Mayday 2014

May Day event in Shemanski Park, Portland, Oregon, 2014

I forgot Thursday was May Day, despite seeing a graffiti reminder on a bridge every day for months during my evening commute: "May Day, May 1!" I didn't even remember on MAX that night when I saw out the window a standing pod of riot police heading down SW 4th in some kind of modern chariot contraption like something out of a video game. Nobody else seemed to have noticed. And I mean nobody but me seemed to have noticed a chariot-load of police headed south on 4th. WTF?

So because I've gotten bolder with age, I hopped off MAX a station early and raced across the bricks at Pioneer Square as fast as I could in my long narrow sun dress (we did break heat records that day), which meant at about the speed of a mermaid or geisha. Such clothing reminds me that despite being on the short side, I really do have long legs and a long stride and, like wild horses, hate being hobbled. So I kept pulling the dress up above my ankles just to get up some speed, until I remembered how much I dislike my peasant ankles and then I'd drop it down, but then after tiptoeing a few steps, I'd pull it up again—over and over as I scanned in vain up and down streets for the police chariot. At the Square, I'd asked a bike cop why I'd just seen a bunch of riot police a couple blocks down, and he said, "I'm not sure, but traffic's been bad." (As if heavy traffic requires riot gear.) Giving up, I headed for the South Park Blocks where I was going to sit and think and take photos of passersby unaware, maybe call a friend. And then I heard a megaphone.

2014 May Day in Shemanski Park, Portland, Oregon

2014 May Day protesters, Portland, Oregon

2014 May Day Shemanski Park crowd scene, Portland, OR

Aha! A public gathering. That's where the police were headed! I could see flashing lights. I circled around and found I'd come in at the end of a parade. Everyone was wearing red and black, including me, sort of. Someone was speaking, a man in English and then a woman in Spanish, but I wasn't really listening—corporations, ¡Si, se puede!, stuff like that—because, yet again, nobody seemed to be noticing that they were surrounded by police. The crowd had filled up maybe a block of Shemanski Park, but it seemed like there was a cop available as needed on a 1:1 basis, only they were all hanging out on benches down the block or around the corner—meaning, on all the corners—cops on foot, cops on bike, cops on motorcycle, cops in cars, even cops on horses. Thursday was the perfect day to be a cop in Portland—no protesters needing beating, overtime pay, summer-like sunshine, free entertainment.

cops on park benches, Portland, Oregon, May Day 2014

jaywalking Portland cops, May Day 2014

May Day crowd scene, Shemanski Park, May 1, 2014

I went up to one of the string of motorcycle cops standing at the north side of the art museum and asked, "Why so many cops for this?" gesturing over with my camera at the little crowd across the way. I knew why—because America hates real leftists, even in Portlandia—but I played dumb to see what he'd say. (Playing dumb is one of a woman's oldest tricks, plus I often pass for well-off because I wear rich people's castoffs and so figured I could say things other people might not get away with, plus I was wearing a strapless dress, plus I had a nice camera.)

the photographer, May Day 2014

"Traffic was bad during the parade," he said. "I live in the neighborhood," I said, "and I've never seen so many police at once." "There've been anarchists breaking windows and things in the past, so they brought in people from other districts, just in case. But there haven't been any problems." (They, dude? Really?) "Thanks," I said, meaning for the conversation and not for the massive overprotection (read: show of force) from Black Bloc types who didn't show up or presumably are waiting for a more impressive opportunity. Everybody was off watching the NBA playoffs this week, anyway.

motorcycle cops standing outside the art museum, May Day 2014

I've been reading more George Saunders lately, which is sci-fi lit, only funny—what America will be like if there is no revolution: e.g., historical-amusement-park employees paid to fake the past for wealthy debauched clients, dystopias that don't feel all that impossible or too much unlike how things are today for anyone in the service industry. Lick my boots and smile. Artists like Saunders paint for us what may come, what has already come, what repeats itself because as a species we refuse to learn from the past.

line of police motorcycles at art museum, May Day 2014, Portland, OR

cops on bikes at art museum, May Day 2014, Portland, OR

Portland horse patrol, heading off duty, May Day 2014

Chris Hedges posted a frightening report this week on TruthDig, "The Crime of Peaceful Protest," a case study of a young, educated Occupy protester from a working-class, mixed-ethnicity background whose breast was allegedly grabbed by a police officer in disguise during a protest in New York, and when she elbowed him in the face, like, Get-your-hands-off-my-titty-you-perv, she was beaten and hospitalized, then cuffed, and now is on trial for a felony charge. As Hedges says, the message is clear: Don't dare challenge the status quo, or else.

2014 May Day horse patrol, Portland, OR

And even scarier was Naomi Klein's article in the Nation last week, "The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External," which reminds us that whatever crap pool we've gotten ourselves into socioeconomically and politically, it's even deeper ecologically than we want to believe, that the problem is in us, a flaw in the species.
I learned something new the other day from the dictionary, which is of course the book I would take with me to a desert island in the rare case I ever crash-landed without fatality and with enough forethought to have packed a waterproof desert-island-emergency kit and stuffed it under my seat/flotation device. The word 'mayday' is a mispronunciation of the French phrase M'aider, Help me. May Day. Mayday. Help us all.

Edited 5/5/14 to add: Read Hedges' response to the Supreme Court's refusal to hear his, Chomsky, Ellsberg, et al.'s NDAA case. Just wait till we have soldiers patrolling the streets, stuffing anyone who objects into indefinite detention—the North American version of the disappeared.

Edited 5/6/14 to add: The Occupy protester, Cecily McMillan, has been found guilty of "felony assault" and faces up to seven years in prison.

Edited 5/19/14 to add: Read Chris Hedges' latest interview with imprisoned Occupy protester, Cecily McMillan, who's awaiting sentencing and applying principles of her education and activism to create solidarity with inmates.

Edited 5/21/14 to add: McMillan was sentenced to three months in prison and now has a felony charge from self-defense. This could happen to any of us, though I suspect as an Occupy leader, she was specifically targeted.


  1. Funny post, Brooke. At first. Then it ends with a slap upside the head. Scary insane world!

  2. Thanks, Carol. I suspect the Occupy protester, Cecily McMillan was targeted, but the situation and implications are terrifying, regardless.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...