Posted Under: Communities,Elections,Protest,Trade Unions
This year I decided to spend May Day out on the streets. Here’s some thoughts on how it all went:
1. Kid Stalinists
Diasporic Communist parties marching with images of Stalin don’t really count as Stalinists. Many of those who turn up for the march are children brought along by their parents and community leaders, dressed up to the nines in berets, hammer and sickle tunics, red head scarves, the lot. They march down the road holding flags high, singing Kurdish chants, and English chants in Kurdish and Ecuadorean accents. They grow up with a hammer and sickle on the wall and a picture of uncle Joe. No, I don’t support Stalinism, but really neither do they – he’s just a fading trace of a communal past. More important to them are the framed photos of imprisoned insurgents the children carry at the front of the demo. It’s rare that we can see the diasporic communities in London parading their colours, and even rarer when those colours are explicitly of struggle and social change.
While the Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square march was coming to an end the Election May Day Meltdown was setting up, with the ‘four horse of the apocalypse’ (four street puppets dragging effigies of Cleggers, Gordo, Dave and Griffin) converging at Parliament Square. Last year at the G20, despite all the organisational failings (a pre-occupation with media sensationalism, an obsession with carnival and irony), the Meltdown worked: thousands of people came out on the streets. This year, the Meltdown crew mobilised again, trying to pull people into Parliament Square, but only getting a few hundred (though there is now a semi-permanent peace camp on the green).
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, it’s the Endtime thing over and over again, the end of the world constantly appearing in the streets, giant puppets of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and all. But it is fun to come up with all these ideas, and rebellious fun is important. If you haven’t been to a meeting where people come up with these kind of plans, you should go.
[Scene: a squat-chic basement somewhere in Shoreditch. Enter three dissident fools]
Anarchist: Maybe there could be lots of bunting!
Hippy: Yeah, and a dragon!
Clown: The belly of the Beast!
Hippy: And we could put the bunting around the beast -
Anarchist: And the Beast would be Gordon Brown!
Clown: Yeah, and we’ll cover him in flags…
[They all wiggle their hands]
Of course, the communist parties stuck around in Trafalgar Square for the old speeches and rallying points. In previous May Days there’s been more link up, but it was quite clear that Parliament Square was for the the boys in black and the flower people. I find this interesting: Trafalgar Square, a space which has been *made* political by constant protest, was for the socialists. The green outside Parliament was for the non-lobbying, non-reformist anarchists revolutionaries.
As ever, the police came to the rescue. Just as things were starting to mellow into an alright but not particularly interesting summer picnic, the Met decided to open up the road between the green and Parliament, which they’d previously blocked off. As soon as the cars were half-way down the road, in came the hoods and the megaphone: ‘Who’s Streets? Our Streets!’ And so we got to have our protests, our confrontation, our sit down, and some gridlock. At least until the rain kicked in.
In the end, it’s worth bearing in mind that the political situation of Saturday was an extraordinary convergence of factors: International Workers’ Day; a coming General Strike in Greece; mass recession; an election; the spectre of an Etonian Tory government; questioning of the electoral process in the media; ongoing wars and war-mongering; an oil spill; a volcanic eruption taking out the air-industry… And yet here we all are, and the revolution didn’t happen, and it wasn’t a May Day to go down in history. History doesn’t make itself happen, and street theatre doesn’t make history. But I really wish it did. Maybe next time we could have a hundred polar bears in black block costume, and the four horse of the apocalypse meeting up with a giant puppet of Stalin…