University Bridge seized in rush-hour rally for jobs
Hundreds of demonstrators marched onto Seattle's University Bridge Thursday halting traffic during the evening rush hour in one of several rallies nationwide for "Jobs Not Cuts."
Seattle Times staff reporter
Hundreds of demonstrators marched onto Seattle's University Bridge on Thursday, snarling traffic during the evening rush hour in one of several rallies nationwide for "Jobs Not Cuts."
Seattle police escorted the group from the University of Washington to the University Bridge, and later reported there had been no conflicts in what they termed "the peaceful demonstrations."
This was in marked contrast to Tuesday night, when a group of Occupy Seattle demonstrators was pepper-sprayed by police while blocking downtown traffic, first in Belltown and then near Westlake Center.
The Thursday rally, started at about 3:30 p.m. in the triangle near Husky Stadium and the UW Medical Center, with about 700 people in rain and near-freezing weather.
Among them were union workers, students, Occupy Seattle activists and clergy. The rally was organized by Working Washington, a coalition of labor and community groups.
Addressing the crowd, the Rev. Leslie Braxton of the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship reprised an observation of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "Any nation that produces beggars needs restructuring."
Labor groups across the country chose old bridges for their National Day of Action protests to support proposals in Congress that would boost infrastructure spending.
In Portland, police arrested some demonstrators on the Steel Bridge downtown, and in New York City — after a demonstration that resulted in a number of arrests — a crowd of several thousand people, led by banner-carrying members of the Service Employees International Union, jammed Manhattan's Foley Square and then marched peacefully across the Brooklyn Bridge on a pedestrian promenade.
In Seattle the federal government is, in fact, putting money into infrastructure, spending $813 million near Thursday's protest site on a $1.9 billion Sound Transit light-rail tunnel from the UW to Capitol Hill and Westlake Center.
"There are these investments going on, which is great, but King County has about 50 bridges that are structurally deficient and 100 more that are functionally obsolete," said Sage Wilson, communications coordinator for Working Washington.
The Seattle event also focused on the health-care-affordability crisis and deep cuts to university funding.
"Less money for education means higher class sizes," said Sunny Wissner, a UW freshman, in a speech to the crowd. "I am paying more for less education."
She said later that her chemistry class has 455 students, making personal contact with a professor virtually impossible.
One group of marchers carried a giant banner that reproduced the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and they spread it out on the bridge grid.
Several others got on top of the bridge's overhead trusses, and when word was passed to them that the police wanted them off, they refused to go.
Police stayed off the bridge during the entire protest, and those in the overhead trusses got down when the protest broke up.
Irving Severino, a student at Bellevue College, said he was marching because he has lost state student-aid funding because of state budget cutbacks and has had to take out loans to finish his education.
"A lot more students are taking out loans," he said.
Angie Houck said she was a recent graduate of Highline Community College and could not find work in her field. She said she has worked cleaning houses and at call centers to make money. Her parents' house, she said, is in foreclosure.
Her friend Sabrina Libertty said people are tired of feeling as if they are being lied to. The movement's underlying theme, she said, is a sense that corporations have a lock on government power and "we are being lied to at every level."
Ron Piksa, president of the Iron Workers District Council of the Pacific Northwest, said problems persist for local labor in that state highway projects — including the 2007 Tacoma Narrows Bridge project — import Asian-built trusses and girders, which could have been built here, employing hundreds.
"The theme is, there are so many different issues that we don't have a handle on them anymore in this country," he said, holding a union banner. "You have to just have almost a massive revolt just to get the people's attention."
Plans were originally to congregate on the Montlake Bridge, but several hours before the protest, organizers switched to the University Bridge in order to eliminate any interference with hospital traffic and Highway 520 access.
Traffic delays were minimal or none in the Montlake corridor, but a long line of buses and cars was stopped and detoured at the University Bridge.
The crowd was thinning by around 6 p.m., and the University Bridge reopened at 6:15 after being closed about an hour and a half. About 120 marchers walked toward downtown on Eastlake Avenue East, occupying the southbound direction with police alongside.
Seattle Times staff reporter Katherine Long and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom.
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