In Portland, May Day often means big outdoor rallies and protests in honor of workers’ rights. But with the holiday coming in the midst of a global pandemic, activities looked a little different this year.
Activists couldn’t come together like they normally would to honor International Workers’ Day. So, a coalition of local social justice groups organized a small car caravan in Southeast Portland. The convoy stopped at businesses where essential workers remain on the job, putting themselves on the front lines of the pandemic. These included Fred Meyer, Whole Foods and Grand Central Bakery in Southeast Portland.
It was a small crowd — maybe a dozen or so cars. Lyn Neeley, an organizer with the Portland May Day coalition, said she was disappointed more people didn't show up. But she stressed the car caravan was an important way to highlight a safe method for organizing during the pandemic. She compared the efforts to the right-wing reopen America rally planned Friday and Saturday in Salem to protest Gov. Kate Brown's stay-home order.
“They’re not using PPE and they’re not wearing masks. They’re not social distancing,” she said. “We were trying to model good social distancing.”
The group’s demands are similarly focused on safety: more PPE, hazard pay for essential workers, N95 masks for nurses.
“Our demands are very unique to this time,” Neeley said.
Other groups like Portland Jobs With Justice organized virtual rallies on Facebook, where they also called for better protections for essential workers.
“The workers today experiencing the most direct impact are the ones working on the front lines to make sure we are taken care of as a community,” said organizer Lillith Sinclair in a virtual rally streamed on Facebook.
Across the nation, workers at some of the country’s largest companies such as Amazon and Walmart have organized a mass strike. They’re calling on these companies to do more to protect frontline workers.