Sunday, May 17, 2015

Swedish Holidays – Kristi himmelsfärdsdag (Feast of the Ascension)

Wednesday was a half-day. Thursday was a holiday. Friday was a squeeze day. And then the weekend came. Again. For those of you scoring at home, that’s the third week of holidays in Sweden since April 1. What is the occasion, you might ask. What could keep the Swedes from working a full week? Christ. Christ can keep Swedes from working a full week.

There he is, Mr. Jesus Christ.
There he is, your ideal.
The dream of nine million Swedes who are more than secular can come true in Stockholm city.
For he may turn out to be the King of humanity.
Picture from Nordiska museet via "Väggbonad" by Anders Eriksson is licensed under CC BY 3.0 SE
Thursday was Kristi himmelsfärdsdag. Feast of the Ascension. Forty days after Easter. The celebrations are somewhat subdued. Or non-existent. I suppose people head out to their cabins again. They were out there on Easter weekend, opening them up and airing them out. Then May 1 rolled around and they headed out there again to maybe do some gardening or some drinking. Then Christ headed up to Heaven and Swedes headed out to the country again. To drink and maybe put their boats in the water. It’s a slow progression towards summer. These holidays don’t necessarily serve much of a religious purpose anymore. Instead, they are markers of the passage of the year and the emergence from the darkness. They are also a marker of leisure since, despite what you might believe, not all Swedes own little red cabins in the woods next to a lake where they dock their boat.

Traditionally, and remember, traditions change. Constantly. We are always making new traditions, discarding old ones, and reworking the ones we keep. But traditionally, Kristi himmelsfärdsdag included fire. Obviously. This was mostly in western Sweden and in Skåne, where the Swedes were working to scare away wolves. I assume the fires in all the previous holidays like Valborg had scared away the witches, but those wolves are pesky buggers.

But fires are old hat in Swedish holidays. There were more exciting things afoot. Or a-arm. This was the time of year when women were finally allowed to wear short sleeves. Seriously. That’s because it was often seen as the start of summer. Summer is relative, I suppose, because it is still damn cold in Stockholm this holiday weekend.

It was also a day for young men and women of the town to meet in front of the church without supervision from their parents. Seriously. Strangely enough, there was always a rash of teenagers giving birth in January and February of the next year. Probably just a coincidence. And probably something I just made up. Probably.

For the nature lovers, it was also a time to head out and kill baby foxes. Seriously. Because it was the first day of summer, mamma foxes came out to sleep in the sun with her babies, leaving them exposed to sneaky Swedes who wanted to catch them.

If you’d rather look at animals than kill them, this was also a big day for bird watching. Early in the morning, in southern and central Sweden, folks would get up to go look for the cuckoo and listen to its call. This was known as the gökotta. Gök being the common cuckoo.

While you might not find young men and women meeting in front of the church on Kristi himmelsfärdsdag, you will definitely be able to find birdwatchers heading out early on Thursday morning. I slept in.

On a completely related not, Nordiska museet is a wonderful museum with everything you could ever want to know about Swedish traditions. Their website gives amazing descriptions of many of the Swedish holidays. I borrowed liberally from them and you can too! Check out their website and their Årets dagar section. That effusive praise being said, one thing they don’t mention is the very real threat that Kristi himmelsfärdsdag faced about 20 or 30 years ago.

It turns out that back in the ‘90s, the Swedish government, with help from a committee of parliamentarians, began looking into a change to Swedish holidays. There was a movement to celebrate June 6 as the National Day of Sweden. This movement had been around for a while, but gained steam in the ‘90s. Of course, while Swedes love days off, the powers that be determined there would be economic consequences to all those days off. But the powers that be also really wanted that National Day. Easy! Just switch out an existing holiday for the new one.

There were a few holidays on the chopping blocks: May 1, the Feast of the Ascension, Whit Monday, and the Epiphany. A quick look at that list would suggest Sweden is a deeply religious country. And by religious, I mean Christian. It is not. At least, not by church attendance standards or actual belief in God standards. But religious holiday standards? Praise the Lord!

Finally in 2005, when the National Day of Sweden became an official public holiday, Whit Monday or Annandag pingst, was no more. Kristi himmelsfärdsdag survived and Swedes continued to take a Thursday off (and sometimes a Wednesday and a Friday for good measure) to celebrate a religious figure that few actually worship. Traditions are weird.

Welcome to Sweden. Jesus would be proud.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Bad Moon Rising

Back when the nights were long and the temperature was still in the single digits, I went to dinner with a good friend and met her husband for the first time. He’s a nice guy, a creative guy, a writer and an artist and a cook. And, as it so often does, Sweden came up. The weird things about Sweden at least. We talked about all of those little things that Swedes do that make them so very Swedish. Like the silence on the subways. Like the shoes off in the home. Like the well-fitting clothes. Of course, those clothes that fit so well can sometimes fit a little bit too well. Especially when those clothes are tights.

I don’t wear tights too often. I’ve got a pair for those cold winter days and for skiing. I’ve even got a pair of compression shorts that I used to wear when I was playing sports that actually involved running and jumping. They’re basically the male version of a sports bra. Keeps stuff in place. Which, obviously, was something you wanted to know. Anyway, not wearing tights in this country seems akin to clubbing baby koalas for sport. You just don’t do it.

During the winter, men run through the streets of Stockholm. They’ve perfected the art of breathing without freezing their lungs. They look stylish doing it, having spent more on their workout clothes than I do on rent. But those clothes are sparse as nary a piece of substantial clothing protects them from the elements. Puffs of air rhythmically escape from their half-opened mouths. Their black tights the only thing separating their man-bits from permanent shrinkage in the northern climate. But the darkness gives them cover as they slip and slide their way to a better beach body. Or something like that.

Then the summer comes. The days get longer. Suddenly, the sun peeks out from beneath the horizon. Along with the sun, out comes the bike. It is, by far, the giddiest time of the year here in Sweden. But the tights stay. Those black tights adorn the men who run wild in the streets. Now, the lack of clothing makes some sense. It gets hot running and biking through town.

Unfortunately, I was faced with the reality of men in black tights just the other day. It was late afternoon, the shadows were getting longer, but it was that bright sun that makes coming home from a day at the library just a little bit better. I walked home instead of taking the bus. It felt good.

Having heard one too many angry bike bells behind me, I was walking in the correct lane. I could hear the bikers coming up behind me. Legs cranking. Wheels turning. Heavy breathing. They passed me on the uphill side of what constitutes a hill in this very flat city. They were standing, really using their leverage to push through and pass me. And that’s when the sun flashed just right. Or just wrong. Their tights were too tight. The sun was too bright. The black was too light. Staring back at me were two man asses. Those tights had been reduced to transparent pieces of plastic revealing the full moon on the early evening horizon.

I’m not judging. Ok, I’m kind of judging. I’m just not into seeing your sweaty ass glistening in the Swedish sun. Want to wear tights? Fine. Buy a pair thick enough to give you the support you need and the peace of mind I need.

Welcome to Sweden. And men, manly men, men in tights.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fika Times Four

Fika. I have written that word more times than I care to admit. And beaten several dead horses with it. But it’s a thing here. Not always, but it’s definitely a thing. And that thing became painfully obvious last week for me while attending a conference/workshop in northern Sweden. I was literally in pain.

Here’s why:
Tuesday, May 5
13.00–13.30: Lunch
13.30–15.00: Introduction
15.00–15.30: Fika
15.30–17.00: Seminar 1
17.30: Dinner

Wednesday, May 6
4.00–9.00: Breakfast
9.00–10.30: Seminar 2
10.30–11.00: Fika
11.00–12.30: Seminar 3
12.30–13.30: Lunch
13.30–15.00: Seminar 4
15.00–15.30: Fika
15.30–17.00: Sightseeing
17.30: Dinner

Thursday, May 7
4.00–9.00: Breakfast
9.00–10.00: Wrap-up
10.00–10.15: Fika
10.15–11.00: Group evaluation
11.00–11.45: Lunch
11.45: Departure

I seriously considered stopping the post right here. After that schedule. Just letting the schedule speak for itself. Letting you work your way through the time intervals. The hour and a half between breakfast and the first fika. The hour and a half between the first fika and lunch. The hour and a half between lunch and the second fika. The hour and a half between the second fika and dinner. Or maybe letting you realize on your own that on Thursday, breakfast ended at nine. And fika was a fifteen-minute affair beginning at ten. And then lunch began at eleven. I seriously considered stopping the post right there. After that schedule. But I clearly did not.

Let me say that the workshop was lovely. It was fun. It was nice to meet new people. It was a wonderful experience. Plus, I got to take a picture of this amazing sign.

I've heard that Swedish is the only language that doesn't use the Finnish
word "sauna." Like a terrible academic, I'm not going to check that claim.
Luckily, much better academics than me have saved me from a simple Google
search. Bastu=badstue in Norwegian. Mystery solved.
Couple the sauna sign with all of those fikas and it all felt very Swedish. So Swedish that even the Swedes started groaning by the time Thursday rolled around. Which made me feel a bit better. Mostly because I was doing a bit of groaning myself.

Turns out, I have a problem. If you put food in front of me, I will eat it. And when that food is put in front of me at regular intervals five times a day, I will eat at regular intervals five times a day. It also turns out that when the food that is put in front of me involves a lot of baked goods, I will feel like Joey Chestnut on July 5th.

By the time I came home, my body was convinced that it needed to eat every hour and a half. It felt like I was 16 again, except, you know, out of shape. In other, completely unrelated news, I went for a run on Sunday.

Welcome to Sweden. And four fikas in forty-seven hours.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Sweden’s Finest – Policing the Police

On April 22, 2015, four Swedish police officers vacationing in New York City broke up a fight on a subway. They were lauded for their humane treatment of the men who were fighting. They asked how they were doing, were they ok. American media took this and ran with it. In the aftermath of death (murder) after death (murder) after death (murder) at the hands of American police officers, people are starting, just starting, to take note. There were cute comments suggesting that maybe the Swedish police should be training American police officers. Because they were so humane. So nice.

Maybe. You are, by all accounts, less likely to die after interactions with a Swedish police officer. But that’s a pretty low bar. Because there are still deep-seated issues with the Swedish police force as the videos below will demonstrate. Just a heads up, some of them are rough to watch. That being said, these four officers dealt with a situation in a way that, yes, they and the people who trained them should be proud of.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. It's been distressing to see Sweden held up as an example in this case because of the actions of four individuals, which ignores any systemic issues that may exist in Swedish policing. Here are three examples of why that is:

On April 30, 2015 (that’s eight days after the incident in New York City), an unmarked police car drove straight into a crowd of students partying at Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm. You can watch that video here. Apparently there was a fight and the police were on their way to save the day. The police officer driving initially claimed that they car couldn’t stop. That claim resulted in four people being taken to the hospital. Now the police are blaming it on human error. Hit the brake and the gas at the same time. I did that once. When I was 15 and had been driving for less than six months.

According to Aftonbladet, there are plans to press charges because of the fight. Of course, that’s where it gets a little awkward. Towe Hägg, from Stockholm Police says that “Men vi har inte hittat någon som är skadad så vi har inga uppgifter på vem som har bråkat.” “But we haven’t found anyone that is hurt so we don’t have any information about who was fighting.” Oh Towe. Towe, Towe, Towe. There are four people that were hurt so badly that they were taken to the hospital. Because a police officer ran into them with a car. Perhaps you should be pressing charges against the driver?

February 6, 2015, two young boys were riding the subway in Malmö without paying. A guard caught them, tackled them to the ground, and slammed the youngest boys head against the floor as he covered the boy’s mouth. It's important to note that this was not the police. However, the Malmö police initially refused to investigate. It took a public outcry and a video being published for the police to do anything.

Two months later, on April 20, 2015, no charges were filed.

There are plenty of examples of overzealous policing. Overzealous is such a handy euphemism for over-militarized police having their way with people. Like the two anti-Nazi protestors I saw felled by a police baton as they turned to run. A baton to the back. But the example that is all too reminiscent of what has happened in the US lately, especially in Ferguson, Missouri, happened a couple of years ago.

May 13, 2013, a man was shot in the face by Swedish police in the Stockholm suburb of Husby. He died on the scene. That was around 8:50 in the evening after police were called to the apartment. The man had been drinking and threatened a guard at a bar with a knife. Then he went home. And that’s when the police showed up. After some negotiations that went nowhere, they stormed the home and killed the man with his wife in the apartment. It’s important to note that the police assumed she was being threatened by the man. She says she wasn’t. His body was taken away in a hearse around 2am. About five hours after he was killed.

Protests followed. Strong ones. Protests that spread to other communities, especially other communities with larger immigrant populations like Husby. Those protests were against the shooting, the killing, the man being left dead for hours in his apartment. They were against the over policing and the situation and the poverty, the segregation, the systemic issues that people lived under every day. And just like the protests in the United States, they were condemned for being violent and destructive. But it was the police who killed a man. The protestors did not kill anyone. They did nothing that could not be repaired. There was an investigation. No crime or misconduct was committed. That was appealed by the widow and her lawyer. There was another investigation. On July 1, 2014, over a year after the shooting, the investigating body decided the police officer had shot a man in the face in self-defense. Case closed.

Let me say this explicitly. Not all Swedish police are like this. Not even all American police. Not even close. #NotAllPolice. Or something like that. Got it. They do a job I do not want to do and make decisions I am not willing to make. That does not mean they are above reprieve or even above questioning. In fact, there's an argument to be made that they are simply a tool in a much larger structural problem. Either way, the Swedish police are not leaving a trail of dead young men and women behind them. Since 2003, Swedish police forces have only killed eight people. And it’s sad to say, but only eight people is a good thing, especially compared to the US. Where hundreds are killed by police every single year.

Again. #NotAllPolice. Still got it. In fact, I've had good interactions with the police here. That’s not the point, though. To blindly accept that the police are always the good guys, always right, that leads to some scary assumptions that ignores any potential systemic issues that should be addressed and solved. That doesn’t mean for a second that every single police officer is going to shoot a 69-year old man in the head and leave his body in the apartment for hours. It doesn’t mean that every single police officer is a racist. Or a sexist. Or a murderer. Or corrupt. Or whatever other adjective you can come up with. It just means that law enforcement is a branch of civil service that, just like all branches, should be watched over by the very people who are being policed. So the policed become the police. If only for a while and if only to improve the system, both the policing system and the larger system in which we all live and die.

Welcome to Sweden. And a low bar of policing.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Swedish Holidays – Valborg (Walpurgis Night)

I would totally bottle the smell of campfire and use it as cologne. Unfortunately, I’m not a chemist. Or Kramer. Luckily this weekend was Valborgsmässoafton here in Sweden, which means that there were bonfires lit throughout the country. It also means that I don’t need to bottle the smell. For now. Instead, I just haven’t washed my clothes in four days. Being an adult is the best.

You can almost smell it, can't you? Breathe deep. Smells nice.
Valborgsmässoafton, or more commonly Valborg, is another one of those Swedish eve traditions. Remember Christmas Eve? Easter Eve? Midsummer Eve? Valborg Eve is April 30. It’s usually celebrated by setting giant bonfires, drinking too much, and sometimes shooting off fireworks. You may be surprised to know that this is a pretty exciting holiday for students. It might have something to do with the fire, explosives, and alcohol.

The history of Valborg is a tricky one. It’s been around for a long time. Medieval long time. It came to Sweden via Germany. Probably. Although, there could also be ties to Beltane, an Irish tradition that was being written about when Vikings were still harassing those poor island folk. Although it was probably celebrated long before the Irish had converted and the Vikings started giving them a hard time. I’m not a medievalist so will leave that to someone else to figure out the connections, if there are any.

Let’s stick with the Germany story for right now. Of course, even that story is a bit tricky. The eve of May 1 was one of those nights where the witches were out in full force. Just like the Swedish witches who headed to Blåkulla to party with the Devil, the German witches headed to Brocken to do the same. The Germans waited for better weather though and flew off on the night of April 30. The Swedes were a little earlier and headed out on Holy Thursday. Of course, everyone knows that the best way to scare away witches is to start large bonfires and maybe shoot guns into the air.

But the Catholic Church doesn't like witches and the Devil. Witches are in league with the Devil and we can’t be having that. Churches liked to remind people of that evil consort by painting witches and Devils on the walls and ceilings. There are still plenty of examples of these paintings in medieval churches throughout Scandinavia. Anyway, it just so happens that Saint Walpurga was canonized on May 1 around 870. She’d been dead for about 100 years at this point, but miracles are hard to make happen so it took her a while to be recognized.

May 1 is a handy day though. It had long been an important day in plenty of medieval towns and cities that was usually celebrated with a party the night before. And because it was an important day already and now also the day of a saint’s canonization, it became a lot easier to smush those pagan beliefs together with those Catholic beliefs and pretend all along that we’re just a nice Christian folk doing nice Christian things for a nice Christian God.

By the time it came to Sweden from Germany, it was Christian-y and most likely brought with it the bonfires. Those bonfires are useful because they help scare away evil and protect the Swedish livestock. It’s right around this time of year that livestock is let back out to pasture so it seems like a good time to make sure those cows are healthy, happy, and wolf- and witch-free.

Just a little reminder to all of the witches out there. Swedes will burn you. 
But even if you don’t have any cows itching to frolic in the spring grass, bonfires can come in handy—by burning all that crap you’ve collected over the past year, obviously. Maybe that wooden chair that Uncle Sven broke at Christmas? Or how about all the branches, leaves, and felled trees that are cluttering your farmland? Burn ‘em.

Uncle Sven probably broke those pallets too. He's such a clutz.
Finally, because traditions are difficult to trace and always changing, here’s one more theory about the bonfires. Down south in what was once Denmark, young Skåningar ran around honoring the farmers. They were keeping people fed, I suppose. To do this though, they had to call all the farmers into town. That’s what the churchbells are for, of course. Turns out the churches, or at least the towns, got tired of those ringing bells and put a stop to the clanging of the bells for that purpose. Those DanoSwedes were crafty ones though. Instead of bells they used fire. Big bonfires are visible from quite a ways away and served the same purpose drawing the farmers to the flame like a moth to a, well, to a flame.

Nowadays, it’s usually local community groups organizing the bonfires. Sometimes the municipality. Sometimes a local service organization. It's a kid-friendly, family event. I even saw attempts at s'more making this year. Attempts. Often the bonfire is used as a fundraising activity. School classes will be selling hotdogs to raise money for their class trip, for example. It’s a good way to get the students interested in the holiday early. And in a much more innocent way. Because once they hit high school, the holiday becomes an excuse to start drinking.

Those are some s'more making coals right there. Too bad the Swedish
children had long since burned their marshmallows in the angry
flames of the bonfire. Rookies.
Universities throughout the country are hotbeds of Valborg activities. Uppsala is known far and wide for its celebrations. In 2015, the Uppsala police expected 100 000 people to visit the town for the celebrations. On a good day, Uppsala has a population of about 140 000. That’s a whole lot of people for one town to swallow. Students come out in full force wearing their white student caps ready to eat, drink, and make merry. And by merry I mean drink themselves to oblivion while singing, dancing, and maybe rafting down the tiny little Fyris River in Uppsala.

Interestingly enough, the holiday’s reputation for being a drinking holiday (let’s be honest here though, all holidays in Sweden are drinking holidays) is, according to Nordiska museet, tied to the working class of the 1800s. Alcoholism was a serious issue for many of the working class and so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the labor movement and the temperance movement were strongly connected here in Sweden. That Valborgsmässoafton falls the night before May Day, the International Workers' Day, is a handy coincidence.

While the holiday used to be dominated by university and college students way back in the 1800s and early 1900s, that has begun to change. Today you’ll find high school students wearing their white student caps, dressed for spring despite the cold weather, drinking rosé in outdoor cafés. It’s like looking back in time, seeing all of the Stureplan brats when they were just brats minus the Stureplan.

Thumbs up from the high school student trying to walk
into a bar with a Systembolaget bag full of booze.
And while traditions change, bonfires do not. They're still great for cleaning, scaring away witches, and making me smell delicious. And that's worth drinking to.

Welcome to Sweden. And yet another pagan/Christian/secular Swedish holiday.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Stockholm's May Day Marches

My grandma used to say that everyone should be a communist once in their life. So maybe that's why I spent my day running around to five different rallies on May 1. May Day. International Workers' Day. Labour Day. That's labour with a “u,” because in the US, Labor Day, with an “o,” is on the first Monday of September. But not here. Not in Europe. Not in Sweden.

Or maybe I ran around all day because of my research. Because I am here in Stockholm conducting research for my dissertation, I convinced myself that going out and trying to photograph as many May Day celebrations as possible would be an important cultural experience and one that would be relevant to my work. My research focuses on Swedish women immigrants to the United States and the way they created a sense of identity by writing about, among other things, work and the labor movement. I think. I think that's what my dissertation about. Research is hard.

Anyway, the main person in my dissertation, a woman by the name of Signe Aurell, was an IWW member and a poet. She also translated songs by Joe Hill from English into Swedish. Which is interesting, because Joe Hill was actually Swedish. He started out as Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, was born in Gävle, and headed over to the US in 1902. In 1915, he was executed (most likely wrongly) in Utah. He's credited with saying "Don't mourn. Organize!" He did say that. Kind of. But that phrase has been translated into Swedish. In fact, it's been translated with a little artistic license by plenty of people. Including Signe Aurell. So you'll find it in Swedish as "Sörj inte. Organisera!" Or even "Sörj ej. Organisera!"

And organize the Swedes did. And because of that organization, we're going to try something different today. A photo journey of May 1, 2015, in Stockholm, Sweden. I managed to see bits and pieces of rallies held by Feministiskt initiativ, Kommunistiska Partiet, Socialdemokraterna/LO, Syndikalisterna, and Vänsterpartiet.

We'll start at the beginning. It's as good a place as any to start. So first up, the Syndicalists. They started the day by marching down Kungsgatan. There were probably a thousand or so people in the crowd. Much younger than the others, these folks were loud.

If only I had timed it a little bit better, that black car would
have been right next to the red car. Just like the syndicalist
flag. Maybe next time.
They were on their way to Stortorget in Gamla Stan. Stortorget is the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath where 82(ish) of Sweden's more prominent male citizens were beheaded by a Danish king in 1520. It was an interesting choice of venue, but place and space matters. They knew exactly what they were doing.
Marching next to Kungsträdgården. On their way to Gamla Stan.
Where they would pass the Royal Palace. And eventually set up camp
next to the church where the royalty gets married. Why not?
The crowd arrived at Stortorget at about the same time as the changing of the Royal Guard was taking place. No one paid each other any notice. The square filled up quickly. Turns out that you can behead 80-some people in the square, but trying to fit 1 000-some syndicalists into the same space is a bit more difficult. But the speakers took the stage and did their thing. And the stage was kind of amazing: an old Volvo flatbed truck.

Admit it. You kind of want to drive that thing. 
Red and black flags dominated, along with a few creative signs reminding us that Björn Söder (a Sverigedemokrat) can't dance. But the one that caught my eye, solely because of my research, was the one about domestic labor, which seemed to be equating women to domestic labor.

Look at the conveyor belt. And the faceless people. And the cogs.
So much symbolism.
And, in case you were wondering, there was Joe Hill memorabilia everywhere. Books for sale, calendars, even a man running around in a Joe Hill hoodie. Sörj inte. Organisera!

Next up? The Social Democrats and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. This was, by far, the biggest group of the day. Maybe 10 000 or 15 000? Big numbers are hard and while they didn't fill Humlegården, they put a dent in the park. An impressive feat, considering it takes up an entire city block.

Setting up shop behind the National Library of Sweden. Fun fact, books
and temperance were a big part of the early labor movement.
This demonstration was home to the most languages. There were plenty of signs in Swedish. In fact, almost exclusively signs in Swedish. But sprinkling the crowd were signs in English, in Persian, in Arabic.

Four signs that didn't make the final cut. These were left behind as
Humlegården emptied out.
Along with being the largest demonstration, it was the loudest. That's because there were several bands. Four of them, in fact. All paying at the same time. Sophomore year of high school, I learned the word cacophony from Mr. Johnston. I didn't know how to pronounce it. He kindly corrected me so I feel like I can at least write it. Because four bands playing at the same time is cacophonous.

One band leaving, three to go...
Once they started walking, they just kept coming...

Interestingly enough, the EU flag helped lead the way.
Further back were the anti-EU signs. 
...and coming...

That's an entire city block filled with people.
And that's just the beginning.

...and coming.

Just enjoy the signs. All of the signs.
Thousands upon thousands of union members marched towards Norra Bantorget, which is sometimes referred to as Röda torget because of its place in labor movement history. It was the site of the first officially sanctioned pro-labor rally. About 40 000 folks showed up for that one back in 1902. In 2015, they maybe pulled a quarter of that. Things change.

I'm guessing that there weren't too many signs like this back in 1902.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sörj inte. Organisera!

Joe and Olof, together at last. 
Of course, the Communist Party was busy today as well. They don't have much sway in Swedish politics these days. Or Sweden. Or really anything, it seems. They did have a prime spot, however, at Sergelstorg and as I walked up the speaker was reminding the crowd, "Sörj inte. Organisera!" Joe Hill is all things to all people, apparently. He is not enough, though, to convince the communists to come out in the rain. The banners they had hung nearly outnumbered the people in the crowds. Which was unfortunate, because with so few people to look at, H&M was trying to remind us all that there is no such thing as rain, only sunny days, in their capitalist world.

H&M's swimsuit models were not impressed by the turnout. Not. Im. Pressed.
I missed the Left Party's march. All of it, in fact. But I did pass by their final destination in Kungsträdgården earlier in the day. They had just begun the festivities and there was a band on stage singing to a sparse crowd and a statue of King Karl XIII. Obviously.

No word on Karl XIII's views on communism and socialism, but the
seagull perched atop his head was clearly there in support of the Left.
That crowd had grown significantly by the time I got back to it. The master of ceremonies announced that over 8 000 people had been in on the march and that they figured there were about 15 000 folks in the crowd in front of the stage.

And seven of them were chanting "No more nukes!" That's not true.
But they totally would have, if they were Americans.
And then it got weird. Two men in creepy bear heads known as the Teddybears, a musical group unknown to me, introduced politician Rossana Dinamarca to the party supporters. So that happened.

Teddybears. Pronounced TeddyBEERs in Swedish. In case you were
wondering, their eyes also glowed red.
After a few minutes of listening to Rossana Dinamarca, the politician who wore a t-shirt printed with “SD=Rasister” to welcome the Sweden Democrats to the parliament, I headed off to my last stop of the day.

The Feminist Party's rally! Probably my favorite stop of the day, the feminists were working to turn the park pink. The rain made it a little tough to show off some of the color though, because it turns out Swedes don't own too many pink overcoats. (I did see one pink umbrella. From IKEA, no less.)

That kid to the left is rocking it. A pink jacket. In Sweden. 
This was, by far, the most family-friendly event. In fact, they invited everyone to stay for a picnic afterwards. I did not. Mostly because I didn't have the requisite picnic gear. Or any food, which is the most important picnic requisite. But as I turned to leave, two girls turned to stay. A thing I know because they were speaking perfect American English to each other. They were like smaller reverse-mes!

Splashes of pink on a dreary day. Even the dog is
ready to bring down the patriarchy.
It was an exhausting första maj. A fun day, but an exhausting day. I was expecting more radicalism from some of the parties. I was expecting more singing and chanting from all of the parties. I was even expecting a few right-wing counter protests. Instead, it was a big party. And a family event. There were kids walking around with their faces painted, holding balloons, sometimes holding signs. One young girl walked by me with a sign that read "Längre lunchrast." Longer lunch breaks. Fight for your rights, little girl, fight for your rights.

I didn't stick around long enough at any one rally to get a good feel for the political nuances of each party, but several themes kept coming up again and again. Refugees. Migrants. Jobs. Equality. There was talk about the plight of so many around the world, around Europe, around Sweden. There was mourning for lives lost. But these parties weren't going to fix those problems today. In fact, they weren't even going to mourn those problems today. Today, they were going to organize.

Welcome to Sweden. I hope I did my farmor proud.