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Masks, plywood, and a workers’ rights caravan: May Day 2020 in Seattle

Seattle’s tradition of a May Day celebration of worker and indigenous rights will continue despite COVID-19 restrictions — but there will be no marching.

Immigrant rights activists will gather at the annual rally and march start point Friday outside 20th Ave S’s St. Mary’s Church for a “Caravan to Olympia” hoped to “bring the plight of the undocumented to light,” organizers at El Comité and the May 1st Action Coalition announced:

We can say with certainty that this May Day is different. We are amid a pandemic in which we have already lost almost 50,000 lives. There is much suffering, much pain for families who cannot even hold hands with their loved one who is dying. Because we cannot gather, we are not able to celebrate the life of the person who has died. We are not able to freely comfort and embrace one another. Even with these challenges in mind, we understand that we must expand the conversation and include the concerns and the reality of many people who are systematically excluded from even the most basic protections afforded to community members.

In 2019, CHS reported on a third straight year of a mostly calm and peaceful day of awareness and protest around May Day festivities as the march and a massive police presence passed by progressive hotspots around the Central District, Capitol Hill, and downtown including The Chateau apartments, the county’s new youth jail, and, even the Whole Foods at Broadway and Madison.

“This year we will take a caravan to the State Capitol to collectively demand that our most socially and economically marginalized friends, families, coworkers, and community members are afforded protection amidst extraordinary circumstances,” organizers write of their agenda for 2020. “Given our present reality, we also urge participants to follow best practices with social distancing to be mindful of health concerns.”

Seattle’s May Day will also bring a “Seattle Car Caravan Protest” to “demand that the City Council and Mayor support the Sawant-Morales Amazon Tax legislation, and pass it without watering it down!,” the office of Kshama Sawant announced. CHS reported here on the hope for a May vote at City Council on the proposal that would eventually raise $500 million a year with a payroll tax on the city’s largest businesses.

May 1st also brings the start of Sawant’s call for a rent strike in Seattle to support tenants who can’t afford their rent due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The recent history of the day has included plenty of conflict and tear gas. Images from past clashes between groups not part of the immigration and workers march and police still dominate many thoughts of May Day in Seattle including 2016’s clashes between Seattle Police and protesters in downtown, Belltown and Pioneer Square.

May Day 2015, a disaster with 16 reported arrests and numerous injuries including three police officers sent to the hospital in clashes between protesters and SPD concentrated on the streets of Capitol Hill, seemed to bring to an end a three-year run of police pushing the conflict out of downtown and into the streets of surrounding areas including Broadway and Pike/Pine.

For May Day 2020, the commercial areas of Capitol Hill and Seattle are again covered in plywood but any battles between protesters beyond the march and police seem likely to remain a thing of the past.

You can learn more about the immigrant and workers rights caravan here.


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