Mike McGinn has a problem. He wants to support the Occupy Seattle movement, which many of us believe is filled with transformative opportunity. He also must enforce the laws on the books. He cannot tell the Chief of Police to not enforce the law.
McGinn has actually dealt with the situation pretty well. He has briefed City Council President Richard Conlin and Public Safety Committee Chair Tim Burgess on events. He has stated clearly that he supports the goals of the protests — to draw attention to income inequality and the challenges faced by middle class families and the poor — and importantly, made clear that protesters must obey the law. For some he has been too strict and others not strict enough, but that is the nature of these things.
The big challenge in these situations is how to direct police officers. Officers don’t do well with gray areas. They either enforce the law or they don’t. Asking them to “sort of enforce” the law hurts morale and leads to much confusion. There has been some of that and probably some in the Seattle Police Department (SPD) are not happy with the mayor’s performance so far.
SPD has given warnings to protesters at Westlake Center that the park closes at 10 p.m. and they must leave. This has not been enforced so far. Officers have taken up the strategy of annoying the protestors with lights and constant reminders of the law. The numbers have dwindled, probably more because of the lousy weather than anything else. Soon, however, SPD officers will make arrests for those that refuse to leave.
They also now have another problem: the homeless advocacy organization SHARE/WHEEL has decided to camp out in front of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at Seattle Center to protest that the foundation doesn’t give them money. They sent out a rather bizarre and rambling email to the media explaining their demands and how they are part of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Eventually the police and the mayor will have to enforce the law there as well.
The bigger question is whether the “Occupy” protests will morph into something that will turn off the average Seattleite. Will this turn into an effort to get a permanent camp downtown? Will anarchists show up to break windows?
We should all hope that doesn’t happen. The mayor has come under fire by The Stranger over what they call his “passive aggressive” response to these issues. They are mad that he enforced the no-camping law on utilization of camping equipment. They even go so far as to carry along a suggestion that the mayor would be to blame if people get hypothermia. Doesn’t anyone have personal responsibility here? I may have my criticisms as well, but attacking a mayor for enforcing the law is just wrong.
These are not easy events to deal with. At the heart of it all are people speaking their minds about important issues. Yes, some are hangers-on who always show up when there’s a ruckus. But the movement is happening because there are deep problems and divisions in our society that the political and business class has failed to address.
My hope is that the movement continues and more people engage in the political process and push our elected leaders to act. We need to invest in our infrastructure and education and give our manufacturing sector a boost. To the north, Canada is focused on these issues and making huge investments.
Maybe Occupy Wall Street is the push we need.
(Disclosure: Crosscut receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)