More than a thousand people rallied and marched on May Day, Monday, as part of the Seattle March for Workers and Immigration Rights.
A two-hour rally for sign-making and speeches -- delivered to an open field under cold morning rain -- began at Judkins Park, followed by a march to Seattle Center in Lower Queen Anne that passed through the Central District, Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Sixth Avenue downtown corridor. The event was organized by El Comite, Working Washington and the May 1 Action Coalition.
“I know it’s raining, I know it’s wet,” activist and mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver told the crowd. “But this is what people-power looks like.”
The march was the largest of several demonstrations, permitted and not, organized on 2017’s May Day, a day of workers’ demonstrations that has been observed in Seattle for almost a century. Demonstrations in recent years have focused on local issues like police brutality and rising housing costs.
In contrast, this year’s rally had a decidedly national flavor, following the election of President Donald J. Trump, supported a Republican-majority Congress empowered to attempt immigration bans and explore replacements to the Affordable Care Act.
Ralliers repeated chants like “Undocumented, unafraid,” “la lucha, obrera, no la para la frontera,” -- “The worker, the struggle, not the border” -- and “Move, ICE, get out the way.”
Many handmade signs spoke out against Trump, and member of the local chapter of Socialist Alternative passed out hundreds of prefabricated signs with the message “Resist Trump” (as well as the party’s logo).
And speakers delivered moving personal accounts of their immigration to the United States.
“My family came here for the American Dream,” said Teresa DeLeon, a union employee of Swedish hospitals. “My father was an engineer. … Immigrants built this country and made it strong. But we can’t be strong when any of us are under attack.”
DeLeon called to protect health care for those least able to afford it, and spoke to the need to challenge 8th District Republican congressman Dave Reichert to protect the Affordable Care Act. She also spoke out against Trump’s rhetoric against the North American Free Trade Agreement as a method of dividing American voters through infighting.
“Trump has pitted the working class against migrant workers and refugees,” she said.
Diane Narasaki, the executive director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, paralleled the Trump Administration’s actions and rhetoric against Muslims and Hispanics to historic actions against the Asian community.
“We were wanted here, like many of you, for labor,” she said. “The hardest and most dangerous work. Yet, like many of you, we were denied our families, our citizenship, and our rights.”
In keeping with theme, many of those in attendance came from trade unions and immigrants’ rights groups. like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, GABRIELA Seattle, the Service Employees International Union Northwest 1199, El Comite and the Washington Federation of State Employees.
The rally made room for other social justice groups as well. Senait Brown of Ending the Prison Industrial Complex spoke out against construction of a new juvenile detention center in the city. Transgenders rights activists with Washington Won’t Discriminate collected pledges from voters to promise not to sign Initiative 1552, a bill that would repeal state policy allowing people to use the bathroom that matches their self-identified gender. Far to the park’s south, Washington Conservation Voters led a separate rally for climate policy. First Nations activist Paul Cheyok’ten Wagner led Duwamish and other Native American groups at the front of the march on Seattle Center.
Candidates for political office, like City Council candidate Mac McGregor and mayoral candidates Mike McGinn and Mary Martin milled around the crowd to put in face time with voters, while Oliver and council candidate Teresa Mosqueda spoke from the stage -- as did Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
While the tone of the rally was united, some cautioned against the treatment of Trump resistance as a novelty. A masked and anonymous poet spoke to the crowd twice about this danger.
“This administration is just a wake up call to white folks,” she said, adding that people of color have dealt with the same injustices under less contentious presidencies. “The system isn’t broken, it’s working exactly how it’s supposed to.”