As we looked back on the last year, debating which stories to highlight here, we noticed a trend that surprised us: 2013 was a year of activism and protest in the Seattle area.
These weren’t the demonstrations that dominated headlines in 1999 when the WTO riots broke out downtown, or in 2011 when Seattleites camped out to protest big banks and economic inequality as part of the Occupy movement.
Rather, these were smaller scale: Airport workers fighting for a $15 hourly minimum wage, union machinists voting down Boeing’s proposed contract in an effort to preserve their pensions, a gun rights believer confronting the Seattle library about its firearms ban, and, most recently, high school students at Eastside Catholic in Bellevue picketing the archdiocese for firing a gay vice principal.
Some of these protests lasted a day and yielded no change. Others sparked a conversation that is now guiding policy. Here are, in order from most recent, a selection of visuals showing grassroots activism at work in Washington state. See something we missed? Share your photos and protest stories by tweeting @KUOW or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amazon Workers: ‘We Are People, Not Robots’
German workers at Amazon fulfillment centers came to Seattle’s South Lake Union in mid-December to protest their low wages.
Nancy Becker, one of those employees, helped lead the chant, “Wir sind Menchen; nicht Roboter.” Translation: “We are people, not robots.”
Around the same time, more than 1,000 workers in Germany walked off the job that day, as part of an ongoing series of one-day strikes.
Boeing Workers Reject Proposed Contract
Boeing workers have helped to maintain Washington state’s reputation as a union stronghold. In November, machinists overwhelmingly voted down a proposed contract that would have curtailed their pensions and cut their health care benefits.
Boeing responded by announcing it would pull production of the 777X jet plane out of Washington, which worried some union members. Union members are expected to vote on an updated version of the contract on January 3.
Mayor McGinn's Wife Among Women Arrested During Immigration Rally
Thirty-three women – including Peggy Lynch, the wife of outgoing Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn – staged a sit-in at the state’s Republican Party headquarters in Bellevue on November 7. The protesters called on their representatives to take action on immigration reform. Outside, another 150 people rallied in support.
Grocery Workers Strike
Authorized by an estimated 22,000 workers, a strike in October could have shut down QFC, Safeway, Albertsons and Fred Meyer stores in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Mason counties. But with just two hours left on the strike countdown clock, a tentative agreement was reached on Oct. 21 between grocery workers and the chains.
Annie George's Descendants Face Disenrollment
The Nooksack Tribe near the Canadian border sent letters to 306 members, telling them the tribe intended to disenroll them. Their Nooksack ancestor, upon whom they based their enrollment, is a woman named Annie George. However, in the disenrollment letters, the tribe says George is missing from a 1942 census that is used to verify lineage.
Members of the “306,” as they call themselves, gathered in downtown Seattle on September 20 to protest the potential disenrollment. If the tribal council succeeds, it would likely be the largest tribal disenrollment in Washington history. One protestor told KUOW’s Meghan Walker, “I’ve known ever since I was a little boy that I was Nooksack and that I was Native American. And the tribal council is trying to take that away from me.”
Farmworkers Rally For Better Wages, Living Conditions
Immigrant advocates and workers on strike from Sakuma Brothers Farms boycott a store in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood in August. Workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms walked off the job during at least three strikes during the summer, citing low wages and poor living conditions as the causes of workers’ unrest. A spokesman for Sakuma Farms said their claims were false.
Debate Over Hourly Minimum Wage
Fast-food workers in cities across the nation staged walkouts and strikes to demand a higher hourly minimum wage. In this August 1 photo, a Seattle police officer leans in to explain the arrest process to eight protesters blocking an intersection across from a McDonald's restaurant in downtown Seattle.
Come fall, the issue was on the ballot in the City of SeaTac, where organizers pushed for a $15 hourly minimum wage for workers in transportation and hospitality businesses within city limits. That proposition passed by 77 votes.
Kshama Sawant, elected in November as Seattle’s first socialist member of the Seattle City Council, has since said that she plans to propose a $15 minimum wage. Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray appointed a task force to study income inequality to help lower-wage workers.
May Day: Rally For Immigrant Rights
Supporters of immigrant rights marched from Seattle's Central Area to downtown on May 1. The notorious May Day vandalism got more media attention but broke later in the day among separate groups.
Coal Terminal Debate Fires Up Northwest
A coal terminal could mean big money, but local tribes, fishermen and politicians have opposed the three proposed terminals in the Northwest – two in Washington and one in Oregon. At a public hearing in Seattle last December, people on both sides of the debate lined up outside for a chance to speak at a hearing. While the crowd was overwhelmingly anti-coal, backers of the terminal argued in favor of the economic benefits coal terminals could bring to their communities.
Gun rights advocates gathered in Olympia on Feb. 8, 2013 to protest legislative efforts to curb gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. A universal background check measure, which would have closed a loophole that allows sales at gun shows to be conducted without background checks, died in the Washington state House.
Signatures have since been submitted for dueling gun-related measures, which voters should expect to see on next fall’s ballot. Meantime, the contentious debate found its way into the headlines in other unexpected ways. The Seattle Public Library reversed its long-standing rule banning firearms after reviewing a state Supreme Court ruling last year allowing firearms in parks and community spaces. And Starbucks’ Howard Schultz penned an open letter asking the coffee chain’s patrons not to bring guns into Starbucks' shops.
Isolde Raftery contributed to this report.