Calls for immigration, wage reform on mostly peaceful May Day
After many of the marchers had dispersed, a core group of a couple hundred protesters continued to meander through Seattle streets late into the evening. There were a few scuffles, and officers responded with pepper-spray.
Seattle Times staff
Singing and chanting in English and Spanish, hundreds of May Day demonstrators marched from Judkins Park to downtown Westlake Park on Thursday, calling for an immediate boost in the minimum wage and an end to the deportations of people in the country illegally.
The march, sponsored by El Comité and the May First Action Coalition, drew several hundred people on an unusually warm May Day and was mostly peaceful. Many of the marchers seemed to enjoy the sunny weather and waved signs and banners as they poured into downtown Seattle for the second of two bookend rallies.
After many of the marchers had dispersed, a core group of a couple hundred protesters continued to meander through Seattle streets late into the evening, contained and herded by dozens of police officers on bikes.
There were a few scuffles, and officers responded with pepper-spray. Several cars were vandalized, and 10 people were arrested.
Police confiscated one gun from the crowd, according to a department spokesman.
Serious violence and vandalism, like the riots that rocked the business core two years ago, did not materialize.
Throughout the day, phalanxes of armored police on bicycles herded the groups safely around the perimeter of the downtown business core, where officers two years ago were caught flat-footed by large, organized crowds of black-clad protesters.
This year’s march more resembled the relatively peaceful protest of last year, where teams of bicycle officers and small, agile anti-crime squads isolated and then quickly moved in to arrest troublemakers. Otherwise, they mostly left the marchers alone.
Later in the evening, after the immigration march, groups of masked protesters marched from Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle. Some chanted and yelled expletives at police but were peaceful. A window on a Metro bus was broken.
Chris Tiedemann was stopped at a stoplight in Belltown around 8:30 p.m. when protesters came around the corner and started beating on his BMW convertible with a skateboard. Others jumped on his car.
“They smashed the whole side of the car,” said Tiedemann, who was not hurt.
Police took a report.
Because the masked protesters did not have a permit for their march, police didn’t know their route. Officers stopped traffic for their advance and allowed them to walk a circuitous route through downtown and up to Capitol Hill, which stretched past 11 p.m.
The earlier immigration rally and march started around 2 p.m. at Judkins Park, where various people stepped up to an open mike to voice opinions as organizers readied for the march.
It was a decidedly far-left group, including a number of people who identified themselves as members of the Socialist Workers Party and several as communists, and who passed out newspapers and fliers that denounced the status quo.
The May Day demonstration marks the 128th anniversary of the workers’ movement in pursuit of the eight-hour workday. Its focus this year was income inequality and increasing the minimum wage.
Many in the crowd who supported a wage hike said Mayor Ed Murray’s proposal to phase in an increase, announced Thursday, didn’t go far enough or fast enough.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Kaite Mark, who was setting up fliers in support of the $15-an-hour wage on a card table at Judkins.
She said the mayor’s proposal showed that all the grass-roots work had paid off. But, she said, “We’re demanding more for our workers.”
Some thought the problem was the system, not the wage. A white-haired woman who was passing out Communist Party newspapers, and who would not give her name, said a $15 minimum wage “would make our chains a little longer.” Her group advocated an overthrow of the capitalist system.
Erin Kennedy, a community-college student who was collecting signatures to put a $15-an-hour minimum wage on the ballot in Seattle, described wealth inequality as “the civil-rights issue of our time.”
Linda Taaffe, a trade unionist from London who was visiting Seattle, stepped up to the microphone to praise Seattle activists and to say that the $15-an-hour movement, and the election of a socialist, Kshama Sawant, to the Seattle City Council, was well-known to those in the trade-union movement in Great Britain.
She said the work in Seattle has energized trade-union workers in other countries.
“Long live International Workers Day,” she shouted to the crowd.
Sawant was the key speaker at the rally and was greeted with cheers by the crowd at Westlake Park, where she spoke of an end to deportation, a need for racial and gender solidarity and a $15 minimum wage to be instituted in Seattle.
“If we can mobilize we can win. If we can organize we can win,” she said.
Sawant told attendees that Murray’s plan to implement the $15 minimum wage over the next few years “falls short” of what workers need.
She said the $15 minimum wage needs to be instituted immediately.
“We are not playing games here,” Sawant said. “Our work is far from done.”
Seattle police Capt. Chris Fowler, who heads the Police Department’s West Precinct, said police did not have any problems with the crowd during the afternoon march. He said planners had expected nearly 700 to attend; Fowler estimated the crowd size at closer to 400.
Marchers began the long, unseasonably hot walk to downtown Seattle a little after 3 p.m. Led by a group of dancers in elaborate feathered headdresses, they chanted and sang for nearly three miles from Judkins Park to Westlake. One of the most common chants: “Sí se puede” — Spanish for “Yes we can.”
They also frequently chanted “Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha” — “Obama, listen, we’re in the struggle” — a call for President Obama to be more forcefully engaged in immigration issues, and to stop deportations.
The marchers walked at a slow pace down Jackson and then Boren streets, stopped often by the police so traffic on cross-streets could be cleared.
Marchers included preschool-age children, parents pushing their babies in strollers, college students and retired people.
A few young men wore Guy Fawkes masks and bandannas, the costume of anarchists during past May Day celebrations.
One man walked the entire distance in stilts, dressed as the Statue of Liberty and carrying a tablet that said simply “$15.”
When the marchers reached downtown, office workers and tourists alike came out to watch and take photos.
At many banks, police and private security officers stood with their arms crossed, watching for trouble.
After being heavily criticized for being ill-prepared and undermanned when widespread vandalism erupted during the 2012 May Day, police appeared to be following some of the recommendations that grew out of those failures.
During last year’s May Day events, police utilized three obvious tools: deploying waves of bike officers, setting off blast bombs loaded with powdered pepper spray and creating paths to disperse an unruly crowd.
Although windows at three Capitol Hill businesses were broken in 2013, the damage did not approach what occurred a year earlier, when bands of protesters left a swath of smashed windows, vandalized cars and other damage in the downtown business district.
In 2013, police arrested 17 people — more than double the number of arrests in 2012.
Contributing to this report were Seattle Times staff reporters Katherine Long, Jennifer Sullivan, Mike Carter, Steve Miletich, Mike Lindblom, Alexa Vaughn, Christine Clarridge, Erik Lacitis, Sandi Doughton, Jack Broom and Paige Cornwell.