At around 4:45 yesterday, a whirlpool opened up on 4th & Pine. “WE HEARD. WE SAW. WHAT YOU DID IS AGAINST THE LAW,” the mass of protestors chanted as they walked in circles around the intersection, holding up signs that said “WAGE THEFT CRIME SCENE.” This latest protest in the city’s ongoing wage theft issue promised in its press release that it may “include the first arrests over wage theft in the city of Seattle.”
Well, at first, nobody got arrested. But it did elicit a lot of sighs from metro workers.
A fleet of stressed looking bus drivers climbed out of their stymied vehicles and rubbed their faces. They stood on the corner of Westlake with radios in hand, contemplating the mass of chanting minimum wage workers blocking the busy metro route.
“Man, I’m a worker too,” one of them said to an enthusiastic protestor.
“Then join in!” the protestor responded.
Instead, the metro workers climbed back on their buses and waited. Many of its passengers gave up and climbed out, hoofing it to the next clear bus stop.
“Great way to garner public support” a passenger shouted as she walked by.
After circling the intersection a number of times, the crew of protestors headed to the McDonald’s on the corner, where they set up camp for a loudspeaker powered mic check. Protestors lined up to talk about unfair wages, getting hours cut, and why a $15 dollar minimum wage should be mandated by city council.
Ryan Parker, a Wendy’s employee who testified at city hall last month on substandard fast food working conditions, got up to grab the loudspeaker.
“A lot of people say, ‘Hey, you want to get better pay? Go to college and get a better job.’ Well guess what? Unless something is done I will never be able to.”
A man who had been arguing with a protest organizer for blocking businesses suddenly perked up at Parker’s thought.
“Hey man, you don’t know what you are talking about. That’s not true, we have federal pell grants you can apply to,” the man shouted as the protestor tried to calm him down.
A group of protestors sat in the middle of the intersection and linked arms. These, it seemed, were to be the promised “first arrests” for the cause.
Sure enough, the police came. What followed was a strange sort of Duck Duck Goose game.
One by one, an officer would pick out an individual from the group of linked-arm protestors sitting in the street. Very calmly, he would get down, with a smile on his face, and introduce himself. He would inform the protestor that they were in violation of “pedestrian interference,” and that if they choose to stay, they would be arrested.
Inevitably, after the protestors choose arrest, they were gently assisted up, and walked over to the paddywagon, where they were cuffed. The whole thing was very eerie. The police and the protestors both smiled the whole time. Every time a benign arrest was made, the crowd cheered. After Dominic Holden’s viral post about police being unruly towards photographers, these officers almost seemed like they were posing for the camera. Again, everyone was smiling, even the people getting arrested. It was all very odd.
Once all the sacrificial protestors had been cuffed, the organizer of the protest held up the loudspeaker.
In the tone of an elementary school teacher, she gleefully announced, “All right everyone! We just witnessed the first arrests in Seattle over wage theft!”
Everyone cheered and clapped.
“Thank you for coming and supporting workers, and to all the people who came and took the risk of actually going to jail. We got your back for real. We’re now going to disperse, but did we prove our point today?”
“Did we prove our point today?”
“Do you think the corporations heard us?”
“Do you think that workers feel our support?”
“Alright thanks everyone for coming. If anyone needs a ride, please meet back at Westlake.”
After the dust had settled and everyone shuffled out, I went inside the McDonald’s the protestors had grouped outside of.
At the counter, a cashier named Andrea was chatting with her friend.
“Honestly, I don’t think what we do is even worth 12 dollars an hour,” she said to her coworker, who was shaking her head.
I asked Andrea what she thought of the protest.
“I mean, they can do what they want, but I’m not clocking out to go join them. It seems sort of unrealistic.”
An employee at the door was chuckling with a coworker next to him as I walked out.
“You know how good 15 dollar minimum wage would be?” he laughed.
“I mean, dayum.”