May Day Celebration is a Reminder of Isla Vista’s Radical History

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Kyle Dent

The 2019 May Day festival in People’s Park celebrated Isla Vista’s history of radicalism and revolt with performances, art, and talks from organizations around Santa Barbara.

The event featured booths from several different leftist groups from on or surrounding campus, including the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and their youth chapter, the Central Coast chapter of the Sunrise Movement, the UCSB Human Rights Board, and Bonfire Books — the organization that started the festival.

“You could say this was Bonfire’s idea, but this was really a coalition between all the groups. We couldn’t have done it without them,” said a representative (who wished to remain anonymous to avoid potential doxxing) from Bonfire Books, in an interview with The Bottom Line.

Each booth was based on this year’s theme: “Countdown to Revolt: Workers and Students Unite!” The Democratic Socialists of America booth had templates to send letters to queer prisioners, a group that, according to the DSA, is disproportionately targeted by the prison system.

They also had postcard templates to send to state legislators to stop them from building more oil rigs on shores. This, the DSA hopes, will stop the destruction of Isla Vista and Santa Barbara’s coasts.

Bonfire Books, which has sold books on radicalism and radical movements in the past nationally and worldwide, distributed pamphlets in both English and Spanish for undocumented citizens on how to respond to potential ICE interventions.

AFSCME 3299, the largest union for UC workers, was also present, handing out buttons, promoting meetings, and discussing a strike they are planning. Finally, Clementine Creatives, an organization that seeks to “create a safer space for historically marginalized folks to create radical performance art” performed and offered “revolution trivia.”

May Day (May 1) has deep roots in radicalism, socialism, and revolt. It is internationally recognized as Worker’s Day, equivalent to America’s Labor Day. This label came about in 1886 after a bomb was used against a peaceful march of Chicago socialists advocating for the 40-hour work week we now recognize as standard.

Past recognition of May Day has included the Occupy Wall Street marches in May 2012, as well as nationwide marches against Donald Trump and for immigration reform in May 2017.

Isla Vista itself has strong ties to May Day and radicalism. “Isla Vista now has a strong reputation for being … a party hub, but it hasn’t always been this way. It used to be considered a hotspot for revolution,” said the representative from Bonfire Books.

“There was the … North Hall takeover, but also the BSU submitting and getting their demands, the establishment of a Chicano/a studies program not only here but nationwide, the bank burning. At a time, the protests got so bad that the National Guard had to come in to stop them. Isla Vista has always revolted,” they added.

Organizations at the May Day Festival want to continue Isla Vista’s radical legacy. The Youth Democratic Socialists of America always welcomes new members or interested people to their meeting this week (with the time and place to be determined later). AFSCME 3299 also has a strike planned for May 16, and all are welcomed to march with them.