At 6am Thursday morning I joined about a hundred others in downtown San Diego in a protest and picket around a McDonald’s, supporting fast food workers who walked off the job in their fight for union rights and a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Friday evening I joined a couple hundred others in a march protesting the killing of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by police.
Two things linked these two actions. One was that in the middle of various chants about justice and wages (“Que quemos?” “Quince!” “Cuando?” “Ahora!”), people joined in the now-legendary “Hands up, don’t shoot!” chant.
The second, and more substantial similarity, was the presence of many first-time activists. Fast food workers are usually underrepresented in labor actions, as those with disposable income and flexible schedules can be the most involved in justice movements. But thousands have participated in strikes and walkouts, despite corporate pressure. At the police march there were many people of color that had experienced discrimination and intimidation, but had been involved formally. And in both marches- children, some a third my age.
I am not a professional hellraiser, but I do go to meetings and participate in actions. There is a core of activists, and we all know each other. However, justice will never be found by that small group. Regular workers need to liberate themselves. So to see new activists joining the fight is encouraging. Political protest is stale in the United States- we are not in the 60s radicalism or the all-but-in-name wars between unions and the government. Fresh faces will bring about real change.
Occupy also had an injection of new activists. The homeless, establishment Democrats, political but apathetic college students. This continues, and over time they become effective members of a movement.
As a member of the Socialist Alternative branch in San Diego said, many of us are new to radical politics. Many have no real grasp of what socialism is, or how to organize a labor action. These times are where we cut our teeth and learn how to succeed. There is no substitute for experience, and as people attend meetings, go to marches, and read the news and literature, they become smarter and stronger. We need all the help we can in this unjust world.