Photos: Celebrating May Day in Middletown

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.

Pamphlet Stump

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.”

Whole crew working

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.

4 thoughts on “Photos: Celebrating May Day in Middletown

  1. Ross

    We will be meeting each Friday at 5:30 in Spear Park, for those who are interested in continuing grassroots action like this, or just want a place to talk about whatever they’ve been seeing in the community or world lately.

  2. Townie and Wesleyan grad

    As a long-time Middletown resident and Wesleyan graduate, I am very proud of the collaborative effort by the students and local activists who did this wonderful work to reclaim the trash-strewn empty privately owned lot on Washington Street for a People’s Garden. I was also delighted to see the owner showed up and was nicer to the activist’s than the Centerplan representatives, who threatened to call the police. The owner probably was grateful that his trash-filled land had been cleaned up by the activists.

    It is easy to criticize Wesleyan students for all kinds of things, but these activist students who took time from their final exam preparation to DO something useful to the community should be applauded for their efforts.

  3. TownieX

    LOL. what a joke. A may day ‘protest’ lead by privileged Wes students shut down by public safety officers and the local landlord after being “[thanked] for clearing the debris from his lot” So much for radical activism. LOL

    1. April Fawn Scheller

      Anonymous Towniex?

      Kind of strange
      that you didn’t come and just assumed they didn’t have resident help to
      organize. I’m sorry you don’t know the townie activists involved from the start
      or how hard the students worked during no less, the end of the semester. I know
      people who are trying to get research projects done but came to show the
      community they care, and the number one thing said at assembly? They want to be
      included in town and were very happy that off-campus locals not enrolled with
      them helped to organize this event. I had watched students studying around me
      desperately trying to get work done in a revolving crowd during the seven hours
      I was chained to a tree at the courthouse on Tuesday while under constant
      rotating guard. And just read yesterday’s paper to see if I ain’t a jobless
      Middletown resident with stigma. So maybe we’ll see you in the Park at 5:30
      Friday? Hell yeah they care. Even for the least privileged folk that live in
      this town. Being ‘Townie’ can be a privilege too, when giving members of the
      community are not viewed as valued neighbors and are instead shunned or
      ridiculed for expressing caring about social justice for other people around
      them followed through with action to prove it. Many of these allegedly upper
      crust kids are really so deep in debt they fear they cannot pay it one day but
      are bright and caring kids on insufficient aid or predatory loan who devour
      that liberal artsy stuff and sound like dictionaries when they try to just talk, and
      believe it, the university doesn’t like this predation of bright poor kids
      known. Others have risked expulsion so those like their dormie best friends
      can keep going to a school which appears to want to lead the 1% to the end of
      Need-Blind admissions to future ivy league; hand-selecting the political ladder
      of the poor, to harass any student to
      organize an objection to anything the university does on or off campus in town, and
      manipulate the city zoning laws for profit at the cost of the neighborhoods. Some
      are very troubled that the upper class is polluting the earth with labor
      busting factories and have likewise taken a stand against the older generation
      that is possibly destroying the future of the planet and the health of children
      and grandchildren in such great greed. Get out and look around at people and listen
      when the public meets at the park to learn what those particular kids really think about you. You
      are playing right into the hands of those who are really only concerned with exploiting
      you by the divide, the kind of people who would let the upper crust destroy
      your home and toast it. You are self-segregating yourself from assembly which is the same as
      segregating other people from yourself who wanted only inclusion… as hurt as
      you may have been, it’s not a position any ‘Townie’ could complain from. I went
      door knocking with them and what I saw was that some Townies or alleged Townies
      are willing to use the only folk at Wesleyan who give a hoot how Wesleyan’s privilege
      would affect Middletown life, but that others refuse to let them work alone and
      will be around to defend their own neighborhoods by their sides. I was at
      consensus planning and recall it was agreed this would never be done without
      support from the Washington st. neighborhood itself as it was Washington street’s business, we
      went to feel out the support. I could have disagreed trying to cross that
      congested mess by foot each day, but there was support from residents, even those too
      timid to help neighbors. Read press on or off campus and you will see that the
      organization was integrated just by the very reports of who participated with
      these actions Middlesex professor and resident Steve Krevisky, had done the
      teach in and Wes students came to Middlesex to learn from the community, a member of our community was in the photo of the garden in that iconic straw hat familiar to anyone who knows
      the local activist set any. So please respect any stranger who labors and risks
      their neck for your favor rather than scorn them for being unknown by you as
      shallow. This is plain wisdom. Hope you get down to the park with all your
      neighbors, sure saw my own permanent resident neighbors, as well as friends
      from the development’s neighborhood.

      -April Fawn
      Scheller

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