Though events of the day took a violent turn after sunset, Seattle’s annual May Day March for Workers and Immigrant Rights drew hundreds of protesters to peacefully demonstrate on May 1. Marchers carried signs and banners representing a wide array of issues, concerns and causes, including several from the Asian Pacific Islander community.
Labor and immigration issues were at the forefront of the midday march, which was preceded by a Black Lives Matter protest in the early morning, and followed by an anti-capitalist demonstration on Capitol Hill with violent clashes that would seize the attention of the media.
Starting at 2 p.m. in Judkins Park in the Central District, hundreds of people began the march through the empty streets toward downtown Seattle, where they eventually gathered outside the U.S. District Courthouse. There, they stood in the street and sat on the steps of the Courthouse and listened as labor leaders and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant spoke on a stage.
Marchers carried signs and banners to raise awareness of a plethora of issues: police brutality, racism, poverty, the 43 missing students in Mexico (considered by activists to be partly the responsibility of the U.S. government), immigration and deportation, queer issues, farmworker rights, the minimum wage, and expressions of solidarity with these and other causes.
A Seattle environmental justice organization called Got Green? marches every year in the May Day Rally, according to executive director Jill Mangaliman.
“International workers and immigrants day is a big deal around the world, and I think in the U.S. as well we could celebrate it more strongly,” Mangaliman said. “It is about a legacy of fighting for our rights, fighting for justice, and standing together in solidarity with other communities.”
Human trafficking, immigration and detention are among the issues highlighted by the march that are especially relevant to the Asian Pacific Islander community, according to Mangaliman.
Of the foreign-born population of Washington state, the majority came from Asia, according to 2011 US Census numbers. The same unjust conditions that cause people to migrate to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America also affect Asian Pacific Islanders, Mangaliman said.
Thousands of Filipinos have left their country because of poverty and lack of opportunity, she said.
Asian Pacific Islanders are often saddled with the model minority stereotype — the idea that because some members of the group have achieved educational and economic success, they face fewer obstacles in society. The stereotype obscures the realities of what it’s like to be an Asian Pacific Islander immigrant in Seattle, Mangaliman said, and is used to divide this group from other people of color.
Solidarity is important for this reason, and such solidarity between Asian Pacific Islanders and other minorities has a long history.
As the crowd — estimated by media outlets, including KOMO News to be in the hundreds — made its way along Boren Avenue toward the Federal Courthouse, Sylvia Sabon walked in front of six people carrying a wide banner protesting police brutality, pushing a stroller as she walked. Sabon is the aunt of Oscar Perez, a 23-year-old man fatally shot by a King County sheriff’s deputy in June 2014 at the SoDo light rail station, during an armed struggle.
“We’re fighting for justice and we want something to be done about this,” Sabon said, speaking of her nephew’s death. “It was not right. We’re all human beings, and they could have handled the situation a little bit better and we want to hold all police nationwide accountable.”
Flanked by Seattle Police on bicycles, the marchers broke into chants. “Who stands with Baltimore? Seattle stands with Baltimore!” came the refrain as they passed the Paramount Theater on Pine Street.
Next to the chant leaders, demonstrators carried banners that said “Model Minority Mutiny,” referring to Asian American rejection of the model minority stereotype.
Anthony Gavino carried a sign reading “Filipinos por Campesinos,” intended to show support from Filipinos for farm workers, he said. Gavino held his sign high as the marchers gathered outside the U.S. District Courthouse downtown, within view of the Space Needle.
“Historically Filipino Americans have always been part of labor rights movements and due to a lot of reasons, a lot of Filipino Americans no longer know about that history,” Gavino said. “I just thought I would keep up the work of the Filipino community on behalf of them for everyone else.”
On the stage, El Comite Pro-Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social, a Seattle labor and social justice organization, presented musicians, who sang labor anthems, rapped and danced, calling on the crowd to join in. Labor leaders spoke, concluding with Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who spoke about racial and economic justice and the need for a socialist society.
Later in the day, national and international media picked up on the violence of the Capitol Hill protests, where 16 people were arrested and three police officers were injured in what police called a riot. But the crowd gathered outside the U.S. District Courthouse left peacefully after the program ended, with the hundreds of demonstrators splitting off to disperse into the city.