Seattle MLK rally and march: “Take a knee for justice”
Rev. Dr. George E. Noble kneels with his granddaughters, Alana Edwards, 11, and Aleena Edwards, 9, during the annual Martin Luther King Day march from Garfield High School to Westlake Park, Jan. 15. | Genna Martin | via AP

SEATTLE—More than 5,000 people celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday here Jan. 15 marching through Seattle carrying placards with a graphic of Dr. King kneeling in prayer along with the message: “Take A Knee For Justice.”

It was Seattle’s 37th annual rally and march for Dr. King on a perfect, sunny springlike day. This year honored NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and NFL football players for initiating the movement of kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest rampant racism, including the shooting of unarmed Black people as well as economic exploitation of African Americans and other people of color.

Before the march began, protesters packed the Garfield High School Gymnasium. It was a cross-section of this city: African American, Native American Indian tribes, Latino, Asian American, and Pacific Islander. It was a family affair with hundreds of children and youth as well as middle-aged and senior citizens.

The labor movement turned out members wearing their caps and jackets—Industrial Aerospace Machinists District 751, United Food And Commercial Workers Local 21, AFSCME Council 28, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 77, Inland Boatman’s Union, Teamsters Local 117, Seattle Education Assocation, and more.

The crowd applauded speaker demands for affordable housing for thousands of homeless people in King County, and an end to Seattle police shootings of unarmed Black, Latino, and Native American Indian people.

Read to the crowd was a message from Michael Bennett, star defensive lineman of the Seattle Seahawks, who was unable to attend the event. “In the fight for equality and justice, what side of history do I want to be on?” Bennett asked. “We must build the movement against police brutality and stop putting so many resources into locking up children in jail and spend more on unlocking their minds. Power to the people!”

The name Donald Trump was not mentioned. But every reference to the President, Vice President, and the Republican majority House and Senate touched off loud boos. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., drew thunderous applause when she announced she will join Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and others in a boycott of Trump’s “State of The Union” speech Jan. 20.

“We are going to have our own State of the Union and we are going to call out the racism that is coming out of the White House,” Jayapal thundered.  “And yes, he said those words,” she added, referring to Trump’s obscene reference to Haiti and African nations as “s***hole countries.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, the first openly Lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city, thanked Larry Gossett, the Councilman from Martin Luther King County, that includes Seattle, for his leadership in establishing Seattle MLK Day as one of the earliest, largest, and most diverse celebrations of Dr. King in the nation.

King County Councilman Larry Gossett. | Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

She called for a sustained struggle against “institutional racism” expressing outrage at “how we got from President Obama to what we have now in the White House.” Trump’s statements, she added, “are racist. It will not stand. It will not stand in Seattle and that is why we march. It is not enough to resist. We must organize and we must act.”

Gossett, pointed to the signs depicting Dr. King kneeling in prayer throughout the gym. He praised Kaepernick for launching the kneel for justice movement and debunked the lies of “right-wing Republicans” that the NFL players are unpatriotic and disrespecting the flag. “This killing of Black people has got to stop, and that is why Colin Kaepernick went down on one knee,” he said.

Later, Gossett sat in the first row of the bleachers, listening to the speakers. He told People’s World, “This is our 37th Martin Luther King Birthday celebration. I’ve been at all 37. This is the most unique, the best tribute to Dr. King in the whole wide world!”

He continued, “Our challenge is pulling it all together, building a people’s movement for transformative change in the U.S. and the world.”

I asked him about the multi-racial vote in Alabama that defeated accused child molester Republican Judge Roy Moore and elected Democrat Doug Jones. “The Black community was powerful in Alabama,” he said. “Doug Jones got 98 percent of the Black vote.”

Gossett said the most urgent issues in Seattle are ending the scourge of white policemen shooting unarmed Black people to death. “It is not disrespectful of the flag. Kaepernick said at that very first meeting: We need to take a stand against our horrific disrespect for Black lives by our police.”

Kaepernick charged that these police officers act like judge, jury, and executioner of Black people.

Members of the Communist Party USA participate in Seattle’s Martin Luther King Day march on Jan. 15. | Tim Wheeler / PW

A second, related issue, Gossett continued, is affordable housing and closing the yawning income gap that is making Seattle unaffordable for working class families. Gentrification has driven Black families out of the historically Black Central District where Garfield High School is situated because real estate values have zoomed sky high.

Seattle, Gossett continued, has been described as the fastest growing economic powerhouse in the nation. Average income has risen to $80,000 annually. “Yet the income for Black workers rose from $33,000 to $37,000, far less than half the average income. That is an example of income inequality that needs to be discussed,” he said.

Professional football players earn more than $1 million each per year, yet they are kneeling to raise this issue of income inequality. “The NFL players are saying that this needs to be discussed and that is very timely and alive. We’re not going to get that change unless we discuss economic equity for Black people and other people of color in our nation. I’m very proud of the stand they are taking.”


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.