“May 1 has traditionally been a day in which the labor movement has celebrated its organization around the world,” said Doctor Elliott P. Currie, professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine. “It’s also a day to organize and mobilize and hopefully make some social changes happen, and that’s been happening for well over a hundred years.”
May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, began in the late 1800s as a labor movement, calling for reforms and social change for the working class. It has grown into an internationally recognized day of protest.
This year has led to protests and arrests across cities like Seattle and Oakland and has even sparked violence in certain areas as masked protesters smashed store fronts and engaged police enforcers on the streets. At UCI, students and campus employees alike took the opportunity to voice their discontent.
“The most important thing students can take away from this is to realize that what’s going on at the university is something that’s very serious, but also something that students can do something about,” Currie said.
“At this point, I think that we’re at a kind of turning point where what this university and, in fact, what this society is going to look like in the future is very much up for grabs. So I think it’s up to us, both as students and as faculty and as staff, to make our voices heard at this time, because it can make all the difference.”
The sky on Tuesday was gray and the mood was gloomy. It began drizzling, but the protesters seemed unaffected. At one point, a guest speaker asked what should be done about the UC Regents raising tuition fees. Someone in the crowded shouted “Off with their heads!” to the laughter, and even agreement, of the crowd.
One speaker mentioned concerns over the homeless frequenting UCI libraries in reference to the UC being a campus open to all.
“I was so sad to hear that anybody would be upset with somebody that’s homeless might be found in the library reading,” said the speaker. “Somebody probably thought they smelled bad. I think pepper spray smells bad, personally. I think student’s money filling somebody else’s back pockets smells bad.”
Among the other keynote speakers were Patrick Manh Le, the executive vice president of ASUCI, as well as faculty members from UC Irvine, including sociology faculty member and lecturer, Charles O’Connell, who offered a challenge to the protestors, questioning why some strong demands were not included and why they are important.
As the speakers concluded their speeches, the gathered protesters stood and began their scheduled march. Holding aloft signs reading “Defend UCI,” “Fight the Cuts,” and “Educate! Agitate! Occupy!” protestors rattled homemade noisemakers crafted from empty soda cans, pennies, and duct tape and chalked the floor with activist slogans.
As they marched, their voices could be heard across the student center, shouting, “Tell me what democracy looks like!” Music played as the crowd marched, dragging behind them a makeshift stereo system pulled on a cart.
The marchers proceeded past the Student Center and momentarily blocked traffic as they took to marching up West Peltason, tailed by a pair of UCIPD police cruisers.
As they rounded back to campus, the UCIPD backed off and squad cars from the Irvine Police Department replaced them, calling on a loudspeaker for students to clear the streets. The marchers complied, returning to the curb and marching back to the Student Center, where they debriefed and proceeded to host a dance party outside the Ring Road entrance of Aldrich Hall.
For many of these students and faculty, May Day allowed a chance to voice their frustration over the problems they face regarding fee hikes and police violence against student protesters.
“We also want to focus on the University and on the way in which university funding has been restructured,” said Tets Namba, a graduate student of comparative literature.
“We’re transforming what is the world’s greatest education system, the world’s best research institution paid for by the public and by the state and by the taxpayer money, and we are destroying everything that is making the UC system great.”