I didn't head down to Olympia today expecting to cover any breaking news. For the most part, the state budget is what it is, a civic train wreck decades in the making, with only the final body count and the names of the victims yet to be determined. Washington's budget jumped the tracks years ago, and no amount of marching and rallying is going to stop this slow motion disaster.
No, I bused on down to our state Capitol today hoping to witness not news, but history, the turning point, perhaps, when Washington's progressive majority finally rediscovered its voice, its unity and its confidence in itself. Buoyed by the Revolution in Wisconsin, and incensed by anti-worker/anti-family policies at home, I wondered if this might be the day activists would eventually look back on as the day we started to clean up the wreckage and turn that train around.
Was it? I don't know. History will tell. But considering the crowds and the enthusiasm, I certainly can't say that it was not.
The video above gives a better impression of the size of the crowd than a still photo, but unable to show the the throng on the steps below me, it still doesn't do the event justice. Nearly 10,000 people packed into the Capitol campus, perhaps the largest such labor rally in well over a decade... and on a weekday no less. The crowd was loud, energized, and rambunctious, yet of course oddly polite in that weird Pacific Northwest kinda way (for example, most demonstrators went out of their way to avoid trampling the grass, even as the paved areas became uncomfortably crowded). IBEW handed out free hot dogs to the crowd as bagpipe playing firefighters marched in kilts, all of which added to the carnival feel to the event. Yet this wasn't a celebratory gathering, as evidenced by the featured speaker, Wisconsin State Sen. Spencer Coggs, one of the "Wisconsin 14" who fled the state to block a senate quorum. Coggs was there to rile up the crowd, and he didn't disappoint.
"Nothing brings people together like being attacked," the Washington State Labor Council's David Groves told me on the bus ride back, though he meant it in a hopeful, not cynical way. "All these different people and unions are coming to realize that we have power in unity." As Riya slogged earlier, "every union you could think of" was there, and some which I'd never even heard of before. A hopeful sign indeed.
But whether this rally and the week of demonstrations and sleep-ins that preceded it are over and done, or the sign of a renewed and reinvigorated progressive movement, I've no idea. For many, many reasons, I'm pessimistic about Washington's future and its ability to reverse our current slow, steady slide into Mississippi. State capitols around the nation have been transformed into Grover Norquist's dystopic bathtub, and Washington is no exception, but our fundamentals are in some ways worse. Other states are in the process of drowning their own governments through ideological design, but in Washington we are doing it by default. Democrats keep winning at the ballot box, yet unwilling or unable to provide the leadership necessary to address or state's structural revenue deficit, they have become complicit in implementing the Republican economic agenda.
Through its impressive show of unity today, labor intended to send the Democratic caucus a message. Maybe they heard it, maybe they didn't. And maybe... it's too late.