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Seattle to mark May Day with 20th annual march for immigrant rights

May 1 is celebrated around the world as International Workers’ Day. But in the Seattle area, the celebrations have long emphasized immigrant workers in particular.

This is the 20th straight year that local activists will mark May Day with a march for immigrant rights, according to organizers with the Seattle group El Comite. The event, which begins in Judkins Park at 1 p.m., has drawn hundreds of people in past years. 

Jorge Quiroga, an organizer with El Comite, said his priority this year is to begin to shift the narrative around people who are in the country without legal status. He said he wants the public to see them more as refugees fleeing poverty and violence than people who come to the U.S. by choice. 

"I think we need this change," Quiroga said. "Then the general public will start seeing the crime that is being committed against these communities by treating them as illegal immigrants, which we are not. We are just displaced workers."  

El Comite formed 20 years ago by activists concerned by a lack of Latino representation in the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, according to the group's website. The group's first May Day march, in 2000, took place in Bellevue. 

In the years since, the march has drawn union members and their supporters. Nicole Grant, executive secretary treasurer of the union group MLK Labor, said stances and actions by the Trump administration, such as the proposed border wall and the government shutdown, have added urgency to the event. 

"It really does feel like the right time for people to come together and show solidarity with each other," Grant said. "And especially show solidarity with immigrant workers in King County and Washington State."

The Seattle march includes a 4 p.m. rally with Amazon security guards, who have accused their employer, an Amazon contractor, of wage theft and mistreatment, march organizers say. 

In Olympia, the Industrial Workers of the World, a union group with ties to socialist and anarchist labor movements, will hold a May Day rally in Sylvester Park at 3 p.m. 

People march in Seattle for immigrant rights during May Day 2018 last year.
Credit Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX
People march in Seattle for immigrant rights during May Day 2018 last year.

Will James reports on ideology, covering how information spreads, how beliefs form, and how those beliefs interact with the real world.