Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#OccupySeattle Needs To Get Its Occupation Together

Seattle’s occupation seems to be floundering. Several divisions and fractures in the group are evident if one takes the time to read their often rambling facebook group page or the observations and reports in the local media or blogosphere about the occupation or you’ve actually attended one of the disjointed daily Occupy Seattle General Assembly meetings held at Westlake Park.

Don't take me wrong. I think there is broad support in Seattle for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Most of this support has manifested itself on the weekends when people who have jobs or other personal commitments that preclude them from camping have shown up at Westlake Park to protest or when Organized Labor, students or other like minded groups have shown up in force to join in the protest.

In the mean time the actual occupiers seem to be ruled by a group of people who's main concern is to maintaining the occupation and setting up tents at Westlake Park at all cost and being arrested for it. The pattern then seems to be to focus their rage and police overreaction message on Mayor McGinn and the police who’ve come to arrest them. This continuing cat and mouse game of camping being arrested and complaining about the police brutality when protesters are arrested has been for the most part the main story of Occupy Seattle since they began the occupation at Westlake on October 2nd. The problem with this tactic is that the actual message of the broader Occupy Wall Street movement based in economic injustice often gets lost in the personal drama and agendas of the protesters hell bent on maintaining the Westlake occupation. It also works to keep people away who for good reason want to avoid confrontation, trouble or arrest at any cost.

Mayor McGinn actually has visited Westlake Plaza occupation and made it clear he would like the protest to move to City Hall Plaza were camping, portable toilets and other amenities would be available. He has also voiced his open support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The protesters who seem to be in charge have rejected the Mayor’s proposal and seem to be attempting to vilify him for making it. In their minds McGinn is trying to co-op the protest to his advantage. There is a wider Occupy Seattle group of sympathizers and supporters who wonders if rejecting the Mayor’s offer of the use of City Hall Plaza is the correct tactic.

Because of this insistence by the controlling members of the group to remain at Westlake Occupy Seattle has never been able to establish the open and welcoming public space that’s needed if the occupation has any hope of expanding and growing the number of campers and participants. A space where people can meet and exchange ideas and freely participate in the process and General Assembly decision-making if they chose to do so. It also would be a place where more creative tactical decisions could be made free of the a constant threat of arrest.

Whether it ends up being City Hall Plaza or some other place it must be a space that’s conceived by the general public as a safe place to go. Frankly, the occupation at Westlake appeared unsafe much of the time because of the ongoing threat of arrests,  ongoing atmospheric problems, a lack of solidarity amongst group members, a general lack of enforceable rules of decorum, a sometime ambiguous message about nonviolence or the seeming lack of concern by the group about what it means to be a good neighbor to the downtown community.

Who knows what will happen. Taking into account the organic nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement maybe Seattle can get it act together and some intelligent adults will step forward to rescue the occupation here. The group has shown some signs of doing this over the last few days. There are a great number of people involved who could help the group get to where it needs to go. The problem seems to be that these people cannot spend the time that’s needed at Westlake where they could guide the group’s General Assembly decision-making process.

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