Seattle came out Monday to march and rally in the name of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights hero who fought oppression of Black Americans and was murdered for his work.
So many people flocked to Garfield High School for the 37th annual event that the observers spilled over from the bleachers onto the floor and many more couldn’t get in or risk the wrath of the fire marshal.
But, as Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown of Plymouth Church United Church of Christ was sure to point out, they were not there to celebrate, but to commemorate.
“We are observing it and honoring him,” Brown told the assembled crowd.
The rally was a call to action on a range of social justice issues from the fight to close the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, a federal facility that jails immigrants, to the Children and Family Justice center, also known as the youth jail, to the disparities in health outcomes for Black women, who are as much as three times as likely to die in childbirth than their White counterparts.
They even took on the wall championed by President Donald Trump, which Brown described as “just another Confederate statue” and ordinances such as sit-lie laws that criminalize homelessness in Seattle.
The 2019 event was unique in that it represented a partnership between the Seattle Martin Luther King Organizing Committee and the Seattle Womxn Marching Forward to coordinate programming an entire weekend of marching and workshop events. The event also honored two Black women leaders, Charlene “DeCharlene” Williams, a “Central District Legend and business owner,” and Verlene Jones Davis, the first woman to chair the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization for African American trade unionists.
Williams was the founding president and CEO of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce and owner of DeCharlene’s Beauty Shop & Boutique, according to the organizing coalition’s website. She also co-founded the Central Area Youth Association and Seattle Medic One, a service that provides pre-hospital care. Beyond her work supporting the MLK Jr. Day events, Williams also put on an annual Juneteenth event, celebrating the liberation of Black slaves.
In addition to her position with the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Davis also headed up the Washington chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, was director of the MLK Labor’s Union cities program and was deeply involved in her own union, Office and Professional Employees Local 8.
March organizers also lifted up the cause of affirmative action, an issue that Washington voters may get a chance to vote on in November for the first time in more than 20 years.
Voters passed Initiative 200 in 1998 that explicitly banned discrimination or “preferential treatment” on the basis of certain characteristics including race. Initiative 1000 would allow the state to pass affirmative action laws and policies. It would still ban preferential treatment or discrimination and simply define affirmative action and preferential treatment in order to prevent conflict.
On top of race, sex, color, ethnicity, national origin and age — all included in Initiative 200 — Initiative 1000 would also add sexual orientation, honorably discharged veteran or military status and disability to the list of characteristics covered.
Initiative 200 was originally advanced by a group including Tim Eyman, who has made a name for himself pushing initiatives including one that capped property tax increases in the state. He also recently gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would reduce car tab fees to $30, potentially dealing a blow to infrastructure projects that the tab fees are meant to fund.
At the conclusion of the rally, people flooded down 23rd Avenue through the heart of the Central District, turning onto Union and up the hill before snaking into the downtown and posting up in Westlake Park.
Elaine Waller-Rose has been coming to the MLK Jr. march each year since she moved to Seattle in 1993.
“Every year it’s necessary,” Waller-Rose said.
She particularly appreciates that march organizers go beyond King’s “I Had a Dream” speech, which is often seized on by White Americans, and focus on his more radical ideologies to win equity for Black people in America.
“That is a teeny part of what he said,” Waller-Rose said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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