Reflections on Toronto May Day 2019

Submitted anonymously to North Shore Counter-Info

May Day in Toronto this year was marked by a couple of rallies, plenty of rain, and one bloody guillotine. It was my first May Day in Toronto, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was excited for the opportunity to be explicitly and confrontationally anti-capitalist in the streets. May Day to me is about celebrating labour victories of years past and fighting for a world free from all forms of oppression. I’d heard that the main feature of Toronto May Day is the evening march, organized by a coalition of organizations, and that most people came with their union or political group.

After some seemingly well-meaning but clueless folks decided to organize a “general strike” aka lunch hour non-confrontational protest at Queens Park, some anarchists and radical friends decided to make things a bit more confrontational. A mock guillotine was constructed to remind everyone that workers’ rights were fought for and won through protest and violence; that collectively, the people have a ton of power; and that the regime of the current government IS violent. The guillotine’s message was clarified in the words scrawled on the side: “cuts are political violence”. The actions of the Ford government will cost lives, and this is exactly what they’re designed to do. The response to the guillotine from politicians of all stripes has been both disgusting and unsurprising. It serves as an excellent reminder that in the end, they are more aligned with upholding structures of power than they are fighting for the people they supposedly represent. None of them can be counted on to save us.

Supplies were brought to ensure that Queen’s Park was colourfully decorated with chalk messages from attendees, and some May Day-themed stencils. A lot of the crowd was also impressively agitated, attempting to push over police-erected fences and chanting “storm the gates!” as organizers, marshals, and cops attempted to contain them.

In the evening, it came time for the official May Day march. Things got off to a spirited start, despite the pouring rain that lasted until the end of the march. The guillotine made a reappearance, as well as some lovingly-painted banners. The march itself felt a bit disappointing. The chant “Whose streets? Our streets!” rings a bit hollow (not to mention colonial) when you’re being escorted down one lane by a group of cops. A few people tried to break away and take the other lane, but this was generally not well-received and didn’t have the support to be sustained. Rather, the breakaway marchers were accused of being “agents provocateurs” and were rather ironically told to stay in their lane. The reality is, the May Day march was led by cops, and that just feels bad. One highlight of the march was when one bike cop lost control and wiped out spectacularly, to the delight of some of the marchers.

I was left with mixed feelings about Toronto May Day. I’m grateful to the crew who spent the week before May Day throwing together some amazing props and showing up with a plan to agitate and escalate. It feels important to come with a plan, one beyond showing up with a banner or flag for your organization. I ended the march feeling a bit disheartened and wondering how we can develop a politic of refusing to be escorted by police, of always demanding more and escalating further.

May Day is our day; a day to demand and fight for everything we desire. We want nothing less than a world without colonialism, states, prisons, borders, and police. At the same time, we can bring our militancy to the struggle against the immediate threats imposed on our communities by the current government. We can show solidarity with each other and fight against these threats while maintaining a politic that seeks nothing less than a world free from structures of oppression; a world we can truly believe in.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on Toronto May Day 2019”

  1. I love hearing what crews in other towns are thinking, thanks for this. Figuring out how to have a bit of autonomy in the streets is so important, not getting penned in. But we just don’t have a culture around it in Ontario right now, so it’s an uphill struggle, but one worth waging. I wonder about using leaflets arguing for taking lanes so that people aren’t surprised and reactive about it when a crew decides to make a move and push through the bike cops…

    1. Good stuff to remember, that it quickly became a symbol of state terror (last use I’m aware of was against Algerian rebels in the late 50s). But the people who are using it as a symbol now are getting back to the base — killing kings and their backers. Also specifically for Doug Ford, the idea that cuts kill can’t be repeated too often.

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