At El Comité’s May Day March on Saturday, the speeches and the crowd showed the annual event’s usual sense of spirit in fighting for immigrant and worker rights, but also the peculiar, painful moment of a pandemic that has affected every aspect of life.

Before a cheering crowd across from Hing Hay Park in the center of Seattle’s Chinatown International District, JM Wong, of Massage Parlor Outreach Project, spoke to the violence that has been inflicted on the Asian American community — and an insistence on a better future.

“Our people have built multiracially with the Black working class, with Native folks with Latinx folks around the world to fight for a different vision of this planet, where we can live, where we can breathe, where we can be safe,” she said. “Our people have fought, and we need to fight for that legacy to be remembered.”

About 150 people, the smallest turnout many said they had ever seen for May Day, marched from St. Mary’s Church in the Central District neighborhood, through the Chinatown International District and downtown.

While the May Day events were mostly peaceful, the Seattle Police Department said about 7 p.m. that at various unpermitted marches, they had arrested 14 people — most on Capitol Hill — for investigation of crimes including obstruction, property destruction and assault.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on essential workers, attendees marched for the rights of the most vulnerable workers. They also called for open borders, immigration reform and equality in vaccine access. Speakers told of the need to stop hate crimes against Asian people, and drew attention to multiracial solidarity against police brutality and white supremacy.

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Marchers held homemade signs that read: “I am somebody” and “Stop War on Tigray,” as organizers on megaphones chanted, “Up up with liberty, down down with deportation,” and “Black lives matter!” 

Addisu Bahta, an IT professional in Seattle, joined the May Day march to call attention to the conflict in his homeland, the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. A Seattle resident for 20 years, Bahta had marched every weekend for the past five months. His mother and siblings were stuck in Ethiopia, he said, and most of his cousins there have been arrested over the past few months.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and millions displaced in Tigray since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in November. “The world knows, and they should do something,” Bahta said. “They should act right now, because the worst is yet to come.”

Others, such as Justice Wornum of Seattle Revolutionary Socialists, joined the march to speak out against disparities in vaccine access.

A recent transplant from southern Arizona, Meggie Kessler said she was impressed by her first May Day march. A member of the Freedom Socialist Party, she marched for the rights of people with disabilities and immigrants in the workforce, particularly since it was sometimes difficult to manage her Type 1 diabetes at work. She said she had experienced discrimination from past employers who would not allow her to miss work. 

“I think that’s really unfair to people with disabilities because they have no control over what happens to their body. They didn’t choose to have any kind of illness,” Kessler said. “In the employing class, they really need to understand, more so, what disabled workers go through to do their job.”