Mayday in San Diego County

by Rich Gibson

At least three major demonstrations took place in San Diego County on Mayday 2006; one in San Ysidro at the Mexico border, another in downtown San Diego, and yet another, an uprising, in poverty-ridden Vista, in north county San Diego---the first district in California to wipe out the K-3 class size limits due to "economic problems".

The San Ysidro demonstration involved what police called 3000 protestors and what the mainstream media estimated at 5000, chanting Si Se Puede, Trabajos Unidos Venceremos, and USA. This demonstration, made up of thousands of people who boycotted work or school, moved on the infamous border at Mexico where, on the other side, mass picket lines had slowed what limited border traffic there was to a trickle. Nothing was going on in any school, anywhere, that could match the learning experiences of the mass direct actions of Mayday.

In San Diego, a 6 pm rally in lovely downtown Balboa Park involved what police called about 5000 people, and what media guessed may have been 8000. This crowd rallied briefly and then, under the leadership of a handful of school workers and hundreds of high school students, broke through small lines of rally security people, seized the streets, and marched through downtown San Diego, disrupting traffic for hours. Chanting No Blood For Oil, The Workers United Will Never Be Defeated, as well as Si Se Puede and USA-Mexico, this spontaneous demonstration went far beyond the narrow limits prescribed by rally organizers--who appointed themselves as volunteer cops in trying to stop it--- and took on a character of its own as the mass of people, overwhelmingly Latino and Hispanic, were clearly eager for radical strategic and tactical leadership.

The police were overwhelmed by the mass of people, unable to turn the march as it entered the trendy GasLamp District. Along the route, most spectators cheered, even from swank high-rises. A few shouted, "Go Home!" and were countered, "We ARE home!"

In north county Vista, an evening march and rally quickly developed into an open uprising as aggressive police tactics pushed a sharp response from youth who attacked mainstream news trucks and hurled rocks and bottles at the cops. The police cordoned off the entire city, drew massive support from as far south as San Diego and San Ysidro, and began to move on the people with dogs and gas as of 11pm. As of that time, it was not possible to drive into Vista.

Youth, very young men and women, were clearly in the lead of the most active sections of all these actions, although young families as well as older men and women were in the numbers.

The political contradictions in the marchers caused thousands of people to easily shift from chants of USA USA to No Blood For Oil, and The Workers United Will Never Be Defeated. Still, it may be that the great legacy of Mayday 2006 is that masses of people began to see the potential power when they, in solidarity, not only withdraw their labor, but reject the usual carrots of schooling and promises of rewards for passivity, and take action outside the boundaries set by misleaders---engaging in direct action in the schools and in the streets.

Moreover, many youth engaged in lengthy conversations about the radical history of Mayday and the tactics that they might use to take the streets in the future, having learned from the police' maneuvers.

Thousands of California school students skipped the hated high-stakes STAR tests to join the boycotts and demonstrations while others, lured into the schools by administrators who promised the students they could take the STAR and then leave, found that after the exam they were placed under lockdown---and they stormed the doors and left anyway, knowing full well that on Mayday, more learning would be in the streets.

Despite all the tensions (nationalism most significantly, but religious irrationalism, and sexism as well) inside the massive demonstrations this Mayday, it remains that in this period of emerging fascism the kind of self-activity shown by the immigrant worker community is not merely exemplary, but key to understanding the pedagogy of social change. In apathy, nothing. In direct action---learning and deepened theory.

Those who seek a wonderful read on the origins of Mayday, see James Green, Death in the Haymarket, hot off the press.


To Rich Gibson's Home Page