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Chicago Indymedia

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Carnival Against Capitalism Celebrates Chicago Mayday

Seeking to reclaim Mayday for Chicago—where the historic labor holiday began with the Haymarket riots of 1896—local activists organized a weekend of resistance, which culminated Sunday with a Carnival Against Capitalism. Despite cold, damp weather, a festive and carnivalesque atmosphere prevailed as an estimated 150 people paraded through the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side.
The group of marchers was one of the most diverse in recent memory of protest in Chicago. People of multiple races, ages, and class backgrounds came from states around the region, from neighborhoods all over the city, as well as from the neighborhoods where the parade took place. Also notably absent was much of the political factionalism that has characterized Chicago activism recently and historically: red flags shared air space with black flags, "Pagans Against Patriarchy" marched alongside a Free Mumia contingent, and antiwar signs were seen next to anticapitalist ones.

Consistent with the carnival theme, the event was more accurately described as a celebratory parade than a protest, with the emphasis on celebrating Mayday as a worker's holiday. Many marchers wore feathered and sequined carnival masks, face paint, and flamboyant costumes. One man wore a clown costume and walked on stilts, while several marchers rode double decker bicycles provided by the Milwaukee crew. This group also carried a series of large, brightly colored cardboard portrait heads depicting the Haymarket martyrs.

Other contingents included a women's block, and a group from the Immokalee workers' Taco Bell boycott campaign. One woman wore a t-shirt that read, "Cabrini Green stands with the people of the world," while another carried a sign saying, "I like carnivals better than capitalism, don't you?"

Spirits were high despite the cold as the parade kicked off from Douglas park around noon, led by a banner honoring the social contributions of immigrant workers. This and other signs, as well as many of the chants and speeches throughout the day, were in Spanish, reflecting the cultural diversity of the marchers as well as the predominant language of the neighborhoods along the parade route. Spectators greeted the march enthusiastically, honking horns in support and stopping to talk with marchers offering flyers about Mayday and anticapitalist politics. Marchers' chants focused on Mayday as a people's holiday, as well as urgent local issues such as police brutality.

A few blocks into the march a squadron of several police cars joined the scene and proceeded to escort the parade. Throughout most of the march the police seemed amicable, containing marchers only to let city buses through. However, a standoff occured toward the end of the planned march route, when paraders expressed their desire to remain in the streets. Carnival organizers, speaking through a megaphone, attempted to guage the will of the group, which seemed overwhelmingly in favor of continuing on to and taking over 18th street. Organizers attempted to negotiate with the police but were informed that anyone in the street would be arrested. Despite some marchers' move to take the streets, the parade filtered into the park and began to disperse. There were no arrests. However, after this standoff with police and tactical disagreement among marchers, the former high energy seemed to dissipate and people seemed confused about what to do next. Finally the marchers, their numbers somewhat diminished, regrouped on top of a hill in Harrison Park and concluded the carnival with a large and raucous drum jam.

The Carnival Against Capitalism may not have succeeded fully in establishing Chicago as a hub of radical organizing for the Midwest region. However, it does seem to have marked a new precedent on Chicago's activist scene by taking the political march - and the anti-capitalist message - out of the downtown commercial district and into some of the city's working class and immigrant neighborhoods.



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