A MODEST PROPOSAL | Occupy Seattle is dead
Thursday, May 23, 2013 6:10 AM
We barely knew ye.
You were suddenly there — new, young, all over the place — and soon, too soon, ended up on the street like an empty storefront, like a stolen car.
You could never settle down. First, you pitched a tent at Westlake Center, a few nights at City Hall, then beneath the scrappy trees at Broadway and Pine Street. When you squatted a derelict building in the Central Area, it was the only house left that would have you.
Your energy had been hot, fun. Enthusiasm waned as you overstayed your welcome, a guest who would not go.
You entertained past glory: the good, old days of the WTO protests in 1999. Turtles marched on, workers paraded, affinity groups found consensus amid vandals and riot squads. You stuck one to “the man,” Mayor Paul Schell. You cut your teeth on a police chief, Norm Stamper. Seattle wasn’t ready for you, but you were ready for Seattle.
You had predecessors in Jet City, who walked the walk and talked the talk, too. The anti-war movement was the modern granddaddy, an answer to the Vietnam War, or how it’s called in Vietnam, the American War — as opposed to the French War, the Japanese War, the Chinese Wars…there were a lot of wars.
Protestors took to Interstate 5, turned it into a pedestrian lane, shut it down. Closing an interstate has since become the holy grail of protest, a quest few realize.
Still, there was that business of Trim Bissell, of the Bissell carpet-sweeper clan, who left a Weatherman bomb at the ROTC building on the University of Washington campus in January 1970. The bomb didn’t go bang since Trim wasn’t a mechanic; he was a poet and couldn’t wire the thing. He got caught by the campus police, skipped town , to be arrested in Eugene, Ore., in 1987. Trim served 18 months, then did art and activism, till he died of brain cancer in 2002. He finally got to be himself.
The war ended, the resistance broke up, the Weathermen petered out. Social justice and environmental causes cried for victory. Anti-nuke groups, peaceniks and tree-huggers stepped up: There were people needing saving, a planet needing allies.
The marchers returned, coalitions in common cause and against the occasional war.
Strangers appeared, with strange messages. The local handful of revolutionary communists raced to the front of the line to get a good shot of their colorful Maoist banner for the newsletter as proof of popular support. Sometimes, they’d be lucky enough to get right behind local politicians leading the parade, creating unintentional photo opps for the opposition.
The strategy? As Paul Hunter put it for Greenpeace: “media blitz.” You could place your cause in the news and leverage coverage for fund-raising. The blitz became more than the message, an end in itself.
There was room under the big top. Direct-action cells hovered at the borders of EarthFirst. Some — like ALF and ELF, the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts — graduated to become eco-terrorists, per the feds. In the wings, those of no persuasion tried on chaos theory, emerging as anarchists.
The World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference — 1999’s Battle of Seattle — became mythic. Could it happen again?
The rise and fall
Occupy, you replied when Wall Street, Republicans and George W. Bush spawned the Great Recession.
You challenged overstuffed cash cows on their home turf. You inspired church groups, labor organizations, local politicians, the unemployed and underemployed, the poor and middle class to hone a message of social justice that stretched around the world.
You, protestor, were Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year — not bad for a new kid on the block.
The uprising did a down swell. Anarchists made your life difficult. In 2012, they messed up Little Saigon and used your May Day march for cover after smashing windows downtown.
Gandhi went to the ocean, made salt and defeated an empire. You declared a general strike that never happened and didn’t control the riffraff.
This year, May Day, you weren’t asked to the dance. Thousands marched for immigrant rights — human rights — in the afternoon, from Judkins Park to the Federal Building. You sulked at the fringe.
In the evening, in the name of Occupy, the usual suspects showed up, bent on riot, believing in nothing and accomplishing less.
Occupy had ceased to be.
Still, I’ll recall camaraderie, music and song. Maybe next time you’ll stick around a little longer. Maybe next time, we’ll get something done.
CRAIG THOMPSON is a longtime community activist. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.