Protesters stopped traffic in downtown Durham on Tuesday evening as they marched on May Day, a day that U.S. labor groups use to bring attention to workers' rights.
In Durham, that means a long list of issues, not only labor.
The protesters organized by the Durham Workers Assembly labor group gathered in front of the Durham Police Department headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street, then marched in the streets down to the Durham County Detention Center, where they held a rally.
"Get up! Get down! Durham is a union town!" they chanted, and "No cops! No KKK! No fascist USA!"
Protesters in safety vests preceded the marchers, who also chanted "We work, we sweat, put [$]15 on my check!" and "Whose streets? Our streets!"
Signs read: "Fair treatment, better pay for incarcerated workers," "Worker Solidarity," "Unions for Durham Now" and "Liberate the Working Class." A protester wore a hat with the words "Do It Like Durham. 8.14.17." On Aug. 14, 2017, protesters brought down the Confederate soldier statue in front of the county administration building on East Main Street, which is an old courthouse.
Silent Sam protester
One of the speakers at the rally in front of the jail was Maya Little, a member of UE Local 150 union and graduate worker at UNC-Chapel Hill. The day before, Little threw red ink and some of her own blood on Silent Sam, the Confederate statue at UNC that has been the subject of several protests.
"We cannot struggle for workers without struggling against white supremacy," Little told the crowd.
When people see Silent Sam, "we see the celebration of an army that fought for our enslavement," Little said. "I see Julian Carr whipping a black woman." At the dedication of the statue in 1913, the Southern industrialist had described horse-whipping a black woman "until her skirts hung in shreds" because he said she had publicly insulted a white woman.
Little also said that at UNC, "black athletes are exploited for the Tar Heel brand."
The Durham Workers Assembly called on groups to participate in the march because "Boss Trump’s regime has shown in its first year and a half what they are all about: attacks on working people’s health care, raids and deportations, more wars and increased attacks on worker rights to organize."
The Durham Workers Assembly called for many things including a workers bill of rights, Durham Workers Rights Commission, end to the eviction crisis, end to ICE raids, fully funded public schools, end to police brutality, taxes on corporations and $15 an hour pay, a union and collective bargaining rights for all workers including incarcerated workers.
"It’s our bosses that are gentrifiers, that are making super profits off our misery and displacement," the assembly wrote in its call to action.
Tuesday night outside the jail, the protesters called up to the prisoners that "We see you! We love you!"
Throughout the rally, people outside the jail could hear those inside the jail tapping and banging on walls and windows.
The Rev. Curtis Gatewood, a longtime activist, called the jail the headstone in a cemetery of black businesses destroyed by urban renewal.
The Durham Workers Assembly-organized event was supported by the Duke Graduate Student Union, SEIU; Durham City Workers Union, UE Local 150, the N.C. Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 150; Northern Piedmont Local of the Socialist Party USA; the Workers World Party, Durham branch; and the Raleigh-Durham Industrial Workers of the World.
As the rally wound down around sunset, protesters decided to march up to the downtown McDonald's. They walked into traffic, which stopped for them on Mangum Street as they walked in the street passing City Hall and rounding the corner onto Morgan Street and McDonald's.
Who followed the protesters
Durham police officers on bicycles and on foot followed a short distance behind the protesters.
Also following the group as it marched from the jail to McDonald's were two white men with shaved heads, wearing white T-shirts. They didn't interact with the protesters and said nothing. The protesters never interacted with them either, though when they first approached the marchers, one of the men pointed his middle finger at them as they walked by. At McDonald's, the two men stood behind the group but left in the other direction without any interaction.
As the marchers dispersed, they were urged to walk together in groups for safety. The police officers on bicycles followed them back through downtown up to where the protest started on West Chapel Hill Street. A protester's truck softly played the N.W.A. song "F--- tha Police" along the way.