May Day demonstration a peaceful success

Tuesday’s May Day parade and rally drew hundreds of demonstrators who marched peacefully and produced no arrests from police. All sides pronounced the event a success, and both marchers and police agreed it was a vast improvement from last year.

Participants gathered at the North Park Blocks near Burnside and Northwest Eighth starting at 4 p.m., and just after 4:30 the group began to move east on Burnside towards Broadway. Protesters marched down Broadway towards Portland State University, the site of a 6 p.m. rally at the Multicultural Center. Along the way, the groups stopped at several locations to voice their opinions on important issues.

The crowd was estimated at between 700 to 1,200, and despite the large number of people and causes, no arrests were made. Overly-cautious business owners along Broadway closed early, and street closures leading up to Broadway emptied downtown Portland during what is usually a busy rush hour.

Parade marchers made several stops along Southwest Broadway beforegathering at PSU: Pioneer Courthouse Square, the Hilton Hotel, Oregon Steel and The Oregonian offices. Protesters expressed their displeasure at recent police activities and the actions of large corporations and celebrated recent union actions.

At Pioneer Square, protesters and drummers marched inside Starbucks for several minutes. At the Portland Hilton, marchers criticized recent police brutality and the shooting of Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, a mentally ill patient shot and killed by police April 1 in a local psychiatric hospital. The group stopped at Oregon Steel headquarters to herald recent union victories, and gathered in front of The Oregonian’s office to criticize the paper as a corporate mouthpiece.

Though very vocal and energetic, marchers also proclaimed a peaceful, non-violent message through the whole rally. Before the rally, organizers expressed their policy on weapons. “No one should bring a weapon to the parade,” said Benjamin Dawson, a spokesman for the May Day Coalition, in a KGW report. “Anyone in the parade who has a gun will be asked to leave immediately, badge or not. If we catch you packing, we’ll send you packing.”

A visible police presence was distinctly absent from this year’s event. March organizers had met with representatives from the city and the Police Bureau several times in the past week to discuss the event. Police had agreed not to deploy officers in riot gear like last year, and instead used bicycle-mounted police escorts to guide the crowd. Motorcycle police and officers on foot closed roads leading to Broadway for traffic control.

Organizers of the march and the May Day coalition had refused to get a parade permit from the city, claiming there was too much red tape involved and the First Amendment guaranteed them the right to demonstrate. The city issued a last-minute parade permit for the group and agreed to assume liability for any damage caused during the event. City officials had been criticized for being overly concerned with placating protesters and putting themselves in an undesirable position for covering liability.

Andy Davis, a spokesman for the May Day Coalition, was satisfied with the rally.

He said he was pleased that the “police behaved themselves,” and that “free speech is alive and well in the city of Portland,” according to an Oregonian report. Davis hopes other activist groups will follow the coalition’s lead in exercising their free speech without obtaining city permits, which may make it difficult for the city in the future when other groups refuse to get permits as well.

Police were also pleased with the way the protesters handled themselves.”The group that marched today set an example of how you can articulate your views and make your message heard in a way that respects the rights of other people,” said Police Chief Mark Kroeker.

A police officer stationed at PSU for crowd control also indicated it was a positive experience. “It was a very smooth day and a very productive day,” Lt. Mike Krebs said. “I think we’ve built some trust with some of the activists.”

Last year’s May Day rally was a public relations disaster for the city. Over 300 marchers and 100 police officers clashed at Waterfront Park, resulting in 20 arrests and 23 complaints of excessive police force. Portland police issued a report on the incident, available on-line at, in which they justified some actions and outlined better plans for dealing with others.

Problems outlined in the report included the lack of one group organizing the event to communicate with, internal communication problems within the police bureau (including fragmented police units) and the use of “less lethal force,” a buzzword that covers tactics such as bean bag guns and nightsticks. The presence this year of the May Day Coalition as an organizer for the event helped the city coordinate times and locations. The police bureau’s willingness to take a much less visible and threatening position during Tuesday’s rally also helped calm marchers’ fears of a repeat of last year’s fiasco.