What used to be an annual May Day march for workers’ and immigration rights has taken on a different look this year due to coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions.
This year, the march from Judkins Park to downtown Seattle has been canceled. Instead, march sponsors El Comité and the May 1st Action Coalition have scheduled a vehicle caravan from South Seattle to Olympia for a rally at the Capitol Campus to demand protections for the state’s most vulnerable workers and their families in a time of economic uncertainty. Other demands include state assistance for undocumented workers who play essential roles in the economy but are not eligible for state benefits.
Participants are being urged to follow best practices by maintaining social distancing, wearing protective masks and being mindful of others’ health concerns.
A second vehicle caravan is scheduled at noon to circle Amazon headquarters in downtown Seattle to support a tax on the city’s largest businesses to provide relief to working families during the coronavirus crisis and to create jobs.
Throughout the day, Seattle Times reporters will be checking in from Westlake Park, City Hall (where a Proud Boys rally is scheduled for noon) and other areas.
Nearly deserted streets in downtown Seattle
Westlake Center and the adjacent park at 4th & Pine have been the scene of some wild, even violent, May Day protests over the years (tho quieter lately). Tonight, they are all-but deserted. Anarchy and social distancing just don’t mix. #maydaysea2020 pic.twitter.com/p6MEOS5k7l
— Mike Carter (@stimesmcarter) May 2, 2020
Capitol Hill quiet and largely empty as this year's May Day comes to a close
Capitol Hill, sometimes a May Day hotspot, was quiet early Friday evening, the only apparent sign of anti-establishment sentiment a series of posters in the neighborhood reading, “COVID-19 is the virus, capitalism is the pandemic.”
Past May Days have been marked by peaceful marches for labor rights during the day followed by anti-capitalist protests at night, sometimes spilling onto Capitol Hill with property damage, arrests and large police presences.
Where shops and restaurants have in past years been boarded up in preparation for the protests, this year many buildings are already shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The red-brick plaza at Seattle Central College was largely empty. At Cal Anderson Park, joggers crossed paths with dog walkers, the pets seemingly unconcerned with social distancing.
Protesters claiming coronavirus hoax confronted at Westlake Center
Around 1 p.m., a group of about 40 protesters, claiming that the coronavirus is a hoax and that Washington state should reopen, marched from Pioneer Square to Westlake Center in downtown Seattle.
About 15 to 20 protesters remained by the time the group made it to Westlake.
Things got heated there when a couple of men confronted the protesters, but it did not advance beyond shouting and obscenities. A few minutes later, the small group of protesters left, with several police officers on bicycles right behind.
Expected Proud Boys protest at Seattle’s City Hall fails to materialize
A noon protest at Seattle’s City Hall by the Proud Boys apparently did not materialize. The majority of people around City Hall were police. About 25 motorcycle police were stationed across the street but they rode away 10 minutes before noon when no one had gathered.
The Proud Boys, founded in 2016, are a far-right group known for engaging in violent clashes at political rallies and are designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
Supporters of Seattle tax on big business circle Amazon Spheres with horns blaring
The streets surrounding the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle reverberated with car horns at midday Friday as demonstrators in about 30 vehicles and others on bikes circled the block at the heart of the retail behemoth’s headquarters to show support for a proposed City Hall tax on big businesses.
Some cars were painted with slogans.
Red signs distributed by City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office read: “Unionize Amazon, Tax Bezos” while homemade signs included the phrases “(Expletive) Bezos” referring to Amazon’s chief executive, and “expropriate Amazon.”
“People need their needs met,” Steve Leigh, a retiree from the Central District, said before climbing into his black Honda hybrid to join the caravan. “People are suffering and Amazon has plenty of money.”
The horns, along with a demonstrator playing trombone in the passenger seat of a station wagon and a drummer walking in the street alongside, were deafening.
“It’s so loud,” said Abhi Rajp, who was trying to work remotely in an apartment nearby and walked outside to watch the commotion. “But the (Amazon) buildings are empty. There’s no one here listening.”
Yet Clay Church, a tech worker who also lives nearby and who brought his dog to take in the scene, called the event effective and said he’d like to see a tax passed. “I’m all for this,” Church said.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., demonstrators stopped their vehicles, shutting down traffic along Sixth Avenue between Blanchard and Lenora streets. The trombonist was joined by a trumpet player and they struck up a tune while the car horns continued to blare. Seattle police officers resting on their bikes looked on.
The caravan dispersed just before 1 p.m., with some vehicles heading to the offices of a property-management company in Eastlake to rally for tenants who want rent relief at their Capitol Hill building.
Before Friday's rally at the Spheres, Sawant urged participants to wear face coverings and stay inside their cars or "right at" their cars. She asked bicyclists to comply with social distancing rules.
Sawant and Councilmember Tammy Morales are championing legislation that would impose a 1.3% tax on Seattle payroll for businesses with annual wage bills over $7 million. Sawant has referred to the plan as an "Amazon tax." The retail behemoth would likely pay the most, but an estimated 800 other companies also would pay.
The tax would take effect immediately but payments wouldn't be collected until 2022. Under the Morales-Sawant plan, the city would borrow $200 million from existing funds, send coronavirus relief checks to households this year and use the new tax to repay those funds at a later date, with interest.
In the longer term, the tax would raise an estimated $500 million a year for affordable housing and "Green New Deal" projects, such as converting existing homes from oil and gas to electric heat.
During a declared emergency, the council can only discuss routine legislation necessary for the city to function and emergency legislation. Sawant and Morales have included an coronavirus-emergency clause in their legislation.
Emergency legislation can only pass with support from at least seven of nine council members and the mayor. Councilmember Alex Pedersen has criticized the tax concept and Mayor Jenny Durkan has raised concerns about the plan.
Emergency legislation is immune from voter referendum, even after the declared emergency is terminated. Were the Sawant-Morales tax to pass as emergency legislation, opponents couldn't campaign to put it on the ballot.
Sawant and other proponents of the tax are collecting petition signatures to put a voter initiative on the November ballot, in case the council and mayor decline to pass legislation.
Caravan heads to Olympia requesting inclusion of undocumented workers in state's aid plan
For more than a decade, members of El Comite have marched through the streets of Seattle every May Day to protest the exclusion of the undocumented community from assistance and aid. This year, the group organized a caravan of cars headed to Olympia.
Organizer Jorge Quiroga believes that the pandemic and the resulting anxiety over job and food security will help their cause.
“It is a good opportunity for the public to understand, in general, the plight of the immigrant community," said Quiroga, 7o.
“The scare that you feel today, the anger that you feel today, the insecurity that you feel today is what the immigrant community feels every single day. Because when they get up to work, they don’t know if they will be picked up by immigration that day. Or if it will be the last day they will see their children when they get back from work.”
Other communities have received help from the federal government, such as the $1,200 Economic Impact Payments and an additional $600 weekly in unemployment benefits, "but our community hasn’t received nothing,” said Quiroga. “They make sure they exclude the undocumented community. And that’s why we come out today to ask the state, ask the governor, not to be excluded one more time.”
About 150 people registered for the caravan, he said, some from as far east as Yakima and as far north as Mount Vernon.
“The dream result will be that the governor hear us, and establish unemployment for undocumented workers,” Quiroga said. “We are not asking for charity. We are asking that they give us back what is ours. That’s all."
“We don’t want to be excluded. That’s all we ask. Don’t exclude us.”
Celine Sanchez, 21, a case manager who works with members of the homeless population, was driving in a care with her sister, Melanie, 17, her brother, Nathan, 11 and their dog, Bruno.
“We know (undocumented) people who have been affected, who have lost their jobs, and we're hoping to help them," she said.
Juan Jose Bocanegra sat on his Honda Shadow motorcycle, waiting for the signal from Seattle Police to lead the caravan of about 65 cars onto South Jackson Street toward the freeway. He's been part of it since 2006.
"We've never had a mechanized rally, and never left Seattle," he said. "Now, Olympia is the target because of the lack of stimulus money to the immigrant community."
Bocanegra, 70, is the director of All In for Washington, which seeks to revise the state tax code so that working- and middle-class workers pay fewer taxes. Now the undocumented workers who pay taxes, too, aren't getting any help during the pandemic.
"I've always stood up for the underdog," he said, "and the way this is being dealt with is criminal. Now that people are aware, we need to take advantage of this moment and declare what's right."
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