A group of hundreds of generations marched from Garfield High School to downtown Seattle on Monday to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. – and amid a growing swarm of disputes, to exhale, gather the strength of the community and Strengthening yourself for what many recognized will probably be another year of struggle against racist institutions.
The 39th annual rally and march, coordinated by the organizing coalition of Martin Luther King Jr. in Seattle, took place against the backdrop of a rising death toll from a pandemic that has made black and brown people disproportionately ill, and despite a summer of scant progress on police reform has seen thunderous protests and mounting threats from white supremacists and old-right groups in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Organizers were considering ending this year’s march over health and safety concerns, said Shaude ‘Moore, chairman of the Seattle MLK Organizing Coalition.
Ultimately, she said, she concluded that the march “is part of the good problems we need in the community,” reiterating civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, who died last year. Moore and the organizers chose Lewis’ call to young people to make “good problems – necessary problems” as the slogan for this year’s event.
However, March organizers have taken additional precautions to protect the crowd, considering both the possibility of violent counter-protest by racist groups and caution against law enforcement after police hit some protests with tear gas and foam bullets this summer.
The event took place entirely outdoors. The route was kept secret. Street medics and a number of protesters with earpiece radios in the black block walked with the crowd. And the organizers have enlisted the help of voluntary “peacekeepers” with orange ribbons to look for possible agitators.
One such peacekeeping force, Feven Gurmu, said it participated in several protests against racism and police brutality last summer.
“We had to do something to tell the world that this is a problem in our community,” she said. “What is good may seem anger to some people.”
The organizers did not fear outside agitators and the only confrontation with law enforcement came when protesters stopped at the Yesler Way flyover to harass police officers while arresting a group of demonstrators unrelated to the march had blocked traffic on Interstate 5.
Despite the atmosphere of tension, there were moments of joy. At the end of the march outside the King County Administration Building, where participants asked King County Attorney Dan Satterberg to release juvenile inmates, musicians played and many danced.
Several speakers focused on the health inequalities that were created for many in the crowd by the recent resignation of Dr. Ben Danielson crystallized from Seattle Children’s Hospital. Danielson, who is Black, gave up his position, citing institutional racism and lack of resources for Odessa Brown Children’s Hospital, which mainly serves black people and low-income families.
Within the Central District, the former geographic heart of the Black Community in Seattle, Danielson had ensured that Odessa Brown remained a place in the now predominantly white neighborhood where “our children are welcomed and smiled at,” said education attorney Emijah Smith .
Danielson’s resignation has “given me more of a struggle” to stand up to the Seattle child administration on behalf of underserved patients, said a protester, Jennifer Mannheim, a Seattle Children’s employee.
People of all ages attended the march, befitting an event that has long been about passing the torch of activism on to a younger generation.
Parents, Joel Moffett and Alaina Capoeman, brought Ravenna, 7, and Atticus, 10, with them because they believed it was time to “pass on these ideals that everyone should be treated equally,” Moffett said. He is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe; Alaina is a member of the Quinault Indian Nation. Ravenna wore a beaded headdress that announced that the Suquamish Tribe had crowned her “Little Miss Renewal Pow Wow”.
Others on the march said their first forays into activism came later in life.
Galen Crawford declined to give her age, but said she was crowned one of the few queens of the Black Seafair in Seattle in 1974, “and you do the math.” She said she attended on Monday in March to try to get racism out of her life – including her household. She recently broke up with a partner who “didn’t understand the struggle” and said she was now working to turn her church, Madrona Grace Presbyterian, into an anti-racist organization.
“You have to raise your voice,” she said. “Although I’m not a kid, I feel like I should do something more with my life.”