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.