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Green Roots and Red Roots: May Day in New York City

NYC History NYC Story

May 1st is May Day, an international holiday with both green and red Roots in its origins. Cultures worldwide celebrate the beginning of Spring, and May 1 is often the day to rejoice in returning flora and fauna. These are May Day’s “Green Roots”. To many around the world,  specifically workers, activists, communists, anarchists and assorted Leftists, May Day is International Workers Day, marked by rallies, parades, speeches and marches.

While the first workers’ celebration of May Day occurred in Australia, in 1856, it was the Haymarket Affair in Chicago, 1886 that propelled May Day into a worldwide day of action. In 1886, a series of labor actions and strikes in Chicago culminated in a huge rally in Haymarket Square. At the end of the rally, an anonymous activist threw a bomb at the police. The eight police deaths resulted in a show trial and public hanging of four anarchists.  Workers around the world marched in solidarity with the dead workers and cemented May Day’s tradition of “Red Roots.”

Moshe Rothenberg, a good friend of the Levys and a fervent activist on many radical fronts will be participating in this year’s The May 1 Coalition rally in Union Square. The focus this year, as in many others, will be on immigration policies.  Moshe notes that “The central themes of Haymarket back in 1886 were workers rights and international solidarity beyond borders; over 100  years later, these are still urgent issues today.”

Communist Rally, 1933. Picture courtesy of Everett Collection

Union Square’s name, contrary to popular belief, has no political origin; it refers to the “union” of Bowery and Broadway, which converge on the Square at 14th street. However, the square has a long history of political labor and left wing rallies over the decades. The offices of the Communist Party of the USA were located there for many years, as was the Marxist-Leninist Bookstore. There were “Death Watch” rallies for Sacco and Vanzetti, two anarchists framed and executed in 1927; also for the Rosenbergs, accused spies who were executed in 1953. And although Union Square might be best known today for its verdant Greenmarket, it continues to be the site of anti-war, pro-immigration and radical political rallies of all stripes and colors, firmly honoring its “Red Roots”

By Mark Levy

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