Recently (June 6), one of the Downtown Strategy Meetings that the City Council and Mayor do, was disrupted by us. We wrote this up as a way to explain why we did this as well as expand the narrative outside of the article that The Olympian put out.
The city of Olympia has a plan to displace the most vulnerable people in downtown Olympia; the poor, elderly, homeless, and people of color. The city calls it development, but we’ve seen what their capitalistic development brings; from Seattle to Tacoma, NYC to Detroit, San Francisco to Oakland. We’ve seen waves of “development” and displacement sweep across the nation, and now it’s here. Isn’t it obvious, in the way that more of the cities budget goes towards an ever militarized police forces, who harass and brutalize the homeless, the visibly queer and gender-nonconforming, and people of color, specifically black people, rather than towards social services and programs to help the most vulnerable and disenfranchised. We’ve already been feeling the effects of gentrification, the construction of the chic yuppy condo monstrosity on Fourth Street as the most visible example. As the property values start to rise, so does rent; it won’t be long before the city is unlivable for us.
The city council and mayor have made very clear what their priorities are, with how they have described homeless people as “street dependent”, as if being homeless is an addiction and not due to a lack of access to resources that the city refuses to spend money on, or how they described homeless as a problem because it might deter private investors with no connection to Olympia from investing in downtown; it’s obvious they’re more interested in selling off the city than making it better for the people that live and work there.
With this in mind, the city has been having meetings and workshops on “downtown development”; we decided to shut it down. We’ve seen the effects of playing nice with developers and gentrifiers, just look at whats left of the cities that we named earlier. Without resistance to gentrification there’s nothing left but a sterile, culturally devoid yuppie wasteland. The vision of the city they have in mind is one where we, the undesirables, don’t exist. So we decided to confront displacement militantly, and to refuse to dialogue with the developers and politicians. They would rather us channel our anger about being displaced in to the right political channels, where we must be passive and polite so that we can be diffused and ignored.
They had their meeting in the Olympia Center. Eight of us with various items to make noise with casually rolled up into the building and made our way to the conference room, which was filled with around 60 or 70 people. We began banging on our our noise makers and blaring air-horns interrupting the Mayor as she addressed the group. We snaked round the room making our way towards the microphone and people began to get up and started trying to talk to us and blocking us and grabbing on us, but we kept going. Members of the city council and the mayor tried to talk to us as well, but we made it clear we had nothing to say to them.
They had left the microphone open as they came to try to talk to us, so one of us ran up to the microphone and began to shout in it; “DEVELOPMENT MEANS DISPLACEMENT! THE CITY OF OLYMPIA HAS MADE IT CLEAR THAT THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT IT’S MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLES”, they promptly cut off the microphone. People continued to yell about displacement and how the city feigns at giving people choice in the development of Olympia, but is only letting us choose between prefabricated options that we have no say in.
A few minutes passed, the mayor got on the mic and said they were going to take a 15 minute break. During that time everybody was talking and many conversations were had between us and the audience; during that a member of the city council approached us to let us know they had called the police, though once the police came there they just stood off to the side as we had broken no law so they could not touch us. The mayor got back on the mic to announce to everyone that the meeting was adjourned; we had succeeded in shutting down the meeting.
We hung around talking to people for about 10 more minutes before we left; as we were walking an old white couple approached one our black comrades and tried to talk to them. The couple had been talking to our comrade in a very belittling and paternalistic way that was clearly racist seeing as the couple had talked to others differently and when our comrade checked them on that, the older man choked our comrade and slammed them against a wall; a short scuffle ensued which ended in one of our comrades restraining the man from behind so he couldn’t attack anyone else and another helping the comrade who was attacked away from the area. Both groups were detained for 20 minutes; there were no arrests.
The local news paper The Olympian, put out an article about the action and in it Keith Stahley is quoted as saying “They came in with no intention of participating.” They were 100% right; there is no participating in a process that is rigged from the start, we came in with no intention of dialogue because there is no dialogue with the forces of development and displacement; there is no dialogue with people who sit there with dead eyes and patronizing smirks when people come to their meetings to raise issue with racist police harassment and brutality, the problem of low wages, or the city spending extraordinary amounts of money on the police but skimping on social services.
At the end of the day, its about this; displacement isn’t coming, it’s already here and what starts downtown will quickly spread to the rest of Olympia.
If any changes are to come to downtown, or any neighborhood in Olympia for that matter, they should be decided on and implemented by the people for whom downtown is their home, not just the business owners and the land lords, and especially not private investors who have no connection to the neighborhood, but the renters, the workers, the homeless people who all call downtown their home.
Community control of our communities, not control by a city council who is more worried about private investors than the people who live in our community, who gives us the illusion of choice in these decisions by giving us prefabricated options, instead of letting us decide the options in the first place.
And let this be a notice to the city council; there will be resistance to your development that is more focused on profits than people, we will not go peacefully or quietly. We will evict you before you evict us.