May Day demonstrations peaceful but tense

Staff writerMay 1, 2013 

A two-hour evening march through downtown Olympia capped a daylong May Day demonstration that remained largely peaceful, if sometimes tense.

The evening march consisting of about 100 shouting demonstrators began shortly after 6 p.m. at Percival Landing and looped twice down the middle of Fourth Avenue, with the crowd at one point walking into, and stopping, oncoming traffic down the one-way street. It meandering, somewhat disorganized march ended about 8 p.m. near the artesian well at Jefferson and Fourth.

As of 9 p.m., Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said there had been no property damage, no one had been injured and there were no arrests, even though some demonstrators had hurled epithets at the police and media who surrounded them block by block.

"There was no property damage which is one of the things we were concerned about, and there was a good plan," Roberts said. "There is a place for peaceful demonstrations in our community. There is not a place for violent ones."

Roberts conceded that the 6 p.m. march clogged traffic through downtown for several hours, as police allowed the demonstrators to march in the street and set up detours to traffic as the marchers meandered from Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue, back to Sylvester Park, to the Intercity Transit Station off of State Street, and ending at the artesian well.

The two-hour march involved mostly young people - some on skateboards, some carrying flagpoles - chanting and yelling slogans such as "This is what democracy looks like," and "Whose streets? Our streets." The march reversed direction several times, at one point turning around on Fourth Avenue and walking into oncoming traffic, which was detoured by police officers.

On Capitol Way near the bus station, the demonstrators could not agree on whether to continue to march toward the Capitol Campus, and for about 15 minutes, the marchers halted in the middle of the street, with the large police and media presence simply standing and watching.

A woman in a walking boot and wearing a cast wandered into the crowd of halted marchers at that point, and yelled, "You've got the attention, what are you going to do with it?"

Near the end of the march, Lacey riot police joined Olympia police at the artesian well, but the crowd of demonstrators had by that time noticeably thinned, and the Lacey riot police left the scene.

Roberts said the department's partnership with law enforcement all over Thurston County was part of what made the police response an overall success.

"We are very fortunate to have a good relationship with our law enforcement partners who are invested in our community as well," Robert said.

Olympia police were to be on a heightened alert overnight to ensure safety, Roberts added.

Shortly before 9 p.m., there were reports over the emergency dispatch radio of people breaking bottles at the artesian well, but other details were not available.

For the second straight year, the peaceful May Day events in downtown Olympia stood in contrast to the events in Seattle, where some demonstrators began throwing items and police used pepper spray, flash-bangs and a public-address system to disperse the crowd on Olive Way about 8:30 p.m. Some demonstrators in Seattle were arrested.

Earlier Wednesday in Olympia, the police response was intense, but demonstrators were peaceful. More than 100 May Day demonstrators marched through downtown Olympia about 3 p.m. as part of a planned "Shut Down the Banks" event.

"We are happy that there has been no criminal activity and everything has remained peaceful," OPD spokeswoman Laura Wohl said from a law enforcement command post at the Olympia Fire Department headquarters.

The group of afternoon marchers, which had swelled from only a dozen who gathered over the noon hour in Olympia's Sylvester Park, was mostly peaceful as it headed up Capitol Way to Chase Bank. At Chase Bank, the group rallied briefly then headed west to Columbia and then north back into downtown past Bank of America. The procession headed east on Fourth Avenue, stopped at the artesian well site at Fourth and Jefferson, then made their way back to Sylvester Park via Fifth Avenue.

On Fourth Avenue downtown, a group of about eight Olympia police officers wearing full riot gear followed the marchers, but there were no altercations.

Some demonstrators donned neckerchief-style masks and swore or gestured at law enforcement officers who followed the marchers on bicycles. One marcher pulled a portable stereo system in a red Radio Flyer wagon that blared loud rock music.

The day's events had started small and peaceful in Sylvester Park as Washington State Patrol troopers patrolled and media stood by.

A purple banner reading "Olympia May Day" and containing an anarchist's symbol was put up in front of the park's gazebo, and organizers offered free food ranging from muffins and coffee to pasta salad. Another sign posted read "Food not bombs."

Olympia resident Andrew Meyer, who joined the marchers Wednesday, said that he considers May Day a time to reflect on how the capitalist system oppresses working people, both locally and worldwide.

"I just look at it as a day to take a step back and recognize the importance of solidarity for workers," he said. "Not just in the United States, but across the world, the capitalist system has created a situation where people are suffering daily oppression."

Olympia mixed martial arts fighter and professed anarchist Jeff Monson spoke to the crowd in Sylvester Park over the PA system, and explained the importance of May Day historically in helping to advocate for the eight-hour work day.

"Corporations and banks have one agenda, and that's to make money," Monson said. "We are the people that make that money for them." Like Mayer, Monson also said solidarity is an important message of May Day.

"We're all in this together," Monson said in an interview. "Even the police officers, they're working for a wage."

Organizers set up a public address system and piped in upbeat music. People used chalk to write on the sidewalks in the park.

The group had on hand copies of Ken Keyes Jr.'s "100th Monkey," offering a theory about how social change takes place. One organizer wore a decorative mask much like those worn during Mardi Gras events.

Louis Strach, a law student at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., was among a small group wearing bright green ball caps that said "National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer."

"We're here to make sure the police are observing the law and respecting people's right to demonstrate," he said.

Police from most of Thurston County's major jurisdictions participated in patrols on foot, in marked cars and in unmarked cars, including Olympia, the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, the Tumwater Police Department and the Washington State Patrol.

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