Happy May Day!
Today is May 1, which, in addition to being an old pagan holiday celebrating the start of summer, is also International Workers’ Day and the start of the second annual Jewish American Heritage Month.
Here at JWA, May Day brings to mind my favorite anarchist, Emma Goldman. Not only was Goldman a powerful voice for workers’ rights, she was also deeply influenced by the events surrounding the Haymarket labor rally/riot of May 1886, which International Workers’ Day was created to commemorate.
Goldman had only been in the US a couple of years – but was already well aware of the terrible conditions workers like herself suffered – when several prominent anarchists were unjustly convicted of killing Chicago police officers in the bombing that took place at the 1886 Haymarket rally. This miscarriage of justice sparked her political awakening and her conversion to anarchism.
Goldman dedicated the rest of her life to the creation of a society based on absolute freedom, which to her encompassed (among other things) free speech, sexual freedom, women’s independence, workers’ rights, and “everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Her nuanced understanding and articulate expression of the interrelationship of all these different kinds of freedom was one of her great strengths. We could learn a lot today from her ability to avoid the tendency toward political splintering and to champion so many causes effectively. She would urge us, I suspect, not only to throw ourselves into the current movements for workers’ rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, civil rights, and peace, but also to explore the connections and possible alliances among these movements.
Emma never forgot the original source of her political inspiration, and when she died in 1940, she was buried in Chicago, next to the Haymarket martyrs. May her courage, steadfastness, and enthusiasm for justice continue to enflame us in our work to make this world more free.