Filed under: Action, Community Organizing, Immigration, Police, Southeast
Report from May Day actions in Lake Worth, Florida.
Lake Worth, Florida, is a small and strange beach town. Surrounded by some of the grossest examples of capitalism and greed and located just two miles from Trump’s winter white house, it is also home to an extremely high poverty rate, more undocumented folks than Las Vegas (a city 20 times its size), and despite not having its own police department, more cops (county Sheriffs) than most folks have seen anywhere else on Turtle Island.
In addition to all this, Lake Worth and the surrounding areas are also home to an absurd amount of radicals-per-capita. There is a fairly large group of anarchists, there are two separate communist groups, Democratic Socialists, chapters of Food Not Bombs and Prison Books, and, of course, tons of liberals. It has made for some interesting news stories, including an anarchist getting elected to city commission twice and a tripod being erected to prevent the building of a Starbucks. Unfortunately, it hasn’t meant much in the realm of lively street protests. Until May Day of 2018 that is.
May Day marches for International Workers Day is kicking off across South Florida including right here in Lake Worth. March against hate and racism and in support of immigrant rights to start at 5:30p. @WPTV pic.twitter.com/CXSsYqCLjI
— Alanna Quillen (@AlannaWPTV) May 1, 2018
After many years without hosting their own May Day celebrations, in 2017 some organizers decided to stop traveling to Broward and Miami counties and instead have an event of their own. Around 50 people showed up, marched down the sidewalks to City Hall, gave speeches, and then attempted to build community at a local church. While satisfying because of relationships built and because something actually happened in Lake Worth, it was mostly a let down in terms of radicalness.
This year, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Reunión de Grupo de Mujeres Latinas y Más, South Florida Anticapitalists, and other groups linked up to make sure that this year would be more energetic. They quickly drew up a list of May Day demands: Full legalization for all, no wall of death, stop the deportations, end gentrification, and stop police brutality and police terrorism. Another important decision made was to prevent peace keepers from attempting to corral folks onto the sidewalks. It’s all too common for events in Palm Beach County to be derailed by a few cop-loving liberals who feel that it’s their duty to physically enforce their versions of nonviolence. Even when the anti-Trump marches were at their peak in West Palm Beach and 7,000 people attended, they were forced back on the sidewalks by these so-called peacekeepers. This year, it was decided the streets would be taken!
By most accounts, the crowd on the balmy, breezy evening was about the same size as the year before, but the energy was slightly more rebellious. Despite the efforts of ICE, Border Patrol, police, and white supremacists, this past year served to build more bonds between activist groups and individual community members, allowing the planning to be more cohesive and inclusive. After a few speeches in Bryant Park, the group—banners in front, Migra Watch on the sides, and cars and bikes blocking intersections—took to the streets.
Only one person—an old white man who shows up to events dressed in American flags while dumping praise on the cops—tried to talk people out of going into the road. It didn’t work. After about a 100 yards, the marchers went from blocking one lane of traffic to preventing any cars from passing in either lane. The marches, especially the many children who showed up, were bursting with energy and excitement, chanting “no justice, no peace, abolish the police,” “no trump, no kkk, no fascist usa,” and “la migra, la policia, son la misma porqueriá” among many others.
After marching close to the small downtown area, the marchers headed west to the mostly immigrant neighborhood, the most vibrant neighborhood in Lake Worth, where people hang out with their friends and neighbors in front of houses and local businesses. It was at this point that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office decided to show up. Five cruisers began driving around like they had never seen a march before. Two of them followed the marchers, repeatedly asking for folks to get out of the road and informing everyone that they were breaking the law. When the march rested at City Hall to hear a few more speeches, police walked through the crowd, demanding to know who the leaders were. If one looked closely enough, they would have been able to see the smoke pouring out of the cops’ ears, as they tried to comprehend the idea of such an event taking place with no leaders. Eventually, they asked “nicely” for folks to please stay out of the streets for their own safety, and headed back to their running patrol cars.
Requests from the police were ignored and after about fifteen minutes, the streets were once again in control of the marchers. This time, locals from the bars that line Lake Avenue stood outside gawking and taking pictures; some laughing, some shaking their heads, and a few even joining the march. Eventually the crowd headed into a church for burritos, haircuts, and music. Much to the chagrin of everyone in attendance, the police thought they were invited to the party, and before anyone even finished a burrito the church was surrounded by 11 police cars, a K9 unit, and an unmarked vehicle being driven by the captain.
A few of them (the captain included) approached the members of Migra Watch and the legal observer to explain that marching in the streets was illegal, they were their for the protection of the marches, and that their feelings were hurt that no one notified them in advance. When it was explained to them that no one wanted their help and that the reason they weren’t called was that just about everyone involved in the march has had horrible experiences with their department, they still didn’t seem to get it and kept pressing the fact that what happened was illegal and unsafe and that they were only there for protection purposes. When they couldn’t convince the four folks with whom they were talking to promise on behalf of all the attendees to not to go in the streets again, they attempted to push their way into the church. Luckily, enough people blocked the door, and the pigs went back to their side of the street to huddle.
The police stayed until each and every person left. They followed some cars, they wrote down some license plate numbers, and they took a lot of photos, but in the end they went away without making a single arrest, and that itself is a victory of sorts.
In the context of where and what Lake Worth is, most of the attendees considered this march a huge success. Not a single person remembered another instance of roads in this small town being taken for such a long distance.
If folks can manage to take the energy from this year and figure out a way to get across to folks what standing in solidarity actually looks like, May Day 2019 can bring the city of Lake Worth to it’s knees.