J20 in Olympia, WA: Youth Take the Streets!
From Its Going Down
Many have planned, speculated and awaited what J20 would look like this upcoming election cycle. In Olympia, a predominantly liberal capital city, we knew that there were going to be popular demonstrations consisting of the permitted marches and the “Not My President” chants. There were several major facebook events about actions at the capital; one even calling for an overnight occupation inside its main building (which was removed a couple of days before the event). The front steps of the capital by mid morning on January 20th consisted largely of teeenagers bussed in from city schools in the surrounding area. Arriving a little later in the morning and facing up the steps towards the young demonstrators were groups associated with Radicals/Anarchists (largely dressed in bloc), Olympia IWW, and a group largely consisting of POC that stood behind where speakers had microphone access.
Many of the high schooler’s showed their version of dissent in the liberal manner of holding signs like “waiting for the punch line.” Some radicals had banners in which they expressed their own disgust with Trump and Capitalism on different terms. Banners were held to face the crowded staircases with more radical messages like, “No More Presidents”, and “No War but Class War.” Some of the students attempted to start chants of “all lives matter” and were shut down almost immediately with explanations of how that sort of discourse erases Black struggles against a racist system and racist police murders.
At the capitol steps, there were certain white men who seemed sketchy, recording black bloc and POC and refusing to stop when asked. The explanations of why they were recording people and asking them to take off their masks and tell their names to the camera went along the lines of, “I have the right to record you in a public place.” On two separate occasions, white men were recording bloc and their phones ended up on the ground. One of them went to the police and filed a report, while the second was pulled away by police before the situation could escalate. This was an issue for many there because some folx cheered when the cops intervened, and some people there thought it would have been better if the community handled it themselves. We don’t need police to protect us; we need to learn how to protect each other and ourselves. Be vigilant about those who want to record you. Information about leftists and People of Color has been released to police, neonazis, and white supremacist groups in the past. We can expect that to continue to happen.
After an hour and a half of speeches it was apparent that some people there wanted to march downtown. A small group led the crowd off the stairs, and most of the rally followed. Around 200 people joined the march, with about 25 folx in black bloc while others just wore masks. Many did not cover their face at all. Signs and banners were collected, as well as a good amount of american flags allegedly stolen from the capitol. Many in the groups that were facing the stairs blended with the young marchers. A consistent issue through the march was the usual carelessness (which is a recurring experience at Olympia marches) of people in the front walking far too fast for the group as a whole, leaving behind those that were unable to keep up. Several people had walkers and wheelchairs; many of those left behind were also a part of severely marginalized demographics, and they should have been more welcomed to gain ground towards the front if they chose to do so. Multiple times people shouted, “Disabled people to the front,” which in itself was an issue seeing as not everyone wanted the attention brought to themselves. The march advanced to hold down several intersections with a couple of flag burning demonstrations. There was some directional confusion during the course of the march as many expressed their intention to move towards the port. Upon arriving at the port ally the people at the front steered the march away, leaving many baffled by the group’s direction. And yes, their were some authoritarian white libbies looking for their 15 minutes of activism, screaming chants and orders into megaphones, and attempting to play peace police.
The march returned to the capitol and folks in black bloc broke out into a chorus of “Bella Ciao,” in order to combat some liberals who were singing the national anthem. Another march ensued briefly after that towards downtown once again. The people in the march circled up and held an intersection on capitol way, blocking traffic rather unsuccessfully since the police had already cleared out most of the streets. There were a few altercations with drivers of vehicles who were irritated that the streets were being blocked, and police stepped in a few times (once again) to de-escalate. Police should be unwelcome at any point in a march through Olympia, as well as anywhere else.
Four or more flags were burned in the streets on January 20th. At one point, while folks were holding an intersection, flags were put in a pile and set on fire while a speaker system blasted “Fuck Donald Trump” by Nipsy. Flags were spit on, danced on, and torn up by those in the streets that day. Some people spoke about the dangers of the Trump administration regarding Muslim folx, People of Color, Queer community members, and undocumented community members. Very real threats are poised to take hold of our communities if we don’t combat them now. Trump is a definitely a threat, but there have always been these threats to marginalized people; capitalism cannot exist without racism, cissexism, and state terrorism. Your neighbors are in danger, your communities are in danger. In order to combat the fear tactics of the state, you may very well have to put yourself in danger.
The march came to an end as people held the train tracks in downtown Olympia, where only two months before, the tracks had been blockaded by those protesting the shipment of fracking proppants through the Olympia Port to the Bakken Oil Fields. Police threatened to arrest the group that held the tracks, which had shrunk down to around thirty or forty people, and then the pigs disappeared and did not return for upwards of half an hour. Eventually the group broke up and hung around downtown to make sure a train did not come through. Any blockage of capital, whether it be the proppant train or a train with corn, would have been an accomplishment in the face of a city that refuses to sacrifice profit regardless of what the community says.
Here in Olympia we are facing gentrification, state brutality through the police and prison systems, displacement of our houseless community members, racist systemic abuses, and many other forms of violence. The Port of Olympia continues to ignore the voices of those living here, Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous. White Olympians: you have a responsibility to address concerns about racist environmental destruction, displacement of poor folks, and corporate interest in this town. City council continues to ignore the people and pass resolutions that have been “peacefully” opposed. It’s time to pick up a hammer and get to work.
It was the hope for many that the young crowd of protesters (who are currently enrolled in institutions that function as a manipulative tool by the state to perpetuate colonial, racist, white-washed history, and nullify and mute the screams of the youth) had the opportunity to be exposed to expressions of resistance that challenge, on a more fundamental level, our current power structures. Many of them took an increased liking and comfortability to the radical chants that were spreading through the mass.
The radical community in Olympia can only hope that the youth continue to take a stand, to learn about and deconstruct the systems that continue to oppress and brutalize them as well as people in their communities and around the world. YOUNG PEOPLE! We see you! We love you! Join in the struggle!
Against Police, Against Capitalism, Against Trump, Against Colonialism, Against Imperialism!
We are for the liberation of humans, and we need to fight beside and for the people who have been silenced. Radicalize your friends, your parents, your workplace. Take a stand. There is no more time to be on the fence.
Fuck Donald Trump.