The following report back from Kingston, Ontario about May Day was originally posted on Northshore Counter-Info.
May Day in Kingston this year was rainy but fun. The rain held off long enough for about 100 people to mill around in Skeleton Park, eat some burgers and veggie dogs, grab some zines, and chat with each other. I saw a lot of folks who I’ve been seeing at May Day for years now, and several new faces as well.
We listened to a bunch of speeches in the park from a wide range of different perspectives – everything from a local labour organizer speaking about working conditions in Kingston and organizing against Doug Ford’s attacks on the working class, to an indigenous woman reading a poem about how we can’t just end capitalism, we’ve got to end work, and how workers colonize Indigeneous land and lives by powering the Canadian economy. Others spoke about the far right and white supremacy, surveillance capitalism, small-scale agriculture and climate change, talking to your neighbours about racism, capitalist accumulation…many of the speeches were long and I got a bit antsy by the end, but I was impressed with the scope and the depth of people’s ideas and how they spoke about important struggles and tensions in our movements and in the world. These days more and more of our political conversations are captured by nightmare capitalist tech platforms, so I’ve got some renewed patience and appreciation for old-fashioned soapboxing in a park.
After the speeches we took off down Barrie Street, chanting and making noise and playing music from a portable sound system. Several people on the sidewalk didn’t respond to us wishing them a happy May Day, just stopped and pointed their phones at us. I hate that – always makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Black Mirror. But not everyone was so disengaged. Some people scowled at us and some people honked their horns or gave us a thumbs-up, or just stopped to listen to what we were saying.
As the old Scotiabank building came into view, I cracked up over a pretty banner hanging from it that read “Eat the rich”. Shortly after we passed it the crowd started chanting “Eat the rich!” which was hilarious and probably my favourite chant of the whole march.
I gotta say, I normally hate chanting but this year people seemed pretty into it and it felt dynamic and useful. I liked that when someone started a “whose streets? Our streets!” chant it was quickly countered with “No borders, no nations, no justice on stolen land!” I was also glad that when we turned down Wellington Street, people started chanting “No borders, no nations, no more deportations” in anticipation of holding the street in front of the courthouse while someone from Solidarity Kingston spoke about the recent terror arrests in Kingston and the ways that police and courts use the language of terrorism to stoke Islamophobia, racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“You don’t need both sides of the street!” – a cranky driver yelled at us from his car window
“Yes we do!” – a few of us yelled back
These days, the cops seem to be trying to keep marches contained in one lane so that entitled drivers don’t have to suffer the slightest delay. While this driver’s heckling reminds me that I’m annoyed that the cops’ single-lane strategy has been successful enough that this guy feels entitled to his stupid lane (the cops didn’t even show up) I’m proud of everyone for holding space on this awkwardly wide street, in the rain, staring down cars as they approach and then slowly turn away and leave.
Shortly after we get moving again, a Dropbike van with a busted up door drove by and a bunch of people laughed. One person yelled “fuck Dropbike!” and a couple other people joined in. I like to imagine that someone bashed in the door of the van out of intense hatred of Dropbike. Down with ~*sharing economy*~ bullshit, up with real sharing of the things we need to survive and fight capitalism and the state together!
Finally, the crowd made its way into Confederation Basin, and colourful fireworks shot out over the water. Some folks hoisted their black circle-A flag and a red bandana up the flagpole across from City Hall, and people stood around chatting even though everyone was pretty thoroughly soaked by the rain at this point. We’d chosen to end in that particular park because it was beside a hotel downtown where racist scumbag politician Maxime Bernier was speaking at the same time as the march. No one seemed particularly keen on rallying the crowd to try to go inside and mess with his event, so it didn’t happen. And personally, I was happy to not be standing outside a hotel conference room door, yelling indignantly at some old clown. Even if I would have been happy to see his talk shut down, there had been one too many marches in Kingston this year that ended with listening to politicians drone on. I was glad that we were leaving on our own terms, having finished our own celebratory ritual that had nothing to do with politicians.
I feel grateful for the particular weird and special anarchist and anti-capitalist community in Kingston, if you could call it that. I’m glad to be able to honour all the different struggles and projects people engage in throughout the year by helping throw a weird and special party for people to come together in the streets. And I always appreciate how May Day reminds me that we’re not as isolated as we might feel sometimes. I’m not into being unpopular on purpose, or making complicated hoops for people to jump through before they can even figure out what you’re talking about. But I also don’t believe in watering down my ideas to appeal to a bigger group of people or trick people into thinking they agree with me. I like that the overall political vibe of May Day in Kingston is openly and explicitly anarchist, and that people show up and participate anyway, whether despite that or because of it.