Every year, historic Chicano Park hosts a celebration commemorating International Workers Day on May 1st, also known as May Day. 2019 is no different, last month, revolutionaries, progressives, labor organizers and community members came together to celebrate the victories won by collective struggle and union power. Past May Day celebrations have traditionally incorporated marches, music, and speakers promoting the ongoing campaigns of labor unions, revolutionary political parties, and community self-defense forces. Just as in years past hundreds of people marched from the Sempra Energy building in downtown San Diego, chanting pro-migrant and pro-worker slogans; while carrying banners and placards decorated with revolutionary imagery. The march steadily progressed towards Barrio Logan, as the march was scheduled to conclude in Chicano Park, with noted organizer and anti-war activist Gloria la Riva was preparing to speak before the crowd at the central kiosko as children laughed on the playground and families relaxed in the park. Security and logistics teams prepared for the march to arrive, keeping a diligent lookout for potential threats to the community, which has historically been targeted by white supremacists. Almost predictably, this year’s May Day celebration conclusion in Chicano Park faced a significant challenge from the right-wing hate group known as the Proud Boys, but the power of organizers and community members would ultimately carry the day.
The Proud Boys are a “western chauvinist” street gang noted for their vicious assaults on black and brown people, peaceful protesters, leftists, and other marginalized communities. Founded in 2016 by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys have been tied to dozens of violent attacks on journalists, protesters and even random bystanders. The Proud Boys in Southern California have been known to interrupt peaceful community events threatening and attacking attendees; with Chicano Park being one of the group’s primary targets in the past. Members of the Proud Boys are easy to identify; they appear in groups, armed with sticks and poles, wearing their tell-tale uniform of black and gold Fred Perry polo shirts, PB hats and ostentatiously holding American flags. If the signature polo shirts don’t make their affiliations obvious, the vitriolic racism and masculine posturing, intended to intimidate community members is a dead giveaway.
The Proud Boys were spotted walking down National Avenue towards the park, flanked by a handful of SDPD officers from Central Division; and were denied entry into the park by a group of revolutionaries, self-defense forces and local community members after they were spotted with weapons and the insignia of a known hate group. The Proud Boys feigned ignorance as to why community members in a historically targeted park and community would be wary of their aggressive posturing. The Proud Boys claimed they had come to May Day in Chicano Park to “combat socialism”, a theme which is a common in conspiracy theory-laden rants of members online. The SDPD stood idly by while fascists, armed with heavy sticks, mace and wearing the insignia of a violent white-supremacist group, verbally harassed May Day attendees and community members upon their arrival. These park defenders came together, under threat of violence and even arrest, to defend Chicano Park and the people attending May Day against a known hate group, who came to the park seemingly with the support and supervision of the SDPD. When the SDPD refused to act, park defenders decided to take proactive safety measures into their hands and expelled this dangerous hate group from Chicano Park. Security reinforcements were swiftly dispatched immediately to the park, and once reinforcements arrived, the Proud Boys and police quickly found themselves suddenly outnumbered by the self-defense forces of community members and revolutionary organizations. Arm-in-arm the park defenders began to chant, “Push them out! Push them out!” as the Proud Boys nervously looked to the SDPD for support. All together in unison, the park defenders began to march forward to drive the Proud Boys from the park, many chanting and demanding they leave peacefully. When this final attempt to avoid confrontation went unheeded, community members collided with the Proud Boys, using the weight and number of their bodies to drive them out without excessive force. The Proud Boys responded by punching and shoving; and started hitting park defenders with their flagpoles, but were quickly overrun by park defenders. The SDPD, unsurprisingly jumped to aid the Proud Boys, brandishing telescopic clubs, indiscriminately pepper-spraying and shoving park defenders (which included the likes of elders, women, and youth) as they surrounded the Proud Boys in a defensive perimeter. However, park defenders held their ground, forcing the SDPD to escort the Proud Boys from the park as the defenders cheered and celebrated their victory. The lessons of this year’s past May Day are especially important as white supremacists and right-wing terror attacks continue on a seemingly daily basis throughout the United States with an ever-increasing frequency; several occurring in San Diego this year alone.
This latest attack on the community of Barrio Logan and their park is by no means an anomaly. Since the end of 2017 white nationalists, including members of the Proud Boys, have staged numerous provocations in the park, including the failed “Patriot Picnic” events held in 2017 and 2018, where right-wingers attempted to destroy the historic murals of Chicano Park. Each of these events has ended in a decisive victory for the people of Barrio Logan who have valiantly fought to defend the park. Once again, revolutionary political parties and community self-defense forces came together with the people of Barrio Logan to defend the neighborhood. However, the work of revolutionary organizations in Barrio Logan is by no means a new phenomenon, the neighborhood has a long and beautiful history of Chicanismo and organized struggle. These revolutionary organizations are able to function with community support for a very simple reason; they are an active and integral part of the community that they are defending and organize in. The revolutionaries in Logan organize to fight for both self-determination and the national liberation of oppressed people. Their ability to organize workers on the job, in the classroom, and in the streets is what sets them apart, and the results were plainly evident on May 1st. Revolutionary parties took command of a tense situation, using a disciplined and tactical approach to safely address a very real threat from both an armed hate group and SDPD officers. Solidarity between organizations is often talked about, but revolutionaries put that to work materially to create a stronger force that was able to effectively keep the people and their park safe.
The defense of Chicano Park on May 1st by revolutionaries and community members alike signifies the power of the community to come together to preserve the integrity and safety of their spaces against antagonizers, even those with the de facto support of the SDPD. Despite the violence of the SDPD, community members risked serious bodily injury and even death to stand against a violent hate group. If the SDPD, who so blatantly came to the defense of a known white supremacist hate group on May 1st refuse to protect our communities; then it is absolutely necessary that we organize and protect ourselves both as a people and as a class! With every passing year support for Chicano Park and its defenders continues to grow, with each demonstration of the community’s strength an ever-present reminder to people of their ability to defend the neighborhood. It is necessary to remember the legacy of Chicano resistance that has held Barrio Logan as a beacon of resistance and self-determination for decades all the way up to this very day. We should all learn the lessons of history and take up the mantle of revolutionary struggle like the park defenders have. So long as there are revolutionaries in the Barrio and the people of Barrio Logan remember the revolutionary history of struggle and resistance that created Chicano Park, there will be people there to defend it from any and all aggressors and outside forces of hate; which will be met with heavy resistance and defeat.
This article was written by José Cortés, an activist, and organizer from San Diego, California.