The 1st of May holds varied significant meanings for different people. For some, it represents an ancient ritual day to welcome in the change of season as spring begins to blossom, for others, a traditional day of honoring workers and the labor movement. Today, for International Workers’ Day, essential workers of some of the mega companies who are meeting our delivery needs during this time, such as Amazon/Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, Instacart, and FedEx, are striking, “citing their employers’ record profits at the expense of workers’ health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic.” (The Intercept)
“May Day is a May 1 celebration with a long and varied history, dating back millennia. Throughout the years, there have been many different events and festivities worldwide, most with the express purpose of welcoming in a change of season (spring in the Northern Hemisphere). In the 19th century, May Day took on a new meaning, as an International Workers’ Day grew out of the 19th-century labor movement for worker’s rights and an eight-hour workday in the United States. May Day 2020 is celebrated on May 1, 2020.”
It is also known to some as Beltane. “This May Day festival was thought to divide the year in half, between the light and the dark. Symbolic fire was one of the main rituals of the festival, helping to celebrate the return of life and fertility to the world.” (Both sourced from history.com)
Today, even both of those meanings will have different significance for many of us, as workers need to be honored now more than ever, and as there will be no gatherings for Beltane or other spring celebrations, no dancing around the proverbial maypole. Many of us are feeling the sting of this constriction on our movement which feels unnatural when we want to frolic and run free in the warm weather.
For me personally, the significance of this day is in both my connection to the meaning of Beltane, as I find myself guided by nature’s cycles; and in the tribute to workers and the labor movement, as it is in my blood. One of my ancestors, Tom Mooney, carried on the fight for workers’ rights in the 20th century, working to end child labor and champion the 40-hour work week. He was my grandfather’s older cousin. My dad’s side of the family had been coal miners who worked 12-hour days, 6 days a week, any male over the age of 12. Tom’s father, Bernard, had died at age 36 due to black lung from working in the mines. Tom Mooney was wrongfully imprisoned for 22 years after he was framed for bombing a parade in 1916, in order to suppress his activism. He was friends with Mother Jones and was quite famous for his dedication to the cause, even while imprisoned at Alcatraz. (See Thomas Mooney Wikipedia). He finally received a full pardon from the Governor of California and died just a few short years later. My Dad met him when he was a kid, and he remembered him saying, "Don't ever go to prison, kid. Prison food will rot your gut."
My father (also Thomas Mooney, different middle name) has always been a champion of the worker, the poor, the underdog, and in fact, I believe perhaps kept himself at a certain status in life in order not to elevate himself too much above others. He raised me with the principle that you are no better, or no worse, than anyone else. We are all equals here in this life, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
So today, I hold all of that in my heart, with honor, with reverence, with love.
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