May 1 is May Day, an international event aimed at commemorating the working class and, more recently, immigrants. More than any year in modern memory, 2012’s May Day will shine true for the nation’s immigrant and working classes considering the monumental developments affecting both groups through 2011 and 2012. While the May Day events are important reminders of the systemic issues affecting our culture, the day in general is a reminder of the considerable work ahead.
Labor and immigration have been hot button issues during the last two years. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker declared war on labor unions by attempting to roll back collective bargaining rights. In Ohio, a similar policy was pushed by Governor John Kasich but ultimately rejected by voters. Walker, meanwhile, is gearing up for a tough recall battle precipitated in large part by his stance on labor and the subsequent international labor outcry. The second half of 2011 brought Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the populist uprising initially centered in New York City’s financial district but which subsequently spread to other cities in America and across the world. Tomorrow, OWS is planning a major resurgence on May Day after a comparatively silent winter. Meanwhile, earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, which will decide the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration bill S.B. 1070. The case has received extreme media coverage and will likely have widespread, long-lasting effects.
With these recent developments, it’s no wonder why 2012’s May Day is looking to be historic. As neither immigrant nor laborer, I do not harbor particularly charged feelings. However, its proximity to the Arizona v. United States arguments presents, to me, a sobering reality: the need for honest, thoughtful discussion on ways to reform our immigration system. I am reminded of the complexities regarding the issue but the vitriol of recent months and the inevitable outcries tomorrow reflect a lack of moderation in present discussions. May Day 2012 represents a challenge for policymakers and private citizens alike to work towards compromise. Both mass deportations and mass amnesty are infeasible solutions, and the DREAM Act and the Rubio alternative are similarly weak: while they offer minimal reforms (a path to citizenship in the former while merely legal status in the latter) neither qualify as true immigration reform. The issues of border insecurity and businesses exploiting cheap, undocumented labor are the real areas necessitating reform.
May Day can and should be championed as a day for historically disenfranchised peoples to articulate the dissatisfaction with the status quo – that is, after all, a foundational right of our country. But Tuesday's din must not obscure the need for meaningful reform beyond fancy rhetoric and small, ineffectual fixes.