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Putting the 'Fun' in 'Funeral' / by Jeff Reinhardt

On May Day, a/k/a International Workers’ Day, the second annual “Funeral March for Capitalism” took over downtown Boston. At 7pm, a crowd assembled near Park Street station on the Boston Common. This group of protestors was not your typical chanting and sign-waving mob. There were no vinyl banners, coalition slogans or cryptic abbreviations. Instead there were cardboard boxes of costumes and masks, and all the parts of what would become giant puppets.

Using paper-mached masks, colorful costumes, old inner tubes, staples, bamboo poles, and tape, the crew quickly began assembling each section of the parade, complete with its own choreography and signage. Within the hour the crowd was transformed from ordinary protestors, to a mélange of characters seemingly straight out of a fantasy novel.

Then, the brass band showed up. The Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society (SLSAPS for short) began a tune to bring all of the groups together. There was to be a speech, from one of the last remaining capitalists.

“Friends,” said the veiled mourner, addressing the crowd. “It is with great sadness, that I stand before you today, as we gather to mourn the loss of capitalism.” The crowd gathered around the eulogist who stands next to a candlelit coffin holding the corpse of the golden wall street bull, as well as the faces and names of twenty or so of the most powerful CEO’s in the world. Throughout the speech, the jewelry-laden capitalist recounted all of the greatness that capitalism achieved; the crowd responded with ironic laments, and more-sincere guffaws.

Then, a ghost arose from the dead – the spirit of Albert Parsons – before the march took off onto the streets. The parade was organized by The Boston Radical Arts Troupe, a group that exists somewhat figuratively, somewhat tangibly. They work out of the Boston Puppeteers’ Cooperative, a puppet build space and lending library.

Full of colorful characters and stark images, the parade featured marching and dancing skeletons, pallbearers holding the coffin, mourners holding candles, and behind them all, a group of laughable capitalists holding a sign that read “The Ruling Class Surrenders” followed by a stilt dancer with the white flag of submission. There was a group a demons dressed in rags, a group of witches who were sweeping away the miserable system, glittery birds who were stomping down the border wall, with a giant and silvery Puerto Rican Pitirre flying behind them. There were the Industrial Workers of The World, chanting and holding up beautifully painted resurrections of the Haymarket Martyrs, as well as Boston’s most famous victims of the Red Scare, Sacco and Vanzetti.

Spectators throughout downtown were forced to stop everything they were doing to watch the spectacle. Windows of downtown restaurants were full of curious faces, some smiling, some simply confused. Leaflets were handed out explaining the history of May Day to those on the streets.

May Day originated here in the US as a tribute to the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, where workers were killed by police during a general strike for the 8-hour workday. It is now an international holiday. Most of the world celebrates May Day by closing down all businesses, and flooding the streets with protests and festivities. Ironically, in the United States, where we have Labor Day instead, it is just another day, although in recent years this trend has been changing. Starting in 2006, when huge immigrant-led May Day demonstrations filled the streets of all the major cities in the US, a new interest has arisen in making May Day an important day again.

By combining artistic forces with political elements, the organizers of the parade are attempting to re-ignite a deeper desire for justice, one based not just on facts, platforms, and statistics, but from our collective imaginations. By adorning a mask, one is both visibly and metaphorically challenging the labels, definitions, and pre-existing societal norms, and inspiring new possibilities that aren’t yet obvious to the masses.

It is from this desire for something “new” that the parade both begins and ends. It begins with the process of imagination, and ends with execution (not yet with a guillotine). In between these points lie a lot of hard work (using hands-on skills), dedication, and community organizing. Building a parade might seem like something that no group of ragtag artists, with little financial support could pull off. Yet, by bringing these ideas to life, a model emerges for creating more long-lasting forms of social change. May Day is a tribute to those labor activists who did have the imagination and commitment to change the world, and this procession honors them and continues the tradition of realizing the impossible.

At the end of the parade, embraces were exchanged between participants. Some people volunteered to walk puppets back to the build space, as others helped clean up. Sadly, capitalism is not actually dead on a worldwide scale. But perhaps it now is in the hearts of those who participated.

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