The General Assembly (GA) was held in the Bellingham city hall on December 28th, a Wednesday, late afternoon, and the citizens of Occupy Bellingham were experiencing everything from exhaustion and let down, to the remains of adrenaline after being evicted from the Maritime-Heritage Park, where the protesters had held on to their exercise of their right to assemble for more then three months. Many were just feeling the nature of our grievances. And, it is the grievances that took center stage when Bellingham's Mayor Pike ordered the removal of the Occupy presence with the arrival of Law Enforcement in full riot gear. A strange site for many gathered there in support as this special unit assembled in the far back corner of the encampment carrying everything from paint ball guns with pepper ball rounds, to a nasty little black weapon that looked like the machine guns of old, bullets and all. This observer wondered if any of the over 15 officers were thinking what I was thinking.
First, who the hell ordered this kind of weaponry when the camp and its inhabitants had, for over three months, adhered to the Occupy standard, peaceful demonstration. And, who will answer for that decision to pay these officers to file out and do what the Occupy protesters already made a commitment to the Mayor to do; clean up and move.
One contemplates the actual mind set of all involved. It is clear that those who Occupy are not filled with joy and satisfaction at the chance to live in tents, rely on donations from the comfortably ensconced, haphazardly locate all the resources for personal hygiene, tolerate the weather of winter, suffer the sometimes harsh judgments of others, work tirelessly with people who have ideas of their own and compromise constantly when the environment is riff with a kind of desperation. Then add those who stand at the edge of it all and resent them for 'taking their park', and I speak of the homeless. Should we say out loud that several of these community members relayed their encounter with law enforcement to citizen portesters? Is it 'rumor' to mention they recounted the encouragement they received to come to the camp? Maybe not, as several were intoxicated at the time. And what was the intention of those who geared up and brought their professional 'tools' to what has been in their three month history, a peaceful people?
We know that the 'gear' was borrowed. On the day of the eviction it is reported that a sheriff was present to monitor the equipment that was borrowed to Bellingham Police Department. Our police force did not have this gear available to them as they do not hold this kind of gear in their inventory. Officers appeared, as reported by several witnesses, to be unfamiliar with their superiors orders, and were prompted through the process step by step. Although it is apparent now that they were successful in removing the Bellingham protesters from the Occupy Bellingham protest camp, it becomes clear that it was not something they were prepared for, months in advance. Which begs the question, Why did the mayor, who is leaving office shortly, order this removal so quickly? And why the borrowed strong arm tactics when the relationship between the protesters and the authorities had been so … congenial?
As the eviction unfolded on that rainy Wednesday, a woman sat alone in the middle of the once occupied camp. She sat on the wet ground with her legs crossed in what is 'historically' called, Indian Style. The picture was haunting to many witnesses that day. This woman was white. She was alone. The officers approaching her were carrying batons, tazers, pepper spray, a bean bag firing rifle, and a carbine. She remained where she was. Waiting. Was she holding out for the all to hoped for human rights element that exists in our hearts and in our education? Or, was she sacrificing herself to arrest in the name of those human rights? We can't know. We simply witness the actions of those around us. And, it may be safe to say now, after the fact, that everyone there was making a choice. It is the choice of this lone woman that stands out. What made her decide to face such power and authority?
What we seem to miss in all of this is the Peaceful part of our intentions. The word is useful, however, I posit this; are we a peaceful people? Does the work of peace involve violence? If we look at history, if we look around today, we see violence. Is it coming from a familiar place? Is it done in a manner that we can rationalize? Will we have peace in these very difficult times and ignore the way in which we achieve it? Do the people we've identified as 'protectors' actually know what their orders will entail when the disparate escalate to meet their needs? Where is this peaceful protest going to take us, both here in Bellingham and in our nation? Is the experience of sitting on the wet rain soaked ground while armed officers approach a violent shock to the internal well being of this woman who appears to have something to say, and is willing to face some unknown consequence to say it?
Maybe its time to review the way we deconstruct the Occupy in our own minds, and consider these questions together. Before someone gets hurt. Or rather, before someone gets hurt who the majority find undeserving of it. Because we all know that violence isn't always physical, much of it is violence against the spirit. Just ask some of those who stood as witness at Maritime-Heritage Park... The homeless, in their homelessness, supported the authorities who evicted the folks who evicted them back in October.
If you think about that, it becomes obvious we've adapted to the corporate culture and manifested that destiny. It has become every man for himself in Bellingham and America. In this case it was a woman who stepped up to bring some attention to what is happening to us. She faced her fears, an this witness hopes she won.