2011-11-27 "Community college bosses hold sham vote to kick out Occupy Seattle; Labor, community and students stand in solidarity" by Jane Cutter
On Nov. 23, in a sham of a democratic process, the Board of Trustees of the Seattle Community College voted unanimously to pass an emergency rule solely intended to shut down the Occupy Seattle encampment at the Seattle Central Community College campus. Following a national trend of excuses for attacks on Occupy camps, the stated reason for the shutdown was “health and safety concerns.”
Occupy Seattle mobilized to pack the emergency meeting held at noon the day before the Thanksgiving holiday. Only about half of the many people who signed up to speak in the “public comment” session were permitted to speak.
Among those who spoke in support of Occupy Seattle were the leaders of the campus unions, Karen Strickland of the Seattle Community College Federation of Teachers and Rodolfo Franco of the Washington Federation of State employees. Also speaking out were SCCC students affiliated with Occupy and community-based Occupiers.
Numerous members and supporters of Occupy Seattle spoke, pointing out that they had sought to work with college administration; the administration responded by attacking Occupy Seattle in the media. Occupy Seattle supporters pointed out that they, the Occupy movement, were fighting against budget cuts to higher education and thus were fighting for the community college.
After closing down the public comment session over the objections of those who had been denied the right to speak, the Board showed a mainstream media news piece on Occupy Seattle about an alleged attempted sexual assault at the camp. Occupiers had discovered and interrupted the incident. The alleged perpetrator was not a camp resident; in fact, he had been asked to stay away from the camp previously due to earlier problems.
The college administration is shamelessly exploiting legitimate concerns of women about violence and sexual harassment—concerns that are shared by women in the Occupy movement—as a reason to shut down the camp. Sexual harassment and assault as well as other forms of violence against women are endemic in our society and hardly unique to or more prevalent at Occupy encampments.
Troy, an occupier, in addressing the concern about allegations of drug use at the camp (Occupy Seattle has adopted a no drugs/alcohol policy) pointed out that “there were drunks and junkies in Capitol Hill” long before Occupy Seattle moved its camp to the neighborhood. In fact, the South Lawn of SCCC was a known gathering site for drug dealers and users. Some of the conflicts that occurred at the camp had to do with the struggle to eradicate drugs from the site. Regardless of the source of the conflicts, the camp Peace and Safety committee has worked hard to resolve situations non-violently.
The policy of the Board of Trustees toward Occupy Seattle is not determined by safety and health concerns. These are mere convenient pretexts to suppress free speech activity and stifle the growing grassroots Occupy movement by a board that is hand-picked by the governor and which, faced with the grievances of a grassroots popular movement, will unequivocally side with the 1 percent.
After allowing members of the public a grand total of 17 minutes (one minute per person) to comment on the proposal, members of the board and administration were given unlimited time to utter innuendos and half-truths about Occupy.
Over and over again, they said that camping on campus was not part of the mission of the college—as if occupiers were just taking a vacation, sitting in their tents as Seattle's famous rainy season begins! They willfully ignored the point that occupying a public place is a means to the end of building a movement that, if victorious, will further the mission of the college to provide a quality public higher education.
There was one sign that the Board was on the defensive. Due to outrage over the recent incident in which 84-year-old Dorli Rainey and other non-violent protesters were pepper-sprayed and hit with bicycles by Seattle police, the board made it clear that they were not going to call for an immediate eviction of the camp. Chancellor Jill Wakefield stated that they would strive for “an orderly process” of transition. The emergency rule must be filed in the state capitol of Olympia on the next business day, which is Monday, Nov. 28. Once that has occurred, college staff will supposedly work with Occupy Seattle to help them make a transition to a new location.
Many options are now on the table as to how this movement will proceed locally. Many Seattle occupiers plan to go to Olympia Nov. 28 for the Occupy the Capitol protest against state budget cuts. Some may join the encampment there, which for now is being left alone by the local and state authorities. Currently, a small group of people who had been occupying at SCCC have independently taken over an abandoned house in the Central District and are occupying it with an eye to turning it into a community center—such occupations have a long and proud tradition in Seattle. Local organizers are mulling over other ideas as well.
Returning to camp after the meeting, the rain continued to pour down in near record-breaking quantities. Supporters from the community were dishing up turkey with all the fixings. Water was puddling up on the brick steps leading down to the lawn area. Three of the canopies used for the information and medical tents were in a state of collapse due to the rain and wind. Thomas, an occupier, was spearheading an attempt to rebuild the information and medical tent areas using some new donated tents. However, they needed to first go get some pallets to lay under the tents to keep water from seeping up.
This reporter donated some zip ties, twine and a tarp to the effort. I also collected some completely soaked jackets and pants from Thomas, which were washed and returned dry later that day. As I came into the darkened camp with the bag of laundry, the rain had abated. I found Thomas and others working at the site of the medical tent. About 15 pallets had been laid down and they were removing the broken skeleton of the old canopy. It was hard not to see symbolism in this scenario—despite efforts to crush it, Occupy continues. It is an embryonic form of a mass struggle that may ultimately clear away the wreckage of an exploitative society, and lay the foundation for a new society ruled by the 99 percent led by the working class.