Monday, October 24, 2011

The Lobbyist



Hi, I'm Michael Dare, and since I don't live on a private island surrounded by gunboats with a harem devoted to peeling my grapes, since I haven't fleeced mankind with economic corruption and terrorism for nothing more than my own personal benefit, since I'm not doing high dives into a pool of gold like Scrooge McDuck, since I haven't abandoned the basic precepts of human decency we're all born with for nothing more than my own personal betterment, since I haven't turned into a corpulent slavemaster whose soul can only be measured in micropayments, since this is the best of times for money shufflers and the worst of times for the entire rest of the human race, since I now find myself completely and utterly fucked by a system that puts corporate greed over human need, since I'm now reduced to stealing material not only from Charles Dickens but from signs I read in the park, since the chasm between the haves and the have-nots in this city, this state, this country, this planet, is so wide and so deep that somebody, and it's not me, is looking to get pushed into it, because of all these things, I am part of the 99%, I fully support Occupy Wall Street, and I have been a member of Occupy Seattle since day one.

I had to get that out. Run-on sentences are no good for the public microphone where I've been speaking lately. It's an acquired skill (It's an acquired skill). You speak in short bursts (You speak in short bursts). Everything takes twice as long (Everything takes twice as long). You have to be an insta-poet. Ta da DA da da (ta da DA da da) Da da TA da da da (Da da TA da da da) Writing's so much more simple, where my words only echo endlessly in my OWN head, thank you very much.

From that first day where everything was a triumph, one of the most exciting of my life, the park coalescing into little pods of discourse, interactive amoeba, a big bang of expanding social evolution in front of my eyes, to the fourth morning where I woke up to find a dozen Seattle Police headed by an intimidating officer surrounded by media and lights asking me to take down my tent, to sleeping in the park without a tent, getting my backpack stolen, getting another tent, setting it up on the night of 500, waking again to at least 50 Seattle Police on bikes and the park surrounded by barricades, no way out, no way in, from the first rain where we were forbidden to stand under the awning to the war of the umbrellas where we were literally ordered to get wet, to seven blocks away where I now mysteriously find myself the central facilitator of Occupy Seattle South in that little building called city hall, I've been completely convinced that the movement is organic, embracing all strata of humanity, a living breathing frustrating disorganized mess that's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Compared to Westlake Park, City Hall is the goddam Hilton. Westlake Park is absolutely one of the worst places in the city to try to get a good night's sleep. City Hall has a whole other vibe, peaceful, organized, sanitary, a place where things got done instead of talked about.

Mysteriously, I was called a traitor. How dare I accept the Mayor's kind offer of a place to sleep, bathrooms, running water, dozens of free electrical outlets, no police, and a safe place to leave my stuff where I can find it when I get back? Why was I giving in to THE MAN? I asked if the Mayor offered them a room in the Hilton, would they take it, and was told No way, man. He's the problem. It would be like accepting cake from Marie Antoinette. It's all just a ruse. They want us where they want us so they can surround us and BAM, round us all up.

Well, first of all, that's not what the permit says. Second, no Mayor in the history of Seattle has EVER offered the front plaza of City Hall for occupation by a political movement, much less suspended the fees which should be running up to $500 a day. Third, if there was any political pressure on the Mayor to do something, it was surely NOT to offer us City Hall, it would have been the opposite, to squash us like bugs. Fourth, if the Mayor hadn't offered it to us, we'd be demanding it, and fifth, I asked him if he'd ever heard of the Trojan Horse. When the Mayor invited us to occupy City Hall, he surely didn't expect ME in the lobby.

Writing in the lobby of city hall, I try to figure out what to call myself. Days ago, I was told that the night before they had a vote and I was now in charge. I was uncomfortable with being called a leader so we settled on facilitator but I'm not happy with that because it makes my kids facilitator tots.

So I need a new word for myself. I'm in a goddam lobby. The city council and the mayor are upstairs. I have been, and I cannot stress this enough, invited.

The one thing I've done outside is listen to people's stories. I cannot claim to represent Boeing, but I can claim to represent the Boeing worker I met in Westlake Park. I cannot claim to represent the hotel worker's union, but I can claim to represent the needs of the member of the hotel worker's union I met in Westlake Park. To claim to represent the 99% means to claim to represent everything from crack addicts to cops. That's a big bridge to gap, but I guess I represent them too.

I didn't choose to do this. I'm filling a vacuum, much as my cat once did. What I am is a very non-professional lobbyist for the 99%.

THREE LETTERS!

Dear Mayor McGinn,

I have decided to accept your brave and generous offer to occupy city hall, and for the first time in my life, I'm not being the least bit facetious. I speak both in my volunteer capacity as primary facilitator for Occupy Seattle: City Hall, and in my personal capacity as a homeless person in the City of Seattle. Occupy Seattle and the homeless problem are now joined at the hip and they're both mine. I am both a relentless advocate for social change and a fellow human being with no place to stay tonight. I'm couch surfing, and mean it from the bottom of my cold cold heart, I appreciate the place to crash.

That being said, you should know I'm right here, dude, in the southeast corner of the main lobby, sucking up your electricity with a broken laptop, and I'm going to be here till you throw me out. I'm in City Hall for the long haul. This isn't going to take days or weeks or months. This is going to take years, and I'm going to be here, sometimes in full support, sometimes a massive obstruction in your sigmoid colon. I'll try to be a nice guest. I am here, after all, at your invitation, and I'm not a shmuck. I know that a courteous person leaves everything behind as they found it if they ever want to be invited back. This chair I'm sitting in? I moved it. I promise to move it back when I'm done.

Our permit is up for renewal at the end of the month, and hopefully, the month after that and the month after that. My personal needs directly correlate to the needs of the movement I hesitate to claim to represent. I need a job and a place to live. I need food and transportation and entertainment and companionship. I need to know that life isn't like joining a game of Monopoly already in progress, a game that never starts over, where every square is already owned, so anywhere you land except Free Parking, you're screwed, you never pass go, and you never collect $200 (or, in the case of Seattle, $197). There's got to be a way out of this. I know there is, and it's not just me.

The OCCUPY movement has spread across the country. Every mayor in America is facing the exact same problem you're facing. The mayor who figures out how to deal with us with grace and compassion, the mayor who can take the principles of Occupy Wall Street and successfully apply them to their own town, could end up leading this country out of the second great depression.

How do I know this is a "depression" and not a "recession" or "downturn in the market" or "bump in the road that will correct itself?" Because of the people I've met. Because making a claim to represent 99% of Americans, in all their splendor, with their wildly divergent sizes and shapes and colors and religions and IQs and political affiliations and endless personal needs seems completely outrageous until you enter an OCCUPY camp and find men and women, big and small, black and white and everything in between, preaching the gospel and preaching anarchy, brilliant people who have never had the chance to share their views in public finding, goddam, there are others who agree with them, the good looking mingling with the ugly, macho scumbags high-fiving semi-transsexuals all in the name of one thing, to secure a place on this planet where our basic human needs are seen to, a social safety net that applies to everybody whether anyone thinks we deserve it or not.

You've got it particularly tough since this is a company town where the companies are Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, etc., some of which are completely cool, and some of which are part of the problem. You want to lead this movement instead of oppress it, you've got to start dealing with local corporations according to the national guidelines set by Occupy Wall Street.

We want money out of politics. How about banning all political contributions in the City of Seattle and setting up a taxpayer financed electoral process? Seattle can show America how it can be done. (Don't ask me.)

You can personally stand up to the Supreme Court and say No thank you, in Seattle, corporations aren't people and money isn't speech. We all know these are both legal fictions that only exist to codify corruption, making it possible for you, right now, to squeeze local corporations for dough for your own personal benefit. Want to join us? Squeeze corporations for the benefit of the city. (Easy example, the current plan to lose the free bus zone downtown. This is easily branded as part of the war against the poor, and a war against the poor is a war against Occupy Seattle. Personally, now that general relief checks have stopped coming in, I can't afford ANYTHING, much less public transportation. Get a corporation, or a conglomeration of corporations, to pony up for the free buses.)

The one thing you can't do is ignore us. I may seem to be representing the dregs of the earth, but there's a militia that's got our back. They've made themselves known to me. Seattle is on the verge of the showing the US how NOT to deal with us, and it won't be pretty. This isn't a threat. I don't like it any more than you do. I want to defuse the situation.

Mayor McGinn, I genuinely think you're on our side, that if fate had sent you careening into a life other than mayor, you'd be with us.

There's a fireplace in the lobby of City Hall I understand is rarely used. On some beautiful, cold, windy, and obviously rainy Seattle day, how about a fireside chat? I'll bring the marshmallows.

Sincerely,

Michael Dare
Lobby
City Hall
Seattle, WA

Dear Occupy Seattle,

Let me tell you about the Seattle Hempfest. It is not the biggest political event in Seattle. It is not the biggest music or cultural event in Seattle. It is the biggest event in Seattle, period, and the biggest peaceful political protest and act of civil disobedience on the planet earth, maybe ever.

How do we do it when we're a political protest in a public park governed by a city ordinance that bans camping, just like Occupy Seattle? We work with the mayor and the police who, amazingly enough, agree with us that the war against marijuana is outrageous. There's a three year waiting period for police to volunteer for working the Hempfest. They want to be there.

This year they cut their staff way back. There were basically only four Seattle Police for the whole park.

Are you listening to me? Every year, up to 250,000 people gather in a public park in Seattle as a political protest against the drug war, openly buying and selling paraphernalia, openly sending giant white clouds of pot smoke into the air, and the Seattle Police and Mayor not only let it happen, THEY'RE ON OUR SIDE.

What's the difference between Occupy Seattle and Hempfest, where the city ordinance just as clearly forbids camping? We don't camp. That's it. You think we don't want to let venders and performers spend the night? You don't think we've asked for a variance? No way. On that point, they won't budge. We've been fighting this exact same battle for 20 years. They have threatened to do to Hempfest what they've been doing in Westlake, coming through the park at night and hassling people who might be sleeping.

But they don't. Why? Because we do it for them. I personally have gone up to people at Hempfest and ordered them to take down their tents. I don't like it. I think they should be able to stay. But it's a small price to pay for Hempfest to happen. How many of you think we should have allowed the city to cancel the Hempfest permit this year and stop the entire event by drawing an imaginary line in the sand concerning the enforcement of this one stupid law. We had bigger fish to fry and so do you.

You want to change a city ordinance? You believe in democracy? There's an app for that. It's called the initiative process. Getting it on the ballot and getting the 99% to vote this inhumane ordinance out of existence will be MUCH more effective than pitching a tent in the rain in a deserted park.

It's particularly not worth fighting for since the mayor has already acquiesced to so many of our demands.

You can't ask for 24 hour access to bathrooms. He's given them to us at city hall.

You can't ask for permanent booths devoted to medical needs and food distribution. He's given them to us at city hall.

You can't ask for a safe place to store your things where you'll find them when you get back, you can't ask for a location to pitch a tent without fear of police interference, and most importantly, you can't ask for a bongo free environment where you can actually get a full night's sleep, because he's already given them all to us at City Hall.

You may have had a bad experience with cop. I'm not surprised. So have I, but you can't carry that baggage with you into this movement and apply it to all police, any more than you can take a bad experience you had with an Eskimo and apply it to all Eskimos. Do you know any police who live on private islands surrounded by hula girls and tidy mile-high stacks of hundred dollar bills? If they're not the 1%, they're the 99%, and I personally invite every Police Officer, every Social Worker, every bus driver, and every city employee to come join us at city hall in protest of the corporate takeover of the United States of America.

I'll put it as simply as possible. When we started, we were living in a single. We slept and worked in the same place. Now that we've grown, we need a one bedroom. Let City Hall be your bedroom and nothing more.

At night, downtown Seattle clears out and turns into a standard deserted urban shithole. What exactly is the point of occupying Westlake at night? You can demonstrate up the wazoo and it'll only be seen by three crack addicts and a pigeon.

At Westlake, there are no Honey Buckets, so at night, the alleys surrounding the area have turned into public urinals and worse. This should be a Parks Department issue. They provide free trashcans they routinely empty, regardless of the political affiliation or race or gender of the pedestrians disposing of their empty Starbucks cups. They don't want trash in their parks and they shouldn't want crap in their alleyways. It's a public health issue. Whatever the may think of our possession of the park, the city should provide Honey Buckets in city parks where there are hundreds of people, whatever the purpose. Depriving anyone of the simple right to empty their bladders and bowels is intestinal terrorism and pretty goddam despicable. (Personally, I think it should be the law that ANY business open to the public must have bathrooms open to the public. Call me crazy but shitting and pissing are the smelliest human rights that the Occupy movement should be fighting for.)

I have nothing but admiration for the brave souls who got themselves arrested in Westlake. There was a particular moment when it was a direct strike for the movement, the tents symbolizing everything we stand for. Hell, I was there with you in a borrowed tent. But that moment has passed. Now it's just an unfortunate distraction from the real issues.

It seems to me that you have been surround by the police doing terrible things for so long that you have deluded yourself into thinking they're out to stifle free speech and squash the movement. It's not true. They don't give a shit about what you're saying. Ask yourself. Have they ever busted a SPEAKER? No. All they're interested in is tents. and allowing the Park Service to do their job cleaning the park. THAT'S the only law they care about. If the tents are gone, POOF, so are the cops. No more paranoia about being busted. Really. Just like Hempfest. I've talked to them (before I found out I wasn't supposed to). As soon as they're convinced there will be no more camping at night, the only cops you will see in Westlake are the ones off duty who are joining us. You've got to pick your battles. Corruption in politics or tents.

MD

Dear Anarchists,

You're part of the 99% so God help me, I represent you too, even though you don't want representation, even though you believe we've reached the tipping point where the only possible solution is to bring down the system. I'm with you. The problem of corruption is systemic and has to go. It's like cancer that has spread throughout the structure of society so surgery, radiation therapy, whatever it takes to kill the damn thing without killing US in the process.

It's like the viaduct. It had to come down. But that doesn't mean it had to be blown up while people were driving on it. Step by step, the old structure will be replaced with a new one, just like we're going to do with society.

When society crumbles, there will be anarchy. It is a necessary part of the transition process from one system to another, but the open mike at general assembly is positive proof that order and responsibility will naturally evolve and arise out of anarchy and chaos. Nobody could have planned it that way. I watched. It just happened and nobody could have stopped it. The natural impulse towards structure and safety is one of the trademarks of our species.

The first man to hurl an insult instead of a rock invented civilization. You can't fight FOR civilization with rocks.

2 comments:

  1. Michael, why isn't anyone talking about occupying K Street?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I got my first electronic cigarette kit at Vaporfi, and I enjoy it a lot.

    ReplyDelete