Home > Uncategorized > May Day and Langston Hughes 5/1/10

May Day and Langston Hughes 5/1/10

May 1, May Day, is the International Workers Day. It is a day to celebrate working people and the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. As is pretty obvious, in America we celebrate big shots and celebrities who generally don’t deserve it. The hard working people do not get recognition or rewards.
Many people might associate May Day with old Red Square parades and official celebrations in places like North Korea. That is unfortunate. While such a perception is not surprising, May Day actually originated in the U.S.
May Day came out of the 19th century American movement for an eight hour working day. Working conditions were terrible and it was common for workers to be made to work 10 to 16 hours daily in unsafe conditions.
In 1886, American workers decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. 200,000 American workers left their jobs and demanded the eight hour day. That year, the Haymarket Riot/Massacre in Chicago also took place. A number of workers and police died in the melee after an anarchist allegedly threw a bomb into a crowd.
Eight anarchists were arrested and convicted of murder although a number of the arrested were not even at Haymarket when the bomb went off. In what was the first American Red Scare, four of the arrested, Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolf Fischer, were executed by the State in 1887.
Haymarket proved to be a big impetus to the international celebration of May Day. However, back at home, the American origin of May Day has been disappeared.
May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and it is unofficially celebrated in many more. I think it is fair to say that it is rarely celebrated in the U.S. In 1958, Congress designated May 1 as Loyalty Day. There was a conscious political effort to erase May Day as a workers holiday and to obliterate international working class solidarity.
Part of that effort was the creation of Labor Day in September. Our Labor Day is not celebrated outside the U.S. It is an apolitical excuse for a three day weekend. It is a pale shadow of May Day.
I think a fitting way to celebrate May Day is to recognize one of the greatest American poets of the people – Langston Hughes. Hughes had an enormous body of work, including many political poems. I think his poetry, more than any other American poet, has embodied the aspirations of the American people for a better life. In honor of May Day, here are two of my favorite Langston Hughes’ poems:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
frozen with snow.
Life is Fine
I went down to the river,
I sat down on the bank,
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.
     But it was
     Cold in that water!
     It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.
    But it was
    High up there!
    It was high!
So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love —
But for livin’ I was born.
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry —
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
    Life is fine!
    Fine as wine!
    Life is fine!

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