Friday, May 1, 2015

Seatle Got its May Day Riots--" Smackdown Mom" was Right

This is not me, but could've been.
The meaning of May Day has morphed, from innocent and happy to sinister and angry.

 “To old-fashioned people, May Day means flowers, grass, picnics, children, clean frocks. To up-and-doing Socialists and Communists it means speechmaking, parading, bombs, brickbats, conscientious violence," said an article in Time Magazine in 1929.

I was an old-fashioned child, born after Communists were rooted out and Socialists never mentioned in my carefree American home. In my public elementary school in Los Angeles, each grade prepared dances for a May Day performance for parents. Girls wore flowers in their hair, boys wore crepe-paper bow ties, each class distinguished by a different color. The dances were in circles, squares and lines, and the children were reminded to smile. Sometimes there'd be a May Pole, and each girl would take a streamer and dance around it until it became wound in happy colors.

At home, we'd pluck flowers from our yard, tuck them into construction paper cones with stapled-on handles, and leave them on front-door knobs before ringing the bell and running off in giggles.

In the United States, association of May 1 with labor protests dates to the Haymarket Riots of 1886, when workers held a national strike for the cause of 8-hour days. But by the mid and late 20th century, most workers had no need for protests. Union wages were well established, and men returning from World War II set off on careers that would allow them the American Dream. The Baby Boom was a spurt of hope, and families, with two parents and children, the center of the culture.

But over just the last decade or so, May 1 in the US changed. Street demonstrations abound; this year's march in Seattle was billed as "the 14th Annual May Day March for Worker and Immigrant Rights, organized by El Comité." It's annual now; expected, and it's not about working conditions, more vacation, sick time or salary. Today, May Day is the day for anger about whatever's currently newsworthy, like immigration enforcement or the obvious fact that black lives matter.

Get ready for it: in Seattle, residents were warned to steer clear of Downtown Seattle; authorities didn't know what to expect. The newspaper instructed that bus routes may be moved to avoid confrontations. The Mayor set up a press conference. Places, everyone; time for combat. And at night it happened: Anarchists formed what KING 5 TV called an "anti-capitalist rally," bashing cars, throwing rocks and sticks at officers, and vandalizing and spray-painting property on Capital Hill. Police sustained injuries, as Seattle got its riot. And for what?

Certainly some causes are worth protesting. I can sympathize with the black community's frustration that young black males tangle disproportionately with law enforcement, and I can understand that at certain periods in our country's history, unfair labor practices required extreme action to correct.

Seattle police on May Day, 2015 Anarchy? What's the appeal, except narcissism? And what's this anti-capitalism? Have we forgotten the 2012 Arab Spring Riots (spring--again) seeking capitalistic opportunity and resisting oppressive governments? After Stalin and Castro and Mao, hasn't the world learned the value of freedom? 

May Day in America now gives license for anger.

The change of May Day emphasis from sweet, springtime doorstep bouquets to protests and confrontation is sad--and destructive. Stand-offs and conflicts pump protesters' adrenaline but don't solve problems.

Toya Graham smacking her errant son in Baltimore
Baltimore "smackdown mom" Toya Graham had it right when she went after her 16-year-old son when she saw him throwing rocks in a riot.  Want to get in trouble? March in the street with a bunch of angry people.Want to get in bigger trouble? Throw rocks at cops.

Moms need to keep their kids in line--and at the same time they need to guard their innocence. Parents have the power to teach values. Yes, yell when they do stupid things. But raise them with traditions that celebrate the world. Restore May Day to positive appreciation for hope and renewal, and teach means to channel anger toward useful constructive action.