Marchers in Milwaukee marked May Day by delivering a distress call — strong and loud — in the voices of thousands raised outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
The May Day rally and march, coordinated annually by the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, took place on May 1, beginning at the nonprofit’s headquarters on South Fifth Street. From there, marchers went to the courthouse.
They demanded nationwide immigration reform and called on Republican Gov. Scott Walker to withdraw from a 26-state federal suit blocking executive-branch immigration relief.
They demanded fair and equal pay and the right to organize on what has long been celebrated as a worker’s memorial day.
And, with the march taking place just days after rioting in Baltimore following the death a black man in police custody, they demanded an end to police violence and action to address the lack of opportunity in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods.
They marched in solidarity, shouldering banners and sharing causes.
“I’m marching for my family,” said José Flores, a longtime member of Voces de la Frontera. “We are here to tell Gov. Walker to stop blocking executive action on immigration and to let him know that we want immigration reform with a path to citizenship.”
Walker has recently referred to such a path as “amnesty,” which he opposes.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, now Voces’ executive director, addressed the crowd, rallying the marchers to demand racial and economic justice. “We have seen in Milwaukee and Baltimore and other cities African-Americans and their allies rising up against racist police violence, and we are proud to stand with their struggle. We are proud to stand with Maria Hamilton and Elvira Arellano, two mothers fighting for justice for all families.”
Maria Hamilton is the mother of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man killed by a Milwaukee police officer one year ago in Red Arrow Park. He was shot 14 times, including in the back, during a scuffle that followed a pat down that violated MPD procedure.
Maria Hamilton told the marchers, “It’s so beautiful to see people of so many nationalities here together.”
Arellano, an immigrant rights leader with an international reputation, told marchers, “I want to say thank you to the U.S. citizens who are here with us today fighting deportations.”
May Day tradition
The Milwaukee May Day Solidarity March for Immigrant and Worker Rights coincided with more than 20 other marches on May 1, which is International Workers’ Day and the anniversary of the bloody 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago.
May Day marches have been held for more than a century, but the focus broadened in the mid-2000s to include demands for immigrant rights. In 2006, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators joined in protests across the United States.
This year, with the unrest in Baltimore and solidarity protests in other cities, the marchers broadened the message and the demands still farther.
“Man, it’s all related,” said marcher Deacon Davis of Milwaukee. “We cannot divorce the brutalities of our police department from the brutalities of our governor and Congress and the brutalities of big business.”
In the days before the May Day actions, Wisconsinites held other labor-related tributes, including organizing Workers’ Memorial Day gatherings on April 28 in La Crosse and Madison.
And two days after the May Day marches, another traditional observance took place in Milwaukee commemorating the anniversary of the Bay View Massacre on May 5, 1886. That morning, after four days of massive worker demonstrations for an eight-hour workday, about 1,500 workers marched toward the Bay View Rolling Mills and came upon the State Militia, called out by the governor and armed with guns ready to fire. The marchers were ordered to stop about 200 yards from the mill, and, when they did not, the militia killed seven and wounded others.
The memorial took place on May 3 at the State Historical Marker for the mills at South Superior Street and East Russell Avenue on the lakefront, with historians, labor activists, artists, entertainers and community members remembering those shot by a state militia called out to squash a workers campaign.
The Wisconsin Labor History Society offered a remembrance and the Milwaukee Public Theatre and Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre staged a re-enactment.
Wisconsin Jobs Now also had a presence at the ceremony, where speakers talked about challenges working people face and musicians offered a tribute to the late Larry Penn, a folk singer and longtime Bay View resident who regularly attended the event.
Lisa Neff is senior news editor for the Wisconsin Gazette.