As promised, Middletowners of all stripes delivered a “roving festival of resistance” to the streets of our fine city today. Joined by thousands in countless mass mobilizations across the globe, the local agitators reclaimed a community garden, organized a teach-in, and held a People’s Assembly on Main Street’s Spear Park where a meal was shared amidst a festive atmosphere. The holiday celebrates a storied history of struggle both around the world and amongst Wesleyan students.
This year, the action began around 10:30 a.m. when roughly one dozen celebrants armed with shovels, rakes, mulch, and wheelbarrows took to a vacant lot on Washington Street in a bid to transform it into a People’s Garden.
The lot — which at the start of the morning was an overgrown mess of fallen branches, weeds, garbage, empty bottles, and other debris — was once the site of a small but vibrant community garden established by residents of the local neighborhood. It had since been bought by a speculative landlord who intends to sell the lot to Centerplan Developers as part of their bid to build a strip mall along Washington Street, a plan that has faced stiff resistance from the local community. The goal of today’s action was to “retake the commons,” as one sign read, by reclaiming this land from private interests in order to serve the community.
The guerilla gardeners made swift progress, clearing out garbage and organic debris alike, planting marigolds, and generally beautifying the space. Raised beds were created and a large sign erected that designated the space as “The People’s Garden.”
At around 1 p.m. a Wesleyan Public Safety officer arrived, informing the group that the property owner had called his department saying there were reports of individuals on his land and that they were not wanted there. The group agreed to pack up their things and leave, but not before two individuals identifying themselves as the landlord’s “business representatives” showed up.
The pair accused the gardeners of trespassing on private property and threatened to call the police. The group remained calm as they continued to pack away their equipment. Soon, a large man in a tank top arrived in a pick-up identifying himself as the landlord. He was far friendlier than his representatives, thanking the activists for clearing the debris from his lot, but insisting that they needed to leave as they posed an “insurance liability.”
In the end, the majority of the work the group put into the space remained, including a wooden path, some signage, a bench built onsite, and flower beds. As of sunset, these fixtures remained untouched.
The day of actions continued with a teach-in at Middlesex Community College which featured speakers from the War Resisters League and the Middle East Crisis Committee.
At around 5 p.m., a crowd of over 50 merry makers started trickling into Spear Park on Main Street for a climactic convergence to top off the day’s celebrations. A free meal was shared while the park was decorated with signage and ample chalking.
Informal mingling slowly coalesced into a facilitated assembly (see first photo), during which the gathering discussed the history of May Day, what had brought them there, and shared stories and grievances. While the crowd was more than half Wesleyan students, a surprisingly high proportion of Middletown folks were represented, including children and families, in addition to passersby drawn in by the free food and festive atmosphere. Some in the assembly resolved to meet each Friday in the park at 5:30 to continue the dialogue that had begun there.
See the gallery below for more photos of the garden as well as scenes from May Day mobilizations elsewhere in the world today.