Police and protesters in Seattle on May Day 2012 Credit: architecturegeek (Trevor Dykstra)/Flickr (CC)
May Day didn’t go so well in Seattle last year. We all remember the peaceful march that got hijacked by masked, black-outfitted anarchists smashing windows and otherwise acting like idiots. We also remember our police force more or less standing by, caught off guard, willing to sacrifice some property damage in exchange for a lack of violence and injury.
The department was also, as it is today, under the Department of Justice microscope. DOJ was looking into how and when SPD uses force. The recent report on May Day 2012 details how officers heard mixed messages from command staff about how and under what circumstances to get tough. The result: they failed to act quickly or forcefully enough.
So, here we are again. May Day, 2013.
Lots has happened in the last year, which leads me to predict that this year’s May Day will be marked by peaceful marches in support of immigration reform and worker rights. That's it.
The crucial ingredients of surprise and complacency that fueled last year's disruption are just not there this time around. The recently released report on May Day, 2012 has focused the minds of the city’s police department — with its new acting chief in Jim Pugel — and elected officials. Neither wants a repeat of last year’s window-smashing spree, especially in a crucial election year.
Look for officers to be visible and active throughout downtown. Any troublemakers will be kept away from the marches or removed quickly by both uniformed and plainclothes officers. (There is, of course, no confirmation that plainclothes personnel will mingle with the crowd, but it is an effective tactic for preventing anarchists from changing clothes and blending in with marchers.)
There will be a lot going on this May Day. In addition to immigrants’ rights and immigration reform marches downtown, the Port of Seattle welcomes the first cruise ship of the season (at Pier 66), and a smaller group of anti-capitalism marchers will gather at Seattle Central Community College. The next evening, when Hamilton Middle School in Wallingford (this writer’s alma mater) hosts a forum for mayoral candidates, will May Day madness make it onto the forum agenda along with arenas, apodments and South Lake Union? Probably not.
It's just not that easy to reproduce a moment like May Day, 2012. Like the Occupy moment itself, the embers of the fire may still glow, but the unique circumstances change. The energy and outrage wane. People move on and, yes, sometimes even grow up.
Besides, unlike gun control and other hugely popular — and thwarted — demands, immigration reform seems to have a chance this year. The marchers should feel optimistic, not frustrated. Their sustained efforts — and a Republican Party that has finally done the electoral math — have created the momentum for real change.
Anyone looking to smash windows and disrupt the celebration of free expression this May Day will likely enjoy an evening in the King County Jail. It won’t be like last time.