An Assessment of May Day

It is not the policy of this publication to print press releases. But as people process the events of May Day, we would do well to consider the perspective of those who were most vulnerable to the police attack on Monday’s parade. The press release below from various Filipino organizations under the banner of Bayan-USA Pacific Northwest, echoing similar appraisals from other organizations and individuals involved in the rally and march, reminds us of why people gathered together on May Day. It also should serve notice to those who are wringing their hands over property damage by some march participants that they should be focused on the far greater violence of a militarized police force that attacked a crowd of 1,200 children, immigrants, and working people, firing flash-bang grenades at them, and reportedly assaulting them with rubber bullets and tear gas.


More importantly, the words below should remind us that people who are far more vulnerable than many of us with far more privilege are organizing resistance and opposition to police. We would do well to follow their lead.

Photo by Adrianne Sebastian of Gabriela Portland.

Police Escalation Endangers Working Families, Immigrants,

Faith Leaders, & Community Members at May Day March

Portland, OR-

On May 1, 2017 the Portland May Day Coalition welcomed the JustPeace PH Peace Tour, a US-wide speaking tour of Filipino human rights defenders on the frontlines of the struggle to address the root causes of the civil war in the Philippines, an armed conflict which has claimed the lives of a reported 30,000 people since it began in 1969. The rally featured Cristina Elizar Palabay, the Secretary General of KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights- Philippines. KARAPATAN works for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, working to expose and defend human rights violations against Filipino farmers and indigenous people protecting their land from incursions by large local and foreign multinational corporations.

A legally permitted, city sanctioned march was scheduled to follow the rally. After hours of peaceful protest, officers from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) endangered the lives of hundreds of community members by shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd that included families with children, immigrants, and people with disabilities. The march that had been planned by a large collective of community organizations was declared an “unlawful assembly” under accusations of violence towards police. In a reckless show of force by PPB officers, marchers were not given the opportunity to exit the march after the permit was revoked. Multiple news sources (including NBC, ABC, KGW, and the Oregonian) referred to this march as a “riot”. This false characterization is a dangerous assertion that police use of force is permissible, even encouraged, by the City of Portland.

A media statement put out by the Portland May Day Coalition states:

Today the Portland police chose to violently escalate a peaceful march. The people asserted their (lawful) right to be in the street and express solidarity with immigrants, with workers, with Indigenous sovereignty, and against capitalism…

…the PPB attacked a permitted march whose only goal was to keep moving along its planned route because some noisemakers and name-calling were enough of an excuse for them to use their large surplus of explosives and chemical weapons against those who had committed to rise, resist, and unite, against fascism and capitalism.”

As justice seekers and human rights defenders linking arms with workers of the world, we see the clear connections between the violent repression of democratic protest in the United States and the incursions of the US military into the Philippines. Angelica Lim, Chairperson of Gabriela Portland, offered, “The same reasons for the necessity of the Peace Tour are also manifested in the people’s right to organize here in the Belly of the Beast. This hyper-militarization and attack on workers shows us that the state and its economic interest are prioritized over the interest of workers, women, families and communities all over the world.  As the Peace Talks highlight the need for genuine peace in the Philippines, we link the struggle of self-determination, land, and livelihood of the toiling masses of all nations against imperialism.”    

A former official colony of the United States, the Philippines was nominally granted national independence in 1945. Though the formal colonial relationship has ended, the influence of the US in the Philippines remains the principle guiding force in the social, economic, and political spheres. The Philippines continues to receive millions of dollars in US foreign military aid, which is often used to violently suppress lawful acts of protest and free speech in the country. This relationship can be seen in the counter-insurgency campaign Oplan Kapayapaan waged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the peasants and workers in rural communities.  While this campaign takes its title from the Tagolog word for “peace”,  US military spending and training have directly enabled the extrajudicial killings, abductions, tortures, and mass displacement in the countryside.  The violence has been specifically targeted against community organizers, with 401 currently being held as political prisoners — the charges against these activists are usually trumped up by reactionary forces in order to imprison the voice of the people. This hypocritical naming of a violent military suppression campaign invokes the message of the Peace Tour – without justice, there can never truly be peace.

The disproportionate and dangerous response of the Portland Police Bureau to the May Day march is a clear indicator of the City of Portland’s priorities towards the creation of a just community. GABRIELA Portland, Anakbayan Portland, and Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines stand in opposition to the state sponsored violence against this act of peaceful protest. The beauty and power of the people’s collective voice rose during this years Portland May Day, marked with solidarity, unity, and a call for liberation. We will continue to defend the right to resist attacks on our community, as we struggle towards a just and lasting peace, in the Philippines, the United States and all across the world.

The Peace Tour event was organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights – Northern California Network, with support from legal, faith and environmental justice partners. From April 18-May 8, the Peace Tour tours New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and St. Paul, MN.

For more on the tour, visit: www.humanrightsphilippines.net/events or #JustPeacePH.

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