Colson: May Day — much the same now as it was then

with John Colson

A good deal of the news over last weekend was about May Day, that annual day of labor protest or dancing around the Maypole, depending on your predilections.

In Seattle, Wash., the news focused on the large demonstrations that have become a regular occurrence there, whether it’s May Day or not.

Aside from the protest itself, much of the news was about the fact that the demonstration grew violent, possibly in response to the police who reportedly used pepper spray and rubber bullets on the demonstrators for reasons not mentioned in the stories about the day.

However it started, the news reports indicated that the protesters threw rocks, bottles and “at least one Molotov cocktail,” and that several police officers were injured (nothing about injured protesters, of course.)

It caught my eye that one of the police officers was bitten, though the reports I saw did not say if the bite came from a demonstrator, a police dog gone wild, or even another cop.

What interested me most, though, was the fact that the demonstrators were launching whatever they could at the police line, which carried me back instantly to the late 1960s, when I took part in numerous demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

This was in the area around Washington, D.C., where I lived at the time, fresh out of high school and working at various blue-collar jobs as I decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

One thing I knew for sure, as you might have guessed, was that I had no interest in fighting and perhaps dying in what I, along with many others, considered an immoral and possibly illegal war.

So I threw myself into the fray.

It may have been on a long-ago May Day on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park. Things got started peacefully enough, with large groups of hippies, yippies and others roaming around the vast campus grounds, chanting against Vietnam, economic imperialism, the war against unions and who knows what else.

I was passing this festival of civil disobedience that afternoon, coming home from my job with a landscaping company (I drove a truck that hauled sod around). I watched as the Maryland State Police set up a skirmish line along U.S. Route 1 through College Park and started advancing on the demonstrators, firing tear-gas canisters as they went.

I happened to be near the front of the main group of protesters, so I took up a position wearing long sleeves and my heavy work gloves, as were several other young men, along with a water-soaked bandana over the lower part of my face to fend off the tear-gas fumes.

When canisters would land near us, we would run up, grab them and heave them back with all our might at the police line, then dash back in retreat.

One of my throws managed to land a canister right at the police line, and the German shepherds the police had on leashes went nuts. They started howling and biting their handlers with wild abandon, which of course set us laughing and howling, as well.

And that is what I thought of as I read about the police officer getting bit while fighting with the demonstrators in Seattle last weekend.

I also thought about the rage, frustration and anti-establishment sentiments that drove us, so long ago, to get into pitched battles with police all around the nation, and the fact that similar sentiments are now in play in a big, big way all over the U.S.

The candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both are outgrowths of such sentiments. Of course, the supporters of Trump generally are undereducated and as anti-cerebral as a political class can get, and seem mostly to be expressing an inchoate rage against minorities, women and immigrants.

Bernie’s bunch, on the other hand, generally are able to talk eloquently about their gripes — low wages for workers, the off-shoring of jobs, the poisoning of the planet, corporate hegemony over politics and everything else.

But the main point is that rage, frustration and a need to do something, anything to give vent to all that, is what is driving our current political dysfunction.

And unlike the protesters of the 1960s, those expressing their dissatisfaction are not just a bunch of wayward college kids on an anti-war, anti-establishment lark. They are working moms and dads, blue-collar and white-collar; they are fast-food workers trying to get an even break; and, yes, they are young students trying to force a fix of a broken educational system that favors wealthy scions over the sons and daughters of truck drivers and factory workers, to name just a few of the constituent groups.

But they are all pissed off, and they are approaching the point where they’re not going to take it any more.

They, we, helped stop a war once. What they, we, are up against now is much more entrenched, much more intractable, and much harder to beat.

Can we do it?

Aspen Times Weekly

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