One of the most successful May Day demonstrations in years took place earlier today, as large numbers filled the streets of Toronto in the annual festival of workers rights that is celebrated worldwide.
Early in the day, a small Occupy contingent began guerilla gardening in a small patch at Queens Park, behind the provincial parliament building. The two dozen or so police attending the event stood well back, although a video unit showed a strange interest in the goings on. The camera on top of the black SUV with heavily tinted windows swivelled back and forth over a small group busily engaged in planting peas, garlic, onions, kale, lettuce and radishes. None of the other journalists present seemed to notice, so our crew approached and motioned that we wanted to ask them a question. After a few hand signals indicating that we should wait while they finished talking about something, the van pulled away, only to return five minutes later to the same spot.
This 'Garden Party Picnic Potluck' was held to 'challenge the lack of food security for many in this city', said Jacob Kearey-Moreland, who organized the event. Kearey-Moreland said the symbolic garden at Queens Park was one of '99' other gardens planned across the city on May Day, intended to connect food security to broader economic issues - namely that, in spite of abundance, 1 billion people globally lack access to food. Occupiers plan to return regularly until the garden is harvested.
The day's main rally and march gathered at City Hall later in the afternoon, and quickly swelled to roughly 1500 people. The event, a joint action between the May 1st Movement, No One Is Illegal and Occupy Toronto, denounced austerity policies at all levels of government, and highlighted the struggles of immigants, refugees and indigenous peoples in Canada, drawing links between them and the historical struggles of the labour movement, whose victory in securing the 8-hour workday is routinely celebrated on May Day. Nadia Saad of No One Is Illegal said: "We will connect our struggles." In a press release, NOII called for the "freedom to move, stay and return" for non-status and migrant workers who have virtually no rights under the Canadian immigration system.
Organized labour had a somewhat lackluster turnout at this year's rally, with the smattering of union flags largely outnumbered by red and black ones. After a two hour march and the extended occupation of several intersections, the participants reached Alexandra Park, where a concert was held until dusk. Those who remained then returned to the downtown core. As night fell, about 300 people marched back toward the financial district as part of a spring bid to re-occupy that has occured across North America.
Sakura Saunders, a spokesperson for Occupy Toronto, said that "Occupy Toronto intends to start doing 24-hour occupations to mark significant moments when the one percent is conspiring against the public."
At 10pm, the re-occupation march reached Simcoe Park, adjacent to the CBC building. The park fittingly contains a monument to workers who died while on the job, and stands across the street from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, from which more than 20,000 demonstrators were barred during the G20 Summit of June 2010 (this was the summit where many of the austerity measures now being protested were hammered out). The Convention Centre will also host the Barrick Gold AGM tomorrow. The Toronto-based mining giant is abhorred by many mining activists for its dismal environmental and human rights record.
Three protest chaplains were arrested shortly before midnight, during their attempt to put up a 'structure' (in this case, a tent), which had been forbidden earlier by police. The police, who informed Occupy that the city's Parks and Recreation department would allow demonstrators to stay as long as they didn't 'lie down,' use sleeping bags or put up structures, had until this point taken a largely hands-off approach to the May Day demonstrations, although they maintained an highly visible and intimidating presence throughout the day, mingling with the crowds and having somewhere between 50 and 100 officers on hand and a clutch of vehicles nearby (including a mobile command unit and multiple prisoner transport vans).
Meaghan Daniel, a lawyer with the Movement Defence Committee (a volunteer organization which offers legal support to activists), highlighted the degree to which overpolicing of certain demonstrations occurs.
"You don't see this [level of] police presence at other protests...it only comes out for these types of left-wing events. Its not really equal opportunity policing."
May Day actions were well attended in other cities that have been part of the Occupy movement. Many thousands turned out in Montreal, New York, Oakland and Melbourne. At press time, downtown Oakland was under seige, with mass arrests, random police violence and some property damage. Several police cruisers were set on fire. Montreal was the scene of pitched battles after the CLAC turned out in force, and Occupy Wall Street once again attempted to retake Zucotti park, vowing to stay 'until evicted, then go and do jail support' after a day which saw perhaps 25,000 people in the streets of New York.
Europe saw its customary large turnouts, with a million people in cities in Spain, and hundreds of thousands in Germany, Greece and elsewhere. The movement was also present in South America and Asia, with demonstrations in Santiago, Bogota and Manila.
Locally, the chaplains were the only detentions of the day, and were released with $65 tickets and told they were banned from returning to the park, according to organizers.
Activists plan to continue occupying Simcoe Park throughout the night and during the day tomorrow with a schedule of workshops, film screenings and demonstrations, including an action against Barrick Gold's AGM at 10am.