Archive for May, 2012

Mayday

Mayday Marchers leaving Victoria park. photo: dk, http://yfrog.com/odhwmcej

Last week, Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS) took part in May Day celebrations in Kitchener and it was wonderful! From what we can gather, this was Kitchener’s first community mobilization to observe May Day since 2006. May Day, or International Workers’ Day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workers%27_Day) is celebrated all over the planet. Our community offered a kid-friendly space for a majority of the day’s events as we came together to reclaim public space and share our collective desire for a better world – one of dignity and justice for all!

The day began with a creative resistance festival at Victoria Park. There was a delicious potluck spread, including black cupcakes with wicks or fuses (more on that later). There was hula-hoop, poi, and a stereo kicking out the jams. Richard Garvey led a radical choir sing-along. Local folks had printed up a zine that served as the day’s program that included a number of traditional and locally-penned protest anthems. We sang those songs as a healing, community-building exercise and also warmed up for singing those songs during our march and rally. PMUS facilitated a children’s activity of planting organic seeds in biodegradable planters. We talked about sustainability, poverty, access to healthy food, sharing and labour as we had fun planting with the youngsters (and some interested grown-ups too). Julian Ichim led a ‘know your rights workshop’ discussing possible scenarios related to interactions with police.

Next, participants gathered for a vigil, commemorating workers from our own region who have died or been injured on the job in the past year. PMUS facilitated the memorial, delivering a speech and reading the names of some of the workers who have died, including John Luis Cantunto (killed in a construction accident in Kitchener) and the 10 temporary foreign workers from Peru (and the driver from London, ON) who died in a van accident on their way to work near Stratford. A member of the local Common Cause chapter read more names and reminded us of the Haymarket massacre http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haymarket_affair. A man stepped forward to remember his father who had passed away. Then we shared a moment of silence. It was important to centre ourselves before we marched.

Then we marched!! We marched for over 3.5 km, basically making our way throughout the entire the downtown core. A van followed along for accessibility. We marched through an East End neighbourhood, largely populated by the working poor—that is in the early stages of gentrification. Residents greeted us, joined in, and wished us well. Throughout the march we were escorted by about 15 cops on bicycles, horses and in a van. Participants spoke against this presence within a framework of class and capital. Three Christians used large wooden crosses to box in the mounted police as a protective measure for march participants. At a previous rally on March 31st, the police had deliberately run the horses into a group of protestors. The mounted police then kept a greater distance. Speeches were given at a subsidized housing complex and local musician Richard Garvey performed his song “The Walls Will All Fall Down” in front of the $766 million Mega Courthouse currently under construction. A local activist later gave an excellent speech in front of one of the many payday loan agencies lining Kitchener’s downtown, denouncing this destructive local form of disaster capitalism. Posters were taped to the stores windows. A PMUS member spoke in front of a newer cupcake shop across the street from the local community soup kitchen, St. John’s Kitchen, as the rest of the march held the intersection. The crowd learned that trendy cupcake shops serve as clear markers of gentrification, catering to newly arrived students, professionals and urban elites and encroaching on traditional downtown communities. There was a plan to enter a TD bank and cause disruption, but they had evidently decided to close down early for the day! That made things easy and we were happy to assist in the workers’ ability to celebrate May Day. Then there was a bad-ass banner drop at city hall, where four banners, including a PMUS banner and a No One Is Illegal banner, transformed the space. A member of Poverty Makes Us Sick gave a passionate speech on issues of economic injustice, especially as they play out provincially.

Mayday Banner Drop, Kitchener City Hall

The march ended with a rally at Speaker’s Corner. The Black Wood Two and Richard Garvey treated us to some tunes. We heard about the history of Chile’s miners’ strike of (1905) and their resistance to violent government repression and then a member of the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP) gave a rousing speech, and sang us his own adaptation of the song ‘Joe Hill’!

More of those black cupcakes with fuses were shared. The cupcakes were inspired by the stop at the CakeBox cupcake store, and were a specific reference to the Toronto 20, the alleged G20 conspirators. Undercover OPP operative Bindo Showan (akaKhalid Mohamed) was convinced that when the alleged conspirators said cupcakes that they meant molotov-cupcakes; some sorta secret code for a bomb! There was an open mic and a number of folks took the opportunity to speak. Some of ‘em sure do love cops . Perhaps those with a healthy suspicion of cops ought to take more care in explaining the analysis to these folks?

There is always so much to be inspired by on a day like this. The world is full of vibrant resistance to capitalism. This year Kitchener was feeling aglow with the inspiration provided by the actions of students, and their many allies, in Quebec.

It was encouraging to see that the 125+ people who attended were able to embrace a nuanced analysis. In Kitchener a violent gentrification is taking place and it is fueled by an influx of students, most of whom have not demonstrated any sense of connection to long-standing residents. The messaging of our march was in large part about gentrification and poverty. So we held the student movement in Quebec in our hearts as we challenged the students in our own neighbourhoods.

While the march was energizing, the ongoing injustices in our community require our continued commitment and action. In the coming months, to give just one example, five local Zellers stores are being taken over by Target and Walmart, with absolutely no indication that any employees will keep their jobs. We trust that the 125 peeps who attended May Day will organize in defense of the workers in our community!!!

Mayday – Marching down Madison ramp! photo: dk, http://yfrog.com/mmgrtwgj

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