Date night

We spent last evening making PBJs and hot chai as fast as we could run our little kitchen.

The call from Occupy Seattle was for food and tarps. There was a contact number listed. It went to the cell phone for “Erin,” who cheerfully assured us that they didn’t need high tensile strength grommeted tarps, just impervious ground cloths. We took one blue tarp — it’s too small to go over a pickup load, and the woodpile just laughs at it — and a large sheet of thick plastic that had come to us wrapped around fluffy batts of insulation.

In our neighborhood, blue tarps are frowned upon. We have a code inspector (we’ll call him “Chip”) who drives around in a spotless Chevrolet work truck with “24-Hour Emergency Service” emblazoned on its shiny white flank. Chip does not approve of blue tarps. He does not like temporary shelters. Chip is still deciding whether he likes us.

There’s no building code down at Westlake Center. Folks aren’t really expected to move in there in any kind of organized fashion, but 62 of your fellow citizens spent the night there last night. They shared food, tents and tips on outdoor urban living, but maybe they aren’t “organized,” exactly.

Certainly, the New York Times doesn’t think Occupy Wall Street is particularly organized, with reporter Ginia Bellafante sneering at “its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably (sic).” While it’s tempting to dismiss ambitious hipsters reporting for a dead-tree newspaper for their spelling if not for their lack of historical perspective, that way lies nitpicking madness.

Perhaps we should start with this: Seattle isn’t New York City. While the NYPD was “kettling” (Google it) hundreds of protesters after Pied Pipering them across the Brooklyn Bridge, Seattle police negotiated with protesters to move them from Scoop Jackson’s federal building on Second Avenue to their current location at Westlake.

They have an attorney representing them at City Hall. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has already promised an occupancy permit by sometime today. In the meantime, the tents sit damp but undeniable, in the shadow of a hard metal sign reading IT IS UNLAWFUL TO HOLD AN EVENT…WITHOUT FIRST OBTAINING A PERMIT. SMC 18.12.275.

Occupy Seattle participants don’t admit of a chieftain, but they’ve nominated committee heads for Housing, for Arts & Public Speaking, Technology, Maintenance, Food and Tactics. Every day at 1600 hours, they hold a Battle Update Briefing — no, strike that — a “general assembly” run on purely democratic principles.

They’ve made common cause with Food Not Bombs, which delivers hot chow daily. Employees at a nearby McDonalds facilitate bathroom backup to supplement the Urban Rest Stop, an oasis of hygiene on Ninth Avenue. By sometime today, Occupy Seattle may have negotiated for electricity.

Under the drizzle, we found Stan Reed organizing food tables and waterproofing supplies from a central tent. He explained that he wasn’t in charge, but his bright yellow plastic poncho looked kind of official.

“The cops and the city have been gracious to us,” he said, adding that no one had been arrested or harassed. On his list of supporters during the day, Reed included senior citizens, homeless kids, military vets, employees of nearby businesses, and “sympathetic cops.”

Toto, I don’t think we’re in the Big Apple anymore…

As for a central organizing principle, Reed cheerfully acknowledged, “It’s different for everybody.” Reed’s personal bugaboo is the Fed, which he describes as “an evil institution that enslaves people to generate profits for a few.”

Some want an end to war profiteering, others a wide cornucopia of social justice tropes that will sound familiar to readers of The Stranger, observers of Seattle bumper stickers or anyone who’s ever darkened the door at Left Bank Books.

Unsurprisingly, some are hungry kids. We have enough of those in town to staff a good-sized protest. In itself, that may be reason enough to protest — something is broken on the game board when that many young, strong pegs can’t find the right-shaped hole.

“We’re a leaderless group,” Reed said, “coming together to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

And if politics makes strange bedfellows, protest may make them even stranger. At the federal building, a pair of Tea Party sign wavers made nervous common cause with the hippie sign wavers of Occupy Seattle.

“They were unemployed,” Reed said. “I’m unemployed right now.

“Our real focus is putting aside politics, putting aside religion, putting aside class. More lose their jobs every day. You might be driving that Audi or living in a nice condo, but you’re still on that crumbling ledge.”

Putting aside divisiveness doesn’t prevent lively debate, which flows among the damp tents like a progressive political dinner. If there is a central theme to the Occupy (Fill In Your City) movements, it may be impatience with the perennial reacharound of corporatized politics.

“We’re fed up,” Reed said, “with the top one percent drinking champagne and laughing down on us.

“We need to get the corporate money out of politics.”

“Honey,” I said to my wife, “can you imagine what our kids would say if we brought them peanut butter sandwiches to eat and plastic sheets to sleep on?

“They’d tell us to pound sand.”

The tenters downtown just said, “Thank you!” They said it again and again. Their eyes were shiny, and it wasn’t from the rain, but they had very different things to say to the international reach of corporate influence.

The polite, unhappy campers downtown may be a bit vague on the details of how to accomplish their simple-sounding goal, but folks with pitchforks and torches rarely start with a detailed plan. Maybe it’s enough to identify the castle where the vampire lives… and march forward together.

Or maybe we need to be accountable for more than that. Maybe we need to build something to replace bloodsucking feudalism. Kurt Vonnegut addressed that. Genius or no, he couldn’t come up with a better answer than “community”:

What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.

Have the young people at Westlake figured out the one, true answer to building stable communities? Assuredly not. But they persist in asking the questions we “productive adults” are too polite, disinterested or busy to ask. And they haven’t bombed anyone all week — which is more than we obedient, taxpaying Baby Boomers can claim.

“I’m here for the duration,” Reed told us last night. “I’ve got nothing to lose.”

We went home, shaking our heads at the misguided youths. We ate hot wings, pepper steak and orange pumpkin seed rolls. We bedded down on a thick mattress, snug under our newly installed insulation batts.

We wondered where all this will lead, and who the real leaders will prove to be.

IF YOU WANT TO HELP, check Facebook and Twitter here:


Update: unconfirmed rumors say that Mayor McGinn may renege on the agreement to grant a park occupancy permit to Occupy Seattle in favor of a crew filming a commercial for Target stores. The mayor’s office has no clear comment on either the facts or the irony of that. The telephone number for the mayor’s office is (206) 684-4000.



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  1. Thanks for doing this, and thanks for writing it up.

  2. That was your date night? If so, I’m just a little bit sad… but so VERY proud of you two. “Thanks” doesn’t begin to cover it.

    Sharing the hell out of this.

  3. codeamazon says

    Best date night in a while.

  4. We may be seeing the beginning of something big. I hope so. Thanks for writing about it.

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