Sawant insists May Day march will be peaceful, despite calling for protesters to block freeway, airport

SEATTLE – Just days before May Day, which is known for protests and often unrest in Seattle, there are questions about whether a Seattle City Council member will call for civil disobedience.

In a Web post in February, Seattle’s controversial City Council member Kshama Sawant called for demonstrators to shut down highways and airports. The Washington State Patrol has called the comments “irresponsible” and "reckless."

During Sawant’s press conference on Thursday, she said Monday’s route for the march avoids the freeway but she also said protests that target infrastructure can be effective.

“Do we also recognize the value of non-violence civil disobedience actions? Absolutely,” she said.

Sawant insisted her opinion piece in a socialist magazine, encouraging protesters to take over freeways and airports, had nothing to do with Monday’s planned May Day march.

“Look I have heard that, and I haven’t heard councilperson Sawant say that,” said Juan Jose Bocenegra with the May 1st Action Coalition. “I know she may have said something, something like that, but I think it’s been misconstrued.”

Writing in late February, Sawant said: "Let’s use the coming weeks to begin planning for workplace actions as well as mass peaceful civil disobedience that shuts down highways, airports, and other key infrastructure."

The council member insisted the May Day March for Workers and Immigrant Rights will be peaceful, as it usually is in Seattle. It's the later May Day protests by self-described "anarchists" that often result in violence.

“We advocate for non-violent civil disobedience as a general idea in order to fight back against injustice and inequality,” Sawant said during her Thursday press conference.

Sawant continued by saying protests in January at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were instrumental in curbing President Trump’s travel ban, but insisted Monday’s march will not target the airport or freeway.

“I’m not sure maybe I should speak with another language other than English to make it clear, the march we are going to be marching on has been shared with you,” she said.

The route for the march begins at Judkins Park and ends at Seattle Center.

In February, the Washington State Patrol partially blamed protesters for an accident after they shut down Interstate 5 in Bellingham.

State Patrol District 2 Captain Ron Mead warned protesters to stay off the freeway, telling Q13 News in a statement: “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to safeguard the rights of peaceful protestors, but will not tolerate any interference with blocking the freeway system.”

On Monday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray reacted to Sawant’s op-ed, warning about the dangers of encouraging protests on the highway.

“I think it would be unfortunate and perhaps even tragic for an elected official to encourage people to confront and engage in confrontations with the police department,” he said.

Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport told Q13 News they did not receive applications for demonstrations on May Day.

A list of planned festivities throughout Seattle on May Day 2017 can be found here.