Thursday, November 24, 2011

An Occupy of One's Own

In local news, Occupy Seattle has gone to court to fight for the right to stay camped out on the Seattle Central Community College campus. With a few high-profile evictions of Occupy activists making front-page news, the back and forth over the movement is picking up steam. Interestingly, here in Seattle, the argument doesn't really seem to be over whether or not Occupy Seattle has a right to camp out - "A permitted City Hall site where limited camping is allowed has been mostly vacant for two months," according to the Times, but whether or not they should be allowed to camp where they want, regardless of any other rules.

With all of the focus on Occupy Seattle and the greater Occupy Wall Street movement, of which it is a part, it's perhaps become too easy to forget that the students, activists and their allies that make up the local Occupy branch aren't the only people who are spending time camping out, and looking for places to stay. In 2004, SHARE/WHEEL's Tent City 4 was created, and ever since, a small community of homeless adults has been living a nomadic existence, moving from one location within the Eastside of the Seattle suburban area to another, often in the face of rules deliberately adopted by local cities to keep them on the move, generally at the behest of citizens who had bought into a hysteria that cast the resident of the tent city as an out-of-control band of murderers, rapists and substance-abusers. With the passage of years, the hysteria, the tent city and the resident have all mostly been forgotten. Nowadays, a church or synagogue offering to host the encampment merits little more than a blog posting, and no-one bothers to comment. Tent City 3, which tends to move around inside Seattle still draws a little grief, but even that's mostly died down.

Of course, Occupy Seattle and the Tent Cities aren't really the same beast. The people in the Tent Cities aren't protesting their situation - simply attempting to make the best of it. They can't really afford to make a fuss over where they're staying, because if they lose the right to camp, they lose what passes for their homes, rather than mostly having to go back to their houses, apartments and dormitories. (Not to say that there aren't genuinely homeless people in Occupy Seattle, but I suspect that no-one in the Tent Cities has volunteered to be there.) And it's that disconnect that is of interest to me. Occupy Seattle can afford to push things farther because they have comparatively less at stake. And in doing so they can stay in the public eye, and thus in its consciousness.

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