Seattle has its own version of Occupy Wall Street. We’ve visited it several times.
The first time was a quiet Tuesday late morning. The police had come through at 7 a.m. and removed all the tents, so many of the demonstrators had gone. There was still a large police presence. The Occupy group is in Westlake Plaza, in the center of the downtown business district.
There were lots of exhausted demonstrators and some real characters. Most of the crowd this Tuesday were young, some homeless, many pretty strange. By about 11 a.m., some of the organizers arrived. They were all tall, white, thin, and snotty. They wore casual but expensive clothing.
Below are two pictures of Caleb, one of the demonstrators. He is active military. In the first picture, he removed his velcro name tag, but in the second picture, he decided to put it back on.
“I just got back from two tours in Afghanistan,” Caleb says. “”And when I look at it now, I think this country is fucked up.”
Caleb was holding an American flag. “Wanna help me burn this?” he asked. “Maybe later,” I said.
When I returned a few days later, the tone had changed. It was a Saturday. There was a speakers’ podium with a lot of photos and signs about police brutality. I guess this is why people are confused about the goals of this movement. I had come because of the economic issues, and so had a lot of other people. There were several hundred police officers and the people screaming into the mike were trashing the police (who are far from perfect as we all know) and calling them murderers. I thought this was rude. If I had been a police officer, I would have been angry, but they are trained to not take things personally, I guess. I was annoyed because I thought there were bigger issues at stake than police brutality.
The general tone of the large crowd was a lot angrier too. Here is one of the angriest human beings it has ever been my misfortune to meet. His name is Robert.
He was yelling at the police. “I’m gonna kill all of you punks,” he shouted.
“But they have guns,” I pointed out.
“I don’t give a shit,” he answered. “I’m German. My people stacked Jews up like burnt cordwood at those concentration camps,” he said proudly. “That’s in my blood. Not that I think it’s good to murder Jews, but that’s how tough we are.” He said he had been run off of his property and the elderly relative he was caring for had been placed in a facility.
“They have guns, and I have God,” he said.
Then I had a couple of constructive conversations. The first was with Tabitha, a lovely and intelligent young woman who sincerely wanted to see changes in the lopsided economic structure of our country. She was carrying a clip-board and then went off to make signs.
“I am trying to fight the media slant on these demonstrations,” she said. “We are not disorganized. What we have done is make a group decision not to interfere with what anyone has to say and people here have different issues and points of view. But we are all deeply unhappy about the way things are headed in this country.”
Then I met Clint, talked about how corporations have more voice in the running of the country, how government and business is intermingled, and the greed of the banks. He said that Chase Bank had donated $3 million dollars to the Seattle police department to support them during the demonstrations.
Clint says that November 5 has been targeted as the date for people to pull their money out of commercial banks and put it in credit unions. (We have personally already initiated this process, and are migrating from Wells Fargo, which dreams up new fees every week, to a credit union.)
Clint says, “We are many groups with a common goal.”
These demonstrators are showing a police officer a photo of someone they said had been murdered by the police.
Here are a couple of guys I thought were undercover police, but they turned out to be a father and son. The son (R) is in the army, stationed at Lewis-McCord and his dad is visiting from out of town.
“I don’t understand why they aren’t more focussed,” said the dad. “They have no organization. But they do have a lot to be angry about – cronysism, corporate greed, the relationship between corporations and the government…Why did it take young people so long to figure out that there was a problem – that’s what I don’t understand. I’m glad to see them doing this.”
A lot of people were wearing masks. “So I won’t be known,” said one middle-class looking man.
I asked these young people why they were masked and wearing black. They said it was because they are anarchists.
The whole area was surrounded by police. There were police officers on bikes in the mall. At the big intersection just outside the square (4th and Pike) there was a wall of motorcycles. And around the corner, there were plenty of police cars. My favorites were the mounted police. They let me pet a horse.
And there were a lot of straightforward, serious people, carrying signs they believed in, willing to share their points of view, and glad to be there.
The demonstrations are like big parties – lots of earnest conversations, friends running into friends, expressions of beliefs. Only they have a dark and frightening overtone. At any moment, the whole thing could explode into angry violence. Some of this is because of the divergence of ideas, some of the darkness is due to random anger, and some to unreasonable police activities like removing the demonstrators’ tents on a cold morning.
There is no doubt, however, that there is a lot of anger out there – and that all sectors of the population are represented. All races, rich and poor, unemployed and professional. And all of us, including the police, are in the 99%, not the top 1% of the population in terms of wealth.