How the May Day protests help McGinn but block change

Winners and Losers: Mayor McGinn, a strong advocate for social justice, hit the right balance. But progressives had their causes hijacked by haters.
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Mayor Mike McGinn talks about the May Day protests and the Seattle Police Department's response.

Winners and Losers: Mayor McGinn, a strong advocate for social justice, hit the right balance. But progressives had their causes hijacked by haters.

Anarchists. They are so 1999. Who knew they would be in the news this week, resurgent, smashing windows, and giving a boost to Mayor Mike McGinn's re-election efforts?

The mayor can't thank them for giving him a chance to prove he can manage a crisis. This week, McGinn didn't look like Paul Schell after WTO. Granted, the May Day demonstrations and violence downtown were on a completely different scale, and Schell's sins might have been overstated.

Still, the mayor and the Seattle Police Department confiscated potential weapons, from sharp sticks to bags of poop, to minimize the destruction and keep the streets safe for the mostly peaceable demonstrators. They looked like heroes, not the hapless.

Sympathy for McGinn likely increased when rocks were thrown through the windows of his Greenwood home, presumably by rock-throwing anarchists, one of whom apparently waved at McGinn's wife. How Seattle.

The problem with some activists is that they get wound up, then pop a spring or jump the shark. Mayor Schell was injured when a non-anarchist activist smashed him in the face with a bullhorn, an act that rightly outraged the city. No one hurt McGinn, but those who threw those rocks at his house didn't know they wouldn't be hurting anyone inside. You can say what you want in the public square, but violate a man's home, bring fear to his wife and family, that is a line even the assholes of '99 didn't cross.

An argument has raged on The Slog over whether vandalism and property attacks are violence or not, the kind of philosophical discussion that might sound sensible in the isolated echo-chamber of a Eugene coffeehouse. The folks arguing that rocks through the mayor's windows isn't violence (who was hurt?) are fooling themselves. This kind of stuff is meant to threaten and terrify people. It is meant to put fear into the political process, to derail discussion, and dissent. It's an abuse of people and the system. Acts of such vandalism are violent. If you're going to use such tactics, own-up and man-up about it.

I remember getting into the same stupid argument at Town Hall after WTO with activists who insisted that property destruction wasn't violence because property isn't people. I was standing between Niketown and the sling-shotted ball bearings that were fired at it, and believe me if you were standing there and ducking metal shot, you'd have no question whether it was a violent act or not. I felt the same way when the cops shot rubber pellets at us.

Vandalism shouldn't be tolerated, but such acts aren't unexpected. They often come with big city protests, with frustration and outrage. Often, they're announced beforehand, which sometimes makes it seem like Kabuki theater. The vandals too often damage or distract from the overall message of social justice and reform that many in Seattle are sympathetic to.

The mayor has been a particularly strong spokesman for social justice. This week, McGinn found the balance between toughness and restraint, and became a mini-martyr in the meantime. As Joel Connelly phrased it, "Anarchists who trashed downtown Seattle storefronts on May Day are the best friends an established order could ever have."

So Mr. Mayor is a winner. The losers were the progressives and reformers who had their marches and the news cycle hijacked by Nike-wearing Nike-haters.

Other winners and losers:

Winner: President Barack Obama, who got away with making the most out of the anniversary of killing Osama bin Laden, and reducing his GOP opponent Mitt Romney to sputtering silly nonsense about how any president, even Jimmy Carter, would have done the same thing, even after previously stating that he, Romney, thought the hunt for bin Laden was an expensive waste of time. Add the surprise presidential visit to Afghanistan and the Nixonian announcement about the end-non-end of an unpopular war-non-war, a bump in the approval rating, and killing at the White House Correspondents dinner where he defused the "dog eating" issue, and the president had a good week.

Loser: But not perfect. What the hell happened in China? And what did Gary Locke know, and when did he know it?

Losers: The SPD, cracking down on street anarchy, that's good. But buying a drone, one that can't fly in wind or stay aloft for more than 10 minutes? And we're supposed to trust how you'll use it? How are you getting all that time for training (pilot training!) when you're supposed to be getting re-trained on civil rights? Do you have to buy it just because the feds will pay for it? And why did you surprise the city council with your new toy? If you get one, won't everyone want one?

Winner: Ok, this comes with a question mark. The Seattle School District hired the last person standing among their finalists. The new supe (pending final negotiations) will be Jose Banda, schools chief in Disneyla... uh,  Anaheim. As with all new Seattle school supes, it comes with a kind of congratulatory caution. Was this really the first-choice guy, or the best we could do? Do we know what his favorite color is? Are we happy that it's him, or are we simply glad the search is over, like School Board president Michael DeBell, who, according to The Seattle Times, "expressed relief at the end of a long process and asked the community to view the new superintendent as a 'fresh start' and opportunity to 'reduce the rancor.'" How many fresh starts does a district get? Anyway, let's hope he's a keeper.

Winner: The Times' Danny Westneat embraces the Second Amendment and suggests gun-safety training in schools. Why not? Well, that would mean you have to bring guns into schools, because you can't do effective gun training without letting kids actually handle guns in class, so you can imagine the security and liability problems. Still, he's right that there ought to be more gun training, kinda like driver's ed. You can learn to ride shotgun, safely.

Winner: Atheists, who hired a Republican lobbyist to represent secular society in Washington, DC. Good move.

Winner: Jay Inslee, an inveterate doodler. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate is giving his art to members of his hard-core J-Team. Inslee says drawing helps him stay sane. The Times' Jim Brunner says his sketch of an apple raises some "deep metaphysical questions."

Winner: Newt Gingrich, who finally did us all a favor and dropped out of the presidential race this week, but this column by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reminded me of how much we'll miss his eclecticism, if not his grandiosity: "For 23 desultory minutes in an overheating conference room, Gingrich took the 150 campaign workers and reporters present on a stream-of-consciousness tour of the Newtonian Mind. He spoke, in no particular order, of Capt. John Smith in 1607, mining asteroids, his novels about George Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Ellis the Elephant, the Strait of Hormuz, Alzheimer’s disease, Chinese bondholders, Todd Palin, electromagnetic pulses, radical Islamists, C-SPAN, his high school years, Nixon, Carter, Reagan (both Ronald and Michael), the civil service, the Civil War, autism, holograms, the Soviet Union, nanoscale science, the Federalist Papers and Herman Cain."


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.