Wednesday, November 30th
After my brief visit to Occupy Tacoma, I drove another half hour south to Olympia. Someone at Occupy Tacoma had told me to go to the Capitol building from where I’d see the camp. I did that, parking near a grassy area where a large labor rally had apparently taken place earlier that morning. One of the people helping tear down the stage directed me northward to a path to the camp. Turns out Occupy Olympia’s camp is more than a stone’s throw, so I drove around, but not before taking a look at what was happening on the Capitol building steps.
While I was told later that there probably had been people inside, the scene on the steps was quiet. A couple protesters, one with an odd “keep off the grass. 99%” sign, were talking to a handful of cops up on the steps while a lone placard-carrier was talking knowledgeably and articulately with passers-by about some of the same issues that motivate Occupy. I don’t think he was necessarily with the encampment, but certainly supported the movement. (In photo below)
The previous couple days have seen activists doing sit-ins at the Capitol, protesting cuts during the current legislative session. Many were arrested and a few were Tasered. Things were quiet when I was there. [Friday, December 2nd update: A rally and march are planned for 11am Saturday, December 3rd and this evening, during the Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony a “bat signal” with pro-occupy messages was projected on the Capitol buildings. Occupy Olympia is very much alive and kicking, despite its quiescence during my visit.]
You can’t beat Occupy Olympia’s location. In Heritage Park, on an isthmus between Puget Sound and a lake, with a view up the hill to the Capitol building. Its only drawback is the soggy turf that was becoming quite muddy in many places. In fact, when I was there, tents were being relocated to slightly drier areas of the park. They were apparently ordered to leave by the city three weeks ago, but no move has yet been made to evict them.
The encampment was sleepy that day. Apparently some people were at the courthouse providing moral support for arrested protesters during their bail hearing, others were inside the Capitol and others were off doing other things in town. I struck up a short conversation with the volunteer at the first aid tent (and I’m sorry, I don’t recall her name). This was her first day volunteering there and she had a steady stream of people lining up. Most were asking about receiving or dropping off donations or were requesting general information more than requesting first-aid assistance.
She seemed at that point to be the only accessible person in any “official” capacity, so everyone, including me, sought her out. There was no real info tent being staffed and no one in the kitchen except some random guy who mumbled something to me about “potato chips” when I asked if he was part of the crew. I wanted to ask how they were handling food, but again I got that information from the first aid tent. Apparently they aren’t allowed to cook in the park, so some meals are brought in from outside for brunch and dinner and people take care of their own needs the rest of the time.
All Occupations that I’ve visited so far have a range of permissions and rules they abide by—or not. Some, like Seattle [the previous camp at SCCC—they’ve now moved] and Olympia [and Eugene] have an apparent truce so long as they abide by certain rules, even while flagrantly breaking many more. Others, like Oakland in its heyday, were free-for-alls, where people camped, cooked and lived as they pleased.
When I decided to visit these camps on the way south and write about them, I made a conscious decision to not do much in the way of research or planning beyond locating the camps. I wanted to get the kind of first impression that any random citizen would get walking in at any random time. While this meant I missed many events and didn’t generally speak to the main organizers, it also gave me a sense of how welcoming and accessible any given Occupy camp was in the brief snapshot of time that I was there.
I hate to say this, but the only one where I felt fully welcomed was Bellingham, followed by Tacoma after a few minutes of chatting people up. While I’m familiar with protest camps from decades of activism, I think the general atmosphere at Seattle [again, the SCCC former site] and Olympia would be off-putting to people with more “conventional” outlooks.
This is not meant as criticism, so much as information for organizers. Even if the camp ends up being totally sketch-ball, at least make sure you have a bright, perky extrovert at a neat, welcoming info table where newcomers can easily check in and find out how to participate. Oakland did this very well. Olympia and Seattle when I was there, not so much. Bellingham and Tacoma are small enough that it is easy to find someone to talk to without feeling like you’re wandering into someone’s campsite space and people at both places were chatty.
A friend was having a birthday party in Portland that night, so after less than an hour, I continued my motorized occupation of the I-5 corridor, my truck serving as my tent, with “#Occupy!” written in the grime on the tailgate.