People could have behaved better during the May Day March. Reporters and cameramen could have refrained from antagonizing marchers. A few un-masked protesters could have been more civil-minded. The police in mob-control gear could have communicated with the crowd more effectively, and Captain Purple Pants, who calls himself “El Caballero” and dresses in all purple, definitely could have refrained from throwing the first punch.
Early on during the march – which started at South Central Community College, then snaked downtown, up to Capitol Hill, and back down to Belltown before the crowd, which grew into hundreds of people, returned to the college courtyard on East Pine Street after dark – El Caballero said that he was there to help maintain the peace; public safety was his goal. Yet, when he didn’t like a slogan that a marcher was chanting he shouted insults back. Things grew more heated and the marcher sprayed silly string into the costumed-man’s face. The “superhero” reacted by leaping upon the protester like a comic book hero. Except, instead of saving people from violence, El Caballero threw punches as he landed.
The pandemonium that followed involved a small mob of marchers who immediately piled onto El Cabellero. Almost as quickly, police moved in to break it up; the superhero was isolated from his abusers behind a man-made barricade of male police officers.
In contrast, most of the protesters were peaceful, carrying bottles of water that they shared with the others. Before the march – before vandalism, graffiti and mayhem – free bottles of water and vegetarian food wraps were passed around by protestors. One of them, a woman, walked through the crowd burning sage, which is believed by many to chase away negative energy.
Tensions began at the first barricade on Capitol Hill, where police blocked the road. Anarchists there to protest government and police control chanted obscenities, such as “No justice, no peace; f* the police,” but marchers behind them shouted, “No violence! Keep moving. No violence!” And the march continued at that point without incident.
The El Caballero matter happened downtown. After that a number of camera-carrying news staff were seen taking turns antagonizing the crowd. Marchers shouted insults back and a few sprayed reporters and camera crew with silly-string.
In one incident, a woman carrying a news camera was seen running away from marchers as her news partner poured bottled water on his swelling eye.
A chorus of unification chants echoed and bounced off of the surrounding buildings, down Pike Street, and around 8th Avenue. One of the chants, “Hey hey, ho ho, Amazon is overrated, hey hey, ho ho,” caused laughter to erupt.
At each major intersection, the marchers up front would stop to wait for the stragglers to catch up so that the protest could continue in one tight group.
Police took advantage of that behavior and surrounded a group downtown. Using their bicycles to form a corral, they squeezed the marchers in tighter and tighter. The police bellowed out their signal, and, in one uniform motion, law enforcement shoved the marchers with their bikes, compacting the crowd tighter still.
I asked an officer why he was shoving me and he said, “You people don’t own the streets. Other people have rights too.”
I said, “I’m a reporter. I’m here covering the story. I’m not an anarchist. So, tell me again, why are you shoving us into a tighter circle?”
The officer then smiled and said that the police wanted to let a music group out of a nearby building and needed to make room for it. Yet none of the marchers were asked by the police officers to clear space. There was no communication between police and marchers before the forceful round up began.
Many protesters carried fabric-made signs to advertise their causes, including one by the Progressive Librarians Guild and another that read, “Rent won’t wait. $15 now!”
Throughout the evening, marchers peacefully blocked cars until all protestors could pass by; their large signs drug over windshields and rooftops. In one later event, however, words were exchanged between a sedan’s driver and those who surrounded his car. The driver never got out of his vehicle, but the police suddenly intervened and sprayed marchers with tear gas or pepper spray.
Marchers designated as medics responded to help the anti-capitalists who collapsed. The parade seemed more sinister after that.
The crowd grew larger, and individuals started misbehaving. Vandalism picked up speed, and a few skirmishes happened between marchers.
After the walk, when protesters gathered on the campus lawn, police surrounded the area and a law enforcement helicopter circled from overhead. Officers blocked anyone from exiting by Pine Street. The police kept tightening the perimeter and tensions rose again. In defiance, protesters set garbage on fire and arrests were made.
One 19-year-old marcher wore a scarf over his lower face to maintain anonymity. He said that he was there to connect with others who also believe that the capitalist system Americans live under is a tool to oppress workers.
An organizer who many at the march identified as their leader said that he volunteered as an organizer for the march because he enjoys seeing other people come together in solidarity.
“I like knowing that I’m not alone in my distaste for corruption and corporate greed,” he said. He mentioned regret for the savage behavior exhibited by marches from the past. “May Day is not about breaking stuff.” He said. “The violence from May Day last year was all isolated incidents. An organizer has no control over what the crowd is going to do.” He said that far as he knew, those who broke windows and acted out were from out of state.
Some of the marchers were hell-bent on vandalizing property, writing the anarchist symbol on metro buses, and pushing over A-frame sidewalk signs. Others following behind would pick the signs back up.
Another activist, 25, didn’t cover her face but still didn’t want to be identified by her legal name. She said she was an activist for personal reasons. She claimed that she was ambushed in an elevator and got into legal problems when she tried to defend herself. Yet, she has felt that our government was oppressive long before that; her disgruntled feelings go back a couple of generations.
“My grandparents were in concentration camps,” she said, explaining that they were Polish and had been imprisoned toward the end of World War II.
A medic carrying bandages and sutures said that he didn’t talk to reporters. When asked if he really carried a tear-gas response kit, as other marchers had claimed that he did, he said “more like I carry bandages and sutures.”
Another man, who wanted to be identified as “A.J.” said he was against the corporate dream and people with power. He didn’t believe in Obamacare when it forced him to pay for an insurance policy that he doesn’t want.
“It’s illegal for me to medicate myself,” A.J. said. Then he explained he had been in a car wreck that leaves him with a lot of back pain. He said medical marijuana treats it effectively but if the authorities found out how many plants he cultivates for his own treatment, he’d be in jail.