Eat red food, to wear red accessories, to get caught red-handed reading Karl Marx...
Philip Wohlstetter (right) wants the city "to eat red food, to wear red accessories, to get caught red-handed reading Karl Marx" for a month. Courtesy of Philip Wohlstetter

Red May is a month-long festival that begins on the first day of May and brings to Seattle some of the brightest names of the radical left (China Miéville, Michael Hardt, Joshua Clover, Nisi Shawl—to name a few). It's also an arts and film festival that explores the meaning of the color red for leftist politics in the 21st century.

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Though many people and organizations brought the whole large and impressive event together, it began with Philip Wohlstetter, a local critic, translator, and film activist who, in many ways, sees Red May as a kind of remix of a writing collective, Invisible Seattle, that he and three others started 1979 and that experimented with the intersections of democracy, technology, and creative production. The idea of Invisible Seattle was to takeover the city "by hypnotic suggestion." Red May—its size and big names—is a less suggestive and more direct attempt to takeover one of the richest capitalist cities in the world.

Below is a short interview with Wohlstetter about the festival.

Why Red May?

Seattle needs a vacation from capitalism. From the buzzwords it worships so blindly. High Tech. Entrepreneur. Innovation. We want the city to turn red for a month. To eat red food, to wear red accessories, to get caught red-handed reading Karl Marx, and (while the world maximizes human capital) to live prodigally in the red as if there's no tomorrow.

Give us a little history.

Some hear Red May and think: Stalin, the Gulag, Mao’s great Famine. Others hear it and think apples, roses, the planet Mars. In 2015, I started working with Category One people: it fell apart. In 2016, I got it off the ground with Category Two people. They’re also called artists. It’s been a blast.

What do you and your co-conspirators hope to achieve?

We want to Occupy May. To make it the public home for Left reflection that’s been absent since the Occupy Movement was evicted from the heart of America’s cities. Let’s assume for a month that the market is not the solution to the problems that the market creates. Let’s riff on red.

Tells us about the Red Flag committee/conspirators.

Hami Bahadori, Red May’s secret agent in Helsinki, devised a generic protest. Meet at a gallery, pick up blank flags on poles and march to wherever, letting the spectators fill in the blanks. Seattle will get red generic flags and what better place to unfurl them than First Thursday.

Is this the best time to be listening to the radical left, considering how bad things are? When Trump is even attacking the moderate or neoliberal left?

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In America, you get red-baited no matter how moderate you are, so why be moderate? Besides, without a radical left, the world just keeps being pulled rightward. Look at France, where a government that called itself Socialist dismantled rights that took workers years to win.

What happens after Red May?

We prepare for the next one. We inspire other cities of the world to Occupy their own Mays. We offer them, free of charge, the Red May do-it-yourself kit: graphics, slogans, web design. Imagine it. Red May Cleveland. Red May Cairo. Red May Valparaiso. In fact, Red May Helsinki is taking place right now.