Downtown Seattle was awash with opponents of white supremacy on Sunday, August 13 as a diverse crowd of 2,000 marched in opposition to a right-wing “Patriot Prayer” rally at Westlake Park. Participation swelled dramatically as the counter-protest also became a response to the August 12 car attack on anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Although police blocked the main protest from entering the park, the demonstrators’ message of solidarity reverberated through downtown canyons. In addition, several hundred protesters managed to enter the park and shout down the rally attended by 75 or so Trump supporters, Proud Boys, and militarily-clad allies.
The “Patriot Prayer” gathering was planned weeks earlier by Joey Gibson, of Vancouver, Washington, who claims to oppose racism, but whose events consistently draw white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He previously visited Seattle on June 10 as part of an anti-Muslim rally in Seattle that drew hundreds of counter-protesters.
Many of the organizations that came together in an ad hoc coalition to defend the Muslim community in June joined forces again for the August 13 march. Organizers and endorsers included Greater Seattle IWW General Defense Committee, Freedom Socialist Party, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Veterans for Peace Chapter 94, Seattle Solidarity Network, Radical Women, ANSWERSeattle.org, SAFE in Seattle, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Clifton Wyatt, former president of the International Association of Machinists Local A 751.
The M.L. King County Labor Council encouraged unionists to attend with a note stating, “If we are not fighting racism, sexism, homophobia we are not really fighting for workers’ rights.” Speaking for an endorsing union, Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304, Steve Hoffman addressed the key role of the labor movement in opposing the far right and roused the crowd before the march began with the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!”
Approaching the city core, marchers became frustrated as Seattle police repeatedly blocked their access to Westlake Park. Scores of police in riot gear, with bicycles, batons, tanks and other vehicles, blocked all intersections and alleyways leading to the park. They lobbed flash-bang grenades and pepper-sprayed protesters in unprovoked attacks on a crowd that included elders, children, and people with disabilities. In response, protesters chanted, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” and “Cops and Klan work hand in hand!”
“We need to protest to Seattle’s mayor and police chief for essentially taking the side of the racist reactionaries by tear-gassing locals who came to take a stand against them, while providing a military-type escort for the bigots,” said Patrick Burns, a union carpenter who was a marshal for the counter-protesters’ march.
“I urge everyone to call the City Council and demand that the police be brought under control,” said Annaliza Torres of Radical Women. Torres said sixty organizations and community leaders signed onto a letter protesting “biased policing” at the June anti-Muslim rally. She said police allowed the Proud Boys to repeatedly attack the anti-racist rally, but then pepper-sprayed and arrested the people who attempted to defend themselves. “We haven’t yet had a reply to our complaint. Instead, we got intensified police harassment today,” said Torres.
Su Docekal of the Freedom Socialist Party, one of the march organizers, said, “The police and the city absolutely violated our constitutional rights to protest and free speech. We know from experience with the Aryan Nations and others here in the Pacific Northwest that the way to prevent fascism from taking root is through direct, disciplined confrontation when they come out in public to recruit. Our goal is to build a broad, democratic united front able to stop them in their tracks.”