The marches, rallies, and actions have once again shifted and there have been more nights than not lately with quiet streets around Capitol Hill’s walled-off East Precinct. Some might think Seattle protest season has ended just as the drizzle season has arrived.
“The protest community is feeling the strain of almost 180 days of continuous action. Increasing COVID numbers, a change in Seattle police tactics, factionalization, and the logical progression of a protest into political activity have reduced daily turnout,” David Obelcz, a frequent protest live streamer and publisher of Malcontentment.com said. “It is worth noting the 150-day march and the November 4 march had more than 1,000 people. Anyone who is pouring one out for Black Lives Matter in Seattle is doing so prematurely.”
But the night of the 150-day march did seem to mark a turning point. In the weeks since, demonstrations have been spread out across the city including the International District, Northgate, and West Seattle, plus a tangle with some Proud Boys in Mill Creek, along with a couple nights of protest activity starting as it has for months in Cal Anderson. But groups on the Hill have been smaller and reports of vandalism at the East Precinct and business property damage have quieted since October. Even the E Olive Way Starbucks has reopened though the neighborhood’s parking meters remain busted.
For larger rallies and marches, the changes seem to be a focus on a wider area of the city and a push toward quality over quantity. There are fewer events but a more robust deployment of resources including the safety of the “Car Brigade” and sometimes a split of marchers into two or more groups to stretch Seattle Police resources and limit law enforcement interference.
SPD also has new tactics and new equipment — though its deployment in the East Precinct has also become a relative rarity.
The causes of the Black Lives Matter groups and the anti-police “direct action” activists don’t cleave to a legislative schedule but another season has also passed.
Seattle’s 2021 budget is finally wrapped up and includes a near 20% cut to SPD along with strings attached that will make it difficult for the department to try to buck the restrictions and hire more cops. Quantifying the effect of months of protests is probably not possible but even in the final hours of the negotiations to finalize the billions of dollars package, a march to budget chair Teresa Mosqueda’s West Seattle home pushed for support for a larger cut to SPD and increased spending on community programs and social services. Monday, the council dug a little deeper with an additional $2 million cut from SPD’s 2021 budget. CORRECTION: CHS incorrectly reported Mosqueda’s comments during Monday’s vote. She tells CHS the $2 million amendment was published on Friday when her office received new data from SPD.
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) November 23, 2020
For some on the outside of the movements, the downtick in Capitol Hill activity is a welcome respite.
Dave Horn, an attorney and Capitol Hill resident, said he supports the message behind the Black Lives Matter movement, but has had enough of the noise, property damage, and disruption to the residents who reside in his neighborhood.
“I’m thrilled that so many are finally rising up and saying ‘no more’ to America’s sordid history of racism and police violence. And I admire the dedication of the marchers, even though I haven’t been persuaded that defunding will do anything to improve policing or end police violence,” Horn said. “At the same time, the neighborhood has taken a turn. Across Capitol Hill, neighbors are seeing the changes and asking, ‘How does this help achieve racial justice?’ Some of the 80-somethings in my neighborhood don’t feel safe walking to the grocery store any more. Patience is running thin. The steady stream of broken windows and other vandalism has turned people off.”
Capitol Hill resident Toni Hanskett-Mills said the protests should continue. “Nothing changes with inaction and we know the oppressors are not taking a break,” she said. Hanskett-Mills added that a lot of people invested too much for the progress and sustained pressure to end. As a medical professional, she volunteered to provide minor wound care and education for 17 days at Cal Anderson Park during the CHOP occupied protest. She marched along whenever she was physically able and rode along with the Car Brigade. She watched as officers broke out a truck window, slashed tires and arrested drivers. She also joined a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Seattle and State of Washington for alleged abuses against protesters. She says she does it all in honor of her son Dale, who passed away in 2018. She gave birth to two sons from different fathers. One child was Black and the other was white. She says she was inspired to be part of the protests after watching her Black child confront a society and its institutions that treated him very differently. “I don’t worry about my white son like I did with Dale,” she said. “We were very aware at an early age his life was a different world when he walked outside.”
In addition to fatigue, COVID-19, and the change to cold and drizzle, groups involved with Seattle and Capitol Hill protests have also experienced strain over growth and leadership. Organizers of the Every Day March have faced criticism over how they have handled allegations of abuse against some members, and questions about resources and money have also been raised. Organizers of the Car Brigade, which provides vehicles as a barrier to protect protesters in the streets, announced they were no longer under the EDM umbrella after conflicts with organizers. CHS spoke with EDM organizer TK on Sunday about the claims. “I stay off the internet and would personally like to get to a point where we can sit down and talk,” she said. “I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with anything anyone is saying. My thought is, let’s sit down like adults and hash whatever it is out.”
“We literally have a box full of receipts that anyone can look at and see exactly what we spent money on for anyone concerned,” TK said.
Nancy Schmaltman, a protest participant, said, “People eat up drama and protest, but what’s not highlighted enough or mapped out well is the positives and the constructive activities happening on the sidelines.”
Kwan Wah Lui, also a frequent protest participant, says that there are a lot of ways to get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in Seattle, whatever becomes of EDM. “There are also Black Coalition, Morning March, Autonomous Actions, Engage Team, Black Liberation Movement, etc.,” he said. “Non-marches include various mutual aids, such as unsheltered people support, mutual education, etc. There are so many ways to plug in and help the cause.”
A common refrain among protesters is that they intend to continue, regardless of the pandemic, weather, or internal conflicts.
“This movement is bigger than all of us individually,” said Asya Morgan, a protest participant. “People in Seattle need to keep in mind this fight has been going on for hundreds of years.”
That time and energy will be directed into continued action this week as Seattle activists again target the annual Black Friday day of commercial “shop local” messaging to make a stand for equity and against racist policing and policies.
This year, the actions will target Seattle-based commerce giant Amazon with a protest at the company’s spheres on Friday. Earlier in the day — and showing the Capitol Hill hasn’t gone completely quiet, Cal Anderson will host a “Bloc Friday” “mutual aid fair” before a Friday night “Black Lives Over Black Friday” protest planned to start in Northeast Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. Monday? The area’s protest focus moves to Medina with an afternoon “Cyber Monday” visit to the home of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.
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