May Day in Berlin: All That and a Bag of Tea

by Ayesha Adamo

By fate or by accident, I found myself in Berlin on May Day this year.  May Day is not widely recognized as a holiday/day of demonstration in the United States, even though the date was officially chosen for international recognition because of the Chicago workers’ strike-turned-riot in 1886.

But most Americans are unaware of both the Chicago riots and the fact that the rest of the world has a socio-politically vibrant workers’ holiday associated with them.

Instead, America has so-called “Labor Day” at the end of the summer, with its barbeques and one-day sales.  May Day in the US has gone the way of house music, which was also born in Chicago, but instead of celebrating Frankie Knuckles, we celebrate Lady Gaga, who kind of reminds me of a barbeque and one-day sale (think consumerism and slathering ribs in a high-gloss varnish of high fructose corn syrup).

But I digress.  Back in Berlin, I had the chance to listen to German folks complain about the people in their country for a change.  Many longed for the good old days, when supermarkets were burned to the ground in riots that “really meant something.” Many spoke of how May Day has now become a theatre of rage, how the young want to throw their stones and the police play their role dutifully, but the script has lost its meaning compared to what it was like in the 1980’s.  They likened today’s May Day to a ritualized rebellion, a stage on which to act out one’s discontent with society on a single scheduled day of the year so that the other days might remain peaceful.  It’s a bit like carnival: a day when the rules don’t count.

But this year, one meaningful demonstration rose above the usual melee.  At this May Day action, 10,000 peaceful demonstrators gathered in Prenzlauer Berg and blocked all possible paths of a Neo-Nazi march across Berlin.  According to those I met who were there, the cops were obligated to help the Nazi group push through the crowd or find a different route, in protection of their free speech and all that.  Reportedly, the cops lived up to this expectation, albeit somewhat feebly, but when all paths were filled with masses of opposing protesters, they had no choice but to send the Nazis home.

“Who are these Nazis, anyway?” I asked.  It was then explained to me that they weren’t officially a “Nazi” party – that would be illegal – but rather a group of ultra conservatives, “You know, like in America you have the Tea Party.  It’s people like that.”  I soon found out that this was hardly an isolated analogy.  “You know, Nazi’s.  You guys call them the Tea Party.”  In fact, this is what I heard at every dinner party when the subject came up, which it inevitably did, and without the slightest note of force or hatred in the statement, but as though it were just another simple fact – as though this one to one relationship between “Nazi” and “Tea Party” were as natural as breathing Berlin’s spring air…which is much fresher than New York’s spring air, by the way.

Now, I had never thought of it quite in those terms, but I knew what they meant. Sure, the flagrant stars-n-stripes nationalism is a bit of a social gaffe in the international arena, and there’s a hyper-awareness about overt nationalism in a country like Germany, not just because of social sophistication, but because it’s ingredient #1 in a fascist regime…and Germans know how to spot a fascist regime a mile away by now.  Practice makes perfect, but it would be better if America didn’t have to repeat the same exercises to learn the lesson.

Then there’s the fact that nobody who’s ever lived in a country with socialized healthcare (myself included) has the faintest idea why anyone would be against it – unless of course, you’re one of those greedy assholes who runs a health insurance company.  Do the ‘Baggers just think people should die if they can’t afford to be healthy?  Can’t they imagine that they might one day be in the dollars-or-die quandary? Do they just not care about anyone else?  In Berlin, someone reasoned, “They’ve read Foucault and they’re against biopower!”  Naturally, everybody laughed, for obvious reasons.  After all, a poll by CBS News reported that for all that Tea Baggers are “better educated than most Americans,” many having graduated from college and such, only eight percent of those polled knew that the meaning of the word “socialism” had something to do with a redistribution of wealth.  But then 77 percent of Tea Party activists get their news from Fox News, proving that the ancient art of hypnotism is alive and well.   CBSNews

And how about Fox News.   You know, when you think about it, maybe it took a group of righties to revive the dead artforms known as protest and demonstration in America.  No one in the Murdoch-manipulated press wants to give airtime to lefty protests, even if it’s a movement too large to be ignored.   You don’t even see mention of the less conservative Coffee Party that’s conquered Facebook.  If the Tea Party’s legacy ends up being that they made public demonstration a viable activity in America again, it’s not a bad legacy, but if the lefties want any press in the old media, they’re going to need to jump on the Tea Party’s frock and coattails for it, maybe do what they did in Berlin.

What’s most amazing about Tea Party PR is the way that they, and even their more extreme sub-groups like the American Third Position, have adopted retro lefty lingo from the golden age of protests by calling themselves “anti-establishment” without even a breath of irony.  True Tea Party supporters don’t seem to realize that they’ve latched on to a movement that’s sponsored by corporate giants, the very people that the movement is supposed to be in opposition to.  What kind of grassroots movement can afford to pay Sarah Palin $100,000 for just one appearance?  Here at Loss of Eden, we could have told ‘em first-hand that this wasn’t a grassroots movement back in early 2009, when David and I handed over a copy of our song “Here’s Your Revolution” to someone at Clear Channel who was gathering music for “…a protest, this little Tea Party thing they were hoping to organize.” Something like that.  Who knew that the little-tea-party-that-could would go so far? Rupert Murdoch? The Clear Channel Conspiracy?  What else can one think when all the early press shows up in the same predictable places?

On the other hand, it’s hard to completely write off any group that so vocally opposes bailouts of the financial industry. Now, I can’t really read the German newspapers, but from the looks of the headlines, it doesn’t seem like they’re so excited to bail out Greece, but at least Greece has something to offer Germany: beaches, sunshine, naked statues…When was the last time the Wall Streeters brought anything half that good to the table for Americans?

And yet, that’s when you have to ask yourself: why would the rich guys at Fox and Clear Channel want to pretend to be against the rich guys on Wall Street?  So that they can actually push the real agenda of less regulations for the big, powerful companies?  It’s like a sneaky kind of bailout that keeps on giving, and keeps on taking from the people who need it most, like the fishermen on the Gulf Coast who are going to suffer for the lack of enforced regulations on the big guys for a long, long time.  Kind of reminds me of the way that J.P. Morgan gained support for central banking by spreading rumors that lead to the Panic of 1907, and Warburg kept the volley going by selectively quoting Abe Lincoln to make the central banking idea sound more legit.  Our current financial crisis doesn’t have a spiffy name yet, not like “The Panic of 1907,” and the Tea Party prefers The Constitution to Honest Abe, but the point is to gain popular support for deregulation of any sort – cap and trade, for example – which helps the big corporations, just like the central banking system helps the big financiers.  Resisting cap and trade doesn’t make more jobs for the people who need them.  You would think that with the Grand Ole Opry under water, or the destruction of revenue for fishermen, tourism and ultimately much more on the Gulf, the true Tea Baggers would understand that this kind of action, an action against the environment that we all have to live in, only helps the Halliburtons of the world.

You would think…but you would be wrong, somehow.

But on May Day in Berlin, we’re pouring wine and clinking glasses, distancing ourselves from the insurrection that we might already be in the middle of, and waiting for the big meltdown.  The expat next to me mentioned how surprised and embarrassed he was on his first European theatre tour when he heard that the money allotted to the Arts in the city of Frankfurt was equal to the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts in America.  But America does have its theatre, no doubt.  When I heard about the man who suicide bombed the IRS in Texas a few months back, it was hard not to be moved by the performance.  It hardly mattered that the far right had adopted this fallen pilot as a hero; it was the gesture itself and the reasoning behind it that meant something.  In Berlin, you can tell from the ease in a person’s step, the ease in their lifestyle, the funding of their Art and their healthcare, the way that all their trains run smoothly and on-time: however imperfect it may be, these Germans have a government that cares enough to support people.  Americans do not.  As I always say, “when you have nothing to lose, you become capable of anything.”  So many in America are reaching that point, the point of having nothing to lose.  It is no longer theatre, or perhaps it’s theatre of the best sort: the theatre of rage that is real.

On my very first day of acting class, I learned that Sandy Meisner defined acting as “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”  Is it any wonder that crashing a plane into an IRS building seemed to one man the most truthful way to live, and die, under the imaginary system of market economy, now that we’ve taken capitalism all the way?  The man with a plane is the proof that when America finally decides to do theatre, America does it all the way, too.  Maybe it’s those living truthfully in the imaginary circumstances of our economy that are the only ones living truthfully at all.

Across the table, Thomas, who had long ago abandoned the rebel life of a pre-teen Maoist who lived to beat up cops to embrace academic life as an anthropologist, pointed out the sound of the May Day helicopters circling above us – the sound of keeping order, but it’s really more for show.  He said, “When I hear that, I start treading in my stall.”

Me too.

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