Written by Steven Leigh, Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and RSN (Revolutionary Socialist Network)
Seattle May 30—Seattle was slow to respond to the death of George Floyd. While Minneapolis was burning ,and other cities were clashing with the police, Seattle was quiet. That changed on Friday May 29 and especially on Saturday May 30.
On May 29 hundreds of people gathered at the downtown police headquarters at night after marching from the International District. Through the course of the night , some windows were smashed and a bit of graffiti was painted on store walls. ACAB ( All Cops Are Bastards) was a favorite, though this is a vicious slur against the children of unmarried parents.
On Saturday, again around 500 gathered in front of the police headquarters at noon. The cops protected the building from behind metal barricades. Speeches galvanized the crowd though many were of the liberal variety. “ I love this country” said one speaker. After an hour, people left and many ended up at the 3 PM rally in the center of downtown at Westlake park.
The 3 PM downtown rally of several thousand was planned to be peaceful . The main organizer “ Not This Time” scheduled preachers to inspire the crowd. Not This Time grew out of the protest against the police murder of Che Taylor 4 years ago. It successfully organized a state wide initiative that forced the legislature to increase police training and make it easier to prosecute police who kill. The plan was to listen to speakers and then marched to the nearby Federal Building. The main organizer, Andre Taylor , urged the crowd to be peaceful so that it could be safe for families and children.
The rally went on for an hour and a half and sections of the crowd were clearly getting restless . On the edge of the rally up by 5th and Pine the police aggressively pushed people out of the intersection firing off a series of flash bombs and tear gas. Several times people ran away from the tear gas but then regrouped. The police violence agitated the crowd. At some point, someone was able to set fire to a police car . Over the course of the afternoon and evening several police vehicles were torched. 2 police rifles were stolen. Several store windows were smashed and some stores were looted.
Large numbers of protestors also blocked the south bound lanes of Interstate 5 which runs through downtown
Even before the rally marched to its intended end point, the city imposed a 12 hour curfew from 5 PM to 5 AM on both Saturday and Sunday. This is a longer curfew than in any other city. This gave the police the right to clear the streets. The city also got the state to send in 200 “unarmed” national guard to help the police. The mayor said:
I understand the immense rage, grief, and sense of betrayal felt by not only our community, but communities across our country this weekend. However, the escalated, destructive, and violent incidents that took place during today’s demonstrations cannot, and will not, be allowed to continue. They jeopardize the health and safety of all those involved, from the demonstrators, to our first responders, to civilians just passing by.
Predictably, the local press echoed the mayor and focused on the “violence” while giving only lip service to the issue which caused the protests. The pictures of shattered glass, and littered and tear gassed streets were more fascinating than discussions of police brutality ,systematic racism, and the actual brazen, cruel and vicious murder of a vibrant and loved .human being
Local TV spent hours showing damaged windows and burned out cars but scarce minutes interviewing protestors or broadcasting speakers’ words. . When they did interview protestors they focused on those who opposed the violence by other protestors. One woman interviewed was on the police-community liaison commission.
Lauren Tozzi explained how distorted this coverage was:
NOTHING is being said by the local reporters about the police behavior at the downtown precinct. Hundreds were gathered in front, saying George’s name, many with their hands up in the air. I then saw several officers wearing gas masks….at that point I said to myself…”that’s not a good sign”. I started walking away. I wasn’t but a block away, when BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!!!! People were running trying to get away from the gas. I ran into a family- whose young children were crying and screaming! People had their hands over their eyes…folks were trying to help by pouring water on their faces. It was pretty bad. There was NO PROVOCATION for the police at the precinct to do what they did. There was NO REASON why they had to set off stun guns and gas! THEY WENT OUT OF CONTROL! They created a very bad scene!!! I finally made it home and I have been contacting local news to express my outrage about the lack of reporting on what happened at least where I was. I’m bearing witness to a situation that was peaceful. And all I see on local reporting is about looting and destruction…..Well, I want to say that what I saw with mine own eyes, was police at the precinct WERE OUT OF CONTROL!!!!!! They had NO REASON to d what they did there today. It is unacceptable!
* THIS IS NOT WHAT DE-ESCALATION LOOKS LIKE!!
The protest in Seattle and around the country highlights several issues and raises tactical considerations:
1)The intensity of the protest movement around the U.S. flows from the current political situation. The BLM movement developed during Obama’s presidency in 2014. The horror of racist police murder was tempered by having a Black president, presumably anti-racist in office. Now the President is an incompetent buffoon who is also a vile racist with little talent for pretending compassion. Further George Floyd’s murder happened after a further concentration of wealth and in the middle of the Cornona Crisis which is killing Black people at a much higher rate than whites. Also , it happened during the biggest economic crisis since the 30’s which has again shown the rampant inequality of the capitalist system. As more gallop into poverty, the billionaires have gained BILLION since March! All of this increases the anger of those triggered by the racist murder of George Floyd.
This increased intensity resulted in faster action than virtually any other similar case. Recall that Eric Garner who was likewise strangled on video by NYC police in 2014 never received justice. His murderers are still at large. In this case, Floyd’s murderers were fired within a couple days. The chief executioner was indicted quickly. Obviously, this is not near enough—cops still get special treatment, but it is a reflection of changed circumstances. These changed circumstances will probably result in continued radicalization around these and other issues. Along with continuing right wing organizing, this shows continued polarization in the U.S.
2) The inability of the police to control the few thousand protestors today, shows the potential strength of our side . As the poet Shelly said “ We are many, they are few. The great are only great because we are on our knees. Rise!” Our side was disorganized.
This belies Trump toady Attorney General Barr’s statement:
“Unfortunately, with the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful protests are being hijacked by violent radical elements. In many places it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by far left extremist groups and anarchic groups using Antifa-like tactics”
Would that we were that organized! The socialist left is tiny. This is moreso true of the revolutionary socialist left. Anarchists are notoriously disorganized. The point is that with large numbers and more organization we could accomplish much more. If we were more organized , had clear goals and especially if we had the organized support of those who can cut off the flow of profit, we could make a much bigger impact. In the long run, if all these factors are added to the creation of a revolutionary socialist vanguard party, we can not just keep the police on the run and guessing, but actually dismantle the state apparatus. The cat and mouse skirmishes of today can lead to a time when the mouse becomes the cat. Though little was won directly today, it shows how much more can be won tomorrow.
3) This movement will have to resolutely confront the Liberal narrative that peaceful protest is fine but “ violent “ protest is an anathema. What this really means is that ineffective protest is fine but effective protest is unacceptable. The ruling class has the power and it doesn’t want the masses to challenge that power. It wants to preserve the illusion of free speech, elections and other aspects of “democracy”. These illusions help to cement the loyalty of the masses to the current order. We may not have a perfect society, but at least we are not China…Iran…Syria…Russia..( name your favorite repressive regime) so goes the Liberal line. As long as people accept this, they will be less likely to revolt.
This requires a delicate balance by the rulers. They must allow enough protest to preserve the illusion, but not enough to actually disrupt its profit and power. They claim to oppose violent protest. What they really oppose is effective disruptive protest. Remember that they treated the non-violent Civil Rights Movement with dogs, gas, beatings, fire hoses and sometimes murder. Remember the National Guard response to the anti-war movement at Kent State 50 years ago this month. From time to time , they try to label even non-violent protest as “terrorism” .When they attack protest that hurts their interest, we have to vehemently defend it. We have to say clearly, that the issue that caused the protest is more important than the tactics of the protestors. To those who deplore violence, we have to explain that the cause of violent protest is the violence inherent in capitalism. If you don’t like broken windows in stores destroy the capitalist system.
The hypocrisy of the ruling class line is overwhelming. The ruling class and its kept press deplore the looting of stores yet never even mention the looting of the working class that goes on every day. Exploitation is the core of capitalism, but is never even discussed in the mass media. They deplore the violence of demonstrators, but barely mention the daily violence of forcing workers to risk their lives to Covid 19; of unsafe working conditions that kill thousands yearly; the violence of poor or no housing, the violence of no health care ; the violence of U.S. wars , sanctions and drone strikes that kill thousands yearly or the racist and sexist violence that the system condones and promotes. As Kira Woodworth put it:
This is all I have to say to people who say “Its not okay to willfully destroy property.”
There is never a good reason to willfully kneel on someone’s neck until they cry for their mother and die. There is never a good reason to shoot a sleeping woman in her bed. There is never a good reason to willfully stalk and confront a teenage boy and then shoot him. There is never a good reason to willfully shoot a man in front of his partner and child on a routine traffic stop. There is never a good reason to strangle a man on a sidewalk who is saying “I can’t breathe “ for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. There is never a good reason to willfully kill a small child for playing soldier in the park. There is never a good reason to willfully shoot a young father on a subway platform for hanging out with his friends on New Years Eve.
These are just the ones that immediately come to mind.
You care more about personal property than human life. Did you support Colin Kaepernick taking a knee? Or did you say “shut up and play football?” THIS is what happens when peaceful protests are ignored. Don’t like it? Then fight racism instead of turning a blind eye to it. Try and be better. Target and Auto Zone and Old Navy will be just fine. George Floyd is dead forever and the people who loved him will live with that forever. You speak cruelty and I hate it.
As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said “ Riots are the voice of the unheard”. As long as people feel unheard, as long as people have no effective power, there will be riots !
4) Though we need to defend riots against the hypocritical liberal attacks, we do need to seriously consider the most effective strategies and tactics going forward. We need to choose tactics that can involve the most people. Small numbers, no matter how militant cannot take down this vicious system.
Two Days That Shook the Country – ” Burn, Baby , Burn!”
Written by Steven Leigh, Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and RSN (Revolutionary Socialist Network)