May Day (or International Worker’s Day) commemorates the Haymarket massacre on Tuesday, May 4th 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. Workers were rallying against oppressive police who had executed several striking workers on May 3rd when an explosive device was launched into the crowd, killing and wounding both civilians and law enforcement officers. Police responded by opening fire into the crowd, injuring and killing an untold number of peaceful protestors. Subsequently, anarchists were brought to trial for conspiracy and martyred or imprisoned by the State.
To demonstrate solidarity with wage workers around the globe, and to honor the memory of the incalculable losses of human life as a consequence of the capitalist labor exploitation system, Nashville AntiFA held a rally in Public Square on May 1st, 2017. Stormfront and other white nationalist social media platforms issued a clarion call for their adherents to come, bring stick men, and disrupt the rally.
A spokesman for the Three Percenter group calling himself “GeorgiaPatriot” released a video in which he displays 30-06 ammunition inscribed with “ANTIFA”. He opines, “Well, people….I have a….bullet…..with…. your name…..your name….on it….for Antifa….it says Antifa….Antifa I have a round with your name on it….It’s a 30-06…..it goes into my sniper rifle…..”
In light of this open threat of violence to AntiFA and bystanders, Nashville AntiFA arrived to the square early with shields and baseball bats, prepared to face-off against armed nationalists. A Metropolitan Nashville law enforcement officer (Officer Perry) immediately informed us that we could not take shields or bats onto the square and we should take those items back to our cars or face consequences.
After returning the items to our vehicles, we regrouped to strategize the next steps. Our spotter contacted us to let us know a large group of nationalists were streaming onto the public park with weapons and shields and law enforcement were not inhibiting their possession of shields or weapons. When questioned by local press why the nationalists were permitted to keep weapons and shields, but AntiFA were not, the officer deflected and declared, “These guys have PERMITS.” We in Nashville AntiFA remained skeptical that our city had instituted a new “Permit to Carry a Kek/Uhuru Shield” policy. In light of this, we returned to the Public Square with flags, shields, and bats to deter aggression from the nationalists.
The obfuscation by the local law enforcement resulted in a late start to the rally, but several civil rights activists stood in solidarity with Nashville AntiFA including sanctuary city proponents, anti-capitalists, and Latinx rights activists who displayed a Mexican flag to demonstrate solidarity with immigrants. Upon entering the square, we began with the Alerta chant and followed that with “EVERY NATION, EVERY RACE, PUNCH A NAZI IN THE FACE.”
As we approached the opposition, it was immediately apparent that the nationalists’ numbers were far greater than ours. They appeared to outnumber us five to one; a sobering number considering law enforcement tends to add to that count. Indeed, the local metropolitan police formed a protective shield around the nationalists who were congregating on the Public Square lawn, using their motorcycles as a barrier.
Nationalist counter-protesters yelled and gesticulated at our group, calling us Nazis or fascists, yelling out the names of AntiFA members arrested at the J20 protests, and generally demonstrating a profound misunderstanding of our ideology and purpose at the rally. Several of our members attempted to speak with a few from the opposing group, and some were receptive when we explained that the purpose of this rally was to promote worker solidarity.
Some of the nationalists were dressed as “stick men” wearing helmets, pads, respirators, shields, and carrying weapons including hockey sticks, bats, and open carrying firearms. Their homemade shields were emblazoned with “Kek” (another word for the ‘Pepe the Frog’ meme) and “Uhuru” the later a slogan that has been co-opted by Alt-Right nationalists. Our group had constructed shields from sturdy plywood and metal which read “¡No Pasarán!” and “FCK NZS”.
As we stood on the steps of the park, nationalists offered cans of Pepsi to us, which we refused and left sitting on the ground. After demonstrating at the Public Park for over an hour, the Bloc took to the streets and marched down to Legislative Plaza and the Capitol building. Our processional shut down the flow of traffic on Deaderick Street, a main thoroughfare through the downtown area. As we marched, nationalists pursued us assiduously, but we outran them, despite constant consternation from police and warnings that we were not to run in the streets. Arriving first, we seized the balcony at the Capitol and were able to drop a banner overlooking the street below which read “Your Bosses Need You, You Don’t Need Them,” communicating the importance of autonomy and agency among laborers. We also planted the Antifascist Action flag on the top of the Capitol, and it is salient to note that the location of this banner drop includes a large statue commemorating the racist Andrew Jackson directly behind us on the balcony.
Several citizens walking out of work for the day raised fists in the air or waved to us in solidarity as they walked by our banner. Subsequently, law enforcement attempted to keep us separate from the nationalists as we exited the balcony. After our departure, the nationalists took over the balcony and the conservative press members took photos of them waving the United States flag.
Nashville AntiFA successfully rallied in the Public Square Park, marched in the street to Legislative Plaza, and executed a banner drop at the Capitol as we had planned. We exited the public square and marched back to our vehicles, having celebrated another May Day in Solidarity with the working class revolution in Nashville, Tennessee.