O, the Marches of May
The April showers finally happened, on the first of May. This meant that the annual May Day celebration on New Haven Green had to move inside United Church on the Green. The day-long festival has happened for decades thanks to a coalition of peace activists, community agitators, liberal political types and other public-spirited folks.
Holding May Day indoors may have actually focused the event, especially since the bandstand on the Green was dismantled last year. A loose assemblage of info booths can be a scattered affair, especially when graffiti walls and soapboxes add to the variety. In United Church, you could browse booths in the narthex (lobby), then saunter into the sanctuary to hear music, poetry and speeches.
When rain locations have been needed for May Day in the past, it’s often been the Center Church Parish House which got the nod. That’s a block away from the Green, across Chapel Street. United Church was far better, since there was immediate realization that this was where the usually-outdoor May Day had moved. And May Day’s all about immediacy, about grabbing pens and signs and bumper stickers and slogans or just shouting in appreciation of progressive acts.
Plus, there was still plenty of frolicking on the Green anyway. Activists are a hardy lot, unafraid of drizzle. They just like to keep their fliers and placards and musical instruments dry sometimes. Kids (including my own) played with a 30-foot-long piece of black cloth.
The traditional May Pole got mounted and danced about despite the dampness. The pole wasn’t in its usual place on the main Green, but to the left of the church on the upper Green, beckoning towards the recently vacated site of Occupy New Haven. (The Occupy movement was represented at the festival by, among other things, singer/songwriter Mr. Ray Neal of Miracle Legion fame.)
Many of the May Day participants hung about on the church steps outside, rather than in the pews; you could still hear the music inside, from such stalwart rally-soundtrackers as punk-rock union-song rearranger Bill Collins, family-friendly folksinging disabled-rights activist Elaine Kolb and Native American flautist Joseph Fire Crow.
It was an atypically orderly gathering for the spirited May Day community, but that didn’t mean the activists have forsaken taking it to the streets. The end of the day-long festivities dovetailed with a 6 p.m. “March for Jobs, Dignity and Justice,” part of an international movement to raise awareness of immigrants’ rights. Western cities like Oakland and Portland got most of the press, but marches were held all over the U.S., many of them marking a resurgence of the Occupy movement. (New Haven only just lost its Occupy settlement last month; in most places, tents were taken down before the winter hit.)
You could have found dozens of “Jobs, Dignity, Justice” people still marching down the middle of Edgewood Avenue at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday night, with police escort. It was reminiscent of a much larger, thousands-strong “Let’s Get to Work” rally held last week, which began on the Green and ended outside the Yale Medical School buildings, also centered around jobs and justice.
‘Tis the season for brisk walks outside. It’s heartening that May Day’s developed an urban tradition that’s as strong and vital as the agricultural celebrations it’s been associated with for centuries. May all your May Days be made for marching.
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