Eyewitness: Seattle Black Lives Matter protests

June 18, 2020
Images from the Seattle Black Lives Matter protests and occupation. Main photo (cropped): Lisa Ahlberg/lisaahlberg.com

I have marched and demonstrated for civil rights and against racism for more than 50 years. But the daily protests in greater Seattle have been some of the most inspiring that I have ever participated in. They are young and multicultural and led by African Americans. They are outstanding examples of grassroots activism and democracy.

Below are notes from two recent protest days that I attended with my partner Lisa Ahlberg.

June 10 White Center protest

This demonstration was a magnificent expression of multicultural, working-class unity in support of Black Lives Matter. In more than 50 years of political activity we have rarely heard a rally like the two that took place at either end of today’s militant march. The speakers were all community members and activists, including many young people, who raised serious ideas about our struggle without a hint of rhetoric.

It was an honour to participate and we look forward to returning soon. White Center is the neighbourhood where Lisa Ahlberg has done street portrait photography for 20 years. It is a neighbourhood we love and respect deeply. Appropriately, it was called a“Community March for Black Lives White Center” in the Seattle metro area.

In the words of the rally chairperson at the end of the action: “These people up here had a vision. We talked about what message we want to send. Everybody agreed that we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and we have expectations for this community. We’re going to control what we can control and we damn sure can control this community.”

The chair introduced several community folks who organised the protest, including other African Americans, a Cambodian American and a Mexican American.

BLM protest Seattle June 10 cr Lisa Ahlberg.jpg

Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle, Washington on June 10. Photo: Lisa Ahlberg/Facebook

June 14 Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP)

This is part of what is going on in the fight that is still developing today. President Trump has attacked the mayor and governor as “left-wing anarchists”. He threatened to send in federal troops to fight “domestic terrorists”.

The reality has been big, peaceful protests before and after the police closed its local station.

There are demonstrations in metro Seattle most days and in working-class communities that are equally, and in some cases, more important than CHOP. But the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)” is attracting thousands of people, all kinds of people.

Seattle has a small Black population ‒ 7%. But a lot of African Americans, including young people, are visiting this zone each day. As are many Latinos, Asians and many whites. Families come; there are lots of children. People bring their dogs.

People are coming from all over the metro area, including the more working-class suburbs around Seattle. The age range is mixed, but as with the other protest activities, the predominance of young people is impossible to miss.

BLM protest1 Seattle June 12 cr Lisa Ahlberg.jpg

Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle, Washington on June 12. Photo: Lisa Ahlberg/Facebook.

The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming. Masks, water, snacks and more substantial food are given away from tables that look a little like a farmers market. One is called the "No Cop Co-op”.

Everywhere, there are groups of people talking, including at "Conversation Cafes", where coverings are set up in case it rains. Chairs are available and people are invited to discuss the fight against racism. Many join in.

At two different ends of the area, there are speakers on open mikes and crowds listening to them. In many ways, there is a great deal of ongoing political discussion.

For now, it seems the city officials are prepared to live with this.

I'm not sure what else the city can do. Clearing the area (a few square blocks) would be no easy task. If the time comes that the cops are sent in to take these streets back, it will likely be in the middle of the night, when only a small core of people are there.

But even that will provoke resistance and a possibly larger response the next day. For now, it is a centre of movement activity and discussion. People see its existence ‒ and the withdrawal of the cops who are nowhere in sight ‒ as a victory.

[Geoff Mirelowitz has lived in Seattle for more than 25 years and is a retired rail worker, lifelong socialist, trade union and anti-racist activist.]

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