May Day more mellow in Olympia

As Seattle and other cities nationwide braced for May Day protests, some folks in Olympia had other ideas for marking this year’s International Workers Day.

An impromptu celebration occurred Friday afternoon at the Artesian Commons by a group informally known as “well wishers.” The group includes everyone from outreach workers to the street community who advocate for making the park — home of the historic artesian well — a better place.

Dozens showed up to bask in the warm sunshine, play basketball, paint faces, smell flowers, make music, drink lemonade and eat ice cream. Near one entrance to the park was a maypole with multicolored streamers.

Renata Rollins, a South Sound community organizer, is also a “well wisher” who regularly promotes functions at the park. Rollins said one goal with Friday’s event was to highlight the roots of May Day, specifically Beltane, a Gaelic May Day festival that traditionally marked the start of summer. Beltane festivities had included visits to sacred sites and “holy wells,” with the latter represented by the artesian well in Olympia’s case.

“To me, May Day is a celebration of the dignity and worth of all people,” said Rollins, who called Friday’s event an opportunity to build relationships at a prominent gathering place downtown.

There has been a push for more events at the Artesian Commons, often referred to colloquially as “the well.” The idea is to foster a more positive atmosphere that discourages unwanted behaviors at the park.

In other South Sound May Day happenings, musicians and artists gathered for a benefit show sponsored by radio station KOWA 106.5 FM. The Critical Mass Bike Ride featured a few dozen cyclists who filled the streets at Friday’s rush hour in a ride from the city’s west side to the Artesian Commons.

The recent unrest in Baltimore was expected to influence May Day rallies and protests. Olympia resident Kevin Collins has been keeping a close eye on news reports from Baltimore because that’s where he grew up — and that’s where his family still lives, including his 71-year-old mother.

The Baltimore riots were sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died in police custody following his arrest. On Friday, the death was ruled a homicide, and charges were filed against six police officers.

Collins, who is African-American, said the riots have kept him awake at night out of concern for his family’s safety, and he is ready to fly to Baltimore on a moment’s notice if the situation worsens. He hopes Friday’s ruling regarding the death of Gray will calm things down in Baltimore and beyond.

“Kids I went to high school with have kids participating in the riots,” said Collins, adding that his mother said she “feels like a prisoner” because of the city’s curfew and hasn’t seen riots like this since 1968. “This weekend is a very pivotal weekend.”