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May Day, 420, & the Election - An Editorial
by Bicicleta Bandito
Friday May 2nd, 2008 11:38 AM
As a longtime activist, you'd think I'd know better than to attend any protests during an election year. The damn things are just too depressing. And yet, on May 1st, once again I found myself racing through town, trying to locate the local May Day march, and hopefully also an answer to the age old question, "when the fuck is capitalism gonna implode?"
As a longtime activist, you'd think I'd know better than to attend any protests during an election year. The damn things are just too depressing. And yet, on May 1st, once again I found myself racing through town, trying to locate the local May Day march, and hopefully also an answer to the age old question, "when the fuck is capitalism gonna implode?"

Upon arriving at the corner of Laurel and Pacific Ave, the demonstration, led by Santa Cruz's only working class city council member Tony Madrigal, looked tired. The walk from UCSC down Bay, then through Mission can be pretty exhausting, especially if you have a bunch of indignant Americans in cars honking at you. And if there's one thing you can always count on from Americans, it's how quickly they get upset when their privileges aren't being honored.

Not to worry though, the folks with the megaphones (i.e. the folks in charge), ever conscious of the possibility of pepper spray, police video cameras, and mass detentions, attempted to simmer things down and corral the 200 or so crowd onto the Taco Bell parking lot and away from the street. Considering the thousands of people who've been snatched up and held without due process by the gestapo-esque ICE, such actions could be interpreted as responsible leadership from the protest organizers. It could also be interpreted as quailing in the face of American Fascism.

The latter sentiment seemed to be best expressed by the resident anarchists located towards the back of the march, who stood around with a "I don't fucking believe this," look on their faces. But seriously, what could you do?

It's hard to imagine that only two years ago, millions of people took to the streets from Chicago to Los Angeles, demanding an end to the "brown people are invading our sacred land of shopping malls and freeways" hysteria that was (and is) polarizing the country. Even in lily-white middle class Santa Cruz, thousands upon thousands of people converged on downtown May 1st 2006 - completely shutting down streets for hours at a time and filling San Lorenzo Park to capacity.

Had these marches brought on progressive changes in immigration policy, the lackluster attendance at this year's May Day demo could be viewed as a post-script celebration. Unfortunately, the exact opposite seems to be the case. While the events of 2006 succeeded in putting the brakes on legislation that would have made entering the United States illegally a felony, they haven't stopped the planned construction of a hi-tech border wall along the Rio Grande from moving forward nor have they slowed down the ICE raids that are putting thousands of people in "detention centers" (internment camps?) without due process. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTrR1s7du6s)
For anyone paying close attention to the workings of the state, to say the Constitution is becoming about as valuable as soiled toilet paper is an understatement.

But the immigrant rights movement isn't the only issue progressives have temporarily misplaced their mojo on - The anti-war movement could use a Red Bull too. Students Against War's recent April 22nd action against military recruiters during a UCSC career fair for example, was a far cry from the militant urgency of past demos, with only the most dedicated folks turning out.

Blame the election season.

In a rerun of 2004, few activists seem to be putting any energy into non-presidential candidate-affiliated anti-war agitation, while the majority of the American left (if it can even be called that) has once again, politely placed its eggs in the basket of the Democratic Party and hoped for the best.

This is particularly embarrassing given that 40 years ago, American radicals responded to an identical situation by letting the proverbial shit hit the fan. From the student-led strikes that shut down campus after campus, to the full-scale riots that erupted in the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination; from the Black Panthers picking up rifles, to the streets of Haight and Ashbury being overrun with bubbles, dancing, and tye-dye - the baby boomer generation still holds the heavy weight title as far as revolutionary moments are concerned.

As it stands, the parallels between the crimes being committed by the state in 1968 and 2008 are uncanny- for the Tet Offensive, we have a bloodbath in Sadr City; for the ascendancy of Nixon and COINTELPRO, we have the Bush Regime and the illegal wire taping of your phone calls, emails, not to mention the disappearance of non-citizens and torturing of "enemy combatants." In the face of all this, the American public seems to be simultaneously hypnotized by celebrity pregnancies and paralyzed with horror.

And then there's the ultimate juxtaposition of resistance by young Americans in the face of state power - 420. Of all the local events of the last two months, nothing comes close to the critical mass reached by thousands of folks deciding to smoke a little weed together in a field, regardless of what the authorities threaten. Of the handful of activists who showed up to rally support for the counter-recruitment action two days later, the response by most people seemed to be a polite stoned smile and a shrug of the shoulders. If there's any further proof needed to illustrate that Americans are willing to exercise their freedoms only when it comes to hedonistic activities, I have yet to see it.

Which brings us all back to yesterday's May Day rally. As rumors flew about the protest organizers deciding at the last minute to move the rally point to the Beach Flats Park instead of San Lorenzo Park due to threats by the pigs, I found myself getting frustrated at the wrong people. Instead of pointing a finger at Madrigal, where were the thousands of 420 attendees who could have forced the police to back off? Where were the corporate larva/future CEOs who stepped gingerly past Guantanamo Bay-dressed detainees and name-tag wearing bureaucrats at the April 22nd career fair? Where were the middle-aged office workers who drive hybrids and bitch about the Bush Regime?

From this activist's perspective, they're all the same people - For the white collar liberals who won't sacrifice a little of their precious vacation time to come out and march with the younger generation are the same folks who look fondly on their wild and crazy college days but view any risky acts of resistance as disruptive and counterproductive - something only the young participate in. And the resume-speaking career seekers of today will undoubtedly be the politically tepid white-collar workers of tomorrow. You could probably argue that this latter demographic will be the very same people in cars yelling, "Get the fuck off the road you hippies!" 20 years from now.

Perhaps Students Against War should think about that the next time they go out of their way to not shut down a career fair.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by woah!
Friday May 2nd, 2008 8:51 PM
Let's check out some exaggerations and assumptions that may not be accurate here.

"The walk from UCSC down Bay, then through Mission can be pretty exhausting, especially if you have a bunch of indignant Americans in cars honking at you. And if there's one thing you can always count on from Americans, it's how quickly they get upset when their privileges aren't being honored."

Actually, most people in cars were supportive.

"Not to worry though, the folks with the megaphones (i.e. the folks in charge)"

Bicicleta Bandito, you can get a megaphone too, you know.

"Even in lily-white middle class Santa Cruz, thousands upon thousands of people converged on downtown May 1st 2006 - completely shutting down streets for hours at a time and filling San Lorenzo Park to capacity."

Which streets were closed down for hours at a time in 2006?

"Of all the local events of the last two months, nothing comes close to the critical mass reached by thousands of folks deciding to smoke a little weed together in a field, regardless of what the authorities threaten."

There was not really a threat to the weed smokers.

"Instead of pointing a finger at Madrigal..."

Bicicleta Bandito, here you are pointing your fingers at a lot of hard working student activists that you can talk to, face-to-face, by attending their open meetings held each week... etc...
by autónomo y anónimo
Saturday May 3rd, 2008 2:53 AM
the article doesn't seem to be about bashing those who participated in the organizing of the march, nor are the comparisons between 420 attendees and the may day rally unwarranted. pot is still illegal, however there's not a whole lot they (the police) can do when people are smoking en masse; there is similar power (and subsequent empowerment) that occurs when throngs of people take to the streets. exaggeration has a time and place and i am led to believe that the author's intent was to emphasize the minor interruptions that the march inflicted on the people in cars, disruptions that were made ever the more slight by the all-pervading fear of police and/or ICE arrests.
one thing that really struck me was the irony in the protest slogans that the lone bull horn was shouting out, stating that “this is what democracy looks like“ and that these were our streets (“whose streets, our streets“) all the while the crowd was diligently being policed by its own people. i don't want a bull horn so i can aid crowds in repeating tired and hollow protest slogans. i don't think we'll benefit by all becoming talking-heads crying out for democracy. furthermore, i don't think we'll all benefit if we all graduate from college, get careers to pay back our debt and take out mortgages so we can present a facade of security for our family and/or society. i don't think we'd all benefit from any college or career-bound aspirations even if the sense of security that they provide us with allowed us to still participate in “actions“ against government policies, during which we abide their laws, fearing a confrontation with the police that could possibly infringe upon our ability to pay our mortgages (because what would we do without a private home to come back to after long hours at the office, NGO or whatever institution that rewards our labor with paper) and car payments that, left unpaid, would leave us without a means to sit in traffic lights and get irritated at bicyclists and anyone else who we thought was making us late for work, the place that makes all else possible. all this is not to say that education is bullshit or that we should all quit our jobs and the world will instantly be a better place. we definitely need to learn better ways to exist on this planet and that will take a lot of work, but if we pledge our (blind and fear induced) allegiance to an entity that we don't dare attempt to topple because we've replaced our dreams with comfort, our marches will continue to be depressing parades where mothers in cars will yell at us for making them late to picking up their children and men in R.V. sized SUVS, talking on their telephone, feel justified in threatening your life with their vehicle because you made them fifteen minutes late.
for me, the events on may day have really brought up action-level questions: how can my friends and i actually stop raids and deportations from happening, not on a policy level, but on a physical level? how can we stop the extension of the mexico/u.s. border wall or tear down what has already been erected? how can we stop the fear of deportation from invading our families' lives? how can we stop it from separating families?
furthermore, how can we stop the fear of government oppression from invading and dictating our politics and the way we want to (and actually) live our lives? and how in fact can we take back our streets? are we willing to risk our comfort for what we believe in? are we willing to support those who will risk comfort?