A multigenerational crowd of hundreds marched to downtown Seattle from Garfield High School on Monday to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. — and amid a rising swarm of strife, to exhale, gather the strength of community and fortify themselves for what many acknowledged will likely be another year of struggle against racist institutions.
The 39th annual rally and march, coordinated by the Seattle Martin Luther King Jr. Organizing Coalition, took place against a backdrop of a rising death toll from a pandemic that has disproportionately sickened Black and brown people, scant progress on police reform despite a summer of thunderous protest and mounting threats from white supremacist and alt-right groups in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Organizers considered nixing this year’s march over health and safety concerns, said Shaude’ Moore, the chair of the Seattle MLK Organizing Coalition.
Ultimately, she said, she concluded the march was “part of the good trouble we need in the community,” echoing civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, who died last year. Moore and organizers chose Lewis’ call for young people to make “good trouble — necessary trouble” as the slogan for this year’s event.
March organizers, though, mindful both of the possibility of violent counterprotest by racist groups and wary of law enforcement after police met some protests this summer with tear gas and foam-tipped projectiles, took extra precautions to protect the crowd.
The event was held entirely outside. Masks were required. The route was kept secret. Street medics and a number of earpiece-radio-wearing protesters in black bloc walked with the crowd. And organizers enlisted the help of orange-vested volunteer “peacekeepers” to watch for any potential agitators.
One such peacekeeper, Feven Gurmu, said she participated in several of last summer’s protests against racism and police brutality.
“We had to do something to tell the world this is an issue in our community,” she said. “What’s good might seem like trouble to some people.”
Organizers’ fears over outside agitators failed to materialize, and the only confrontation with law enforcement occurred when marchers stopped on the Yesler Way overpass to heckle police officers in the process of arresting a group of protesters, unaffiliated with the march, who had blocked traffic on Interstate 5.
Despite the atmosphere of tension, there were moments of joy. At the march’s terminus outside the King County Administration Building, where participants called on King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg to release juvenile detainees, musicians played and many danced.
Several speakers focused on health care inequities, crystallized for many in the crowd by the recent resignation of Dr. Ben Danielson from Seattle Children’s hospital. Danielson, who is Black, left his position, citing institutional racism and a lack of resources for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, which primarily serves people of color and low-income families.
Within the Central District, the former geographic heart of Seattle’s Black community, Danielson had ensured Odessa Brown remained one place in the now overwhelmingly white neighborhood where “our kids are welcomed and smiled at,” said education advocate Emijah Smith.
Danielson’s resignation has “given me more fight,” to stand up to Seattle Children’s administration on behalf of underserved patients, said one marcher, Jennifer Mannheim, a Seattle Children’s employee.
People of all ages attended the march, befitting an event that has long had a focus on passing the torch of activism to a younger generation.
Parents Joel Moffett and Alaina Capoeman brought Ravenna, 7, and Atticus, 10, because they believed it was time to start “passing along these ideals that everyone should be treated equally,” Moffett said. He’s a member of the Nez Perce Tribe; Alaina is a member of the Quinault Indian Nation. Ravenna was wearing a beaded headdress announcing the Suquamish Tribe had crowned her “Little Miss Renewal Pow Wow.”
Others at the march said their first forays into activism had come later in life.
Galen Crawford declined to give her age but said that in 1974 she was crowned one of Seattle’s few Black Seafair queens, “and you do the math.” She said she attended the march Monday as part of a journey to excise racism from her life — including from her household. She’s recently separated from a partner who “didn’t understand the fight,” and said she’s now working to turn her church, Madrona Grace Presbyterian, into an antiracist organization.
“You have to raise your voice,” she said. “Even though I’m not a kid, I feel I’m meant to do something more with my life.”