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OCCUPYING HALLOWEEN
November 1st, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

Broadway and Pine. The south lawn of Seattle Central Community College. 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Throughout the area, cute cartoon monsters are displayed on painted plywood stand-up pieces. It’s an installation called “Monsters on Broadway.”

Also throughout the area, young-adult volunteers are pulling batches of hay from bales and spreading it over every part of the lawn. The smell reminds me of the hobby farm on which I grew up. This, it turns out, is not part of “Monsters on Broadway.”

Instead, as a kind lady on the hay-spreading team tells me, they’re covering the grass to protect it from turning into mud. Occupy Seattle would set up its tents on the lawn later in the day. The whole area was going to be heavily walked and stood and even slept on, perhaps for some time.

Fast forward to 6 p.m. Halloween Saturday night is slowly getting underway. The Hill’s regular weekend-night parade of colorful characters is at least a little more colorful. Men and women walk around as zombies, vampires, celebrities living and dead (and undead), and cartoon characters. In and near the more upscale bars, some of the women are dressed just slightly “sexier” than normal for a Saturday.

Back at SCCC, Occupy Seattle events have begun. There’s a speaker’s platform, with a microphone and a small set of amplifiers. There’s a covered feeding station. A few dozen people are there, some in costume. These include a disco dude in a metallic toga (with a wool scarf covering his lower face, WTO style), a Maid Marian with a sign reading “Where Is My Robin Hood?,” several generic fantasy and steampunk getups, and at least one guy in a Guy Fawkes mask, a la the graphic novel and film “V for Vendetta.” (The graphic novel’s author Alan Moore denouced the film, and earns nothing from the masks.)

It’s at least an hour before the main scheduled events get underway. The speaker’s platform bears a succession of orators discussing topics outside the “Occupy” movement’s already broad subject matter. I leave as a woman at the mic promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories, with the audience repeating her statments call-and-response style. (This shtick comes from the original Occupy Wall Street protests, which aren’t allowed to use amplifiers.)

From there I go to a Pike/Pine bar. A woman there tells me she’s “so over” the “Occupy” protests. She claims they’ve degenerated into protesting for protesting’s sake. This remark upsets the man seated next to her, who’s stopping for a drink on his way to join the camping-out protesters. He says something to the effect that he hopes the woman’s happy being part of the problem instead of the solution. (Hint: If you’re going to build a popular, all-welcoming movement, it’s unwise to go around insulting people.)

Back at SCCC, tent raising time officially begins around 8:30. A few campers had already put up their shelters ahead of time. Several hundred people have gathered for the main “street party” (not actually in the street) with pumpkin carving and more costume characters.

Hours later, well into the bar scene’s peak hours, about 150 people would settle in for the night. More than three dozen tents were raised.

They’d had to move somewhere. Even the most capital-P progressive mayor wasn’t likely to let the protests remain 24/7 indefinitely at Westlake. Especially not with the annual Christmas carousel less than a month away from installation.

SCCC is about as Occupier-friendly a public space as can be had in the heart of Seattle.  The teachers’ union is an outspoken “Occupy” supporter. The college president released a statement giving at least tacit, tentative permission for the camp.

This space is not really the place for a thorough analysis of the “Occupy” movement and its agenda. Suffice it to say they’re responding to long-term trends in U.S. society, and doing so with long-term tactics. By announcing no end date to their protests, and no single, simple demand to be met, they’re stating that building their society will also be a long-term endeavor.

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)


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