May Day is an ancient celebration of spring and rebirth. May Day is also International Workers' Day, a time of celebration and opposition throughout the world -- except in the United States, where it began.
May Day commemorates the May 1, 1886, nationwide protest for the eight-hour work day and the following "Haymarket Affair," a pivotal event in the history of workers' and anarchist movements in which four labor organizers were hanged by the state of Illinois. Owing to this history of martyrdom, May Day is about freedom itself for many celebrants.
This year, the Portland May Day celebration will involve a march, followed by an indoor rally with food and music.
So what? Well, last year's May Day celebration became a debacle. The organizers of this year's event would like to avoid a repeat, so we are taking this opportunity to explain to the people of Portland what we have planned, and why.
We have spent a lot of time debating the permit issue and have come to a consensus. We have a permit already -- our constitutional right to free speech and free assembly. We will not be seeking any additional permits from the city, because in practice, the city's permit process is designed to strangle any public expression of democracy with red tape. In addition, last year showed that the permit means nothing: Police can revoke it anytime.
Our inherent rights to free speech and free assembly cannot be revoked. These are the rights we claim for our May Day march.
In a recent editorial ("So get a permit, already," April 5), The Oregonian took May Day organizers to task for the "arrogance" of our "loftily proclaiming" our First Amendment rights. We'll accept that criticism.
The editorial also states that the "mistake" made by May Day participants last year was failing to secure a parade permit. Here's what happened: Last year, May Day organizers obtained a permit for a gathering in the South Park Blocks. On the day of the event, organizers worked with police to arrange an impromptu agreement allowing folks to march in downtown without a separate parade permit. After the march, the plan was to have a picnic in the park.
The march disintegrated after police attacked, breaking the impromptu agreement. The Police Bureau also decided that we shouldn't have a picnic and revoked the park permit. Issues over the constitutionality of the city's actions last year clearly exist.
As for the argument that permits help the city to plan for the safety and convenience of others, fine. We'll tell you our plan: Begin in the North Park Blocks, around 4:30 p.m. March south on Broadway to the rally location, to be announced. The site is private property near Portland State University, so there's no permit required.
With all the attention focused on the police since last May Day, we expect that Chief Mark Kroeker and Mayor Vera Katz will do the right thing. It's up to them.
It's also up to you, Portland. We intend to exercise our rights by holding a peaceful, spirited, fun, unpermitted march downtown. This will delay some traffic. We submit that this is a small price to pay for a healthy, vibrant political life.
The alternative is to try to stop our march with overwhelming force, riot cops, shotguns and chemical weapons. A repeat of last year is no good for any of us.