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May Day demonstrations shift around Puget Sound region amid coronavirus pandemic

Participants in the March for Immigration and Workers Right traveled throughout Seattle downtown Tuesday afternoon for May Day 2018.
Parker Miles Blohm
The COVID-19 pandemic means this year's May Day labor and immigration event will not feature its usual crowds, like the one seen here from 2018.

Normally tens of thousands of people would gather on May Day in the Puget Sound region for various events and causes. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor's ban on large gatherings is putting a damper on some of the usual scheduled marches, while also prompting other types of demonstrations.

One of the largest annual May Day events is Seattle's labor and immigration march. But instead of marching through downtown, organizers plan tocaravan in cars along Interstate 5 from Seattle to Olympia.

El Comité is the immigrant advocacy group largely behind the annual event, now in its 21st year. Board member Jorge Quiroga says the pandemic is highlighting a variety of labor issues, from workplace safety to paid time off to social services for people who are unable to work right now. He says those issues are especially acute among immigrants.

"That is what we offer to the community," Quiroga said. "To feel part of the appreciation for the frontline workers, all of the people who have been ignored, who have been excluded."

Quiroga says the group is calling on state leaders to make aid available to undocumented immigrants, who are unable to access many federal and state benefits. 

The caravan is set to leave from Seattle around 11 a.m. Friday. There could be about 100 cars involved, though Quiroga says he's not sure how many will participate. There also will be portions of the event that are livestreamed.

Around the same time, anothercar caravan organized by the COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network is set to take off through Seattle neighborhoods. That caravan will start in the city's University District and end in the afternoon around Beacon Hill. 

Nationally, essential workers from Amazon, Instacart and other large companies are organizing a mass striketo call for more protections for front-line workers.

While many of these events will comply with social distancing rules, there also are several rallies expected around the state protesting Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-home order.

May Day usually attracts a variety of groups, but the pandemic means this year's events are especially scattered. That's a challenge for public safety officials who are nonetheless preparing for the day's activities.

In Seattle, where some groups have previously used May Day to provoke violence or cause damage, police officers will be out in personal protective gear.

"That will look like the face masks, eye protection, gloves," said Det. Mark Jamieson. "If people are downtown, they will see a larger number than usual of uniformed officers, both on foot and on bicycle."

A spokesman for Washington State Patrol says troopers also will be visible on the Capitol campus in Olympia. 

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.