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.