"Abolish Class Society" is May Day message in St. Pete from Overpass Light Brigade

05/01/13 Janelle Irwin
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Wednesday is International Workers’ Day. A small group of protesters displayed a lighted message over I-275 near 22nd Avenue North in St. Pete saying “Abolish Class Society” in honor of what’s also known as May Day.

“It’s a celebration of the working class and the struggle for the abolition of class distinction.”

That’s Occupy Tampa’s Jake Vigness. May Day is celebrated in 80 countries worldwide as part of an international labor movement. But the United States celebrates its Labor Day the first Monday in September. May 1, instead has been dubbed “Loyalty Day” in the U.S.

“They also called French Fries “Freedom Fries.” I don’t know if that stuck either.”

Overpass light brigade demonstrations have become popular among protesters because the giant, illuminated messages can reach more people during rush hour traffic than a typical road-side sign waving. Large cardboard signs are punched with holes and then Christmas lights are put through them spelling out messages. Nick Windholz has helped organize several light brigade demonstrations in both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

“This is International Workers’ Day. This is when the rest of the world stands up for workers’ rights and it never gets covered on the news. So, we’re out here trying to bring attention to May Day.”

Activists also favor the lighted protests because they’re easy. Only three people showed up to this demonstration, but Occupy Tampa’s Vigness contends that doesn’t water down the message.

“We can have a protest out almost instantly with, like, zero organizing. It doesn’t matter if there’s 3 people or 100 people, it’s basically just a lighted sign. It’s nice to have people show up because if the cops show up and say that we can’t have things affixed we can always just hold them ourselves.”

Activists search for new ways to draw attention to May 1 every year. There are two May Day celebrations planned Wednesday. In St. Pete’s Williams Park activists will host an evening of music and poetry from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. where organizers will also hand out clothing to people who need it. But Vigness said so far, the Overpass Light Brigade protests seem to be a way to make sure the demonstrations aren’t broken up by police.

“Around this time last year we actually tried to do a banner drop. We basically went to do it over, closer to downtown. As soon as you dropped the banner the cops pulled up behind us and made us put it away, but now we found a loophole – something that looks way better.”

Still, protesters have had some issues with police officers while setting up signs on overpasses. On U.S. 301 over I-4 police hovered near protesters, telling them to physically hold the signs instead of tying them to the chain link fence with bungee cords. And in the location in St. Pete where Vigness and others demonstrated today, officers have previously tried to disperse protesters over parking issues.

“There’s like, a gravel lot we park in next to this abandoned building – nobody really knows who owns it. Last week they brought out a school resource officer to try to kick us off the property when people were parked there and they don’t know who owns it – they have to make inquiries apparently.”

Vigness said this might be the last Overpass Light Brigade demonstration for a while because it’s no longer dark during rush hour. He said protests like this one will continue in the fall.

Another May Day demonstration in Ybor City's Centennial Park Wednesday from 5:30 p.m to 7:30 p.m. will focus on immigration. Since 2006, May Day demonstrations in the U.S. have emphasized immigration reform. Activists nationwide are continuing that trend today as Congress considers legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship.

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There will be more light brigades before fall, just not in the mornings!