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Louisville's First May Day Celebration

Posted by Tim Duncan to Indymedia, May 6, 2001

Activists, organizers, musicians, poets, students and workers gathered in downtown Louisville, Ky., to celebrate the city's first May Day Festival of Resistance and to protest low wages, corporate greed and environmental destruction caused by globalization.The event kicked off at 3 p.m. with several people distributing fliers that explained the rally's purpose to people passing by Jefferson Square Park, the center of rally activities. Louisville police officers, on foot, bicycles, ATVs, and in cruisers immediately converged on the area to the point that, at times, they outnumbered the people attending the rally. As the rally got underway, police began stopping people as they headed to the rally. In one instance, approximately 20 police officers surrounded a group of 4 young men walking toward the park and threatened to arrest them if they did not provide their names and addresses. Police lied to the young men by telling them that the rally had ended, and told them they needed to "get the fuck out of downtown." The young men, however, continued to the rally where one of them informed the crowd of the incident and warned of police harassment, as the same police involved in the incident looked on. The police would later wrestle this young man to the ground, handcuff him with both metal and plastic handcuffs, and arrest him during the demonstration.

Speakers from several organizations addressed labor, environmental, law enforcement and global trade issues during the two-hour rally. Representatives of Louisville's Green Party and Jobs with Justice spoke of the connection between environmental and labor issues, as well as Louisville's growing 'living wage' campaign. An Industrial Workers of the World representative encouraged the crowd to support the ongoing Jeff Boat strike. A Citizens Against Police Abuse spokesperson warned the crowd and on-looking police that unless concerns about police abuse were addressed soon, the community was facing a 'Cincinnati-like' situation. Serpent Wisdom provided a musical set.

Police presence throughout the rally remained large and many people in the crowd commented that such measures were intended to frighten people from stopping and listening to the speakers and music. People also reported that they overheard police officers making intimidating and sarcastic comments about speakers addressing the rally. At 5:30, approximately 50 to 60 people, many carrying protest signs and led by a group holding a May Day banner, left the rally to march to a near-by Starbucks coffee shop. The police immediately mobilized and forced the marchers onto the sidewalk. Police warned demonstrators they could only walk on one side of the sidewalk and if anyone walked on the wrong side of the sidewalk or crossed the street at any other point than at a traffic light, the demonstrator would be arrested. Police surrounded protesters as they tried to keep to one side of the sidewalk and taunted them as they marched. When a ten-year old child, accompanied by his father, was frightened by the police's menancing presence and threats and began to cry, police officers sarcastically responded that he shouldn't be at the demonstration.

Protesters made three stops along the march route, at Starbucks' coffee shop, Louisville Gas and Electric headquarters, and Salomon Smith and Barney investment office. Police presence grew in numbers as the march continued and police on bicycles, in cruisers and on an ATV continued to harass and threaten demonstrators. A police 'paddywagon' also followed the demonstrators.

Demonstrators commented that the smiles and laughter of some of the police indicated that they enjoyed intimidating the marchers. Throughout the march, demonstrators complied with police instructions to remain on half of a sidewalk. Despite this attempt, when one crowded demonstrator, while attempting to stay on the side of the sidewalk, accidently brushed against a police officer the police officer warned that if he touched him again the police officer would "rip his head off."

At Starbucks, demonstrators handed out and posted fliers citing Starbucks' practice of buying coffee from plantations that used children as laborers. Louisville Gas and Electric was targeted for reaping big profits from rising utility bills, costs that especially hurt poor people. Salomon Smith and Barney was included as a stop on the march since it is the investment firm chosen to manage the International Financial Corporation's (the World Bank's financial arm) global bond issue.

As the demonstration stood in front of Salomon Smith and Barney's investment office, the police continued to squeeze demonstrators to one side of the sidewalk. When one young man placed a foot on the 'wrong' side of the sidewalk, police immediately grabbed him, forced him to the ground, handcuffed him, and shoved him into a cruiser.

When another young man reached out to assist the arrested individual he was also forced to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested. Shocked and angered demonstrators reacted to these sudden arrests by demanding to know where they could stand on the sidewalk. Police officers either didn't react or responded sarcastically. Both young men have been charged with disorderly conduct and one has been charged with hindering arrest. A group of demonstrators maintained a jail vigil until both were released at 12:30, Wednesday morning.

Organizers and demonstrators vowed that this would not be the end of demonstrations in Louisville for local and global economic justice. One demonstrator remarked that Louisville police had the opposite effect of frightening people from participating in future protests. "I'll be back," he said,"We've had Seattle, Cincinnati, Prague, and Quebec City. Now it's time to bring the struggle home."