Occupy Seattle protests beset first by rain, now by loss of tents
There's been a special Pacific Northwest-style treat for the 100 or so protesters who have been occupying a downtown park for one of the West Coast assaults on Wall Street politics known as Occupy Seattle -- rain.
Who would have thought?
Police moved in Wednesday afternoon on the protesters' first line of defense against the elements, a series of makeshift dome tents erected across the urban square that have made living in the drizzly weather since Saturday bearable.
After a series of warnings from city government that the protests were allowed but the tents weren't, officers began dismantling tents at 2 p.m. and arrested about 10 people who stood in the way.
"There were 10 tents left by this afternoon. Five of them came down voluntarily, five required the intervention of the police. There were people who, after repeated offers of an opportunity to remove them, declined the offer," Dewey Potter, spokeswoman for the Seattle Parks Department, told The Times.
She said protesters would not be allowed to remain in the park past the 10 p.m. closing time.
The confrontation over the tents followed a tense night Tuesday in which protesters kept waiting for police to move in.
"People have been trying to form a chain of bodies around the tents to protect them, trying to protect as many tents as possible," said Manny Frishberg, a freelance writer and editor from Federal Way, Wash., who has participated in the protests off and on.
Like their counterparts in New York, known as Occupy Wall Street, and now up to 50 cities across the U.S. -- including Portland, Ore., where Occupy Portland protesters plan a major march and occupation on Thursday -- the Occupy Seattle crowd is a mixed lot of students and artists, tech industry workers and homeless people, all moved to raise concerns about corporate dominion and unequal wealth.
"People are upset about what we've been seeing in terms of the growing inequities in the society, where cuts are taking place to essential services like schools, like healthcare, and at the same time 1% of the American population controls 34.6% of the wealth," Frishberg said in an interview with The Times.
Michael Hines, who was laid off from his job in the computer gaming industry at the beginning of the year, said protesters each have brought their own beefs to the plaza but have coalesced around issues of corporate influence in politics.
"We're letting people know if you're not part of the microscopic financial elite in this country, you're really getting screwed over," he told The Times.
Seattle's liberal mayor, Mike McGinn, has made it clear he supports the protests, but on Tuesday said the tents would have to go. Westlake Park, where the protesters at one point numbered 300, is at the heart of the city's downtown shopping district.
"No one group can use a park to the exclusion of others, no matter how worthy the cause," he said in a statement.
Protest organizers were defiant. "Our numbers will only grow stronger as the public contemplates the unjust arrest of 10 workers raising signs and tents, while the corporate thugs remain pampered in their private villas," the group said in a statement on its website.
Hines said protesters were more or less resigned to losing the tents. "My personal view is we will be there even if the tents come down," he said. "But some people want to make the statement that we're out here in the cold and rain doing our best to fight for the rest of the country -- please let us have tents."
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: Victor Funk at one of several tents dismantled by Seattle police at the Occupy Seattle encampment in downtown Seattle's Westlake Park. Credit: Ted S. Warren /Associated Press