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May Day protests: traffic jams or worse?
May Day protests, marches and entertainment are likely to cause traffic disruptions in Seattle on Tuesday. Authorities are warning that there's a possibility peaceful demonstrations will be disrupted by people wanting to incite mayhem.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Several political rallies and marches are set to converge Tuesday on downtown Seattle, prompting local officials to warn of traffic disruptions and a possibility that anarchists could use peaceful demonstrations as cover to incite mayhem.
Occupy Seattle organizers, calling for a citywide general strike, plan to gather at Westlake Park for speeches, hip-hop performances and an "anti-Capitalist march" at noon.
Many of those protesters may link up in the evening with the annual May Day march by immigrant-rights activists. The march is scheduled to start at Judkins Park in the city's Central Area at 5 p.m., with thousands expected to march downtown for rallies in front of the Federal Building and Wells Fargo building.
There also were calls for a "bike swarm" to accompany an 11:15 a.m. walkout by some students at Seattle Central Community College.
Although protest organizers emphasized their peaceful intentions, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's office issued a statement last week warning of signs "other people" may show up "with the intention of using the public demonstrations as an opportunity to commit violence, damage property and disrupt peaceful free-speech activity."
McGinn's statement cited posters and graffiti "alluding to violence" as well as websites describing how protesters could hide weapons beneath signs and banners. The statement also mentioned an incendiary device that had been thrown at a Columbia City bank Thursday evening and a December Port of Seattle protest where some people threw projectiles at police.
May Day protests are planned in many other major U.S. cities in support of the international workers' holiday. Demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience are being planned around the country, including the most visible organizing effort by anti-Wall Street groups since Occupy encampments came down in the fall.
Some protest leaders in Seattle called the city's warnings about the possibility of non-peaceful protests — and media coverage of them — overblown and said they've taken steps to ensure their supporters do not cause problems.
"All I can say is Occupy Seattle has not endorsed any kind of violence," said Mark Taylor-Canfield, an Occupy Seattle spokesman. "The idea of this is to stand in solidarity with workers all around the world."
Juan Jose Bocanegra, a leader of the immigrant-rights march, said the annual May Day event has gone ahead peaceably for a dozen years.
"We're going to do our best to keep ourselves vigilant and try to move the march along and keep everybody safe," said Bocanegra, statewide coordinator for El Comité Pro Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social, the group organizing the march.
Bocanegra criticized the city for raising the "red flag" of possible violence and added that he's more worried about attacks by right-wing provocateurs.
The immigration marchers are calling for a "non-repressive" national immigration policy, said Bocanegra. They'll be focused in particular on controversial Border Patrol activities on the Olympic Peninsula, where civil-liberties groups have accused federal agents of racial profiling. McGinn plans to address the immigration marchers at one of their downtown stops about the need for immigration reform, according to spokesman Aaron Pickus
While the various marches wend their way through the city, one group, Hip Hop Occupies, plans a daylong event of music, live art and speakers at Westlake.
Julie Chang Schulman, an organizer of the "Rise & Decolonize" event, said it will include nearly 50 performers, with a message aimed at empowering people of color.
Local officials warned that traffic problems are likely Tuesday.
"People should be aware there are going to be traffic disruptions for most of the afternoon," said Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. "What we would tell anybody is they should be prepared, just like any other day when there is a major sporting event downtown, to anticipate traffic."
King County Metro Transit alerted bus riders to be ready for delays and possible reroutes during the afternoon commute. The agency suggested that those concerned about the delays plan to leave town early or use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to avoid surface-street problems.
Material from The Associated Press and from Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan was used in this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.