Barabbas, Patron Saint of May Day (Part I)
I’m not a protester by nature. Slow to sing and chant, slower still to raise a fist of defiance or cock a brick, I find myself somewhat out of my element among the post-Occupy crowd. My element is rather to blather, and having marched around for the better part of yesterday afternoon – because what is life if not a perpetual thrusting of the self into new and uncomfortable situations? – I shall return to what feels right. So here I go.
I don’t like a lot of things that go on in our Dear Dirty American society; I dislike gated communities and the haves and the somewhat incestuous, utterly unfair sort of nepotism that closely guards that way of life. In similar measures I dislike the have nots who harbor vain hopes that they, too, shall someday hob some nob with their unspecified social betters, and accordingly vote against that great majority to which they’ll ever belong. Then those sort of gots, the ones that live in cardboard mansions of their own and eat at T.G.I. Friday’s and try to ignore the disparity that surrounds them, somehow hoping things’ll just even out in the end but really don’t care so long as they can watch something other than the news on their high-definition flatscreen television sets. Drone strikes, police brutality, customer service jobs, privatisation of public goods, the nuances of modern wage slavery and the rampant consumerism it feeds…
There are a lot of things that, at least to me, seem wrong about our neck of the world. I sigh, I pocket my hands, and occasionally blog disdainfully, but ultimately harbor hopes that (much like those middle-road swine that I loathe) things will really turn out for the better so long as we try to gradually educate people about issues, social cause and effect, and empathetic citizenship. A sort of long-term victory. And yet I took the day off from work to march, if only to stretch the legs and see what the hubbub is all about. To glad hands and read pamphlets and see for myself this ire I read about so often in the news, and on blogs like these.
Crazy sort of weather that aff, perhaps indirectly affecting the similarly bizarre behavior of folk downtown as it dumped rain between teasing glimmers of sun. All morning, spontaneous flash mobs and ham-fisted police responses. As I approached Hawthorne Bridge the sound of sirens across the river bade me an uneasy welcome. But downtown wasn’t aflame, so far as I could tell, and it seemed the usual pedestrians of bums and yups floated about as per normal. A trio of sunglassed cops stood at the corner of Second and Main, chatting amicably about sports, or tear gas, or the improving economy; I really didn’t pick up the conversation. And the way to Salmon and Park seemed a normal trek, albeit with a few more feet on the ground than I’m used to on a Tuesday afternoon. Most all of us were gravitating toward the same destination.
The park was abuzz with excitement, a regular fucking market affair of kiosks and banners and clowns intermingling with former hippies, union workers, mall-store anarchists and Latino immigrants. At the center, a dude in Meso-American regalia was just wrapping up a dance as the drums tattered on, and a little raisin of a woman handed me a flyer about resurrecting the WPA. Sounded like a winning idea to me, so I pocketed the first of many pamphlets, flyers, scraps of paper and a copy of the Socialist Worker that would fill my jacket. I happened into a local friend-of-a-friend, who between furiously rolled cigarettes tried to explain the goings on of the day. It was a difficult exchange though, between the cigarette-blunted conversation and the nearby speaker set that drowned out all other sounds, set on a pedestal with a black plastic bag over it to keep off the rain; looking a bit like a stick man prisoner fresh from Abu Ghraib, vacillating breathily between mighty bursts of ire.
And it was a mighty assortment of ire. “Give us our due,” someone in a many-splendored hardhat was shouting. “Not the crumbs from the rich man’sbanquet table.” Calling for a six-hour workday, with no cut in pay or privilege – a bit extreme for me, though, favoring to myself at least a guaranteed full-forty and benefits for every American worker. ‘American worker’ turning to just another empty phrasing as the undocumented workers stepped up to the stage, fired up with a righteous indignation at their not even second-class status. “I pay my taxes! I work two jobs! This is my country, too!” And again en Español; the event was an all-inclusive affair, really.
Finally the speeches were becoming overlong, the crowd becoming restless. After what seemed like ages, we were given the go to march, several thousand folk streaming southward down the Park Avenue as the police took up their positions all along the side streets, hemming in the vast procession. Above, a few helicopters fluttered stolidy, motionlessly keeping watch as what might have been a lone drone drifted slow circles surveying the scene far below. Eight blocks long, most everybody singing, chanting, hooting and hollering and letting Portland know to whom its streets belonged for the day. It was exciting, honestly. Surrounded by so much camaraderie, surrounded by signs of every color and shade of cleverness. Stop the War on Women – Jesus Was a Blue Collared Worker – Wells Fargo Stole Grandma’s Farm – Tax the Rich. My personal favorite, the one that even now gives me pause to reflect: Our Dreams Will Never Fit in Their Ballot Boxes. Ire. Disdain. Hope rising from hopelessness like a periscope breaking the waves; the people only need a target to fire their torpedoes at.
To Be Continued…