Police hope for calm, prepare for unrest on May Day

Final preparations are under way in Seattle and Olympia for a series of May Day marches on Wednesday as police and businesses, mindful of last year's riots, brace for the possibility of violence.

In downtown Seattle, merchants in the commercial core suffered a lot of property damage during the 2012 marches. Most are confident police will prevent a repeat of last year - but they're making a few changes of their own just in case.

The owner of one high-end jewelry store says she isn't worried about May Day troubles affecting her downtown Seattle shop. But she doesn't take chances, either.

"I don't think we'll be putting merchandise out. I think we'll be keeping everything locked up," says owner Mary Ann Swissa says. "And if people come in, we'll certainly try to help them."

Swissa knows how quickly things can go south when a crowd runs wild - and keeps a souvenir from the WTO days. She doesn't think the chaos and property damage from last year will repeat again on Wednesday - but other downtown shops are taking out extra insurance.

"A lot of stores are hiring their own security," she says.

The Downtown Seattle Association worked out an email notification system with 200 merchants to alert them about where marchers are headed - and if they need to take precautions.

"They may not be able to get loads in. They may not be able to get out of the garage, so it's good for them to know when the demonstration is coming," says Kate Joncas of the Downtown Association.

Last year anarchists turned their marching flags and banners into clubs to smash out storefronts. The Downtown Association is reminding businesses to clear the streets of anything that can be turned into a makeshift weapon.

"You want to take the things that can be picked up and thrown out from the front of your building," Joncas says.

Seattle police say their goal is allow peaceful marchers to exercise free-speech rights - but draw the line at attacks against property or people.

There is one permitted march that could disrupt traffic as it makes its way through the city, but officers expect the real problems to come from the spontaneous marches that don't have specificed routes.

"I think on things like this you have to be ready for it. If you're not ready for it, that's when things happen," says Swissa.

May Day is supposed to celebrate the nation's workers, and police want people to be able to peacefully assemble and demonstrate on this day. But officers say they will make arrests at the first sign of violence or property damage.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, police and state troopers say they're ready for whatever comes their way on Wednesday.

And with such a heavy crackdown in Seattle, there are fears that some demonstrators may choose to come to the state capital.

Olympia has a long tradition of May Day protests - most of them peaceful with a definite message, as in 2000 when activists proclaimed World Workers Rights Day.

In 2002 the protests took a turn. They stayed peaceful - but several protesters were arrested for refusing to move.

In 2007 the war in Iraq became the focus of many of the same protestors and emotions spilled over as blockades were set up disrupting the movement of the Army's Stryker vehicles at the port of Olympia.

Then May Day 2008 saw a return to the streets - and this time property damage to businesses including several banks, which had been the target of what demonstrators called "corporate greed."

Those banks are possible targets again as demonstrators have made no secret about their disdain for corporate America.

"So we're making sure we have enough people on staff at the time to handle anything that might occur," says Laura Wohl of the Olympia police, who says they will have help from nearby Lacey, Tumwater, the Thurston County Sheriff's Office and the State Patrol.

Demonstrators are planning a noon rally at Sylvester Park in Olympia, a 2 p.m. demonstration at the banks and then a march starting at Percival Landing at 6 p.m.