May Day parade aims to provoke political discourse

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Look down – the first crop of mushrooms is already popping up. Their earthy, flesh-colored fungal spores are rooting into the cool earth. Some are eating toxins out of the soil, connecting the earth to the air.

But one Godzilla-size rolling ‘shroom the length of a school bus will welcome spring to Bloomington Avenue in south Minneapolis on Sunday.

The 34th annual MayDay Parade, produced by In the Heart of the Beast, a puppet and mask theater, will “bridge” the gap between a frost-covered winter and a dew-covered spring.

The parade will be an eclectic curbside puppet, dance and music show.

This year’s parade is entitled “A New Bridge,” and parade sections will narrate a five-part story.

Community members created the parade to “talk about what’s happening in our lives,” artistic director Sandy Spieler said. “What is it that uplifts us? What is it that brings us down?”

The tale begins in a gloomy past, upset with exhaustion, war, lost housing and tumbled infrastructure – broken bridges of concrete and broken human bridges of faith, trust, confidence and hope, Spieler said.

Next, it will race through a drum-led chorus of (beating) hearts, on to swallows nourishing life and heralding the spring, eliminating suffering.

Moving forward, the parade will beckon contemplation of the economy, energy trends and how to plan for the future: the “postcollapse world,” as Spieler said.

May Day Festivities
What: 34th annual MayDay Parade and Festival
When: 1 p.m., Sunday
Where: Parade starts at Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street, traveling south on Bloomington toward Powderhorn Park (3400 15th Ave. S.)
Additional Information: Tree of Life ceremony begins around 3 p.m. in Powderhorn Park (after the parade) and festival to follow. If May Day is postponed, announcements will be made by 11 a.m. on these radio stations: KFAI 90.3 FM in Minneapolis, 106.7 FM in St. Paul and WCCO 830 AM. May Day rain date: Sunday, May 11.

The street show will crescendo with a mammoth mushroom float, creating a new “bridge.”

The traveling theater will be interspersed with community organizations, bands, political candidates and parade revelers.

So, while the parade ushers in the newborn spring, it also provides a stage for political discourse.

“They picked that day (May Day) because it does have that international sort of resonance, and it was meant to be kind of protest and holiday at the same time,” Mary Jo Maynes, a historian specializing in European culture, said.

That international flavor Maynes refers to took place across Europe on Thursday, when workers enjoyed a day off.

Jealous?

May Day was the original Labor Day, created right here in the United States.

Now, workers in more than 66 countries worldwide celebrate with a legislated hooky day. But not here.

It all started in Chicago on May 1, 1886, when workers took to the streets, crusading for an eight-hour union-backed workday.

But the peaceful protest quickly turned deadly.

In what’s now known as the “Haymarket Massacre,” around eight civilians and eight police officers died after a bomb was set off in the crowd.

For years after that, unions and workers would take May 1 off, “and go and have political meetings but also picnics and things like that,” Maynes said. “It was eventually made a legal holiday,” and, thus, Labor Day was born.

Later, President Cleveland became uncomfortable with Labor Day’s tie to the international socialist movement, and moved the date as far off as possible, to early September, said Maynes.

But not all parade preparations in Minneapolis stemmed from politics.

Eleven-year-old Shania Thompson was making sure the butts for the parade – symbolizing the “buts” and excuses of today’s Americans – were painted just the right shade of pink, Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Jacob Osborne, a senior at South High School in Minneapolis, created a massive, skinny totem pole that he will tote on his back as he travels the parade route.

“This is community building at its best,” lifelong south Minneapolis resident Alan Olson, 52, said of the parade, as he distributed staples and box cutters to float, puppet and paper-mache creators, young and old.

“It’s about change,” he said.

“(Everyone is) looking for some alternatives to the way we’ve been doing things,” said Olson, who’s volunteered with the parade for around five years.

“Each of the May Day parades is really a barometer of what’s going on in culture,” he said.