Philly activists join forces on May Day

Hundreds of protesters from a variety of organizations — all with their own causes and in support of each other — converged on City Hall on Monday around noon in a May Day showing of resistance and brotherhood.

May Day, also traditionally known as International Workers Day, might not be much of an event in the United States, but it is something of a holiday around the world, with festivals celebrating the start of spring and the efforts of working men and women throughout the world.

And on Monday, in a show of solidarity, members of the Caucus of Working Educators, a group made up mostly of members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, joined with protesters from Refuse Fascism, a group fighting President Donald Trump’s policies, as well as Philly Socialists, the Black and Brown Workers Collective, the Industrial Workers of the World, members of the 32BJ service workers union and more to protest at City Hall.

“Immigration issues are education issues, and education issues are immigration issues,” said Louis Fantini, a teacher at Franklin Learning Center, in calling for a new contract for the city’s teachers union.

George Bezanis, a teacher at Central High School, held a simple cardboard sign that read “I’m tired of making signs,” during the protest. Bezanis has raised funds in the past to stage protests calling for a resolution to contract negotiations for Philadelphia public school teachers.

In the past, Bezanis fundraised a billboard along Interstate 95 and had a banner that read “City Hall ‘loves’ sports but hates our teachers,” which flew over last weekend’s NFL draft celebration.

“Teachers are just fed up, and it’s not just us. It’s our children’s learning conditions,” explained Bezanis. “We are having a hard time retaining our qualified young teachers [because of contract issues].”

A protester from the Industrial Workers of the World, who asked only to be identified as Ivan, explained that the group had wanted to support teachers as well as Philly’s immigrant community by participating in Monday’s protest.

“People talk about a lot of different issues on May Day,” he said. “But everything with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] — that’s the reason we are here today.”

Under President Trump, the nation has seen ICE raids across the country and stories of undocumented immigrants being separated from their families have become more prominent in the news. Jenny Ling, a member of Refuse Fascism, said that their members were involved in the day’s protest because of the president’s attitude toward immigrants.

“We think that Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence have a fascist program,” said Ling. “That rally in Harrisburg the other day — that’s just him whipping up his base with rhetoric. … That’s xenophobic racism.”

During Monday’s lunch hour, protestors circled City Hall, stopping traffic along Broad and Market streets for some time before gathering for speeches along City Hall’s north apron.

“I think it’s important for us to be here today,” said Jessica Levine, a member of Philly Socialists. “We are here fighting for our lives. … Immigrant workers are under attack more and more, and we are here to tell them that we support them.”