On Saturday, February 11, several hundred gathered in Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill as Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant led a rally with environmental, indigenous, and LGBTQ activists to denounce the Trump administration and celebrate the No Dakota Access Pipeline movement. The rally followed the massive $3 billion divestment from Wells Fargo Bank by the City of Seattle in response to their financial-support to the North Dakota Access Pipeline project.
Sawant called for supporters to be united and militant, in building what she sees as a movement that includes her Socialist Alternative party and a number of advocacy organizations and social movement organizations. “[The movement] needs to be militant and combative, it has to be run with the idea of winning what our communities need not what is acceptable to corporate Democrats,” Sawant said.
In addition to the divestment victory, Sawant also referenced what transgender rights activists have called an anti-transgender ballot initiative, I-1552, and urged constituents and voters to “decline to sign.” The measure on the ballot this year would repeal the state’s non-discrimination laws when it comes to gender and usage in public facilitates (i.e. the gender-neutral bathrooms).
Before the march left Cal Anderson Park, I had a very brief chance to speak with Sawant about how she would tackle this as a local city councilmember, since this is a statewide measure. “Since [I] took office in 2014, [local advocates and I] have used the council position in a very bold manner to help build the movement [and] help build the struggle,” Sawant said.
Even as a local councilmember, Sawant feels that “we as a city council don’t have a legal mandate … but we can move mountains if you have an elected person … who uses their voice to amplify the voice of the movement.”
Sawant’s conviction to make the fight local is important to many of her constituents in the city’s third council district (Capitol Hill, Central District, and Madison Valley) as “the center of the LGBTQ rights struggle since the 1980s,” according to Sawant. The district is a center that is radically changing due to rising housing prices that she links to the struggle for LGBTQ rights, “because most of the LGBTQ population is working class and they’re being pushed out of their historic neighborhood because rents are rising sky high … so we need to build a movement to bring these issues [forward] in a connected manner,” she said.
The connections between social equity and justice issues that Sawant was referring to were present throughout the march. The several hundred-strong march went a familiar route through Capitol Hill escorted by police.
For Christine Margot, a protester from Tacoma, this march was personal. “My rights as a Transgender American are under attack and I’m not just going to lay down and take it.” After the election, Margot said that she’s “felt suppressed” and “minimized [her] trips outside,” but today she wanted to march as the beginning of getting involved to fight for her rights as a transgender person.
Around the country, hate crimes against transgender people have pushed authorities, sometimes supporting transgender anti-discrimination legislation or denouncing it. Margot said that Tacoma is “pretty good” and “[officials in Seattle and Tacoma] have taken a clear stand that they will protect our rights and they are not going to let the Trump administration’s policies affect us.”
Another protester, James Lewis, a Microsoft worker in Bellevue, was impressed by the solidarity with marginalized communities. “There’s a lot of people who have stood by my side in hard times. I’m a Christian and I believe in being there when people are hurting,” said Lewis, who is Black. He felt that the mostly white crowd, who began to chant, “Whose lives matter? Black Lives Matter,” was reaffirming.
With his daughter in tow, Lewis reflected on his own experiences of discrimination and racist attacks: “I’m from the South … I was born in Louisiana and I grew up in North Carolina. … I’ve seen racism up-close. I’ve had people spit on me, call me awful names and I think it’s important to meet those people with love [instead of hatred].”
The march continued down Broadway from East Madison Street and one of the protesters, Bernadette Vinas, carried a very unique sign that got a lot of attention because of its message that all the equality/civil rights issues are connected. When asked why she was out here, she proudly declared, “I’m a part of it!” Vinas, an Eastlake resident, is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines who thinks “we need to stay strong, stay positive, and make sure that everything doesn’t change the way [Trump] wants it to be.”
Vinas’ positivity came from that feeling of support that she found here in Seattle where she sees that “there’s a lot of support for the LGBTQ community. … I felt discriminated in other areas.” Her feeling of support and sanctuary in Seattle is important to her because she’s a naturalized citizen, yet Trump’s provocative immigration-focused executive orders worry her.
“My family is trying to come to the U.S., trying to find opportunity,” Vinas said.
The demonstration arrived at Wells Fargo on Capitol Hill, as the protest had grown slightly, adding families and late-comers to the march. Matt Remle, a Lakota Native and environmental activist, led the protest with the American Indian Movement song.
“We ain’t done yet, we’re going to keep after these guys. … They are not just involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline, but they’re also involved in investments in private prisons, and investment [and creation of] policies [that perpetuate] predatory lending,” Remle said.
The predatory lending practices that Remle were referring to were identified as the cause of many individuals in communities of color and low-income communities losing their homes through foreclosures and loss of equity during and after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. The Trump administration has come under criticism for ignoring the cause of the crisis that Remle was referring to, especially given his recent plans to rollback financial restrictions—with or without Congress.
Toward the end of the rally, the main focus was using local movement, legislative and policy means to counter the effects of the change in politics nationally. The scope of this effort remains to be seen.