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Friday, May 7, 2021

Immigrant rights, anarchists and Pepsi: May Day in Seattle

Protesters filled Seattle for annual May Day rallies on Monday, May 1. The traditional labor-rights day saw protests for a variety of causes including labor rights, economic reform and immigration rights.

The first of May, International Workers’ Day, sees labor protests around the world. In previous years, riots have broken out in Seattle.

A prominent event was an immigration rally, where 2,000 protesters marched from Judkins Park in downtown to the Seattle Center.

Many groups turned out, including: the Service Employees International Union; the Seattle Teamster’s Union; the ACLU; and numerous pro-immigration groups. The group El Comité helped coordinate the immigration-focused ralliers.

Despite the large number of protesters and the volatility of the political issues, the march remained calm. Police guided the crowd through the city and directed traffic.        

The march culminated with a rally at the Seattle Center, where indigenous speakers urged the crowd to seek unity. They also performed native songs.

Oscar Rosales Castaneba, a member of El Comité, explained the group’s purpose and its collaboration with the other groups.

“The very essence…is to celebrate not only the community, but also celebrate resistance and also acknowledge the different communities out here that are also resisting not only systemic oppression, but also resisting the presidential administration,” Castaneba said.

Other labor groups supported the focus on immigrant rights. One such group is Radical Women, which has been participating in May Day marches since they began in Seattle, member Helen Gilbert said.

“Immigrant rights is a crucial issue for everyone in this country and especially for people who are workers,” Gilbert said. “[Employers] can exploit and intimidate workers without papers and use that to undermine the conditions for everyone. We need to stick together and fight together.”

The march and rally at the Seattle Center were peaceful. Other places in the city were less so.

Westlake Park is a small, brick-paved plaza in the middle of downtown Seattle. An anti-capitalist rally began in the park around 6 p.m. There were more black hoods and bandanas and fewer families with children.

There were many more police officers at Westlake. All had riot armor and many had batons or grenade launchers with less-than-lethal rounds.

Seattle resident Robin Lebeau was spectating at Westlake. She has seen May Day protests in the past and experienced first-hand how violent they can become.

“[Protesters] were breaking every window they walked by, and the cops were jumping out and hitting anybody that looked like an anarchist, pretty much anybody,” Lebeau said. “I had to run into a smoke shop and hide in there because it got that bad.”

The protests at Westlake remained quiet until a group of approximately 50 Trump supporters arrived at the square. Shouting matches became louder and more frequent and the police prepared to move in if any fights broke out.

At the center of the crowd, a man who introduced himself as Kyle Broussard tried to keep the peace between groups.

Broussard had been at the immigration march earlier in the day, where left-wing protesters had harassed him for his shaved head and a Pepe the Frog pin on his coat.

“I just don’t want violence. Just keep down the violence, that’s all I want,” he said. “Come talk to me, I’m always willing to have a conversation. I’m not a neo-Nazi, I’m not a socialist.”

Broussard and a few others rolled several joints and passed them around the crowd, to Trump supporters and opponents alike. He then produced a can of Pepsi, took a drink and offered it around as a gesture of peace, in reference to the recent controversial Pepsi advertisement about stopping protests.

The marijuana and Pepsi calmed the crowd for approximately half an hour and some of the protesters started to disperse.

As evening fell, tensions began to rise again. A few scuffles broke out between protesters. The police quickly intervened each time, pushing the crowds aside and forming a double-wall of bicycles between the two groups. They intervened twice and each time fell back to waiting positions around the square.

On the third altercation, the police cleared the square. Using their bicycles as shields, they calmly, but forcefully, ordered the protesters out of the square and onto the sidewalks. One man resisted and was immediately taken down and arrested.

The protesters left the middle of the square, and the left and right-wing groups continued to argue on the surrounding sidewalks. Despite Broussard and others attempting to keep the peace, a small fight eventually broke out.

Police arrested one of the fighters, making for three arrests in approximately two hours. As night approached, the protest got increasingly rowdy. The police ordered that all protesters must leave the area or face arrest and forcible dispersal.


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