May Day 2012: Chicago


It was May Day, but did anyone know? One spring day, a loan poster announcing a General Strike flips, tattered and wet on the edges, in the wet and rainy Chicago wind. It was pasted on the corner of Jackson and Lasalle, the corner the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Board of Trade all call home. In the fall, it was also the original home for Occupy Chicago, a grouping now spread throughout the city, signifying more of a tendency and idea than an actual group or event. There was a General Strike, but did we forget to put up more than one poster? Did we forget to tell anyone that wasn’t already our friend on Facebook!?

In Chicago, the event of Occupy has been less on the mobilization of new people, though certainly that has happened, but more on creating a rhetorical framework for already-existing tendencies like organized labor, grassroots neighborhood struggles around housing, banks, and healthcare, and immigrant rights. The meme of 99% has become a rhetorical infusion in formerly fragmented and disparate activisms who can now can tie themselves together through this new language, and through the shared recognition that here in Chicago we have a powerful financial sector (the largest futures and commodities trading market in the world) that we can no longer ignore simply because their brand is less visible than the infamous Wall Street. This has been the key contribution of Occupy to Chicago.

On Tuesday May 1st, about 2,000 people marched our standard route from Union Park to Federal Plaza. Attendance has steadily declined on may day since the 2006 and 2007 rallies were taken on my immigrant rights groups that turned our hundreds of thousands of people in cities like Los Angeles and here in Chicago. But the composition of the rally has changed very much since I moved to the city 11 years ago and tiny May Day events where anarchists and socialists would argue over the right to the Chicago May Day legacy in a way that always made you feel small and irrelevant. There was a clear presence of the unions and immigrant rights groups that have come to characterize the new vision of mayday. And then there was the influence of Occupy. Lots of young activists I had never seen before, lots of 99% slogans, lots of hope. This young anarchist contingent combined with the traditional May Day forces felt energizing and significant, if still quite small.

The rain didn’t help attendance. May Day 2012 Way smaller than the anti war demonstrations of 2003 that took over lake shore drive, or the Take Back Chicago rally in October that served as a coming out party for both the new stand up Chicago coalition and Occupy Chicago.

As the local left builds towards the NATO protests late this month, there are significant questions relating to how these events will engage the already existing left and the new Occupy tendencies.

The myth of the general strike never caught on. But myths only work if you tell people about them. What will we tell each other as we move into the future?


* Daniel Tucker is an artist and organizer in Chicago. See




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