May Day will look much different in Portland this year and in many ways has an added urgency courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some activists are planning to celebrate International Workers Day with a car caravan that will wind through the city to draw attention to worker rights. Other groups are planning to take their demonstrations online.
The moves mark a major departure from the usual marches and rallies that have run the gamut in Portland in recent years from hundreds turning out for peaceful gatherings downtown, along the waterfront and in city parks to a protest that erupted into a riot and 25 arrests in 2017.
But the current state of uncertainty highlights the need to put labor issues front and center, said Alyssa Pagan, a staff member of Portland Jobs with Justice.
The group is holding a “Virtual May Day Rally’’ livestreamed at 10 a.m. Friday on Facebook. It will allow people to come together to mourn those who have died from the coronavirus but also provide support for those suffering from economic injustices, Pagan said.
“COVID-19 has slowed the U.S. economy. Government stimulus is keeping ‘Big Business’ from tanking for now. But people who need it much more are being sacrificed,’’ including immigrants and homeless people, she said in an email.
“Even those of us lucky enough to be in housing and getting paid right now are not sure if we can maintain,’’ she said.
Jobs with Justice is joining with Portland Democratic Socialists of America to draw people to share important calls for action on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter throughout the day.
“It can be easy to fall into the trap of discouraging workers from organizing in a time when businesses are struggling,’’ Justin Norton-Kertson, another Jobs with Justice staffer, wrote on a blog. “But it is during times of crisis that the wealthy, capitalists, and business owners often attempt to pass off their risk and loss onto vulnerable workers.”
Friday is about standing up for worker rights at a time when businesses are laying off or furloughing employees or relying on essential staff to put their own lives at risk to serve others, he said.
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Portland Democratic Socialists of America is helping to organize the car caravan to call attention to the critical need to provide unemployment checks for workers who have been laid off.
They’re also calling for support for frontline health care and other essential workers and the release of nonviolent inmates from jails or prisons to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 and safe shelters for homeless people.
Motorists are expected to meet at a parking lot beside the Whole Foods Market at Northeast 29th Avenue and Couch Street at 11 a.m.
“Decorate your car with Workers’ Demands,’’ advises the Portland May Day Coalition’s Facebook page.
Portland police are aware of the caravan and are urging participants to adhere to the rules of the road and the governor’s orders on social distancing, said bureau spokeswoman Lt. Tina Jones.
Cars in the caravan, for example, are expected to heed traffic lights and not block intersections, she said.
Organizers said they would share their planned route the day of the event.
Police aren’t aware of any other gatherings planned.
Jones said police hope the organizers of any demonstration will contact their liaison officers at PPBLiaison@portlandoregon.gov or through their Twitter account @PPBLiaison.
“We will monitor the situation and adjust resources as appropriate if information changes,’’ Jones said by email.
— Maxine Bernstein
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