In line with its mission to foster a sense of community between the University and Middletown residents, the student group Middletown Potluck hosted a dinner and discussion at St. Vincent de Paul food pantry on Thursday, May 1. The May Day dinner was held in honor of International Workers’ Day, a celebration of labor and people in the working classes around the world.
“It wasn’t a question whether we were going to do a May Day dinner, because it was right up our alley,” explained Middletown Potluck member and event organizer Yael Horowitz ’17. “Everyone, in some capacity or another, at some point in their life, works. Labor is a way to unite people and bridge different class and other gaps, because everyone has to work somehow.”
In the United States, the connection between May 1 and International Workers’ Day is rarely made, an observation that was noted in the discussion among the dinner’s attendees.
“Kids in school think it’s [just] about celebrating the coming of summer,” said a Middletown resident who attended the event.
The event that inspired the origination of International Workers’s Day transpired in Chicago. In what is now known as the Haymarket Massacre, a labor demonstration that took place at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886 took a violent turn when an unidentified individual threw a bomb at the police, who were acting to disperse the demonstration. This resulted in an exchange of gunshots between police and demonstrators. This incident sparked international labor movements to organize around May 1 and to adopt May Day as a holiday for workers’ rights.
“Last year, I was on a gap year in Israel, and May Day was celebrated there,” Horowitz said. “I celebrated it last year by this huge rally with hundreds of thousands of people that were all part of this labor coalition movement. It was this really cool event, to have this revolutionary spirit throughout this really big group of people surrounding labor and work.”
To celebrate the American labor movement, the United States adopted Labor Day to commemorate the achievement of workers.
“Labor Day here, in September, is not really celebrated,” Horowitz said. “It’s like, oh, you get off from work, great. But I think it’s really important to celebrate May Day on May 1, and have it be the international day of labor, because May Day has found a way to preserve its socialist and revolutionary roots. It’s a lot more grassroots, and it’s a lot more real, I think, than Labor Day in a lot of ways.”
At the dinner, some of the attendees noted that the United States opted to celebrate Labor Day to avoid socialist implications. Middletown Potluck is not a political group, but through their focus on the human dimensions of socioeconomic issues, some members act in a way consistent with socialist ideals, according to Horowitz.
“It’s very anarchic in the way we act,” Horowitz explained. “It deals a lot with shared responsibility. It doesn’t really look toward capital; it’s really about human beings sitting together. So in that sense I think [Middletown Potluck] definitely is revolutionary and socialist in its beliefs.”
At the dinner, attendees were encouraged to discuss events that angered them. Middletown residents raised sentiments of discontent with unemployment, reduced work hours, and rising bus fare costs. Ari Ebstein ’16, a Middletown Potluck organizer, reflected on Brazilian citizens’ reactions to a similar sense of discontent.
“In Brazil, people started a riot when the bus fares went up,” Ebstein said.
Most students and some Middletown residents voiced their support for an alternative society that redefines work and labor as actions that have intrinsic value. Some citizens, however, questioned the feasibility of such an initiative.
Middletown Potluck has previously collaborated with St. Vincent de Paul in its potlucks and other projects. Horowitz explained that, though the group is successful in bringing together activist-minded students and regular patrons of St. Vincent de Paul, its events do not see a lot of middle-class, non-activist Middletown residents in attendance. Horowitz stated that the current objective of the group is to bring together members of all socioeconomic circumstances within the Middletown community in its potlucks.
“I think, for what it was, it worked well,” Horowitz said. “I believe whenever people who don’t normally sit together and eat together are sitting together and eating together, something’s been accomplished…. I think the dinner was a series of a lot of little successes, of meaningful conversations between individuals.”