Why Is the US the Only Country that Celebrates ‘Loyalty Day’ on May 1?

Why Is the US the Only Country that Celebrates ‘Loyalty Day’ on May 1?

Why Is the US the Only Country that Celebrates ‘Loyalty Day’ on May 1?

Much of the world celebrates International Worker’s Day on May 1—but not the US.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

For more than a century, May 1 has been celebrated as International Workers’ Day. It’s a national holiday in more than eighty countries. But here in the land of the free, May 1 has been officially declared “Loyalty Day” by President Obama. It’s a day “for the reaffirmation of loyalty”—not to the international working class, but to the United States of America.

Obama isn’t the first president to declare May 1 Loyalty Day—that was President Eisenhower, in 1959, after Congress made it an official holiday in the fall of 1958. Loyalty Day, the history books explain, was “intended to replace” May Day. Every president since Ike has issued an official Loyalty Day proclamation for May 1.

The presidential proclamation always calls on people to “display the flag.” In case you were wondering, that’s the stars and stripes, not the red flag. Especially in the fifties, if you didn’t display the stars and stripes on Loyalty Day, your neighbors might conclude that you were some kind of red.

During the 1930s and 1940s, May Day parades in New York City involved hundreds of thousands of people. Labor unions, Communist and Socialist parties, and left-wing fraternal and youth groups would march down Fifth Avenue and end up at Union Square for stirring speeches on class solidarity.


Socialists meeting in Union Square, May 1, 1908 (Courtesy: Library of Congress)

In the fifties, Loyalty Day parades replaced May Day parades. If you Google “Loyalty Day parade,” you get a quarter of a million hits. Long Beach, California, claims to have “the longest consecutively running loyalty commemoration in the nation!” (Exclamation point theirs.) The Veterans of Foreign Wars started theirs in 1950, nine years before Ike’s declaration. This year’s Loyalty Day parade in Long Beach will be the same as always: high school marching bands, vintage cars, riders on horses and floats, as well as the required military color guard. Also clowns.

The first May Day proclamation made the Cold War context pretty clear: “Loyalty to the United States of America,” Ike said, “is essential to the preservation of our freedoms in a world threatened by totalitarianism.” That was the idea: “we” represented freedom, and “they” were “the enemies of freedom.” Of course, in 1959 our “freedoms” included segregation for blacks and blacklisting for reds, and our “Free World” allies included dictators and tyrants like Chiang Kai-Shek in Formosa, Marcos in the Philippines, the Shah in Iran and whoever was running South Korea.

Obama’s proclamation in 2013 said that on Loyalty Day we should reaffirm our commitment to “liberty, equality, and justice for all.” That’s not terribly original, but it’s not bad—especially if he really means “all” people. Skeptics might suggest his statement is an empty cliché; they might point to many cases where Obama has denied liberty, equality and justice to all (one example: US citizens killed without a trial).

In Los Angeles, where I live, the biggest parade on May 1 came in 2006, when 400,000 people marched down Wilshire Boulevard for immigrants’ rights. They carred signs that said “Si se puede!” (“Yes we can”) and “This land is your land/This land is my land.” That May 1 was May Day—and it was a lot better than Loyalty Day.

 

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It takes a dedicated team to publish timely, deeply researched pieces like this one. For over 150 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and democracy. Today, in a time of media austerity, articles like the one you just read are vital ways to speak truth to power and cover issues that are often overlooked by the mainstream media.

This month, we are calling on those who value us to support our Spring Fundraising Campaign and make the work we do possible. The Nation is not beholden to advertisers or corporate owners—we answer only to you, our readers.

Can you help us reach our $20,000 goal this month? Donate today to ensure we can continue to publish journalism on the most important issues of the day, from climate change and abortion access to the Supreme Court and the peace movement. The Nation can help you make sense of this moment, and much more.

Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy
x