Some Thoughts On May Day Violence in Seattle

Seattle May Day PosterAs I rode the rumbling, creaky 49 bus up to Seattle Central Community College to witness firsthand the annual Seattle May Day anti-capitalist protest on Capitol Hill, I hoped that this year would be different, yet couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that events would play out exactly as everyone expected. Arriving at my destination to be greeted by a growing crowd of demonstrators, massive police presence, the relentless drone of news helicopters overhead, and various real life superheroes mugging for the camera, did little to assuage my reservations about what was surely to come. Despite two peaceful May Day marches earlier in the day, the anti-capitalist protest has a history of exploding into violence and mayhem. This year was no different, and quickly devolved into a display of isolated rioting, along with the completely expected overreaction by police. Nearly a week later I’m still trying to understand what, if any, message was conveyed by this increasingly cliche annual public display. Is there not a better way?


Don’t get me wrong, I think the right to peacefully assemble is one of our most important and empowering freedoms. Many people will happily vote, sign online petitions, and engage in minimal effort forms of slacktivism, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Fewer people will attend public hearings on various issues, volunteer in their communities, or attend protests and marches for the causes they believe in. In my experience it has always been exhilarating to meet other individuals in the real world who not only care about the same causes, but are willing to publicly stand up and help to spread awareness about those issues. Such assembly is vastly more rewarding and uniting than getting yet another hashtag to trend on Twitter. But when the “peaceful” part of the right to peaceful assembly is discarded, so is much of the intended message. Some people would argue that violent protests are what draws attention to certain issues, and in some extreme cases they might have a point. In the case of Seattle’s May Day protests, violence seems like the only story. None of the news media outlets seemed to asking about the issues the marches hoped to raise awareness about, only the potential for violence.


Seattle May Day Gun Guy

Notice the rifle slung over this guy’s right shoulder. His views on open carry advocacy didn’t go over well with many of the “anarchist” crowd. Here he’s being confronted and asked to leave. Strangely, no one seemed to take much notice of the few other people wearing holstered sidearms.

Speaking of issues, what were the causes highlighted by this year’s circus? I witnessed a lone gentleman handing out flyers outlining the history of May Day. I saw a few anti-capitalist signs and some signs about police brutality, but anarchy symbols seemed to be the most popular “message” by far. Talk about a completely squandered opportunity. There are so many vital current issues which could and should have been the focus of this protest: economic inequality, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), Shell using the Port of Seattle to launch their Arctic oil drilling efforts, corporate substudies… and countless others! I didn’t hear a peep, see any petitions, or even a single flyer about about any of these issues. I witnessed no discernible education or outreach efforts of any kind. To me, that in itself is the most damning indictment against this particular group of demonstrators (who, for the record, were overwhelmingly white and in their 20s). I remember being impressed by how many WTO and Occupy protesters seemed fairly educated about their issues and wanted to raise awareness. A disturbing number of these May Day protesters seemed to only be concerned with playing on their phones, taking selfies, and scrawling anarchy symbol graffiti. Much to the disapproval of almost everyone in attendance, a few open carry protesters were even in the crowd. At least a dozen confused passersby stopped to ask me what was going on. I tried my best to offer explanations, focusing on the reasons I was there, but ended up conceding that I didn’t think most people at the protest really knew for sure themselves.

After ongoing fallout from a damning DOJ investigation into the Seattle Police Department, a new mayor and police chief, and a relatively restrained response by the SPD to the protest last year, everyone was curious to see how it would go this year. There was a massive build up of police forces in set staging areas just beyond the perimeter of the rally at the college. This was, by no means, the SPD’s first rodeo. Over the years they have amassed quite a supply of equipment to respond to such events. Their tactics have evolved too, usually deploying a very effective strategy which utilizes bicycles and mobility. The bikes serve two purposes: they can be used as makeshift barricades to herd and isolate protesters from the greater force of police trailing behind, and they are used to help wear down the energy of a walking mass of demonstrators. The the entire block of the SPD’s west precinct, located three blocks from where the protesters had gathered, was on complete lockdown. So far, it was business as usual.

Seattle May Day West Precinct

Police cruisers lined up outside the closed block of SPD’s west precinct.

Seattle May Day Police Bomb Sweep

SPD sweeps the college for bombs.

Even though this was an unpermitted march, Mayor Murray had conceded that it would be allowed to proceed, and even hinted that access to the downtown retail core could be allowed. Everything changed minutes into the actual march. Despite what many people claim, from what I saw it was a small handful of protesters breaking car windows, vandalizing, and throwing things at the trailing cops that caused the initial escalation. Instead of immediately arresting these individuals, as usual, the police quickly took a volatile situation and ignited it–lashing out against the entire march. The all too familiar scene unfolded from there. Pepper spray soaked clothes and faces. Round rubber balls were shot. Gas canisters and deafening “blast balls” were (against SPD policy) deployed directly into the largely peaceful crowd of people.

From there the mob was pushed in a loop around the hill, with some protesters throwing debris at police, and cops firing non-lethal weapons seemingly indiscriminately into the march. In the end, by the latest count, 16 people were arrested, while 9 police officers and countless civilians were injured. As Jello Biafra observed during the WTO protests:

“It only takes one rogue attacking Starbucks to taint a whole protest, and it only takes one rogue cop to fuck shit up even worse.”

Some things never seem to change. Apparently the lesson above is one that the protesters and police of Seattle have repeatedly failed to learn. So what should be done moving forward? There is already talk of just fencing the college off next year. That would mean access to Cal Anderson Park a block away would probably need be restricted as well. Should citizens take to trying to preserve the peace between protesters and cops, similar to what we saw during the protests in Baltimore? Personally, I think the best solution for individuals who just want to break stuff and put their rights above everyone else’s is to simply stay the hell away. The only real message this protest in particular seems to produce is the undeniable fact that we live in a police state.

If that is indeed the intended message, then I see little benefit in diverting more funds from the city budget to the police so they can buy more toys to be used against city residents every year, while getting what is essentially nice overtime bonuses in the process. To the average Washington citizen, watching at home as the mayhem unfolds on the news, the police are the ones viewed as the heroes, not protesters breaking things. These acts of violent civil disobedience, far from making people sympathetic to you and your causes, are in fact helping to maintain the status quo and continued militarization of the police at this point. If those results are what violent protesters want, then congratulations, you are actively and intentionally contributing to the problem. The volunteers out cleaning up the graffiti and mess the next morning quietly sent a more powerful message than the march which took place the evening before.

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Staring Into Oblivion, With You

Banksy, art, street art, graffiti, Mobile Lovers

“Mobile Lovers” by Banksy

The brilliant orange sun is setting behind the distant, jagged lavender mountains to the west. The last rays of light reflect off the emerald ocean waves, as massive ships carry containers to distant corners of the world and ferries shuttle people and cars to and fro. Birds cast impossibly acrobatic silhouettes against any and all lit surfaces as the light from the sun fades and shadows become increasingly elogated. It is such a breathtaking sight I witness out the window of my bus… And no one else sees it because they are looking at their fucking phones.

bus, train, commute, gif,

Source: @1041uuu on Ello.

No, I’m not a Luddite by any means. I love technology. Probably too much. Having all the knowledge of humanity right in our pockets is a thing we had previously only dreamed of. It is glorious. But put into perspective, we’re really not curing cancer or anything so noble with our newfound power. Instead, we’ve all become Narcisuss from Greek mythology, but instead of drowning in water, we drown ourselves in the world wide web in our own palms. Honestly, it’s really starting to creep me out. Look up from whatever you are doing on your smartphone and watch other people on the bus or in the movie theater. We’ve unwittingly become zombies. Observe the phenomena for a few minutes and tell me it doesn’t creep you out as well.

Religion and television were both labeled the “opiate of the masses” in their days, but they could only hope to be as complete and effective as that little phone in your hand. It has become our sole window to an argumentatively disturbing virtual reality which has quickly taken over our daily lives. We happily allow multiple apps to track our every move and collect massive amounts of data about us and our friends. Why does something as seemingly simple as ordering a pizza or buying movie tickets subject us to yet another new app being pushed at us? And most of us just smile and click “accept” without even thinking about it. Our expectations of liberty and privacy have been forsaken for convenience.

Instead of bringing us closer together, social networks seem to be anything but social. Antisocial, in fact. We are slowly being fractured into evermore divided little factions by the day. We vehemently attack and shame anyone with opposing points of view. Online crusades call for censorship of any dissenting opinions. There are no longer “gray” areas and lively, constructive discussion. We deal in extremisms. The tool that promised to free all speech has instead turned on us and put us in very real conflict, shackles, and gags. Civility has been forsaken. Even an actual phone conversation seems taboo now. What used to be a thirty second phone call has somehow morphed into ten minutes of texts–just to decide where we should meet up!

I say, “Enough!” For months I’ve been trying to wean myself from certain aspects of the internet. It has been tough. I’ve given up entire social networks. I turn my phone off when I’m out with friends. It feels quite similar to kicking an addictive chemical habit, and quite frankly, that is exactly what it is. People love those likes, retweets, and comments more than they realize. Such approval and validation releases endorphins into our biological systems. Social networks actively experiment on users without shame or remorse. That factor scares the hell out of me and only strengthens my resolve. I want to live in the moment and savor it. I want to watch the band play a live set, instead of taking a bunch of crumby photos or shaky video (in portrait mode) while trying in vain to document the moment. I want to have real, organic, deep conversations with people without one of us checking our phone. I want to notice and savor that sunset outside my bus window. You should too. You could even start today. Live in the here and now. Please. I miss the feeling of seeing other people not staring at a screen. I’ll be looking for you. You’ll be easy to find, as will I.

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Tick Tock Tick Tock

Marching into senilityI’ve been noticing it quite a lot lately, but tonight it really hit hard–I am old now. It crept in sneakily with stray gray hairs. An inexplicable little silver streak shot down one side of my beard almost overnight, before starting to gentrify the entire neighborhood. Nagging little aches and pains plague me more and more. I sense a gradual shift to an ever more curmudgeonly outlook on stuff and things. I am strangely at peace with it. I’d even go as far as to say that I’m happy about it.

Many people seem to try delay aging as much as possible. Hair dyes, expensive moisturizers, fad diets, mid-life crisis sports cars, boner pills, or even plastic surgery… It’s really no wonder why. We are constantly fed an endless stream of celebrities who never seem to age. Instead of viewing that scenario as the sad, hellish, and transparently desperate limbo for which it is, for some reason we seek to emulate it. “To hell with that,” I say.

Honestly, I never thought I would live past the ripe old age of 27. I tried my hardest to make it so. When that didn’t work, I doubled down to no avail. Believe me, I really gave it my best (or worst, upon reflection). I have actually been clinically dead for extended periods on two separate occasions. It shames me deeply to admit that fact, but it is what it is, and I am a stronger person now because of it. Mercifully, I’m quite glad that the stupidity of my youth did not compromise my then future, and today present. As a society, we seem to elevate people who died young to some mythical, reverent status. That notion seems completely backwards. We should be celebrating the ass-kickers who stuck it out and just got better with age.

So why do people seem so ashamed to age? I really see no shame in it whatsoever. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve more than earned every single one of my gray hairs. Every new line on your face should not be cause for a cringe, but a badge of honor. The knowledge we accumulate over our lives lets us constantly reevaluate the world in an ever more nuanced and sophisticated manner. That is a beautiful thing. As our understanding and view of the world expands, books, movies, music, art, and so much more seems to reveal previously hidden layers. In many ways, aging is vastly empowering. It is the difference between seeing the world in black-and-white or in color.

That said, by no means should we abandon everything we loved when we were young. Many people seem to fall into this trap. I still shamelessly love bike rides, comic books, video games, cartoons, and laying flat on my back in the grass while looking up into the sky as my imagination runs wild. At times, simply enjoying such undignified things earns a degree of contempt or pity from certain people I know. Ironically, I really worry about some of them in return. Some seem to be living the exact inverse of my life. It has made it difficult to maintain some relationships as I age. Maybe I’m just immature, but if your entire existence revolves around social or vocational climbing, trying to keep an underwater mortgage afloat, or the endless pursuit of material things, I pity you in a way. But I still love and respect you. I expect the same in return. Age gracefully and live life to the fullest. Old. New. Balance. Maybe come lay in the grass and look to the sky with me when you have time. Let’s compare notes.

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Things We Heard Too Often in 2013 That I Never Want to Hear Again, Ever

stop sign2013 can’t end soon enough. The continuing rise of 24-hour news cycles, government partisanship and ineptitude, celebrity worship, and blind consumerism has run rampant. Just switching on the news most mornings makes me want to go drown myself in the toilet—before I’ve even had coffee. The decline of western civilization continues to accelerate unabated. I’ve come to begrudgingly accept that. Certain stories and phrases quickly went from overexposed, to downright abused ad nauseam.  Below is an incomplete list of stories and phrases that can promptly fuck right off and go burn in Hell (but I know they won’t). I hope we never have to hear about or read them EVER again. Feel free to add YOUR most loathed stories and phrases in the comments below. Please, have a safe and Happy New Year!

fireworks animated gif

debt ceiling
fiscal cliff
transvaginal ultrasound
legitimate rape
job creators
Super PAC
Tea Party
Rand Paul
Rush Limbaugh
Sara Palin
Michelle Bachman
legitimate rape (again)
Muslim Brotherhood
tax haven
war on Chritianity
war on Christmas
Black Friday
Duck Dynasty
stand your ground
stop and frisk

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PAX Prime 2013 Mayhem!

PAXLogoEvery summer, video game companies and gamers from around the world descend upon Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX Prime). PAX Prime is the largest nerdy convention to take place in Seattle. The event not only occupies all the space at the Washington State Convention Center, it also manages to branch out to other local venues like the Paramount Theater and Benaroya Hall. Elaborate industry parties take place every night around town before, during, and after the event. The entire thing is just a massive spectacle that one has to witness firsthand to fully appreciate.

Securing passes to PAX is a clusterfuck of the highest order. In past years ticket servers have crashed leading to mass anger and confusion. Months ago, badges for PAX Prime 2013 went on sale and promptly sold out in an hour flat. As they went on sale during the middle of the day on a weekday, many people (such as myself) who happened to be at work had no chance to buy tickets directly. Scalpers start posting badges for sale on the internet for three to four times their face value almost instantly. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a Friday badge from a friend at face value the morning of the event, won another one on Ebay for face value, and actually scored another day’s badge for $5.08.

On short noticed I arrived at the Washington State Convention Center Friday morning to meet my friend and pick up my badge. My hair was still wet from a hasty shower and my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. Slightly panicked that it was so loud she couldn’t hear me on the phone, and I in turn couldn’t hear her, we nonetheless finally managed to meet up. She had been waiting in line since an ungodly for the doors to open and be one of the first people in. To complicate matters, no banks were open yet, and I of course didn’t have correct change. She had left her purse back in the queue, so she told me to just follow her back there and we’d sort it all out. This was easier said than done. Convention Center staff would not allow her to go back in, citing new rules this year and instructing her to go to the back of the line. I felt horrible. The entire incident played out like some twisted comedy sketch. Every staff member instructed her to speak with a different staff member three feet away. After speaking to a dozen different people in about two minutes, they started telling her to talk to the original person who had set this whole chain of events in motion. The entire thing had a very “Who’s on first?” vibe to it. Finally a nice gentleman agreed to escort us to her place in line, but warned that if her bag wasn’t there he’d escort us right back out. Thankfully everything worked out in the end.

PAX 2013 statue

With five minutes until the doors opened (and because I’m a horrible person) I just stayed in this prime spot in line. Nervous staff members reminded everyone not to run when we were allowed inside. Camera crews jockeyed for position to capture the mayhem. The “do not cross” tape was lifted and the mad scramble began. The writhing mass of humanity surged forward like a tsunami. I heard screams from behind me and looked back just in time to see multiple people fall and be trampled. “Those poor bastards,” I thought. Nothing could be done to help them at that point. I comforted myself with the thought that they’d surely respawn in a couple of minutes.

So why the insane push and uncivilized behavior? Sure, some people were eager to get their hands on the games. Many others were more interested in making sure they got their “con swag.” Con swag loosely translates to free, first-come-first-served trinkets which are given away by the different companies. There’s usually nothing very special about these trinkets besides the fact they are “PAX Prime exclusives” and you can only get them here. Within hours these items would begin appearing on Ebay. Nearly all of the items are little more than an attempt by developers and publishers to make sure attendees remember their products once they get away from the shock-and-awe of the show floor. Most attendees will not think twice about cutting ANY motherfucker that stands between them and the opportunity to get free stuff. Consider yourself warned and exercise the proper level of caution.

The first half an hour of PAX is the most pleasant time of the entire day. You can actually get your hands on quite a few games without waiting in ridiculous lines. If you want to play any games, the majority of your time at PAX is going to be spent waiting in lines to do so. Expect to wait anywhere from 15 minutes up to 2 hours in exchange for 5 minutes of actual gaming. I’m pretty sure some of the lines even have lines. It can be confusing. I highly recommend asking someone who is working the event which line goes to what, or you could easily end up waiting in the wrong line. At least most of the lines were set up in a manner which doesn’t impede foot traffic (attendees pushing and shoving or staring blankly at their phones took care of that).

I tried to get hands-on time with as many PS4 and  Xbox One games as I could. Obviously, neither system has been released yet, so PAX offered me my very first opportunity to check out the next generation of console gaming. I liked what I saw quite a bit. While higher frame rates and advanced particle physics lays the foundation for what we can expect from next gen consoles, the new games don’t completely blow current games out of the water quite yet. There’s a definite polish to the new graphics, but they aren’t as dramatically superior as one might expect. On the PS4 I played demos of: Killzone Shadow Fall, DriveClub, Blacklight: Retribution, and (I can’t believe I have to type this) Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Xbox One games I played included: Battlefield 4, Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, and Forza Motorsport 5.

Some of the other biggest, most highly-anticipated games were also in attendance, but not for hands-on demos. The very first game I rushed to see upon entering the expo was Sucker Punch’s inFamous: Second Son. As a huge fan of this series, I’m elated that the next installment is set in a police state controlled virtual Seattle. About 14 other people and I were ushered into an enclosed booth with a large screen and metal benches. What we saw was about one minute of new footage, followed by a live play-through of the demo which looked identical to footage that came out months ago at E3. It was so close it could have been the exact same footage with someone sitting in the room with a controller pretending to play, and I would have been none the wiser. I couldn’t even inspect the tech at the front-left corner of the room to determine if this demo was actually running on a PS4 or was still running on a PC build equivalent. Nonetheless, I still remain excited to play the game. Con swag was pressed into our hands as the demo came to a close, the door opened, and we returned to the show floor. Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag had similar setups (but with the opportunity to dress up like a pirate for a photo op in the case of the latter).

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag PAX booth

The PAX Prime show floor is truly awe-inspiring. Gaming is the largest entertainment industry in the world, and judging from how elaborate the presentations were, business is booming. Giant screens, massive statues, and concert quality lighting rigs lend the entire scene a surreal Vegas-like atmosphere. Explosions boom out of powerful audio setups from every direction. Even at 10:30 in the morning, the overpowering scent of gin and vodka hangs heavily on a surprising number of attendees. You get the impression that many people won’t get much sleep throughout the entire expo. Ironically, the PlayStation and Xbox areas were set up directly across from each other. I imagined all the fanboy internet flame wars coming to a bloody head right here in one giant Battle Royale. I tried to snap a couple of pictures in the Xbox section and was quickly approached by one of their reps and asked politely not to. I raised an eyebrow, looked over at multiple people with their phones out recording videos of the demos, and responded with, “Sure. No problem.” Bethesda’s set up stretched the entire length of the eastern wall of the expo. Elder Scrolls Online ran on dozens of screens. It looked amazing. Bored looking “booth babes” handed out swag and looked like they’d rather be anywhere else.

PAX 2013 statue

A couple of hours into the convention I had started thinking about all the germ-laden hands touching all those controllers, mice, and keyboards. The thought of all those sweaty heads putting on those headsets made me shudder. Surely it was unavoidable that I was going to contract some nasty form of SARS or ebola. I promptly went out to buy some Purell in a feeble effort to avoid “con crud.” By the first night my throat was already scratchy. By Sunday my voice was little more than a pathetic croak.

It would take me an entire novel to detail all of the awesome things I saw at PAX Prime 2013. This post was just meant to offer a general overview, and hopefully make you smile in a couple of parts. There were droves of journalists in attendance again this year. (And not just lowly people like me sitting at a computer and writing. “Real” journalists, live up on stages, wearing tons of makeup and mugging it up for the cameras). I’m not sure how much actual news is going to come out of this year’s PAX, but it was a fun and exhausting event nonetheless. My friend, Dan Morrill, has posted a bunch of great event and cosplay photos over on his Studio5Graphics site. Be sure to check them out. Got any funny PAX stories or random commentary? Feel free to share them below. As always, thank you for reading and your continued support. I’m off to drink some lemon tea and rest.

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