Advocates hope May Day march focuses on immigrants

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SEATTLE — A year after anarchists went on a rampage in downtown Seattle, organizers of Wednesdays' May Day march hope the focus turns back to reforming the nation's immigration laws.

"There's always a worry that some groups may want to take advantage," Maru Mora, one of the organizers, said of the possibility of more disruptive activity this year. "But no, it's more about ensuring that people pay attention to Congress."

For the past decade, immigrant rights advocates have used the march to push for reform, but the number of people marching has steadily declined since the mid-2000's when Congress last attempted to change immigration law. Besides the Seattle march, other demonstrations and rallies are planned across the state, including in the cities of Mt. Vernon, Spokane, Vancouver, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Yakima.

Organizers hope for an uptick in participants this year because of the recently introduced bi-partisan Senate bill and President Barack Obama's push for reform.

"We've been clear throughout the years, it's a very peaceful march," Mora said. "We have one message, which is immigrant rights."

Mora said that message was all but ignored last year after the violence broke out in downtown Seattle. Black-clad protesters used sticks and bats to smash stores and automobile windows. Police recovered homemade incendiary devices made from toilet paper rolls and fruit juice boxes. At a federal appeals court building, protesters shattered glass doors with rocks and threw or shot a smoke bomb toward the lobby.

Seattle police arrested several people, at least three of whom were convicted, and federal agents sought to find the culprits who damaged the courthouse.

In the end, there were two marches. One with heavy police enforcement — including clashes between officers and protesters — that ended up aimlessly marching through streets. The immigrant march had permits and ended with a rally in front of a federal building.

On a local discussion website for anarchists, there are allusions to revamped actions on Wednesday, inspired in part by the imprisonment of two people who refused to testify before a federal grand jury about last spring's violence. The two people spent five months in custody, much of it in solitary confinement.

According to the website, FBI and police have been gathering information about Wednesday's events. FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich said the bureau has been helping out the Seattle Police Department, behind the scenes, where needed.

"We assess the threat picture and we address them if there are any threats," she said.

Besides the immigrant march, offshoots of the Occupy Seattle group will hold actions as well. There's an "Anti-Capitalism" march in the evening starting from Seattle Central Community College as well as another rally roughly planned for Westlake earlier in the day.

Mora said the planners for the immigrant march have tried to get in contact with some of the Occupy groups that last year loosely organized a march, but have not had much success because they're not organized.

This year the march is scheduled to feature speakers calling for same-sex couples to be included in immigration reform, the first time this has happened, Mora said.