Across most regions of our planet, May Day is recognized as a date to acknowledge the struggles of the working classes and their vital contributions. In today's context of global economic, social and political crisis, more than ever, it must be honored as a day of self-empowerment and collective agency against a system plagued by the crude realities of furthering class divisions and material inequalities through a concentration of wealth that benefits the one percent plutocracy. As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States is a symbolic microcosm that reflects some of the most egregious inequalities in many aspects, presenting abysmal stratification and injustice. However, the U.S. government pays little to no homage to this international holiday. President Obama took the time on May 1st to instead continue an odious, chauvinistic tradition known as "Loyalty Day," proclaiming: "On Loyalty Day, we reflect on that proud heritage and press on in the long journey toward prosperity for all."
But the reality reveals that this so called "journey to prosperity" is at best unequal and partial, and it would be an irresponsible inaccuracy to imply that the most disadvantaged classes are headed in that direction. The celebration of this fabricated holiday constitutes not only a blatant and willful neglect of May Day and the urgently necessary national introspection, but it also serves to misguide the socio-political debate onto a shallow, unquestioning practice of reverence for the system imposed by the plutocracy. From the events that transpired last Tuesday in Miami, we can say that there was little "loyalty" to basic constitutional, democratic rights. We know this personally because while our parents view our native countries' policies with disdain (Venezuela and Cuba's statist elitism), we were among seven participants who were arrested in January 12 this year for organizing a music event meant to commemorate the victims of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.
Tuesday afternoon began with a meeting point at the Torch of Friendship where friends, family members, and local community activists gathered to plan a march across downtown. We took to the streets of Biscayne and Brickell -- armed with nothing but signs, bullhorns and determination -- stopping momentarily at major bank sites like Citibank, Bank of Americ and Wells Fargo to decry their corruptive and abusive lobbying power, their tax evasion, home seizures and their hoard of unspent wealth, which instead of being utilized for the public good is being held onto for self-serving purposes. We continued to peacefully march across the streets with a message in solidarity with the struggle of the working classes and the dispossessed. The police had thus far cooperated, respecting our space and methods. It was not until we stopped in front of a Wells Fargo when they began to intimidate protesters with squad cars, coming dangerously close to running over some of us, including an activist's pet dog.
Then, one of the officers decided that they had allowed enough political expression for the day. What we personally witnessed was incredibly disturbing, to say the least. He took out his billy stick and approached one of our own, Brian Tangherlini, striking him to the floor and beginning to beat him senselessly, which resulted in a brief scuffle. Amidst the chaos that ensued, police also arrested another one of our own, Rolando Prieto, for not walking fast enough. Finally, and perhaps one of the most dramatic arrests of the day, was that of Alfredo Quintana, which played out similar to a conspiracy drama. He was targeted, followed and pursued from the site of the first incident (Wells Fargo corporate building) back to the Torch of Friendship. Soon after, he was arrested on clearly illegitimate charges of battery.
In South Florida, we are presented with a staggering unemployment rate of 21.8 percent, a poverty rate of nearly 17 percent (1 in 5 children in Broward County between the ages 5 to 17 live in poverty), rising costs of living, exorbitant tuition hikes in local colleges and universities, a city that believes that feeding the homeless should be punishable by law, and a Mayor that believes that best remedy to economic crisis is laying people off from their jobs. In the meantime, Brickell's financial district remains one of the wealthiest districts in the country. But in a city that only kowtows to menial cries about a baseball manager's comments regarding Fidel Castro, it is no wonder why people are paralyzed by political apathy. The local news outlets are no better. Functioning as auxiliaries of the ruling classes, they only present to the masses pre-packaged, polished statements by police and political authorities as a perspective whose credibility supersedes those of others.
The message we gather from the arrests that occurred Tuesday is that anyone who stands up to the corporate plutocracy that has seized the reins of government, plundered the nation's wealth, continues to exploit the world's resources, and even proposes to fund for-profit, prisons is to be corralled, beaten, and arrested as part of a broader aim to preserve the status-quo even if it takes deep budget cuts, massive layoffs, and repression.
The incidents that unfolded on May Day compel us to reflect about a broader systemic issue: the increasingly repressive, Orwellian approach of our government against most forms of critical political expression. That the purpose of law enforcement agencies should be to "serve and protect" the citizenry and the public welfare and security is understood. But in the face of their latest actions (which are consistent with a history of corruption and abuse) what becomes evident is that in reality they are but an undignified instrument, usurped by the political establishment and the corporations and interest groups that control it, employed to "serve and protect" their position of disproportionate power through intimidation, coercion and persecution against any nascent form of dissent and independent collective action. Consequently, what is at stake is not only the ideal of a political culture that respects and cherishes diversity, freedom and debate, but also the vision of a society in which we are autonomous and yet interdependent and collaborative, where integral individual development is not conditioned to material power and where equality of opportunity is not a fallacy, but a work-in-progress through the social commitment of all.