Labor Day for the last fifteen years for me has been a day at Oaks Park. It’s a gathering of union members at an old amusement park with deep roots in the Portland community. The streetcar in the old days brought families to the park. The food at the picnic upholds the old traditions; hot dogs, hamburgers, corn, potato chips, baked beans, soda, beer and water.
Traditionally, because it is an amusement park, and because the ride bracelets are free we have seen lots of families with children. The children, some so young they take their first little train ride in a big circle around the park with the obligatory photo for family or grandma, and others, the teenagers get the ride bracelets and disappear into teenage world navigating the park in groups happily oblivious of the adults.
Here is the youtube train ride: ( https://youtu.be/pUWMYn_yt6E )
There are the raffles and fundraisers, another tradition. The prizes reflect the current consumer craze. A few years ago it was flat screen televisions. The subliminal message of these prizes, the good life and what it means to own; the food processor, the shiny new pots and pans collection, the fancy backpack. This is the good life, as portrayed here, the icons for the good life at least. For some groups it’s the bingo game cash prize. You see them sitting at tables studying the cards some distracted by ancey young children pulling on their shirt wanting something more.
The politicians and their entourage, young people with a political perspective carrying clipboards and campaign stickers, make the rounds. In an election year these groups swarm like yellow jackets. The smile and handshake is their simple script. And for many here, this is a chance to hear a speech, shake the hand of someone they have only seen on television or heard about, Representative XXX. For others within earshot, the speeches are just background sound while the hamburger is consumed and they chat with family, a friend or acquaintance. Some folks just talk or text on the phone with someone.
The petitioners are out on the paths, earnest young people with message t-shirts, and stickers, pens and clipboards anxious to engage and deliver the forty-five second message, (the why and what for for the petition) and a chance to hand you a pen for the signature, fulfilling their mission.
There is an array of booths, banners and graphics made to engage with young and old ever ready to deliver, the brochure, the what and why the organization exists and why they need YOUR help. Alternative power, healthcare for all, voter engagement, the socialist book publisher with a good read, the county democrats, they are all ready with a handshake or friendly smile too.
It is after all a day NOT on the job, enough reason to celebrate and be happy, then add the “comfort” food supplied at the amusement park. The rides are groaning in the background, old simple mechanical machines, with simple levers and buttons. You can hear the kids screaming out of fear and delight and see the lines awaiting their turn on the groaning machine and scream maker.
At the end of the day, I drive slowly, patiently out of the park behind the others in the working class headed home. A day of fresh air and not on the job, another labor day without labor.