May Day festival turns into downtown march

There were no arrests, and no crimes committed, as more than 100 May Day demonstrators marched through downtown Olympia about 3 p.m. Wednesday as part of a planned “Shut Down the Banks” event.

An Olympia police spokeswoman said about 4 p.m. that the department is happy the May Day marchers have been peaceful.

“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. “We are going to continue to monitor the situation and make sure that everything stays peaceful and quiet.”

The group of 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, where they 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. Many marchers appeared to be teenage, or in their 20s. 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 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 after speaking to the public in Sylvester Park. “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 Keseys’ “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.

A man who identified himself only as Alex, age 19, was carrying a flag with the symbol for Cascadia, the political movement pushing to create a new country made up of western Washington and Oregon. He said he was not part of any anarchist group. “This is my first time in Olympia. I’m just here to check things out,” he said.

Troopers, working in pairs, chatted with people in the park, saying they support free speech but want to make sure the event remains safe.

“We’re have troopers there to ensure a safe environment for folks enjoying the park and peacefully demonstrating,” said Guy Gill, WSP spokesman about 1 p.m. “We will be monitoring the situation for signs of criminal behavior associated with May Day and we’ll take appropriate action if necessary. So far, so good.”

Meanwhile, 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.

The police presence in Sylvester Park grew as the crowd swelled, and reached its peak when the march began about 3 p.m. When the marchers returned to Sylvester Park, they cheered as the Olympia police dressed in riot gear got inside a police wagon and left.

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.

Gill said that officers were happy to have quiet May Day. “What you see is what you get,” he said during an interview in Sylvester Park. “There have been no issues so far. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to come down to downtown businesses here. It’s a positive event.”