Tuesday is May Day. This time around, the El Comité March for Workers and Immigrant Rights begins at 2:30 pm at Judkins Park. Protestors against a new youth jail will demonstrate later in the afternoon. And far-right agitators, including the Proud Boys, plan to confront anarchists at Westlake.
As for the anarchists themselves? Well, as always, who knows. But this year there are allegedly May Day protest posters around town featuring Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's head on a pike (along with Jeff Bezos's, Ed Murray's, and the head of an anonymous pig in a police officer's hat).
And over at an anarchist site that in the past has trafficked in "riot porn" urging followers toward "destroying our enemies and actualizing our desires," the call to action for 2018 describes "a coordinated yet decentralized and direct action-based mode of operation" that will "be undertaken in the spirit of anti-capitalism and anti-oppression" and will not be "merely symbolic." What does that mean? We'll see!
If you're reading all this and feeling—apologies—some May De Ja Vu, it's understandable. In Seattle, this annual day of republic-improving protest and nihilistic rage-venting has become rote ritual, complete with entirely predictable debates on every media platform ever invented.
Still, maybe you're new to this.
Or maybe you need to remember all your issues with May Day all over again. In that case, the traffic advisories alone aren't going to get it done. You need the full story—which we've been writing, over and over and over again, every year since 2012! (Unless you ask certain angry protesters! In which case we've been ignoring the one important TRUTH, which we'd tell you except obviously we're neoliberal globalist corporatist scum and so we're hiding that TRUTH under a pile of gold coins comprising 1/1000th of our vast alt-weekly journalist riches.) Here's some of what we've learned along the way:
How did May Day in Seattle became a sprawling clusterfuck of incompatible causes and ideologies?
Seattle's version of May Day, in which a peaceful march for immigrant rights is followed by violent clashes between anarchists and police, is now five [Update:
six!seven!] years old. It began in 2012, when anarchists chose May 1, until then associated with the annual El Comite march to reform America's unjust immigration laws, as the moment to launch a bunch of smash-and-run property crimes in the downtown core. The mostly white anarchists broke windows at retail businesses, various banks, and the federal courthouse, and in doing so effectively diverted the city's attention away from El Comite's message.
This was seen as an unfortunate muting of long-running social justice organizing work by El Comite, and in ensuing years, the anarchists, apparently hearing this criticism, began to clearly separate their actions from those of the immigrant rights marchers. This is how May Day in Seattle came to have its current, predictable schedule: a diverse afternoon march to the federal courthouse led by people seeking to expand and improve the rule of law, and then later, in the evening, roving mayhem featuring attacks on property and police by "Black Bloc" anarchists, a mostly white group devoted to dismantling the rule of law.
Why am I being told that I can't call what happens on May Day "violence"?
Back in 2012, former Stranger writer Brendan Kiley (now at The Seattle Times) argued: "Smashing a window is not violence, it's vandalism. There is a difference—unless you think of people as the moral equivalent of property."
This argument gets recirculated every year around this time, and it has a certain tweetable simplicity to it, but it also has some obvious problems. I wrote about those problems, as I see them, back in 2012. Briefly, because good lord this has gone on forever: Say a member of the KKK smashes the window of a black church. Following the Moral Law on Smashed Windows of 2012, the most enlightened path would be to describe this incident as merely "vandalism," or as just a bit of the "smashy smashy"?
Anyway, Brendan had a response to my criticisms, blog commenters had hundreds of feelings, May Day continues, and it remains eternally guaranteed that if you ever write about May Day, on any platform now or hereafter invented, your words will continue to be policed by people who, in the same breath, will tell you they're philosophically opposed to the very idea of one human being policing another human being.
(Interesting plot twist: In 2013, May Day led to the smashing of multiple windows on local small businesses. This led to outrage, which led to another annual occurrence, the excuse-making suggestion that if anarchists ever do something dumb it must be the work of agents provocateurs. Notably, local anarchists said in 2013 that they stood by all that smashing of local small business windows—"We support everything that happened last night"—while simultaneously offering to try to raise money to replace the smashed windows of local small businesses but not the smashed window of a local Walgreens, "for obvious reasons." Revised Moral Law on Smashed Windows of 2013: If that window deserved to be smashed, that was a morally righteous action, and if that window didn't deserve to be smashed, it was also a morally righteous action but maybe we'll try to hold an online fundraiser to pay for the damage. Further, we, a small group of masked men, will decide who and what must be targeted for smashing, and no, we do not find that this idea has any worrisome historical resonance, please send complimentary correspondence only to "the anarchists of Puget Sound.")
Has The Stranger ever actually talked to a May Day protester?
Yes, we have. Over and over and over. Click above for one of many, many, many examples.
Oh, and journalists from other local publications have talked to May Day protesters, too! Here's a memorable exchange:
Why don't you cover the El Comite march?
We have. (Click above.) And we continue to.
Why don't you keep an eye on the police?
Done that, too. (Click above for just one example.)
Why does all this antigovernment language sound so familiar?
For a loud and regularly destructive sub-segment of the May Day protesters, government is the enemy, full stop, and that makes the police the henchmen of the Leviathan. (Predictable outcome of this belief system: Masked men marching down Broadway in 2015 with a "Put Wings on Pigs" banner.) Don't let their "anticapitalist" branding fool you. It's true they're anticapitalist, but it's not the whole truth. Yes, they'll offer on-trend rants against the globalist elite. But they're also anti-socialist, anti-representative democracy, anti-rule of law... all of it. If you're wondering what separates them from, say, a Steve Bannon, here's a handy quiz to help you sort it out.
Is it terrible that this day of the year usually leaves me disliking everyone involved?
Who can ever know the true heart of a Stranger reader? All we can say is that it makes you a lot like former Stranger writer Ansel Herz, who wrote after last year's May Day: "Fuck everything about May Day in Seattle... Fuck El Comite... Fuck a bunch of the anarchists... Fuck the media... Fuck the police."
Wait, how did May Day first start?
Click above! Bonus track for the day: right here.
(This post was originally written in 2017 and has been updated with this year's May Day events.)