Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May Day Marching in Chicago 2017

Chicago May Day Marchers entering Daley Plaza

It may not have been the largest demonstration in our spring season of discontent this year, but it was clearly the most diverse.  And it was undoubtedly the largest May Day March in Chicago since the Great Depression.  One of the March co-sponsors, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, claimed 20,000 participants.  Press accounts placed that lower—in the case of one Chicago TV station ridiculously lower at 1000 despite the plain evidence of their own helicopter cameras showing blocks Washington Blvd filled.
 Not bad for a kind of raw day with brief glimpses of the sun interspersed with passing showers.

The Old Man.

My running buddy for the day, Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation social justice stalwart Sue Reckenthaler arrived early in Union Park on the near west side after a long trek by Metra and CTA bus from edge-of-the-known-universe McHenry County.  Crowds slowly filtered into the park from feeder marches and gathered around two stages.  We turned out to position ourselves near the Youth Stage where there was salsa and mariachi recorded music, live rap and drumming interspersed with  hard to hear speeches.  The early crowd was mostly Latino immigrants and small clusters of various left sects.  Lots of newspapers and flyers were being handed out—many from tiny groups I had never before heard of signifying that the American Left’s obsession with ideological purity over class unity continues unabated.  At least they came together in the same place and same time and avoided confrontations with each other for this day.
One group with giant puppet heads representing Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton and others marched through the crowd.  Latter another group with red flags and bull horns noisily plunged through the crowd drowning out the program on the stage with chants demanding Revolution Now! 
Sue Rekenthaler.
Up on the stage speakers included Democratic Senator Dick Durbin who seemed unperturbed that the crowd had a lot of folks in it far to the left of the usual bickering Sanders and Clinton types.  In fact, unlike the Women’s March, for instance, or the more recent Science and Climate marches, I saw few people with either Bernie or I’m With Her regalia or who expressed much interest at all in Democratic Party electoral politics.  
That was largely due to the diversity of the crowd who had more immediate and urgent issues to confront.  Immigration, of course, and issues over refugees, asylum, and threats to the Muslim community turned most people.  But there were also contingents of Black youth impacted by both the wave of violence in their communities and policies of mass incarceration.
The significant presence of organized labor and drives like the Fight for 15 also guaranteed a large minority turn out.  I observed significant turnouts from the SEIU (Service Employees), UNITE, Laborers International, Chicago Teachers Union, Nurses United, United Electrical Workers (UE), Teamsters and others.  I spotted individuals with t-shirts or badges from half a dozen other unions as well.
On this May Day, in this city, minorities and women took the lead.  For once Whites and men were both in the minority.

The early crowd gathers in Union Park and listen to drumming, rap, and speeches from the youth stage.

Another stage with speakers was set up kitty corner across the park.  That turned out to be the main stage—a red-decorated truck that would also roll out to lead the March down Washington Boulevard to the Daley Plaza.  Nearby a small cluster of Trump supporters briefly gathered by a softball diamond fence for a so-called Loyalty Day Rally.  Vastly outnumbered and surrounded by Chicago Police for their protection they quickly decamped for their own march to Trump Plaza and media oblivion.
Sue and I drifted over that direction and took up a spot in what looked like a line of march.  Ahead of us was a large group from the Laborer’s Union in matching orange.  To our right was a knot of young women who were apparently lesbian feminists.  To our left there was a mixed group of Asian immigrants.  Right behind us was a large mostly Hispanic contingent organized by the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese with families in t-shirts representing their parishes.  They ignored a group of Planned Parenthood supporters in pink pussy hats gathering off to the side.
Interspersed were several individuals and families apparently unaffiliated with any specific group.  That included some old radicals, Reds, and rebels who could not resist the siren call of another May Day.  I was reflecting on the relative fragility of some of them when I realized I was one myself.  There were also families with strollers and young couples on an apparent lark.
We scanned the ever-growing crowds for signs of a group of UUs we understood would be there with a Standing on the Side of Love banner and yellow t-shirts.  We never found them.  Likewise I was keeping my eyes peeled for a group from my old union outfit, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  I was looking for their usual distinctive black and red banners.  I spotted a couple of other groups using similar flags and one tiny left sect behind a banner emblazoned by the old IWW motto “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”  I never found them either, but I did run into Facebook friend/Fellow Worker Matt Muchowski who was also looking for the group.  He had already been to a morning gathering with other Wobblies at the Haymarket Martyrs Monument at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park and was planning on going to a Chicago Branch social that evening on the South Side.
Judging from the Red and Black flags in the back ground, Fellow Worker Matt Muchowski finally hooked up with other Wobs in the march.  Photo from his facebook page by Christine Geovanis
Also not much in evidence were the black clad and masked Black Block Anarchists, although I spotted a couple here and there in costume but no battle gear.  In some places Black Block folks have allied with local Wobblies in an anti-fascist block.  Both groups have participated in confrontations in the Twin Cities, on the West Coast, and elsewhere.  An IWW member was shot by a fascist at a University of Washington protest in Seattle last January.  Yesterday large Black Block groups engaged in a pitch battle with police in Portland causing the revocation of the permit to the much larger and peaceful protest march.
Nothing like that was going to happen in Chicago, where a sense of solidarity between the diverse and sometime contradictory elements.
Things were calm in Chicago.  Not to say there were no anarchists—just about everyone, including the most hard core Marxists were anarchists when it came to the march.  To the apparent frustration of parade marshals—most of whom were also wearing SEIU regalia, groups jockeyed for position in the parade order as we waited for nearly an hour in the park.  On the left a large group carrying small round Unite union placards charged up the outside to take up a more prominent place near the head of the march.  Up the right side came a group of young multi-racial teens beating an assortment of Korean drums, gongs, and percussion instruments.  But the mood was calm even joyous.
During the long wait to step off as the program we could not hear continued from the stage, I glanced to my right as was startled to see the distinctive brown form of the Haymarket Monument erected several years ago in Haymarket Square by the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois Labor History Society.  It depicts the abstract figure of a man speaking from the back of a wagon.   I had no idea it had been relocated to Union Park from its historic location.  I was also a bit shocked.  Later I checked and discovered it had temporarily been moved to Union Park to protect it during the construction of a luxury condo tower in the gentrifying old market area.  It is supposed to be back in time for Labor Day this September.

Right behind us on the march was a large contingent from the Chicago Archdiocese, to one side were a group of Asian immigrants, on the other a small group of young lesbian feminists, and just ahead a union mix including the Laborers and Unite.

Finnally, just as the first light rain of the afternoon began to fall, the parade stepped off and made a turn out of the park to head east on Washington Blvd.  The pace was a reasonable stroll.  But it’s a long walk all the way to Daily Plaza.  Shower came and went, sometimes heavy.  Then a bright sun would break through the clouds for a moment.  In two places along the route local Latino grocery stores backed up box vans to hand out bottle of water to the passing crowd from cases piled high.  Enterprising vendors pulling wagons along the parade route switched from peddling various flags to rain ponchos.  But this was where my trusty cowboy hat and trench coat and Sue’s pink rain jacket with a hood did us good service.
It was raining again when we finally, slowly began entering an already crowded Daily Plaza.  We could not make out a stage for the rally, which on this end was sponsored by the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Sierra Club, and other respectable mainstream organizations.  It turned out it was across the Plaza to the left and behind the Picasso Statue.  We never got close.

This group of Native American drummers and singers represented the Water protectors.  They handed out blessed sacred tobacco and symbolically purified the water of the Daily Center fountain pool.

We lingered near the edge of a Plaza fountain pool where a group of about half a dozen Native Americans were beating drums and chanting.  One was puffing on a hand rolled cigarette and periodically bending over to bless the fountain water.  A woman passed out pinches of blessed tobacco and was telling people to take it to bless water where they live.  Sue took a pinch and tucked it in one of her knit gloves to take home.  She says she may make an amulet for it. 
I spied a row of  port-a-potties along one side of the Daley Center.  It had been hours since the train station john, an eternity for a geezer bladder and prostate.  I made a bee line for them and found long lines.  Oh, the terrible sacrifices of making revolution!
When I got back to Sue another round of rain showers were intensifying.  We decided we had done our duty and could forego searching for the stage and the orations.  We began our private march back to the Ogilvie Transportation Center,  minor hike itself.  We arrived just after 4 pm and had time to reward ourselves with a refreshing libation at the Newsroom Bar near the track entrances.  We were back on the train to Crystal Lake before the Loop commuter stampede.
Mission accomplished.

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