Thousands of people marched through Seattle to Westlake Park Monday to keep alive Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for economic justice and a higher minimum wage. The MLK Day Rally and March began in the Central District with a gathering inside Garfield High School.
Hundreds of people packed into school’s gymnasium to hear speeches, watch performances, and honor the event’s longtime organizer, King County Council member Larry Gossett. Monday marked the 32nd annual celebration of MLK Day in Seattle.
Newly elected city council member Kshama Sawant attended the rally and march. She’s been at the forefront of Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage fight and said that struggle honors King’s memory.
“MLK was centered around the same demands we are today,” Sawant said. “This is still a poor people’s movement.”
Prior to his assassination April 4, 1968 King was a strong advocate for raising the minimum wage to $2 an hour — that calculates to just over $15 today when adjusted for inflation.
Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine were also in attendance. Murray thanked Gossett for being an early supporter of marriage equality and for spearheading the effort to change King County’s namesake to MLK in 1986. Previously King County was named after one of the state’s early civic leaders who was also a slave owner.
Former head of the Black Panther Party’s Seattle chapter Aaron Dixon delivered the rally’s keynote address inside Garfield High.
“Anyone who is oppressed is our friend. We need to find as much common cause with people as we can,” Dixon said. “We got the power, we are the 99%.”
Longtime Seattle civil rights leader Lacy Steele said the minimum wage fight is central to celebrating MLK’s legacy. “The fight is economic,” said Steele, who is also President Emeritus of the Seattle-King County NAACP. “It’s not a holiday, it’s a work day.”
The march and rally wrap a weeklong string of events in central Seattle to honor MLK.