration were killed in February by a special Senate Committee called the ‘Kill Bill Committee’.

The passing of such legislation would have undoubtedly determined the focus of this years May Day, and transformed a day of celebration into a full blown protest. And although a battle has been won, organizing must continue in the Latin American communities with the goal of building a grassroots network of immigrant workers and organizations who are capable of taking a more direct and pro-active approach to racist legislation and exploitative employers.

As May 1st approached our organizing became more focused on acquiring commitments and endorsements from community organizations, student groups, labor unions, faith-based groups, and other radical & progressive groups.

Although, this process has become increasingly more fluid with May Day becoming an annual event in Richmond, holes in our organizing have been rightfully made apparent to organizers by comrades from the African American community,  who urge us to not forget the inclusion of the often marginalized African American communities. That there needs to be a commitment made by every organizer for meaningful outreach and solidarity, not just when May Day is approaching, but through out the entire year.

Ana Edwards from Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality stated at one point that, “May Day should be viewed as a bookend on a year of organizing…”, and that is exactly our goal. Organizing with the intent of articulating the intersectionality of our respective causes will only make our movements stronger and more effective.

Entering the last few weeks before May Day, the coalition ran into a snag surrounding a permit to march, transforming a May Day for workers rights into a battle for free speech.

The Richmond Virginia Police Department informed us that in order to acquire a permit to march, we would first need to pay for at least two off duty police officers and their vehicles, at a cost of $294.

The coalition along with the ACLU sued the city requesting an injunction on the grounds that a limitation of ones ability to express their right to free speech and assembly based around whether they could afford the presence of police escorts is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention extortion.

“Nowhere in the city code does it say that Richmond police have the authority to assess fees on parade organizers,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “The police cannot arbitrarily impose costs on individuals exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The city argued that it was an issue of public safety to which we argued, “as working people, we have already borne the expense of public safety through our tax dollars. We find it redundant and unnecessary to pay extra for public safety at a peaceful demonstration. Apparently, Richmond Police Department believes taxes pay only for the security of people who keep their mouths shut and continue shopping.”

In the end, a Federal judge sided with the Richmond Police Department and denied our permit to march in the street, forcing participants to legally limit their rights to the side walk.

The Richmond May Day Coalition released a statement which outlined our efforts to inform participants of the possible legal repercussions that may follow if they decided to take the streets.

“While we believe the sidewalks are not the safest, least disruptive or most practical place for us to demonstrate, the members of the Organizing Committee intend to abide by all traffic and safety laws. Any necessary adjustments to accommodate our group on the sidewalk shall be made, but this is a diverse and large group, so it is impossible to guarantee that all parade participants will follow our lead. All we can do is make every effort to advise participants of the restrictions RPD has placed on their rights.”

When all was said and done, May Day 2011 in Richmond, Virginia witnessed participants ranging somewhere between 300 – 350 people, in what resulted in a spirited rally and march through the streets and sidewalks of Richmond.  2/3 of the march participants took the streets of their own accord while parade marshals, volunteer medics and cop watch activists made sure people were safe.

No BS Brass Band led the parade and laid the rhythmic foundation for an ever so appropriate chant of “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!”  as we took Broad St, a three lane thoroughfare on the way to our destination.  There were no incidents and police made themselves sparse.

Richmond, Virginia May Day 2011 Media Coverage

Richmond Times Dispatch:
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CBS News:
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Photos by Jennida Chase:
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Photos by Jake MayDay:
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Photos by Hassan Pitts:
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2.5 Minutes of Richmond May Day:

Richmond May Day in a Nutshell

No BS Leading the Parade with the Star Wars Imperial March Theme:

Some Speeches:

Central Virginia Socialist Party

Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Mass Eviction:

DC Party for Social Liberation / Watch at 3:42 for a really great speech from a Student Activist from Virginia Commonwealth University:

Richmond Transit Riders Union / Richmond IWW

Thad Williams University of Richmond Professor:

Closing Words After March:

IATSE Local 285 / Cathy Woodson from Virginia Organizing