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On a day revered by few, feared by some, and hated by many, violence, broken windows, and riot police often overshadow (thanks in part to the media) a day to celebrate historical struggles by workers and immigrants. The march put on by El Comite has been the same almost every year. Signs about immigration issues, signs advertising local union support, families with children of all ages, dancers in beautifully colored traditional Aztec outfits, leading thousands of people through the streets of Seattle. This year was similar, although occasionally hearing chants of "Black Lives Matter" and seeing piñata’s of Donald Trump gave the march a 2016 vibe. The numbers this year were diminished, possibly the heat, possibly because May 1st was on a Sunday, but maybe because people are realizing that the real fight is several miles away at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility/for profit prison, in Tacoma.
With the exception of a few small articles, little was discussed regarding the Solidarity Music Festival at Westlake Park, a first for Seattle. Anarchists, punk rock enthusiasts, activists and supporters gathered for a day of music and speeches as a unique way to bring the community together. Sponsored in part by the Gender Justice League and Seattle Against Foreclosure and Eviction, it too was lightly attended, with many standing around the edges of the park, out of the sun. Perhaps this is a new May Day trend.
After my arrest in 2012 on trumped on charges, which were quickly dropped, May Day holds a special place in my heart. The May Day of 2012 was a day of firsts, my first May Day, my first arrest, my first night in jail, my first diagnosis of PTSD thanks to those events, and an awakening of sorts. During the Occupy movement, I witnessed police acting in ways I thought strange and unprofessional, but my inexperience and naivety saw those as isolated events. My arrest, accompanied with lies on a police report, gave me an entirely new perspective. Every year since has been more of the same. Riot police using bicycles to arbitrarily block streets and sidewalks, protestors wearing black from head to toe using Black Bloc "tactics" (or lack thereof), pepper spray used indiscriminately, exploding blast balls with tear gas, running, yelling, rocks breaking windows, flares, fireworks, and chaos. It's the kind of dynamic environment that allows me to focus on what I do best, take photos.
With that said, I'm acutely aware of my surroundings, trying to capture emotional images while attempting to avoid injury and arrest. I see a lot that never gets recorded and I hear a lot because of the trust I've built in the communities I work in. The anti-capitalist march this year started with a group of 50-60 masked protestors completely surrounded by observers, photographers, and journalists, as they stood in Westlake and held their banners. After a brief attempt to head East on Pine, they were blocked by riot police and after a short burst or two of pepper spray, headed North on 4th Ave. Every street, alley, and sidewalk was blocked by copious amounts of police in riot gear, except of course the way the police wanted them to go, those streets were left open. After a short trip through Belltown, a boarded up Szechuan restaurant suffered a broken window, as did Bank of America. Things got heated soon after when rocks were thrown and police were hit. A can of ravioli was thrown and fireworks were set off. The explosive force of blast balls shook windows and sent marchers running South. Small skirmishes occurred as protestors attempted to leave the march and were penned in, but the blast balls kept coming. At this point, I've counted 6 injuries to journalists because of blast ball use, myself included. One injury, a photographer named Sam Levine, was hit in the face with a fragment that required an ER visit. Blast balls are thick rubber grenades with a heavy metal top that gets sent flying in random directions during the explosion.
Marchers were eventually pushed past the stadiums in SoDo before riot police encircled the march in the Costco parking lot. Bicycle police arrested another marcher in the parking lot by leaping off their bike while riding in a double column toward a group standing around. A dispersal order was given and those left were forced to march back to Seattle on the sidewalks. 9 arrests were made, 6 journalists were injured with blast balls, and 5 police were injured.
All in all, I'm not sure what was accomplished. The immigrants and workers rights march has become tradition, but fails to push the boundaries and bring attention to the issues of deportation and racism. The Solidarity Music Festival had some good punk tunes, great literature and zines about anarchy, and a table about Rojava Solidarity, but was mostly populated by those already aware of these issues. To top it off, the anti-capitalist march was significantly smaller than in years past, were completely contained by SPD, but still chose to put people in harms way by launching attacks against windows and police. Who knows what next year will bring, but hopefully not more of the same.