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Portland’s May Day celebration draws hundreds

Around 1,000 people of all ages and walks of life rallied and marched on West Broadway and Burnside from the North Park Blocks Wednesday in celebration of May Day, an international holiday focusing on labor issues and the beginning of spring.

In addition to labor, immigrant laborers rallied around other causes such as American foreign policies, the Middle East crisis and the environment. The march took place without incident.

“I think May Day is officially Portland’s favorite holiday,” said PSU sociology faculty member Randy Blazak. “It’s exciting to see people using the holiday to make a statement about workers’ rights and all the other single issues that are linked to that. Today they all become linked.”

After a fertility dance, an ancient pagan May Day tradition, speakers, music and dance performances, the march headed north on Park Avenue and then turned onto Broadway and paused at the Federal Building.

“We will send our message peacefully. We are not here to destroy property,” a woman told the waiting crowd in English and Spanish. Perhaps not convinced, Police pursued a group of protesters who moved quickly out of the parade line along the sidewalk in front of Powell’s Technical Bookstore on Park Avenue.

There was mild property destruction on May Day 2000 and police reportedly cleared out space in the county jail this year. There was also some speculation of arrests because the parade organizers didn’t obtain a parade permit. Authorities were informed of the parade route and a permit was reportedly obtained at the last minute.

Property destruction was also a cause of protester conflict and media attention at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Those actions were not repeated here on Wednesday, but there was an early conflict among marchers in the first block of the march.

Two men who frequently preach in the Park Blocks at Portland State were yelling “Stop terrorism, stop abortion! If you want peace, end abortion!” into bullhorns held close to people’s ears.

A group of people confronted one preacher calling him a “Nazi” and pushing him with their bicycles after he yelled the abortion message at a woman holding a baby. Others mocked him: “Stop copyright infringement, stop abortion,” shouted one man.

The preachers eventually quieted down and continued to march. “This is worker’s day, and as a worker I came to celebrate. I am Bible Jim the worker,” said one of the preachers, Bible Jim, an ex-steelworker.

The parade paused in front of the Federal Building on Broadway as Martin Gonzalez and representatives from the Service Employees Union (SEIU) spoke in front of a banner reading “Justice For Janitors.” They spoke about one of the foci of this year’s parade: justice for immigrant workers through living wages, workplace recognition and an end to human rights violations. “Si se puede,” the crowd often chanted in support.

During his speech, Gonzalez also paid homage to May Day’s political history that dates back to 1880. On May Day, 1880, 350,000 workers went on strike to demand a standard eight-hour workday. In Chicago’s Haymarket Square, police fired into a crowd of protesters, killing four and wounding many others. On May 3, thousands took to the streets again. Someone threw a bomb into the ranks of the police, killing seven.

Eight local labor activists, later known as the Chicago Eight, were arrested and four were executed. The eight hour workday has remained standard for most workers and May 1 is celebrated in many countries as a national labor holiday. The first Monday in September was designated as the U.S. labor holiday. The first of May has also been historically celebrated as the beginning of Spring and the upcoming growing season.

May Day’s history and significance isn’t very widely known. Mark, an information technology worker, said, “I don’t even know what it’s all about. I just see a bunch of freaks out there. One guy can’t even spell Palestine.”

Mark was waiting in his S.U.V. for the parade to pass so he could cross Burnside. “If you work hard you get what you work for. There’s a lot of people asking for handouts these days.”

A few blocks west of Mark, marchers stopped again in front of Taco Bell, where some spoke about the corporation’s alleged mistreatment of farm workers and an upcoming boycott. The march then turned and headed back to the park blocks.

While the Portland celebration was calm, German and Australian gatherings turned violent. Over a million people in France took to the streets to protest a politician’s recent actions.

“All around the world these celebrations are going on. Every year they get stronger. They’re trying to build a political party out of the Mayday movement in Germany. There’s a lot of solidarity everywhere. Hopefully people will keep standing up taller,” said Warren Johnson, 23.