May Day festival reflects community’s celebration of nature, labor and life

by Sean Madigan

Giant vibrant puppets wobbled down the street while children dressed as robins, elephants and pandas danced to the rhythmic beat of tribal drums. Thousands of people celebrated earth, life and humankind as they lined Bloomington Avenue in southeast Minneapolis to watch the 25th annual May Day Parade Sunday afternoon.
Taking the theme “Somos Uno” — we are one — the May Day Parade and festival honors the coming of spring by bringing people out of their homes and into the park. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater coordinates the celebration, drawing on symbolic green and red roots.
The green root stems from the ancient Nordic earth calendar which marks the blossoming of spring; the red root signifies the blood root, signifying people’s labor.
The first May Day began in 1886, when a workers rally in Chicago erupted into violence. Since then, May Day has become a day to honor the labor struggle throughout the world.
The parade, which trickled down Bloomington Avenue into Powderhorn Park, brought out a rich slice of the community.
“Everybody is really eager for spring,” said Doug Nethercut, a resident of south Minneapolis. Nethercut and his wife, Diana DuBois, have been coming to the May Day celebration “on and off” each year since its beginning in 1975. But this is the first year DuBois and their daughter Sophie became part of the parade.
DuBois, like hundreds of other parade participants, took part in a series of workshops the theater holds for the public. The theater designs a story board for the parade and participants create their own costumes.
“It’s really a lot of good energy,” DuBois said.
After the puppets pass, the parade route is open to the political interests of the community.
As protesters advocated freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Kale Liberation Army’s band members played wearing nothing more than a few patches of leaves, celebrating nakedness. Demonstrators waved banners calling to end sanctions on Iraq, while a man in an ape suit glided by on rollerskates.
“There were atheists, then a church group — it was good to see that everybody got a chance to be heard,” said Sarah Burns, a freshman in the College of Liberal Arts. Sunday was Burns’ first May Day Parade.