Hundreds of people marched for more than three hours Wednesday through downtown Seattle to call attention to workers’ and immigrants’ rights, denounce the immigration policies of the Trump administration and protest issues as varied as the high cost of housing and the construction of a youth detention center on Capitol Hill.
The event, which has been marred by violence some years, was largely peaceful, although there were a few minor confrontations between protesters and people wearing red Make America Great Again hats at Westlake Park late in the afternoon. Police kept opposing groups apart throughout the day and no arrests were reported.
As in years past, demonstrators represented a smorgasbord of left-leaning causes, from ending deportations and the construction of a border wall, to calls for higher wages and more comprehensive rights for workers. There was also a plea for more affordable housing and a call for an end to gentrification in the Central District.
The event’s organizers, El Comité/May 1st Action Coalition, said they expected about 600 people.
Yolanda Quiroga, a volunteer for El Comité, said the crowd that showed up was more than she and her husband and fellow organizer, Jorge, expected.
The march started at Judkins Park, where a few hundred people gathered about 1 p.m. The Rev. Angela Ying, senior pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ, started the rally by reminding marchers that America was built by immigrants.
“We do not need a wall,” she said. “The truth is, we’re one big human family.”
Participants held signs that read “Immigration built this nation” and “Workers rights are human rights.”
As the crowd began to move, a few dozen preschoolers at a nearby church hung from a chain-link fence surrounding their yard and cheered the marchers on, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got to go” and high-fiving them as they passed.
Led by the traditional Aztec dance group CeAtl Tonalli, the marchers walked north from Judkins to the Chateau Apartments, a 21-unit federally-subsidized apartment complex whose tenants may soon lose their place to live because a new owner plans to raze the older building, said Sasha Somer, who works in Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office.
Somer said Sawant’s office helped organize the tenants and has gotten a better offer from the new owners, including a longer timeline for renters to move out and more generous tenant relocation money. “It shows that when you get organized, you can fight back and win things,” said Somer, who was collecting signatures of support for a new city rent-control policy.
As the marchers approached downtown, their size and numbers grew, until the crowd stretched over three or four blocks.
Several participants said there was more urgency to march in this year’s event.
Evelyn Orantes-Fogel, who works for a union that represents grocery and retail workers, said she has seen an uptick in raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“People don’t feel safe. Some workers at the laundry plant where a raid was done who have been there for 20 years were fired because they didn’t have proper documentation,” she said.
Mike Andrew, an organizer for Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, said he’s participated in many of the marches over the past 20 years. His grandparents immigrated from Greece, and he grew up speaking both Greek and English.
This year’s march was significantly smaller from previous years and Andrew said he’d heard that “people feel kind of scared to go out in the street. Even documented people feel like they’ve got targets on their backs.”
May Day has traditionally been a celebration of workers’ rights and is a day of mostly peaceful protests and celebrations. It marks the date of the Haymarket riots of 1886, when industrial workers in Chicago went on strike.
This year’s march also comes a few days before the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Seattle General Strike.
In case you missed them, here are some social media posts from Wednesday’s march in Seattle: