It is May 2, which means it is time to reflect on the events of the May 1st Occupy and Immigrant Issues protests I attended in Seattle.
The day started bright and early at 9am in Seattle's Westlake Center with some donated breakfast. Standing around with our food, we had the opportunity to connect with others in the 99% Occupy Movement and exchange views and experiences. I approached a group that was intellectually grappling with issues of the day. I just jumped in and was instantly welcome as part of the group. We were a diverse group in gender, age, economic status, race, and educational background and we likely would not have crossed paths without a protest bringing us together. This is what Occupy is about. It is about conversation and connection. Occupy is about causing a recognition that not only do we know that the system needs to be fixed but we know that there are others who see it as well. Occupy is about reporting to others our experiences because our experiences are no longer truly covered in the media. The only way to actually find out what is going on in other segments of society is to talk with those segments, and nothing says "diversity is welcome" like "the 99%."
One of the biggest issues we discussed was the role of action within the system and outside the system. I believe that we were able to come to the consensus that neither set of actions by themselves will be able to stand up to those who want to horde power but that a combination of direct actions and involvement with the political process is our best chance to see the change we were sold in 2008 and that we have been needing ever-increasingly since trickle-down economics met multiple unpaid-for wars.
Signs and Interview
Our group then briefly dispersed to gather information and make some signs. Mine said "Realize your Value, Fight Oppression." I believe that one of the biggest issues is losing our ability to bargain for fair wages and benefits. I believe that we are losing this ability because we no longer understand our own value in the equation. Capital, without labor, can produce nothing. Labor, without capital, can produce nothing. The big question becomes what is a fair division of the product of the labor with capital. As our population values the potential for their time and effort less, it is easier to convince them that they do not deserve fair wages and health care. In order to fight the extreme siphoning of wealth from those who labor to those who own capital, we need to stand up for ourselves and collectively bargain. This also means recognizing equality of all people. I talked with many disabled folk because of my sign. They found it inspirational to realize that their value is not determined by their ability or inability to get money from work their labor. The actions they can do, whether paid or unpaid, make a difference and benefit society, even if they are not recognized by society.
The core group of us from breakfast was then interviewed. I believe it was by Yes! magazine. I came by with my sign a little later as the interview was already in session. It was great to get the opportunity to discuss the purpose of the event with the media but it was also interesting to realize how very short the attention spans of the public have gotten. There wasn't time to really get into the nuance and details of what we are doing and why. It makes a lot of sense to me how Occupy can be so misunderstood. One cannot understand Occupy via sound bites.
During this rally and mingle time, I also appreciated all the people who came out to distribute literature for their various groups and perspectives. We need to share our ideas far and wide and consider a wide range of ideas as we look forward to how to best effect our society. Occupy is about only those values that benefit everyone. There are a lot of issues tied up within that that need their own space and movements because they are more specific and Occupy is a great place to get connected up with those groups.
The morning march was an interesting experience. To some extent you don't really have a sense of scale of the movement until they are walking down the street. The relative disorganization really brought home the fact that Occupy is full of people who are just now waking up to the problems of our society. Many do not know how to protest, to herd crowds, to stay together, and to disseminate a clear plan. It was good to have the opportunity to march and voice solidarity but I also feel like more work needs to be done to ensure that such marches go well. Marches can be powerful to provide visibility to the movement but they must be properly planned.
The worst part of the whole day for me was the black bloc that infiltrated our movement. There is plenty to be angry about. And I understand that there are some that are angry to the point of violence. There is a time and place for everything. During time designated as Occupy, we represent the 99% and we need to act in a way that is consistent with that vision. The actions of the black bloc were not consistent with the message of Occupy. The second worst part of the day was probably the vigilante "super-hero" using tear gas. Given the destruction caused by the infiltrators I was not surprised to see the smoke behind us as we rounded the corner on our way back to Westlake. I had assumed that it was the police and that they had taken somewhat reasonable action against protesters that had chosen violence. But it wasn't, it was vigilante justice. He is not trained to apprehend and control people, he has no legal authority to use instruments.
One of the worst parts about the chaos that ensued was that it put people in danger, Namely our bicyclists who were controlling traffic. They would wait to enter an intersection until it was clear that we would be able to march through the intersection efficiently. Some of the chaos slowed our progress through intersections and at least once an occupied intersection was retreated from only to be occupied again later. When those bicyclists entered the intersection it was at great personal risk and to not follow through with the march was even more dangerous.
While much of the early part of the Occupy morning march was inspiring the later part of the march really just made me angry. I took a break to walk around and process my anger at those who had co-opted the movement in order to get some cheap thrills, or to try to radicalize us.
I then made it back and reconnected with some of my new friends who had made it back to Westlake as well. Debriefing together about our frustration with the radical fringe helped us to process our anger and move on with the rest of our day.
Trek to Judkins Park
I then started our epic trek to Judkins Park with two of my new friends. The rally would start there at 3pm and it was several miles away. Along the way we stopped several times to ask for directions and connected with people who were just going about their day. We talked to some people who supported us and some people who had other ideas for how to fix our societal problems. It was a good day for conversation and exploration. It was nice to have some time to just connect with my new friends and random strangers on the street without being in a huge group.
Judkins Park Rally and March to Wells Fargo
The rally at Judkins park and the subsequent march was about immigrant rights and equality issues. This movement was well organized and involved. Although the Rally was in both Spanish and English, it held my attention. There were activists that went around registering people to vote, getting petitions signed, and collecting donations for the march. Many leaders of local faith communities spoke. At the rally the context was framed as it really is. A native leader blessed the march and welcomed us all as immigrants to share in the opportunity of this land. We heard a lot about the hopes, dreams, and struggles of immigrants today.
Before the march there was very clear conversations about what was and was not allowed and to cooperate with the police. That we were allowed to keep our messages but if the stakes they were on were deemed potential weapons the stakes could be confiscated. I really appreciated that little bit of extra preparation for the march. It also seemed that there was clear communication and understanding between the police, peace officers, coordinators, band, and marchers about what was happening. This march was completely peaceful to my knowledge and had broad community support. I think this extra preparation helped the event to run smoothly. The march concluded at Wells Fargo, a bank that makes significant profit over the detaining of immigrants waiting indefinitely for deportation.
I want to put a special THANK YOU out to the Seattle Police force and the Mayor for their restrained approach to protest management. I support the actions to confiscate weapons after the damage that was done in the morning. All my interactions with the police were civil and completely recognized our rights to demonstrate.
This is my first time reporting on my experiences at a protest, Occupy or otherwise. Feel free to leave questions in the comments or notes about what you would want to see more of from my personal experiences in the future. Thanks.