May Day Philadelphia: Baby Steps Toward Something Different

There isn't much of a culture in Philadelphia of militant street presence at demonstrations and protests. A few of us felt that May Day would be an opportunity to begin taking steps to experiment and help build an anti-authoritarian conflictual force. We did not expect spectacular confrontations, we instead hoped to influence the narrative and begin conversations about how anarchists and other antagonists can approach street demonstrations.

A coalition of various groups had organized a march and rally for May Day downtown. At 4pm a few of us arrived at 15th and Market, the time the demo was to start, wearing masks and walking behind a banner that read "revolt against the misery of daily life". There was a decent amount of new faces and some familiar ones as well, about a hundred people were present. It was heartening to see that although we were some of the only people to arrive with masks on, others pulled theirs on after seeing us. Before speakers got on the megaphone we walked through the crowd distributing fliers about May Day and about anonymity*, people seemed curious and receptive. We also brought a few cloth masks to hand out but only gave one away. Speakers, a range of various leftists, spoke of the history of May Day, the struggle for a $15 an hour wage, struggles within schools and universities, and about work, poverty and capitalism.

After the speeches people marched around Center City to various places where shorter speeches were made about workers', prisoners', and environmental struggles, often outside the workplaces or offices relevant to said struggles. Stops included Staples, Comcast Center Plaza, and the district attorney's office. As the demo moved from place to place people shouted slogans and handed fliers to passers-by. For the most part most masked people walked together, albeit loosely.

At the second to last speech location many of the masked demonstrators left. Strike force cops (Philadelphia police with bicycles) followed a few people, but, eventually left them without detaining, questioning or arresting anyone. The march ended after returning to 15th and Market without incident shortly afterward.

The march was more heavily policed than usual by Philadelphia standards (although it was larger than most we've seen in the last year), the usual plainclothes cops with armbands as well as police strike force cops on bikes who kept a perimeter around the demo whenever it stopped. A few cars followed the demonstration as well. For the most part antagonism between police and protestors was non-existent, although at one point one masked protestor was checked by a police bicycle for not standing close enough to the sidewalk "for their own safety, buddy". In our experience cops here take a pretty hands off approach at these sorts of events, outside of directing traffic.

A few short conversations took place among radicals during the march, and we look forward to speaking again in a different context. We know that this march can easily be dismissed as boring (and many parts of it were), we're not interested in painting it to be more exciting than it was, we'd rather meet, experiment, and scheme with others about how we can change the way rebels in Philadelphia interact with street demos and push protest culture in a more conflictual direction. We have a lot to work on and learn, now seems as good a time as any to begin.

-some anarchists

*The two different fliers were handed out, one read:
For centuries May Day has been a time to come together, revolt and celebrate. Generations of workers, witches, students and insurgents of all stripes have come out on May Day to attack the misery of daily life: work, police, gender, race, government and all the forces that try to control our lives.
Bonfires, riots, dancing, and magic have marked this day and we hope that until this terrible world is a a distant memory that people continue to welcome the spring with fire and conflict.

and the other:
Hoods Up!
It should be obvious by now that police are dangerous. By wearing masks together we can create a little bit of safety for ourselves. Masks make room for people to participate in public demonstrations that might not be able to because of their job status, legal status, or immigration issues. Police often film demonstrations and the city is full of surveillance cameras too; putting on masks lets us keep our anonymity in a world that tried harder and harder to monitor everything we do.
Be sure to cover any tattoos and avoid easily identifiable clothes. Some easy ways to mask are:
*Wearing a scarf or bandana with a hat or hood
*Putting your face in the hole of a t-shirt and tying the sleeves behind your head



Buffalo's may day consisted of 5 Marxists shouting wage increase slogans at a McDonald's. Consider yourself lucky.

There's they word again: "antagonists"

I notice this a lot too. I wonder where it originates. The earliest I remember seeing the word used in this way in anarchist texts was Occupied London stuff from a few years back. They even talk about "the antagonist movement" or even the "global antagonist movement." It seems like it serves two functions: 1) not rooting revolt in specific political ideologies like anti-capitalism, communism, anarchism but in the act of revolt or conflict itself and thus trying to avoid ideology or identity politics while still 2) allowing space for some sort of vaguely defined position based on conflictuality. But the word sounds so strange and vague (who is an antagonist, when, etc) and it seems like it risks just avoiding pressing issues such as how do determine which "antagonists" are comrades or friends or in solidarity with our own struggles and which are not without immediately falling back into the traps of ideology and identity politics. I'm sympathetic to the effort but it does come off as a bit of funny, "oh, we don't say anarchist/anti-authoritarian/autonomist/anti-capitalist/activist/whatever anymore, now it's antagonist," changing our language because we can't change anything else. Furthermore, a not coincidentally, only anarchists use the word in this way, so it ironically marks the discourse as belonging to precisely that word people seem to be trying to avoid: anarchists.

it's a good term as it opens up the struggle to many who share our values but perhaps not the names that go with them (for example, how many people "live communism" everyday but don't call themselves communists?) but as Crimethinc recently pointed out in a text about Ukraine, it also might pertain to far-right antagonists of the state.

Well said all around. We try to rotate out words every micro-generation, usually without meaningful effect.

I'm really interested in more writing in this direction. Thoughts from people in cities that don't often see larger confrontations and what steps folks are trying to take to move towards that (or something different, but still openly conflictual). We might have more, or just different, things to learn from each other than from people in, say, Oakland or Seattle.

Agreed. If anarchists weren't so obsessed with reproducing forms and subcultural identity maybe we could stop patting ourselves on the back and start thinking of our actual lived situations and how to pick sides inside of them. I would love to here more reflections on the molecular interventions of comrades everywhere, even in places were there are like 3 anarchists and "nothing is happening" (which is only one way to craft a fiction of relative isolation).

Yeah, you know what, this person is fucking right. I guess the only fear I(or perhaps others) would feel is that with small actions or whatever "reporting" on them would feel fairly insignificant and self congratulatory.

disappear , reappear, dis, re ….

Of course some morons will read it that way. People read big exciting things that way. If you write something with some critical thinking skills, it will help us and you. Ignore the haters and cynics: there is nothing that can save them from their own self hatred.

I hope this is appopriate place to post this because I am an anarchist from a smaller context and I could use some input from someone who understands insurrectionary anarchists, because I'm dating one and all she ever wants to talk about is kind of weird sex stuff like "Oh I'm obsessed with wishing I could lick my own pussy" and stuff like that, and she's an insurrectionary anarchist. I am kind of worried about her but I can't understand what it means, because I'm a syndicalist.

Is there something on internet written about Chicago's mayday ? An NGO with strange relations with the PRI (the party of the mexican president) was organizing it and managed to get someone arrested by cops (I saw two girls from this ICIRR talking with the cops and pointing the person before he get arrested) ... that's really a shame and I really would like to read more about it, and to know what the hell happens to anarchists in this town to let religious people doing very conservativ speaches at the end of the demo (or maybe as it was only in spanish they weren't able to know what was going on ?) ... Coming from abroad that's a huge deception to see that in a big city like that, and the city where may day comes from, there's no one else but a cristian NGO (that I wonder what the hell they were doing in here), and IWW, to get out in the streets ... affortunately in Chile, Turkey and other places around the world they celebrate this day as it has to be done ...

Chicago is fucking trash. The IWW has put out some denunciations of ICIRR, and that's about it. Despite the size of the city, there's not a sizable anarchist population to match, other than the IWW and various anarcho-punks.

Here's an article about the May Day fiasco.

Baby steps? You think in baby steps, you speak in baby steps, then you're takin' baby steps. You should be writing shit like "May Day Philadelphia: The Awakening of the Insurrectionary Potential" not apologizing to the world with your meekness and a promise that you're strategizing. You need to be writing shit titled like "Memorendum to the people of Philadelphia: Social War Now!" so that the local hooligan crews are like "whaa" and even a few syndicalists have their boners rise from the grave.


coming up stat! I'll be sad to see you go.

You only want people to say things like "today we handed out fliers and no one was interested" or "today we hung up some posters and thought about how it would be cool if we did some graffiti too" because deep down that is all that you want to happen. For shame.

Yeah, more delusional lying would be great

Fake it til you make it, bro.

That's my advice for sex.

I know that I had quite a number of police officials following me around the Philly rally... I will say though that it was disappointing to see the amount of hostility between the different groups within the rally itself. The people will never win if they are divided amongst each other for whatever petty reasonings they might have had. Hopefully in the future there will be greater unity and less herding being allowed to happen by the police.

theres no "the people" so its okay

The population of Philadelphia is ~1.5 million. ~100 showed up to this May Day rally.

At some point, isn't it best to accept that street demonstrations don't make much sense? That even the most popular version of your ideas is met with total indifference by almost ever person around you? That your vision of how to change the world - being antagonistic in the street - has no prospects for success at all?

It's okay to walk away and do something else or do nothing at all.

Or if you like fighting cops, fly over to eastern Ukraine or wait for something like the recent turkey and Brazil situations to arise again.

Ukraine /= Turkey or Brazil. I fucking wish the moron who typed this would go there. He would stop commenting here, that's for damn sure.

I didn't say the situations were the same. I said if you like to fight cops, one should go to wherever people are fighting cops, for whatever reason.

The amount of cynicism is not shocking because most anarchists haven no idea how to think the times they actual live in and prefer to drown in stupid individualist and insurrectionist dogma from decades past.

Anti-state conflict in the street is most definitely on the upswing. Now is not the time to be cynical. Insurrectionary upheaval is swallowing the globe. It's practically every month that there are new occupations, new riots, new movements, new struggles. Since Ukraine broke out there has been madness in Bosnia, in Taiwan, and continued struggles in Brazil, Cambodia, Beijing and probably elsewhere.

Thank you for going out there to present these ideas to people, Philly folks. My recommendation: don't get trapped in anti-leftist ressentiment. It's easy to confuse left-wing politicians and managers for well meaning activists (yes, activists) who consider themselves left wing. Try to keep managers marginalized with little direct conflict. Be open to sincere people with different ideas. In my city, we did too much direct hostility for too long with NGO staffers and protest managers and now we are more isolated then we intended to be. Just stay away of this pattern because it happens often. What you can build between folks who don't fit into activist mentalities is more important then tearing down existing leftist shit which is probably not all that big and relevant either. Outmaneuver.

I don't know about the events in Beijing you are referencing. Link to any articles?

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