by Dr. Catherine-Anne McCloskey-Ross
Everyone has their favorite holiday. Many people really enjoy Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Several of my friends count the days to Saint Patrick’s Day. I certainly enjoy these holidays. On Christmas, I like going to Midnight mass and then going to church again the next morning. Even though I am very religious, I am not fanatic about it. I am not sure if I believe in a God, or heaven, or any of that; but I love our congregation, I adore our pastor, and they believe in a God; so I am working on it.
Of course, being Scots-Irish, I know the Scots pretty much invented New Year’s Eve. Why do you think the entire English speaking world sings “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight? It is great to be in Scotland on Hogmanay, which is what the Scots call New Year’s Eve. The whole nation shuts down for three days because “no proper Scotsman” draws a sober breath during those three days. Scotland was hard for me to leave when I moved back to the States. St. Paddy’s Day is the time of year when a folk singer, like me, is sure to be fully employed. When I am asked what am I giving up for Lent, I always answer sobriety.
However, my favorite holiday is May Day. I like the Green heritage of the celebration, with all its paganism. The bonfire, the dancing, and singing all appeal to me. Since I have considered myself a socialist since I was age 10, the idea of an International Workers’ Day thrills me. I frequently tell people I was born on May 1st. It worked for Mother Jones and she wasn’t even born in May. It’s just a way to invite the whole working class of the world to the party! In Ireland and Britain, where I squandered some of my ill-spent youth, the time around May Day is a “bank holiday” and most folks get a paid day off, as it should be everywhere.
I live in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Johnstown is a modest little town. In truth, the town has a great deal to be modest about. Except for periodic floods, Johnstown seldom impacts the national consciousness. Since the steel mills and mines closed after the 1977 flood, the town has dwindled to less than 20,000 residents.
What we do have in Johnstown is a thriving little group of Socialists. Aided and abetted by radicals from Altoona and Indiana, towns about 35 miles away, we do all the radical holidays. Given where we are, the Socialist Party of Western PA and the Socialist-Feminist affinity group Mujeres Libres are thriving concerns. We just had a wonderful International Working Women’s Day dinner with about 30 attendees. We held it on the original date chosen by the women of the Socialist Party back in 1909. A mixed-race crowd is not seen much in this part of “Pennsylbama,” but we were one. Black, white, gay, straight, cis, trans, and men and women of a variety of political persuasions, it was a great event. So we were very much looking forward to May Day. We planned a rally in Central Park and dinner at the wonderful bistro across the street. We had a place prepared if it rained. We were ready for anything, except a pandemic.
Well, there will not be a fourth Johnstown May Day celebration, at least not outside my apartment. To say that this upsets me is, to put it mildly. I have tolerated the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade being snowed out three years running. This is different. These radical get-togethers are generally the only time I see friends and comrades whom I love deeply. I have a healthy fear of pandemics, since the 1918 “Spanish Flu” very nearly killed my father. Dad said that was why he remained slim all of his life. And here I thought he was just lucky.
As my “old man” is my life role model and it was because of him that I became a union organizer, I am fiercely glad he lived long enough to sire me. Growing up, my parents called me “Woody,” not for Woody Guthrie, but for the character in the play Finian’s Rainbow; who was going to be a labor organizer as soon as he figured out how to play the guitar. My folks had a wicked sense of humor, but at least they sprang for a guitar, a banjo, and lessons for me.
Well, social distancing has given me a lot of time to play the guitar and I probably play better now than when I was a professional folksinger. (I hear you snickering. The folks doing the concert paid me, so I was a professional. Alright?) It just isn’t the same as when the audience is singing and clapping along.
I miss my friends and comrades terribly. At least I have had time to work on building the Socialist Party of America, a cause dear to my heart. My parents raised me as a “pink diaper” baby, but never told me why. It was only after they died that I found out that they were Socialist Party members back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and that they had acted as Norman Thomas’s chauffeur when he visited Western PA. I once asked my parents what they thought of Thomas, and they said that they had heard him speak and liked what he said. They left out the part about him speaking from the back seat. How I miss my comrade parents. People frequently tell me if my folks were raising children today, they would be called progressive parents. I guess parents who allow their son to play in an “all-girl band” and invite the group to practice on their back porch would have to be termed progressive, or not all there. I prefer the former phraseology.
All of this reminiscing is to tell you how much I hate that COVID-19 stole May Day. I know there will be a May 1st next year, but I wanted to celebrate this year. At least some comrades are coming to my place for the cyber national SPA meeting and pizza and beer afterward.
Capitalism is clearly crumbling with the onset of the virus and the resultant economic crisis. The owners of Amazon, Zoom, and a dozen other huge corporations have made a mint on the crisis.When it is over the government will impose austerity measures. They will cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, school lunches, and every other program that benefits ordinary people. This will be done in order to pay for the billions given to the mega-corporations, which they, of course, use for stock buybacks and high living.
We may not have an outdoor May Day rally this year, but the workers of the world can still unite. We still have nothing to lose but our chains and a world to gain; or more properly in this era, a world to save.