Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tensions mount in Seattle on brink of May Day protests

Posters like this one and other information has some in Seattle concerned that tomorrow's May Day protests could get out of hand.
Erin Hennessey
Posters like this one and other information has some in Seattle concerned that tomorrow's May Day protests could get out of hand.

From Mayor Mike McGinn worrying about violence to a guy on the street wondering if the ferries will run, tensions in Seattle are mounting over May Day protests.

Groups are planning May Day marches in Seattle to protest capitalism, immigration laws and labor practices, but the most consistent rallying cry is for a “general strike.” How many people will go on “strike,” how many will show up to rally and whether there will be an outbreak of violence on the streets are unknowns.

And that uncertainty appears to be jangling some nerves in the city.

Fear of violence

Some groups appear to be pushing for a big event in the city reminiscent of WTO protests of 1999 that not only shut down much of downtown but also cost millions in damage to property. Rumors of these plans caused McGinn to publish a release warning the city:

“We … have evidence that other people may be coming to Seattle on Tuesday with the intention of using the public demonstrations as an opportunity to commit violence, damage property and disrupt peaceful free speech activity. There has been a significant increase in graffiti and posters alluding to violence around the May 1 events. Websites have described trainings in how to conceal weapons beneath signs and banners, and how to target police officers on horses.”

McGinn noted that some people used protests at the Port of Seattle in December as a shield to throw “projectiles and incendiary devices” at police and that last Thursday a bank in Columbia City was firebombed in an attack similar to one that took place in Portland the night before.

Rumors of other, more imaginative, actions are also making the rounds. One group calling itself “May Day Radio” says it plans to blanket marches with an FM signal that will take over the airwaves.

“By repurposing obsolete iPod nano accessories (originally used to send a signal from an iPod to a nearby radio), we’ll turn an army of protesters with smart phones into a roving band of micro-transmitters, each of them re-transmitting our radio show.”

One of the immigrant rights groups — El Comité Pro Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social — told the Associated Press they are working with other organizations to ensure no disrupting behavior takes place during their annual march.

At the very least, city officials expect the evening commute to be disrupted.

‘General Strike’

In its call for a strike to shut down commerce in Seattle, as well as other cities around the country,  Occupy Seattle’s website exhorts people to disengage from their normal routine:

  • No Work
  • No School
  • No Housework
  • No Shopping

The website titled “May 1st Seattle” adds:

"We are striking to halt the flow of capital, reclaim a tool of resistance, and unify movements against exploitation, repression, and corruption. You should join the movement and strike because: everyone else will be doing it and it’ll be fun and empowering. But more importantly, join because you’ve experienced exploitation, repression, and corruption, and you are aware of their impact around you. Join if you are forced to work and consume; if you want to have a choice for an alternative."

The site lists activities occurring at Westlake Park from 11 a.m. into the late evening.

The M.L. King County Labor Council has its protest for immigration reform starting at 3:30 downtown.

And, a bicycle group called “Seattle Bicycle Bloc” is calling on Facebook for bikers to “join the global general strike on wheels. Help shut the down the city to fight for a life worth living.”

National worries

With protests scheduled around the country, many cities are wondering if tomorrow’s events will spark a resurgence of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

And, especially in New York City, there’s lots of talk about how big and how out  of control some protests might become. says the protests are an “unknown quantity” and the relevance of the Occupy movement will be judged by tomorrow’s turnout. The magazine also notes that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are concerned about the potential terror risks on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, which was actually May 2.

However, the big concern right now for New York and elsewhere are “Wild Cat marches.”

“There will be unpermitted, unpredictable actions a-plenty — including an autonomously organized Wild Cat march, with the “wild cats” consisting of various anarchists, anti-capitalists, anti-authoritarians and their allies, beginning in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Its call states, “if we wanted to protest we could carry a sign and walk within police barricades, safely cordoned off in a free speech zone. On May 1st, we aren’t working and we aren’t protesting. We are striking.””

In short, no one knows what will happen tomorrow and that uncertainty has many in Seattle and elsewhere worried.


Before accepting the position of News Director in 1996, she spent five years as knkx's All Things Considered Host and filed news stories for knkx and NPR. Erin is a native of Spokane and a graduate of the University of Washington and London's City University - Center for Journalism Studies. Erin worked in the film industry and as a print journalist in London and New York before returning to Seattle to work in broadcast news.
Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.