Through rain, hail, thunder, and lightning, advocates for a ceasefire in Gaza occupied the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 for more than three hours on Saturday, shutting down traffic for five hours. Despite tension with the cops and the drivers they blocked, organizers at Jewish Voice for Peace, Samidoun Seattle, Falastiniyat, and SUPER UW, believe their demonstration achieved its goal: “No business as usual under genocide.”

About 100 protesters took over I-5 between I-90 and Mercer Street at around 1:15pm. JVP took over the University Bridge last month, so, anticipating frustration from the drivers they blocked, the organizers handed out fliers to answer frequently asked questions. 

The flier read, “We are genuinely sorry for the inconvenience this is causing you. We assume you have important places to get to and we truly apologize for the delay. We would not have taken this action if it weren’t an emergency of life or death for thousands, if not millions of people.”

The flier went on to explain the three months of carnage in Palestine. Since Oct 7, Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 22,000 Palestinians, injured 57,000, displaced 1.9 million, and flattened more than 70% of the homes in Gaza. 

The flier explained that protesters felt called to to act in the belly of the beast of empire, particularly in Seattle, which is home to genocide-enablers such as Boeing, Microsoft, and Google.

In addition to apologizing, the flier also thanked the drivers. “You are contributing to a story that people of conscience all over the world will not stand idly by while others are massacred with our tax dollars,” it read.

Drivers had mixed reactions to the demonstration. One driver flashed a fist in solidarity with the protesters as they marched down Olive Way. Other drivers sat in their car, visibly bored and mildly annoyed. Others came out to yell at the organizers. 

“Shut your face and get out of our way!” One man yelled at a protester.

Another driver, begging the demonstrators to move, asked why they don’t just protest at City Hall. Well, they have. Pro-Palestinian advocates twice filled City Hall in November to ask the City Council to pass a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. They also routinely protest outside Sen. Patty Murray’s office in the Federal Building downtown.  

The action also took flack from armchair protest critics online—I did not know there were so many esteemed experts in the field of political strategy! 

A video posted to social media showed an AMR ambulance stuck in traffic behind demonstrators. AMR wouldn't confirm if their vehicle was transporting anyone. An EMT among the protesters didn’t seem worried. “There are other ambulances,” they said.

But angry drivers and tweeters seemed the least of the protesters' worries. At 2:40 pm Real Change reporter Guy Oron tweeted that cops told protesters that they did not have the resources to arrest everyone, so the demonstration would end when they decided to leave. Shortly thereafter, police presence ramped up, as though they were preparing for mass arrest. 

Protesters and police disagree on how the demonstration ended. 

Police and the activists’ police liaisons met several times between 3 pm and 5 pm, when protesters eventually cleared I-5. On more than one occasion, organizers would report back and say that the police had not yet issued a dispersal order, which basically gives them clearance to start arresting protesters. The police unblocked the safest exit, but the protesters saddled up for the long haul.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Twitter account posted that cops issued two dispersal orders. Protesters on I-5 did not receive these instructions from the liaisons, and police did not communicate the order to the group at large. Two days later, Washington State Patrol (WSP) confirmed in a press release that SPD tweeted "errant information" and that the cops never issued such an order. 

When the protesters left, they did so on their own volition, unaware of any Twitter-exlusive dispersal order. No one got arrested, but WSP said Monday that as their "our ongoing investigation continues, charges could very well be referred to the prosecutor’s office in due time.”

The highway siege coincided with the weekly march held by Samidoun Seattle, Falastiniyat, and SUPER UW. The weekly march changed its usual meeting spot from Westlake to the Starbucks Reserve. Though not technically on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction list, Starbucks became a target of anti-zionist boycott when the company sued its workers’ union for using its logo after the union posted in solidarity with Palestine.

After chanting outside the boarded up roastery and leaving behind some art, hundreds of protesters marched north. The protesters easily filled the Olive Way bridge, overlooking their allies occupying I-5 down below. 

When the two groups reunited, numbers easily in the thousands at their height, they continued to chant “Free, free Palestine,” over the rain and thunder. 

Seattle won’t see the last of these protesters until the US stops funding Israel’s genocide.