Thousands of Seattleites marched on the downtown Federal Building Monday in celebration of the life of civil rights advocate Martin Luther King Jr. at a time when many of the changes he and others accomplished are under attack.
People swarmed the Garfield High School campus in the Central District, filling the auditorium where students led faith, elected and labor leaders in a rally while more milled about the parking lot, drinking coffee and munching on bright pink cake pops as they received information and inspiration from the myriad groups that came out in support.
Brandi Barker and her two daughters, women of color, have come to the event for the past seven years because it was “important that they know their history,” Barker said.
This year was different. There were more people than she recalled seeing in the past.
The same went for Jane Caughlan, an elder with a walker who has been coming out for marches since 1963. Her inspiration? “Martin Luther King himself,” Caughlan said.
Seattle’s 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March was a call to action, with community leaders impressing throughout the day that this is one step on a longer path of organizing and activism to protect the gains and further the causes that King and the movement championed.
King’s message of economic justice and opportunity is particularly resonant in today’s political climate.
The day after the march, the world’s economic elite gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, an invite-only event that costs more to attend than most people make in a year, according to CNN.
In the days before, the next president of the United States conducted a reflexive tweet-attack on Rep. John Lewis, a colleague of King whose skull was fractured on Bloody Sunday in 1965 when law enforcement attacked peaceful protesters on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Or last year, when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, legislation meant to prevent racial voter discrimination, the cause for which King and Lewis were marching.
These events in isolation and what they represent are an incomplete but visible set of examples of the larger problem: the systems of racial and economic oppression. As Nikkita Oliver, an artist, attorney and activist, would put it at the end of the day, “Donald Trump is not the cause, he is a symptom.”
Trump and his administration are a convenient focal point for a number of intersectional issues, bringing together a coalition who are also against the future he represents. Many marchers and speakers referenced him and the upcoming inauguration throughout the day.
The focus irked former State Rep. Jesse Wineberry, one of the legislators who helped make King’s birthday a state holiday.
“This is Dr. King’s day, so frankly I’m a little pissed off that we’re hearing more of Trump’s name than King,” Wineberry said.
Instead, Wineberry exhorted people to take their energy and devote it to renewed activism: “Happy Martin Luther King Day.”