On the day before May Day I found myself particpant in, and witness to, a reminder of why the day and the movement for which it stands are so necessary. The occasion was a march in Harajuku held by the 'Conspiracy of the Precariat.' This group, who organise temporary, part time and otherwise shabbily treated employees, make up in chutzpah what they lack in discipline. The slogans of the march and rally ( Freedom and Survival!) were somewhat abstract. The violence of the police was distressingly concrete. By my own estimate, some three hundred odd riot police were on hand (and foot and club) to protect the public from fewer than one hundred and fifty demonstrators. Several arrests were made; those snatched included three activists, a van, a sound system and a balloon. Why such brutal treatment of such an unfortunately small group? The explanation begins with the rally that preceded the march.
The Conspirators held their assuredly public meeting in Onden-ku Community Centre in Harajuku. The venue was well advised since Harajuku is popular with the young and the different, those most likely to lead the precarious existence against which the conspirators ranged themselves. The heavy presence of note taking middle aged men outside the building, however, suggested more the secret policeman or the pervert (the two are far from mutually exclusive.) Perhaps one hundred people ignored the snitches and attended the symposium. The participants were noticeably younger and more female than those of other meetings of the Japanese left.The platform, two academics and a trade unionist, was somewhat conventional but a fairly interesting discussion followed their respective speeches. This discussion led naturally to the demonstration, upon which we soon set out.
At the head of the demonstration the organisers had arranged a van with a sound system, playing the cheerful trance music most likely to appeal to the Harajuku set. This van made the police very angry; most of all they were angry that they had no legal reason to remove it. Their attempts to do so say much about whom the Japanese state allows space and sound - any moustachioed xenophobe can blare racist dirges at passers by and expect no trouble. After some orchestrated scuffling the police allowed the march, which was legal and permitted, to proceed.
Harajuku's shoppers, many perhaps freeters themselves, appeared to welcome the march and many joined in with gusto. At the junction of Omotesando and Meiji Dori the police determined themselves to put a stop to such behaviour. Ranks of the riot squad amassed to bark and to bully. The police stopped the music van and arrested the driver and another particpant who ran to defend him. As they bundled these men away in a gunmetal van, the police surrounded the demonstration, violently shoving back anyone who tried to engage passers by. The slogans of the demonstration turned, naturally and humanly, to 'Give us back our friends!' This the coppers had no intention of doing and the confrontation continued for ten minutes or more. Once allowed to proceed, the march moved on again in the direction of Shibuya, remarkably still picking up passers by. Of particular note was the reaction to MacDonald's restaurants along the route. The march stopped at each of these fast food outlets and demanded 'higher wages! higher wages!' to the approval of the customers eating substandard food and the workers receiving substandard pay.
Displays of solidarity such as these were of course too good to be allowed to continue. With dreary and predictable thuggishness, the police launched another assault in the busy shopping area in front of Shibuya station. The pretext this time was the large red balloons one of the marchers had been carrying. The police violently parted the balloon from its owner and arrested both. Your correspondent and another particpant turned back to see what was going on, as did most of the demonstration. The police quickly surrounded the balloon carrier, and in the meanwhile around seven or eight of their colleagues rounded upon a leading female activist who was using a megaphone to draw attention to the brutality. The image of this courageous comrade can serve as a metaphor for the demonstration as a whole; weighing less than fifty kilogrammes and submerged in a sea of violent cop, she never once stopped dissenting through the megaphone as they forced her to the ground. Other demonstrators arrived to protest the shamlessness of the police and our comrade was released. The balloons were not so lucky; along with their owner they were taken away in the police van, hanging forlornly from the doors. It seems even reactionaries appreciate the theatre of the absurd.
Sans truck, sans music and sans balloons, the march returned to the orginal meeting place. There followed an impressive display of the solidarity and democracy from which the police did their best to protect Japanese society. After an open meeting and report of the day's, the group decided unanimously to go to the police stations and demand the release of their comrades. One of the prisoners has so far been released - two are still in custody. If you wish to support the balloon carriers against the baton wielders please send a message
I had intended to show pictures of the police at work in this report but cannot do so for legal reasons. When the other two protestors are released I will add photographic evidence.
There will be more May Days and more marches. It is likely that the state, in its tangible form as an extendable truncheon, will try to repress these also. The answer to this is not to be intimidated when police outnumber demonstrators. It is to make the demontrations too big to be outnumbered.