The following is a report from Seattle DSA organizer Doug Woos on the direct action taken at SeaTac International Airport on Jan. 28.
As a former New Yorker, the idea of going to John F. Kennedy International Airport without needing to catch a plane is totally bizarre. However, that’s exactly what thousands of people did last Saturday. By 1 p.m. on the West Coast, I was seeing pictures of demonstrators occupying a whole parking garage and, in Seattle, I was hearing stories from friends about relatives who were suddenly, shockingly, unable to get into the country. I don’t know whether Trump’s people knew how many Iranian nationals attend graduate school in computer science, but I hope they know now.
While a rally was scheduled in Westlake Park for Sunday evening, given what was happening at JFK, O’Hare, Dulles, Logan, etc., it was clear we needed people at SeaTac on Saturday. My friend Joe created a Facebook event for a protest and linked it to the Westlake event’s wall. Joe’s event (which I ended up as a co-host on) became the online rallying point for the protesters converging on SeaTac. My roommate and I met Joe at our department at school, where we made some posters, then boarded light rail down to the airport. On the way, we reached consensus on a rallying point and starting time via the Facebook event. Someone contacted the ACLU to make sure we wouldn’t be interfering with them. Everything happened fast and organically.
As the train passed through Capitol Hill and Westlake on the way to SeaTac, more and more people carrying signs boarded. We were watching the Facebook event page; I think the attendees crossed 1,000 people around when we reached the International District. When we arrived at SeaTac, around 100 people got off the train and immediately started chanting, “Let them in.” We marched through arrivals, past every baggage claim, chanting the whole time. We stayed there and chanted for a while and then marched up to Alaska departures (where someone had heard the larger group had stationed). When we arrived, the whole area was packed with enthusiastic marchers. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant had arrived to direct traffic and speak. About 10 minutes after I got to departures, she announced that a court in New York, in response to a suit filed by the ACLU, had granted a nationwide stay of the executive order. The response was universal, raucous cheering; we had won! This was the first, real victory against the administration. We didn’t learn until later that detainees were still being held and that Customs and Border Protection was still illegally enforcing the order.
We had a sit-in at a TSA checkpoint, which Sawant described as a sort of warmup for further radical action in the future. Then we had a rally in the arrivals area, with protesters on the stairways and balconies hanging flags. I left at that point, still unaware that the detainees had not been released. I later watched from home as protesters occupied the airport, blocking entrances and exits and insisting that the detainees be released. I also watched the brutal police response to the peaceful demonstration; protesters were shoved to the ground and pepper sprayed for not going where they were told.
For me, the biggest moment of the night was learning that the ACLU had succeeded in getting a stay and feeling that actions like the one at SeaTac had contributed to the decision. Councilmember Sawant often repeats the old radical slogan: “When we fight, we win.” I think SeaTac on Jan. 28 was the first time I really believed it.