In anticipation of a May Day parade filled with riots and arrests, the Portland Police began clearing out space in the local jails on Sunday. They encouraged parole officers not to haul in their parolees so they could keep space open for any wayward anarchists.
But in spite of nail-biting from City Hall officials, the rally only produced clogged downtown streets, empathic chants, and a few stray hackey sacks. In the days leading up to the march, organizers and city officials jockeyed over parade permits and what kind of police participation would be allowed. Though the event was meant to draw attention to workers' rights, it seemed the protesters shifted their attention to free speech and police tactics; even moments before the parade began, the attention stayed firmly focused on the cops.
One activist stood nearby wearing a blood-red jacket, holding a Socialist Workers banner. "I kept thinking, 'Oh gee, what if I get clubbed?'" he said. "I forgot to think, 'Oh gee, what a wonderful day to celebrate workers' rights.'"
However, group leaders struggled to re-focus the aim of the parade. As the throng finally made their move south along Broadway, a few twirling parade leaders shouted, "What is it about?" And the crowd answered, "Workers' rights!"--their reply accented by tambourines and bass drums.
Coupled with the recent Free Trade Association Agreement protest, Tuesday's event managed to put in perspective pieces left scattered following Seattle's WTO riots. What's emerging is a comfortable grouping between blue-collar workers and environmentalists: a common demand for corporate ethics and accountability that cares for laborers' rights as well as the environment.
At its largest, the parade swelled to occupy two full city blocks. About halfway through the march, a black-clad drum and fife team with blue handkerchiefs across their faces stormed into the Pioneer Square Starbucks. Immediately four police on bicycles rushed to the scene. But by the time they arrived, the conga line of protesters were dancing gleefully back onto the street. Though the police followed the parade on bicycles, after protesters filed into PSU for a labor rights rally, roughly 60 police in riot gear, along with two armored vehicles were waiting only three blocks away--for whatever the night might bring. PHIL BUSSE