‘We celebrate ourselves’: Firelands builds momentum for workers’ rights at May Day event

‘We celebrate ourselves’: Firelands builds momentum for workers’ rights at May Day event

Photo courtesy of Firelands Workers United/Trabajadores Unidos.

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Connection making and community building are integral to the work of racial justice and equity. GHF sponsors in-person and virtual gatherings that benefit organizations and the communities they serve. We are honored to have supported this May Day celebration hosted by Firelands Workers United/Trabajadores Unidos, which is based in Aberdeen.
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Out of necessity, community organizations over the last few years have learned to be adaptable, especially when it comes to events. After so many virtual convenings, many people are eager to connect in person. To the delight and surprise of organizers, recent event turnouts have been remarkable, highlighting this desire for connection.

Firelands Workers United/Trabajadores Unidos recently experienced this firsthand. Powered by low-wage workers in the natural resource and care economies, Firelands advocates for workers’ rights across rural Washington through education and narrative change work. In May 2022, the organization held a May Day event, a celebration of workers’ rights attended by nearly 500 people.

“We had planned the event for 300 people, but in the end, between 400 and 500 people attended. I think it was the need that exists in our community, and in all parts of the state and the country, to leave behind the depression, the anxiety, the sadness of living through so many difficult situations during the pandemic. Finally, we were able to get together in person to celebrate something…especially this important date,” says Patty Flores, an Aberdeen resident and Firelands organizer. Patty first joined Firelands after she spoke to door-to-door volunteers who were conducting a survey.

May Day, also called International Workers’ Day, commemorates the movement for workers’ rights. As an organization dedicated to fighting for workers throughout Washington, it seemed only natural to choose May Day as the date for Firelands’ first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. People from all over Washington took part in the event, representing neighboring counties and even places as far away as Forks.

“The meaning of May 1, for me, is a celebration as a worker. We celebrate ourselves. We celebrate what we are, what we want to be, and what we want to fight for,” shares Laura Baltazar, also an Aberdeen resident and Firelands organizer who joined the organization just before the pandemic began.

For Firelands, this event was about more than just honoring a movement. When thinking about all the people they were inviting, Firelands wanted to make sure that this event was a space for connection, education, mobilization, and unity. The gathering intentionally centered families and offered programming for all ages, including an ice cream truck, bounce castle, musical chairs, and DJ.

There was also a resource fair to share information about tenants’ and immigration rights. The fair featured interactive games to highlight wealth inequality and Washington state’s unjust tax system. For many attendees, this was the first time they had learned about such issues.

“Those are problems that we share and that we can change by uniting, because we know Firelands’ motto, which is ‘Unity is strength,’ but we cannot do it alone,” says Patty.

Firelands strongly believes that power is rooted in community organizing and base building. This event was a crucial step for growing Firelands’ presence, fostering relationships, and deepening involvement with attendees.

As they reflected on their May Day celebration, organizers at Firelands were excited to recognize the impact the event had on younger community members, pulling them out of the isolation and disconnection the pandemic exacerbated. Currently, Firelands is keenly focused on using their events to spread the word about their organization, enlist volunteers, and, most importantly, get more youth involved.

They have several events in the coming months, including an Art Day block party at the end of August and a Halloween event in October. “When we come up with these events, we wish they would happen more often. As already mentioned, sometimes it is not possible because we do not have the funds. When we have them, we make the most of them,” reflects Edith Baltazar, Laura’s sister and fellow Aberdeen resident.

Edith joined Firelands several years ago while she was struggling with depression after her employer of almost 25 years denied her treatment for a knee injury. Joining Firelands helped Edith challenge her feelings of being just another disposable worker and kept her connected to her community. “I have learned that sharing the pain on a personal level with others, my pain becomes lighter and that is what I want to communicate out there…to have many opportunities like this so that people know that there is hope.”

To keep in touch with and support Firelands, visit www.firelandswa.org.