Saturday, May 01, 2010
May Day! May Day!
May First is, of course, "Labour Day," in the un-American sense of the word, as in the revolutionary international workers' political holiday, the occasion for waving around red banners and yelling a lot, as opposed to our own labor day, which is good mostly for barbecues. It's also, of course, the Pagan fertility holiday of Beltane, which I've written about elsewhere, where copious seed is supposed to be spilt upon the earth to ensure the fruits of the future. Yes, Pagans, that's you being admonished in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament. I didn't know which to focus on for The Cahokian, so I've elected this beautiful photograph of a Maoist/Naxalite revolutionary in rural India that I found on the net. Take away the hammer-and-sickle flags and this woman could pass for a celebrant in a fertility festival so I thought it captured something about the moment. I'm not sure what it says about America that neither of these holidays are much celebrated here; well actually I am pretty sure what it says but I'm not too happy with the answer.
Either way you mark it, May Day is a celebration of optimism. Optimism that the have-nots can get together in solidarity and determination to one day have, and optimism that the winter is over and the seasons are spinning around properly as they should, that our efforts today will pay off tomorrow, that future generations will arise from our own, carrying on our traditions. (There's this sort of joke one of my Pagan friends told me once: it involved a group of Native American shamans who performed a seasonal ritual every year for return of the warm seasons. Some scientist sits down with the shamans and explains the science behind the rotating seasons, the earth on its axis, the scientific inevitability of the return of Spring, etc. etc. in an effort to to persuade these shamans to give up their quaint superstitious rite. The shamans listen carefully, aheming and ahahing. When the scientists had finished they talk among themselves and after extended deliberation return to the scientists. "Well, we have listened to what you said. Your evidence is very compelling, but frankly, it's just not worth the risk that you're wrong." And so they returned to their ritual.)
That optimism of the human spirit is a good thing, because it's sometimes very hard to maintain a sense of optimism for the mundane world. As I write, what some are calling potentially the largest man-made ecological disaster in American history is unfolding as untold quantities of crude oil are spilling out against the coasts of Louisiana. Drill, Baby, Drill, fuck YOU. As Gil Scott-Heron used to say, "America is in shock." In Arizona politicians are instituting a draconian and racist immigration law straight out of an authoritarian nightmare, where authorities are required to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they might suspect of not being a citizen, and citizens are required to demand that authorities enforce the law against their fellow citizens on the spot. And America is in shock.
There are crazy racist politicians and TV entertainers and bigoted religious fundamentalists running around in an orgy of lying delusion all enabling other to spout unbelievable ridiculousness. America is in shock. There're pointless wars costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and there are unbelievably rich people earning immoral sums of money trying to rewrite laws to make sure they get to make immoral sums of money more. America is in shock. There are men dying in coal mines because of their corrupt bosses just like there were a century ago. There are millions of people with no jobs, and no hope of finding one any time soon. Shock. Shock. "America leads the world in shock," to quote our friend Scott-Heron again.
In Brooklyn where I live it's supposed to be a beautiful weekend. The plants on my stoop are in bloom, and there's a freshness in the urban air. I'm gonna open my windows and let the breeze sweeten the air indoors. Maybe I'll clip some of the plants in the backyard already threatening to turn the garden into a jungle of thorns and blooms. I'll feed the herd of feral cats who visit every morning. I feel personally lucky to be reasonably healthy with some semblance of employment. We don't have marriage equality in New York, but then I'm not liable to want to get gay married tomorrow: it will be enough to have dinner with my boyfriend. For a day maybe I can focus on the joys and tasks of life and not the trouble of the world; fortunately there's no drone aircraft circling overhead trying to GPS my cellphone location; not yet anyway. In truth I'm probably not going to run around a maypole nor carry a red flag nor chant any slogans. But I sure hope somebody does. It's just not worth the risk that nobody will.