Hundreds gathered in a jam-packed gymnasium at Garfield High School for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally on Monday. The theme of the event: Take A Knee For Justice.
The event was organized by the MLK Celebration Committee, but the tone of the speakers, while regularly passionate, was rarely celebratory.
“We are tired of police killing our people in the streets,” said Gerald Hankerson, the president of the Seattle King County chapter of the NAACP.
There were about a dozen speakers at the rally that preceded the march through the Capitol Hill neighborhood and into downtown Seattle. Several of the speakers brought up President Donald Trump during their remarks, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.
“How we went from the president of hope to this president, I will never understand,” Durkan said.
Other speakers levied criticism clearly intended for President Trump, but instead of using his name they referred to him only as “number 45.”
“There is one thing that number 45 did do that I appreciate,” Hankerson said. “He brought us together and he filled up this room.”
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal wasn’t scheduled to speak, but still got a chance to grab the mic and announce her boycott of an upcoming Trump speech.
“I am not going to the State of the Union,” Jayapal said. “We are going to have our own State of the Union.”
The theme of the rally was inspired by the national anthem protest of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Although the protest inspired widespread accusations that Kaepernick was disrespectful to the flag and veterans, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett said that was never the intention.
In reality, Gossett said, Kaepernick knelt precisely because he took the meaning of the flag and the anthem so seriously.
“What we want to do is get America closer to its true creed,” Gossett said, “It’s true meaning.”
Nikkita Oliver, the former People’s Party candidate for Seattle Mayor, was one of the final speakers of the rally. Even though nearly half the crowd had already filtered out before she started her speech, she still garnered some of the event’s loudest applause.
“I do not hold you or me responsible for the history we were given, but I do believe we are 100 percent culpable for what we do with that history,” Oliver said. “Whether we choose to pursue justice, or choose willful ignorance and give into a sugar-coated image, a sugar-coated dream, of who Dr. King was.”
Mayor Durkan spoke at length about the adversity facing people of color in Seattle and highlighted policy she planned to put forth to enact change.
“We are going to double the number of black men mentoring black boys so we can close the education gap,” Mayor Durkan said. “It’s unacceptable.”
This didn’t stop other speakers at the event from directing barbs her way. Hankerson delivered his remarks immediately after Durkan finished hers, and he referenced the “beautiful speeches” he often hears from people in power, but rarely sees them on the ground, helping.
When Oliver’s allotted speaking time began to expire she didn’t show signs of stopping and offered this explanation as to why.
“They tell me I’ve got one minute left, but Mayor Durkan took more,” Oliver said. “So, I’m going to keep going.”
Oliver competed against Durkan in the last mayoral election, but was knocked out in the primary.