May Day 2016 in Seattle Reportback
For the fifth consecutive year in Seattle, May Day was celebrated and fought for by what seemed to be nearly 200 angry people who seemed keen on keeping the streets and denying police orders. At around 5:30pm, a group of about 30 bloc’d up anarchists and sympathizers arrived at Westlake Plaza to join with a small crowd that was already gathering from the day’s earlier permitted festivities of punk bands, Food Not Bombs and literature tables. Banners were unfurled and used to create cover from the growing mass of cameras and journalists so that protesters could share materials such as rocks, masks and flag-bats. One rather large banner that lead the march for the day beautifully read “(A) WHOEVER THEY VOTE FOR WE ARE UNGOVERNABLE (A)” while another black banner simply remained blank.
Over the next hour, different crews continued to arrive at Westlake and gather within the ever growing circle of banners while multiple helicopters hovered above, journalists paced around us itching to get juicy shots for their live feeds, and a massive mobilization of police from all over Seattle and neighboring cities stood nearby waiting. At around 6:30pm, patience had been abandoned and without a word the flag-bats and metal poles nearly in unison began to mark the time of departure, creating a metronome of sorts as they were slowly banged on the ground. With the banners leading, the crowd made a move North out of Westlake Plaza in an attempt to head East on Pine St. towards Capitol Hill. The police were clearly prepared for the crowd to make this move, and we were met at the end of the block with a thick line of police in riot-gear who were backed up by another line of riot-cops for each street out of that intersection. Brave banner-holders pushed against the line of cops, rocks were thrown, but our anger was not enough to push through their lines and the pepper-spray that they used heavily in close-quarters throughout the day. With some confusion, we turned around and moved through the North side of the plaza and proceeded North-bound on 4th Ave, past the Westlake Center Starbucks, which received at least a couple broken windows.
Then began the hours-long march through a gauntlet of riot cops on foot and bicycle that steered the march up to the Belltown neighborhood just North of the downtown shopping district, then re-directed the march in the opposite direction along a parallel street, back through the shopping district of downtown Seattle and into the SoDo neighborhood, largely vacant and industrial. This containment was actually what created most of the conflicts between the marchers and the police. The police flanked the march with bicycle-cops on either side of the street on sidewalks, easily able to keep up with those of us on foot and have the final say on which direction the march would go. Behind us was two formations of bicycle cops and cops in riot gear, who consistently changed positions so as to relieve each other in chasing the march. Often times when the march would pause in a block to either try to decide how to proceed or in an exchange of projectiles and pepper spray with the police, a line of cops with batons or bikes would apply pressure from behind and push the marchers into moving forward. As for the insane amount of police following the march along the side-streets in countless vans and SUVs, only mainstream news articles could give us an idea of the actual count. There are reports that Seattle hired 1/3 more police this year than were deployed for May Day last year, and it showed. Had the march successfully broken past any line of riot cops or gotten ahead of those flanking us, there would have been countless more vans full of police eager for action for us to contend with.
Despite their absurd numbers and aggressive street-tactics, or maybe because of those things, anarchists and marchers alike responded with fearlessness and anger, managing to injure police officers and attack symbols of capitalism throughout the downtown corridor. Almost every time the police deployed pepper-spray, they were met with flying rocks, glass bottles and lit flares. A video from a mainstream news source shows bicycle cops attempting to push protesters away with a cloud of pepper-spray, only to be met with a hail of rocks as they realized their brute force is not enough to stop anger. Another video shows a police officer grimacing in pain as a large gash down his face runs with blood, requiring stitches immediately. One police officer required hospitalization, while reports run of another being bitten by one arrestee. Reports also run of at least one unlit Molotov cocktail being thrown at the police. When the police would throw flash-bangs, use pepper-spray, or countless other crowd-dispersal tactics, marchers took that as an opportunity to strike back. As with last year’s May Day, we are witnessing a strength and courage growing in those who choose to riot, especially given the fact that this year’s turnout was markedly smaller than last year. On May Day in Seattle in 2012, a single deployment of bicycle-cops sent an anti-capitalist march of hundreds scattering; this year hundreds of police officers couldn’t pacify us; that is until we marched ourselves straight to the Costco parking lot in the industrial district. By this time many participants had peeled away from the march, and it was clear by sunset that things were over.
There are many things to take into consideration when reflecting on this day for the following year that will surely see more conflicts take to the streets, but perhaps location is specifically worth focusing on here. Police had the entire district of Westlake and Downtown Seattle on lock-down hours before the Anti-Capitalist March even began, not to mention that the long and straight streets prove to be incredibly favorable to police in containing protests. This coupled with the sheer numbers of cameras and the interlocked surveillance systems in every alley and storefront made it incredibly difficult to find concealed locations for anarchists to bloc up.
Another thing worth noting is the team of street-medics who made themselves quickly available to move injured marchers out of the area of containment and toward safety and medical treatment. The police were again eager to use “blast-balls” this year and copious amounts of mace and pepper-spray, and the media showcased at least one picture of a reporter with wounds inflicted by shrapnel from the blast-balls. There cannot be enough importance placed on the presence of street-medics as they willingly put themselves into dangerous situations to help those who step into violent confrontations with police.
The news-crews were all too present again this year, but with some increased tactical awareness. Each news-crew seemed to be comprised of a cameraman, a reporter, and a large security guard. They positioned themselves just on the edges of the black-bloc, close enough to gather footage but too close to participants to carefully attack without hitting others in bloc with projectiles. They largely stayed out of the way of the black bloc, which may explain their relative safety at our hands throughout the afternoon. One reporter however found the back of his shirt had been tagged with a circle-A at some point of the march. The news-crews reported most of their injuries coming from the police’s crowd-dispersal tactics; at one point near the end of the march, a line of bike-cops that had been following the rear was seen nearly two blocks behind the last of the protesters screaming “Move back!” at a line of cameramen who seemed to be holding their own line, and then the police heavily used pepper-spray and even a couple flash-bangs to get rid of the cameras.
In review, the police arrested 9 people and injured more. By the end of the week, it is known that everyone arrested had been released, aside from one juvenile that we simply will not know more about. The news-crews played their predictable roles but managed to avoid most injuries at the hands of the black bloc. May Day this year seemed to be more focused on violence against police, despite what the hounds of the media have tried to postulate. While so-called writers from Seattle Weekly and The Stranger stress the need for pacified protest and more digestible content, it is important to remember that anarchy will not and does not fit into their political agenda.
Whoever they vote for, we are ungovernable. For a riotous tradition of May Day, and may these struggles give us lessons to continue to take into the streets.