portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article portland metro

actions & protests | labor | police / legal may day

May Day Betrayal - There will be a permit but no May Pole

Even if the permit was taken out by mistake, as claimed, the free speech component of May Day is seriously undermined, a situation exacerbated by media stories stating taking out the permit is a deliberate maneuver
Although as a new father I am unable to participate in planning this year's May Day, I feel my views as a former May Day 2001 Coalition spokesperson and May Day 2000 arrestee might carry some weight.

Having been involved in previous May Day organizing, I know how difficult it is to organize a diverse coalition to plan a large public event. I hope - but doubt - that my comments will be construed as constructive criticism. Perhaps the spokespersons for this year's coalition can take these views into account in future public statements, and maybe next year's event will benefit from continued dialog about this year's.

In addition to being originally a religious nature holiday and for the last 140 years or so a labor holiday, May Day has been a celebration of free expression - and dissent against represseion - since at least the Colonial era in North America. (For more information, see Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Maypole of Merry Mount," a fictionalized account of actual events.) The "Haymarket" police riots during the first labor-oriented May Day in Chicago in the 1880's were a renewal of this clash, not its inception.

Police repression of May Day 2000 in Portland and subsequent victories in marching without permits in 2001 and 2002 gave new life and local importance to May Day largely because of the free expression implications of facing down police power. I loved the quote from a Longshore workers' representative that appeared in Willamette Week a few years back, something like "When this union decides to march in the streets, we don't take out any freaking permits."

When the carpenter's union and Jobs With Justice announced that they planned to organize the May Day 2003 events, I posted a note on this site urging organizers to ensure that the march continue to be radical, diverse, and non-permitted. Organizers wrote back - some in very harsh and demeaning terms - that my fears were baseless. Now my fears seem borne out. This year's May Day is less diverse and less radical than in years past.

The lack of a May Pole at this year's event speaks to a decrease in diversity and is probably very upsetting to those who view May Day as primarily a religious holiday.

The coalition's action to take out a permit - even if not authorized by the full coalition, as claimed in an earlier post here - was a mistake. This mistake is further compounded by statements by May Day spokes indicating that the decision to get a permit is a change in tactics necessitated by a changing political climate (see Portland Tribune, 4/29). When the public allows the police to decide what expression is "permitted," we have relinquished our divine and legal rights to free expression.

It seems ludicrous to have to suggest a radical feeder march to what should be a radical event. I also feel particularly uninspired about participating in a "permitted" event to celebrate labor, nature, diversity and free expression. I don't want to insult the hardworking organizers of this event by staying home. I feel a real dilemma.

Me too 30.Apr.2003 09:47

Labor Rad

I feel your pain, Andy. I say we at the very least deviate from the permitted route. This groveling for our rights has no business being part of MayDay. I'm not interested in fighting the cops, but I will not be cowed into kissing their jackboots either.

it's not too late 30.Apr.2003 09:54

rad act

thanks, andy. you captured my disappointment really well. there are a few things the may day coalition could still do to mitigate these mistakes:

give the permit back, with an attendant press statement that emphasizes:

-that the coalition doesn't agree with the concept of asking the city for permission to exercise our first amendment rights, and that one of their delegates was duped into signing.
-the radical roots of may day, the reclaiming by radicals of worker's rights, and that since 1886, it's been marked by police deception, infiltration and violence to discredit those radical roots.
-that permits don't keep us safe: the first resurreciton of mayday in this town (2000) did get a permit (for the park)and it was revoked by the city and the cops attacked.
-a demand that the city release the maypole confiscated in 2000, because it's a religious symbol!

and then let's go out and have an awesome celebration!

Ripit up... 30.Apr.2003 10:09

countzero UNITE

Lets rip the stupid permit up in front of the cops and the media!
Or lets at least march where we are not supposed to-IE 99%of our city....


new maypole? 30.Apr.2003 10:19


What would it take to create a new Maypole? Or there irreplaceable symbolizism in the first one (2000)? I didn't even know there wasn't going to be a Maypole or that it was confiscated!

Just to Clarify-JwJ Supporting, Not Organizin 30.Apr.2003 11:12

Chris at Jobs with Justice chris@jwjpdx.org

I just want to clarify the role of Jobs with Justice in this. Jason from the Carpenters union asked Jobs with Justice for some support, in the form of lists of our member organizations and key activists so that they could be invited to the organizing meetings. We agreed to provide the lists. While I attended the first two meetings of the coaliton, Jobs with Justice decided to not take a lead role in organizing this event. We support it, have let our members know about it, and plan on attending, but the above statement "When the carpenter's union and Jobs With Justice announced that they planned to organize the May Day 2003 events" is not exactly true. I think the initial letter sent out by the Carpenters gave that impression, but was a bit a bit of a misstatement--one that Pete Savage acknowledged and later corrected.

While Jobs with Justice has not taken a formal position on all of this permit debate, I can say that we have supported both permitted and unpermitted events on numerous occasions, and that we also support the efforts of our union brothers and sisters to play a larger role in events like May Day.


UNITE RESIST 30.Apr.2003 11:20


as in being United is i think the most inportant step to just about everything in the world.

to Resist is the step the comes after uniting.
i feel sad that this may day is laking unity.
and also lacking resistance.

i am never one who wishes to fight police.
but i too WILL NOT kiss their boots.

it is very sad to me that people concerned with unions did not
unite in the planning of may day
those who got a permit with out total united concent should feel kinda lame. i know i would.

the only thing left is to


Religious Holiday? 30.Apr.2003 12:53


People are saying the May pole has religious significance? Of what religion is this a symbol of? And why is it "religious"?

Maypole 30.Apr.2003 13:21


The maypole is the center of the Pagan Beltane celebration. Paganism is a acknowledged religion. Therefore the maypole is a religious artifact.

You Can't Guess What Maypole Symbolizes? 30.Apr.2003 13:57

Not a Nervous Virgin X-Tian

Come on...You folks can't guess what a May POLE represents?

It's pretty simple, for those of you who are men,
look down at your (possibly) erect member between your legs.

It is a Phallic symbol....

but, it is not just "sex". Sex, of course, is a metaphor, too.

Some say the dance around the May Pole, with the intricate weaving of long cloth strips represents DNA.

sheesh, I can tell that Amerika is truly an unlearned place...just by reading the content on Indymedia.org

Many of you may have rebellion, change & making a difference as your Watch Words...but, Education & Knowledge are the means to those ends.

Old Mayday Flyer 01.May.2003 02:08

Homo Ludens

Here's an old Mayday flyer that seems appropriate to post, given the nature of the discussion over permits, police herding of the march, and the overall social context in which we live.


"Everyone spent so much time working that they had to have a day off every now and then to recover. They were called 'holidays' to signify thatlife was full of holes, which they kept falling into and couldn't get out.
Eventually they dug themselves an underground passage to escape."
--Hillary Booth

Capitalism needs holidays in order to continue. Our token release from the pressures of modern life keeps the whole system running. But this year we can make Mayday another public breakaway from business as usual. We aren't free to live on the earth as we will because everything is owned
and tamed, including ourselves. While support for workers' basic rights is important and necessary, we must also realize that asking for "bigger cages, longer chains," is not enough.

Don't you ever dream of dissolving the entire system of work and buying/selling, and the power structure which enforces it? This is humanity's biggest problem, and the means by which we are shitting where we eat and drink.

On Mayday we honor and remember the Haymarket martyrs and the struggle for the 8-hour day, and affirm the coming of spring. Just as pagans and heretics who celebrate Mayday as Beltane were killed and persecuted by the church, so are anarchists and labor activists killed and persecuted by
the state through the medium of cops, courts and prisons. This is because autonomous and insurgent traditions based on freedom and respect for life are threatening to the status quo, which is imposed by, and for the benefit
of, capital, church and state. These powers must be overthrown and made irrelevant if we're to be truly free!

Real change will not come about by being nice to those who abuse the earth and its creatures, including us! It's past time to shut it all down and start doing better things with the freed-up time and resources.

"The complete release of our intrinsic desire to act and create would entail a year-round celebration."

--Cheikh Tidiane Sylla