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Seattlelites march for Martin Luther King and $15 minimum wage

Thousands of people showed up at Garfield High School on this brisk Monday morning to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to air a list of grievances at a broken political system to continue the dream of Dr. King. The tagline of this year's events was "Rise Up! Restore the Dream!" The momentum in the air was nothing but upbeat as people mulled about organizations tables and workshops. Many organizations were there to share their stories, including Socialist Alternative (who helped elect Kshama Sawant).

Kshama Sawant speaks to the crowd at Westlake Park in Seattle.
Melissa Hurst

A series of workshops was held in classrooms on topics ranging from health care justice, homelessness, and environmentalism to Black incarceration (more on that here). But perhaps the biggest presence of the day was the 15now campaign, with volunteers handing out red rally signs reading "$15 Now" and "Seattle needs a raise" to passers-by and talking to them about joining the movement.

The 11:00 rally was packed as young people sang songs and speakers took the podium and spoke about the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and shared quotes or other projects of how they have reflected on it today. The keynote speaker was Aaron Dixon, who rallied the crowd when saying, "If Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive today, he would be shocked at the 50,000 homeless in Los Angeles, the many more living in poverty, and the unjust prison industrial complex." Seattle's new mayor also got some loud cheers as he was announced, and gave a short speech about Seattle leading the way, not just in football, but also in affordable housing and raising the minimum wage.

The march to downtown Seattle was huge. The marchers were awash in red "$15 Now" campaign signs, sprinkled with other organizations and activist signs as well. The marchers, at any given moment, took up at least 10 city blocks, if not more. A truck with speakers belted out chants such as, "There ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop."

The march ended at Westlake, which was not quite big enough to hold all the marchers. There were three important speakers at the Westlake rally. Carlos Hernandez, a young immigrant student who was integral to organizing fast food strikers in Seattle last year, spoke passionately about the need to unite to fight for $15 per hour. Harris Zafar, an Muslim outreach spokesperson, also talked about the importance of working together and seeing each other as "brothers" no matter the religion, race, sexual orientation, etc. He also pointed out the level of distrust we have against one another, and asked if the current state of affairs was MLK's dream realized. The crowd answered in a disgusted "NO!" Finally, Kshama Sawant spoke, to a crowd electrified by her presence and her fighting will. Kshama spoke bluntly, almost militantly, about how "movements take time to build" and "they're not going to happen because of just me, but because everyone here takes a part in organizing their neighborhoods." She told the crowd today's rally was "to put the political and business establishment on notice" and "we're not going to go away until we get what we want."

The air of the crowd today was much the same as in past rallies and cries for social change that have come from the Seattle area, but something was different. What's different now than with past protests such as Occupy is the organization of the movement. With another meeting set for February 15, support from Seattle's new mayor, and a clear message this time, it appears the movement might get the momentum it seeks to actually put pressure on the political class for wage increases and other changes. The message could not be clearer today: get involved and make your voice heard if you want to see things change. The fight for $15 is just the beginning.

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