May Day March in Milwaukee:

A Sad Joke? A Sanitized Display of Socialist Anger? A Free Concert Posing as a Rally? Or All of the Above?

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

When we think of May Day, most of us remember Eastern Bloc countries with parading nuclear missiles and Communist leaders in the reviewing stand promising the destruction of Capitalism. Milwaukee’s May Day celebration on Sunday was more concerned with the cause of illegal immigrants than intimidating Western Europe. The food was probably better, too.

That’s not to say socialism was absent from Sunday’s events. The Socialist Workers Party was there with tables of books and offering copies of the Militant to passersby. There was a large, red Che Guevara flag. Not sure if the creator of the Che image received the proper royalties for its use, but it’s good to know that Communist mass killers still have a place on May Day.

There was even a group called the Milwaukee Molotov Marchers, a militant leftwing group that plays music at political events. The expected Von Ribbentrop singers to accompany them were apparently unavailable on Sunday. I expect neither would be very popular at Polish Fest.

No leftist march would be complete without a giant puppet and this march had a giant Scott Walker puppet that was not a bad likeness. It also had a woman on stilts dressed as the Statue of Liberty, perhaps a fan of Ghostbusters II.

Occupy Milwaukee and Occupy Fond Du Lac also joined the march, probably to see what an actual crowd looked like.

Approximately 5,000 people, according to police sources that I spoke with, made the march from the Voces de la Frontera office to Veterans Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront. That’s about half of the estimated crowd from last year. (Again, according to an estimate I received from police sources on the scene.)

Before the crowd made the trek to the lakefront, they were entertained by several speakers seeking the crowd’s support for various causes, including the recall of Governor Scott Walker.

Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President MTEA President Bob Peterson spoke to the crowd to demand smaller class sizes, bilingual education, the defunding of private school choice, and the recall of Walker. Perhaps someone should have mentioned to Peterson before his speech that within walking distance is St Anthony School of Milwaukee, a private (Catholic) school in the Choice program serving many Hispanic students who have been failed by the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk started her appeal to the crowd by telling them she was descended from immigrants, too, from Ireland and Germany. She reminded the audience that she was a Milwaukeean at one time, living not far from the site of the pre-march rally.

Falk then launched into an attack on Walker, complaining that he cut funding for schools. She neglected to mention that Peterson’s union cut a deal with MPS prior to Walker taking office that has tied the financial hands of the school district and prevented it from using Act 10 to bring spending under control. She also neglected to mention Peterson’s union membership rejected a compromise that would have cut the pay for teachers union members but would have prevented layoffs of staff.

Falk pledged solidarity with the goals of Voces de la Frontera. “I am proud to stand with Voces de la Frontera and you. And as your governor I will continue standing with you and Voces de la Frontera. Solidarity!”

Voces has endorsed Falk in the Democratic primary for governor in the recall election.

My favorite translator was there from the Spanish version of the Garrett Morris School for the Hard of Hearing to assist Falk. No amplification needed, although she took full advantage.

Of the other candidates in the Democratic primary, the only visible presence was a car near the stage festooned with signs for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The other candidates, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout and Secretary of State Douglas LaFollette, were completely absent from the day’s events.

Capitalism, or at least commerce, was very evident with all of the food vendors working the crowd. Voces De La Frontera also worked the crowd, selling t-shirts commemorating the day for $15. Next year they should sell sweatshirts, or even Trayvon Martin style hoodies since there were a few signs with his likeness scattered in the crowd. There were also people carrying buckets in the crowd looking for “buckets of money” to pay for the “most expensive” event Voces sponsors each year.

At Veterans Park the food and t-shirt sales continued to try to raise money for Voces. A nice family offered to buy me some food but I declined politely.

The family was enjoying the picnic atmosphere of the event at the lakefront. They skipped the march but rode their bicycles from their home on 1st and National to join the fun. The parents told me the teenage children were not interested very much in the rally, but could not wait to see Kinto Sol, a Hispanic hip hop-style band that was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

Kinto Sol probably wished they had better opening acts. Congressman Luis Gutierrez spoke to the crowd mostly in Spanish. However, he did tell the audience in English that the crowd gathered on Sunday could expect help from Chicago, just as Chicago would expect help from Wisconsin. “When we have a fight in Chicago we look forward to you extending your hand to us. And when you have one in Wisconsin we’re here to extend a hand to you.”

I would just observe that when Chicagoans and Wisconsinites are fighting about something, it’s usually because Packer and Bears fans are “extending hands.”

Congressman Gwen Moore also spoke to the crowd at Veterans Park, claiming Republican opposition to expanding the Violence Against Women act was because Republicans don’t want to help immigrant women. Over her continued gum chewing, Moore pledged to follow Gutierrez’s lead on issues affecting illegal immigrants.

With that, the crowd largely dispersed while the younger members of the crowd surged towards the stage to hear the band despite an overwhelmed sound system. Since my music tastes tend towards the classics, I took a moment to watch as people posed with the giant Walker puppet before yielding to the temptation to pose myself. Giant puppets need no translation.

Wigderson is an award-winning columnist from Waukesha.