May Day: The history and why people are protesting

Leftist protesters carrying signs condemning the upcoming G20 summit march in annual May Day demonstrations on May 1, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg will host the G20 summit in July. 

Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets in cities across America and across the world on Monday in May Day demonstrations.

Considered by many a celebration of spring days to some, others look at May 1 as a day to protest everything from worker’s rights to oppressive policies to immigration reform.

Here’s a look at the history of May Day and why some people choose it as a day of protest.

What is May Day?

May Day was first celebrated thousands of years ago as a spring festival that included dancing – in some places using ribbons and circling a "Maypole" – singing and eating cake. Floralia, or the festival of Flora the Roman goddess of flowers, was held in ancient Rome on April 27 and is believed to be the first May Day-type celebration on record.

The date is also linked to the Gaelic May Day festival of Beltane, which means “the return of the sun.”

If It’s about spring, then why are people marching in protest?

While May Day is marked as a spring celebration by many, it is also known as International Workers’ Day, and is seen as a day to celebrate and promote advances for the working class. Many people have the day off from work in other countries, and take part in marches for workers’ rights and for other social issues on May Day.

Why do they choose May 1 to protest?

In 1891, the Second International, a worldwide socialist and communist parties organization, chose May 1 as a day to march for workers’ rights to commemorate a demonstration that had taken place in Chicago five years earlier. What became known as the Haymarket Affair began as a protest for an eight-hour workday that turned violent when a bomb went off killing police officers who were monitoring the gathering. After the bomb exploded, police began shooting into the crowd of protesters, killing four. The Second International declared May Day a date of remembrance for the protesters who were killed, blaming the police for attacking what they said was a peaceful protest.

Is the United States the only country that celebrates May Day with protests?

No. Countries across the globe mark May 1 as a day to celebrate labor and to highlight the problems workers face. Marches are planned across the world, and the day is a holiday in many countries.

What’s going on in the United States?

On Tuesday there will be rallies in Seattle, a city that has a history of May Day protests, in Los Angeles, New York, and in hundreds of other cities. Many of the protests, such as the one set for Washington D.C., will focus on immigration and the role of immigrants in the American workplace.

A reminder of what it is like in Seattle 

May Day is known as a day of mass demonstrations in cities across the United States. In Seattle, however, it has become a day known for violent and destructive marches through downtown.

An annual, peaceful immigrant and worker march takes place during the day on May 1. But that message is generally lost as anarchists usually descend upon downtown during the evening. The anarchists are not part of the workers' march and don't have not expressed a clear objective to why they are protesting.