Jesse, a 16-year-old high school student, attended the May Day rally in Sydney, held on Sunday, 7 May. It was his first May Day march. “I heard a lot of fuss about it on Twitter from Americans, and all over the world. The May Day march was really exciting!”, he said.
However, administrators at Jesse’s school didn’t agree, handing him a Saturday detention as punishment for his attendance at the annual march to celebrate the achievements of the workers’ movement. The letter to Jesse’s parents outlining his crime read: “Jesse did not attend the May Procession on Sunday 7th May, instead he went to the May Day protest march in the city”. The letter emphasised the gravity of his punishment, and warned that too many Saturday detentions would lead to the reconsideration of Jesse’s enrolment.
The May Procession is an annual event held by the school to celebrate its founder. Having attended the event last year, Jesse described it as a tedious affair, in which a statue of the Virgin Mary is paraded around the school’s quadrangle.
This year, according to the school’s website, students and staff at the May Procession heard from a Catholic educator whose speech was, in part, a nostalgic reflection on his experiences during the 1960s. “In the English speaking western world the anthem of the decade was Bob Dylan’s evocative ballad, The Times They Are A-Changin’ … the mood for change was much more powerful than the resistance … The mood for change was expansive, more desired than decried, and there was explosive energy around it”, he said, before lamenting the absence of a such a mood among young people today.
In light of the keynote speech, the irony of the school’s decision to punish him for attending a protest is not lost on Jesse. In a symbolic act of resistance, Jesse chose to read about the Marxist analysis of oppression during his detention.
“I’ll see if I can get an exemption next year, but even if I don’t I’ll go to May Day anyway. No amount of detention is going to stop me from going to protests”, Jesse said firmly. True to his word, a week later Jesse attended a protest against Scott Morrison in the early hours before school and, on the same day in the evening, the Nakba protest.