On January 19, Seattle marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the 33rd annual grassroots celebration, march and rally. This year’s theme was “Fight for your rights in 2015.” No fewer than 10,000 people marched through the streets of Seattle from Garfield High School to the Federal Courthouse. Following the main march, 19 people were arrested for going onto Aurora Avenue (Highway 99) and blocking traffic. Others were peppersprayed at the end of the rally at the Federal Courthouse, to prevent them from marching to the entrance to Aurora Ave.
Liberation News spoke to many participants in the day’s activities. One participant, Steve, who did not give his last name, told us, “Fighting for my rights in 2015 means fighting for everything and everyone and fighting to stay where we are right now and not being pushed a step back. It means fighting against corporations who offend worker’s rights and fighting the privatization of jobs.”
Edward Mayer was a volunteer who helped put on the event. He was organizing the unloading of hundreds of picket signs from a U-Haul truck. After helping to move the signs, he told Liberation: “I can no longer stand by and watch the new civil rights era coming and standing on the sidelines. I am happy Ferguson happened because it has raised so much attention to the issue of police brutality and accountability and fighting racism in America. As a person who is 54-years-old I realize that this is our time and we must stand up in 2015.”
Liberation also spoke with Ubah Aden, an East African activist fighting against Seattle Housing Authority’s public housing 40 percent rent hike. She said “Fighting for my rights means everything to me because we are all humans and I believe we are one. We must look at each other as people and not divide ourselves because that is when we don’t focus on the issues that matter, we cannot divide ourselves by color, religion, gender, and so on. Fighting together means everything.”
Frieda Eidi of the Tinglit nation, an Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest coast, told Liberation: “Fighting for rights and equal opportunity is important to me because white society and their government has made it so hard for any minority or person of color to be able to achieve their basic needs. I stand here today to represent any person of color as it is greatly important.”
Sylvia Sabon was at the rally and march. She is the aunt of Oscar Perez-Giron, a young man who was killed by transit cops after being accused of fare evasion on the light rail last summer. She told Liberation, “We don’t have no rights in America. If we did, my nephew would still be here. There is still racial profiling. We are Native and Latino. They [Oscar and his friends] were pulled off the train for not having the fare. If they had been Caucasian, they would have just gotten a warning.” Oscar’s family is continuing to struggle for justice for their loved one, with an inquest hearing coming up on March 23.
Marching past the Columbia tower one got a perfect view of the protesters who had got on top of the roof to the exit to the highway in front of the Seattle city light building. The group raised their fists to the crowd in solidarity while holding a banner saying “NO GOOD COPS IN A RACIST SYSTEM.”
As we marched with other protesters calling for the protection of unions and end to corporate greed the crowd chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!
(Jane Cutter contributed to this report.)