by Elizabeth Turnbull
After leading hundreds of protesters inside Seattle City Hall last night, Councilmember Kshama Sawant held an open mic where she emphasized the need to tax Amazon and defund the police, an agenda that some Black protesters felt co-opted the Black Lives Matter mission.
At roughly 6 p.m., crowds initially gathered for a public meeting held by Sawant in Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill where community leaders such as former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver and K. Wyking Garrett, President of Africatown Community Land Trust, encouraged protesters to remain in the streets in the coming days and demanded that those in government meet their demands rather than trying to pacify the movement.
“This system is going to try to go back to the way it was before COVID[-19], it’s gonna try to force y’all back into your jobs, back into your rhythm and make you forget the reason you got into the streets in the first place,” Oliver said. “I need you to remember, we need you to keep the fire, we need you to stay in the streets.”
In her speeches at Cal Anderson Park, Sawant called for Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign and commended the ACLU for bringing a lawsuit against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and the City of Seattle over the use of tear gas and other measures to disperse protesters. Sawant also called for the creation of a police oversight board and demanded that SPD be defunded by at least 50 percent.
At roughly 8 p.m., Sawant led a large portion of the crowd south on Broadway as they chanted, “No justice, No peace!” as they walked behind a large Black Lives Matter banner. Ultimately, the crowd arrived at Seattle City Hall where the doors were flung open and protesters filed in while chanting, “Our City Hall!” and later shouting, “Jenny Durkan’s got to go!” and “Black lives matter.”
Sawant later told the Emerald that the gathering in City Hall was supposed to serve as a reminder that the working class is not fighting amongst itself but against big businesses and their political representatives, and as a reminder of the power of the working class and those in the crowd.
After the majority of the protestors congregated in the building, various people in the crowd signed up to speak at the “people’s mic in the people’s City Hall,” and Sawant addressed the crowd, telling them that she, and those who were present, have to fight together for their own political representation — as well as creating clear plan to make those demands into reality.
“Alongside inspiration, we need to be sober,” Sawant said. “We are not going to win any of our demands and it’s pointless making lists and lists of demands unless we have a way to win any of them. And winning those demands needs a clarity about who’s on our side and who’s not.”
Sawant relayed that the City Council will vote next Monday on banning SPD from using chemical weapons and chokeholds and that starting June 10, the City Council will be discussing budget issues that include defunding SPD and the “Amazon tax” that would increase taxes on corporate payrolls.
Following her speech, Sawant led the crowd in chanting, “Tax, tax, tax, Amazon.” After the chanting died down, protestors sang a song for Mayor Jenny Durkan consisting of the single lyric: “You about to lose your job.”
Nikkita Oliver and K. Wyking Garrett did not appear to have marched with protesters from Cal Anderson Park down to City Hall (but the Emerald has reached out to clarify whether they attended). The first protester who spoke following Sawant’s speech, Moe’Neyah Dene Holland, pointed out a racial disparity in the audience.
“I’d just like us to look around the room and realize how outnumbered the Black community is, even at a Black Lives Matter protest — and to realize how crazy that is,” Holland said. “Also for all the council member affiliates, please stop using Black Lives Matter for your political campaigns.”
While Holland said that she too supported a tax on Amazon and other proposals Sawant raised, she felt that the march took advantage of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I want to tax Amazon too, I want to do all these things too. But this is not a movement for you . . . to be politically correct and for you to gain all these votes. Please stop taking advantage of us,” she said. “I want to do all of these things too, but can we please talk about Black Lives Matter for one second?”
Following the meeting, Sawant responded to these arguments in an interview with the Emerald, in which she argued that her proposal for defunding the Seattle Police Department is a way of actively showing that Black lives matter and that the revenue from taxing big businesses such as Amazon will help provide affordable housing for Black and Brown people.
Sawant said that she believes the individuals who are truly co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement are politicians who are not taking action.
“The real co-opting happens by establishment politicians who say ‘Black lives matter’ and then say nothing beyond that,” Sawant said.
During the open mic, other individuals in the audience drew attention to issues including immigration, the whitewashing of history education in schools, and other social justice topics. . One individual named Tealshawn Turner talked about how Amazon’s expansion has led to the gentrification of the Central District, and that those neighborhoods should be given back to the Black community.
At roughly 10 p.m., the crowd filed out of the building chanting, “Defund SPD!” before returning to Capitol Hill and some to the newly-created Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist
Featured image by Alex Garland