With millions left unemployed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Seattle’s May Day march this year looked poised to cast a spotlight on issues such as workers’ rights, income inequality and job safety.
But organizers of the annual daytime event on May 1, known for its rousing rhetoric and colorful costumes, agreed to abandon their plans when government bans on large gatherings and strict social distancing standards were put in place to slow the spread of the virus.
Left unanswered was whether the measures would deter the kind of mayhem, seen over the past decade, that often followed the sanctioned activities. Such illegal actions included vandalism and violent confrontations with police. Much of the conflict has diminished in recent years.
Still, Seattle police say they will be on the alert for “any pop-up events that may happen,” said Capt. Todd Kibbee, of the department’s South Precinct who is the May Day incident commander.
“In the instance where you have large crowds gathering you have potential for the spread of COVID-19, obviously from a policing standpoint one of our biggest focuses over the last month or two is keeping our employees healthy and safe and keeping adequate staffing on the street,” Kibbee said. “Any event like that would put officers at risk, so we are very supportive of the efforts and the overwhelming public desire to stay home as opposed to coming downtown to protest.”
Seattle police say the only protest-related activity they are aware of is a car caravan heading from South Seattle to Olympia for a rally. Police will simply facilitate the movement of the cars through the city and onto Interstate 5. The caravan, sponsored by El Comité and the May 1st Action Coalition, is scheduled to leave from St. Mary’s Church at 11 a.m.
The Olympia rally will be held 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.
Also on Twitter, Puget Sound Anarchists are promoting a noon gathering at a grocery store on Olympia’s West Side to create a car caravan to drive the streets of downtown Olympia in support of a rent strike and to celebrate May Day. People are being asked to bring signs, make noise, decorate their cars or build floats.
“Public health means houses for everyone – We aren’t going to wait for anyone to give us homes or freeze our rents, we aren’t going to pay back our landlords when they tell us this crisis is over, we aren’t going to let them make us leave!” the anonymous posting says.
On Facebook, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is promoting a noon to 3 p.m. car caravan to promote taxing Amazon for coronavirus relief. As of Thursday, ninety-nine people said they were going, and 209 were “interested.”
May Day also will look different in Portland this year, with an added urgency brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Oregon.live reported.
Some activists are planning a car caravan that will wind through the city to draw attention to workers’ rights, according to the news website. Other groups are planning to take their demonstrations online. The moves mark a major departure from the usual marches and rallies in Portland in recent years, from hundreds turning out for peaceful gatherings downtown, along the waterfront and in city parks, to a protest that erupted into a riot and 25 arrests in 2017, the report said.
Back in Seattle, police say the overall staffing in downtown will be slightly less this year than in previous years, because there will not be the planned immigration and workers’ rights march. Nevertheless, anyone downtown will see a heavy police presence and additional resources will be available around the city so they can respond to any criminal acts related to May Day.
Police say they will look for voluntary compliance with social distancing rules if any groups do gather to protest. They hope protesters will comply with federal recommendations on face masks and protective gear. Seattle police officers will be wearing protective equipment.
As in years past, police say they will be focused on the conduct of protesters, not the content of their free speech.
Nevertheless, they say one thing will be different. “Nothing about downtown Seattle or what is happening is normal for anybody and May Day is no exception,” Kibbee said.