In the 90s, corporations like Microsoft and Starbucks took over the city. What used to be a working class town has become a glitzy emerald city designed for the 1%, not for us. The city banked its economic future on attracting bankers and corporate elites to downtown, through the convention center, high-end tourism, and high tech capitalism. Westlake Park used to be a civic center, full of festivals, protests, and gatherings. Pine Street used to be closed to cars, and the park went right up to the edge of the mall. The wealthy Nordstrom family demanded that it be opened to cars to improve their business, and community groups fought hard against this because it broke up the city’s last remaining civic space.
The city government paid millions of dollars in taxpayer money to help build Pacific Place and the Nordstrom flagship store. They used millions of dollars of Housing and Urban Development money intended for affordable housing; instead of helping to deal with Seattle’s lack of housing, they gave this money to developers and to Nordstroms. This was a big scandal in the 90s that polarized the city.
Now the police and private corporate security teams harass homeless youth who live at Westlake every day. They racially profile working class people of color who hang out on 3rd Ave and who use the nearby bus stops on their way to West Seattle, the Central District, and the South End. It’s no surprise that may homeless youth have become the core of this movement – they know what’s up.
Mayor McGinn is so intent on moving Occupy Seattle out of Westlake because he realizes that our occupation is reigniting heavy debates about Seattle’s identity and future. Is this a city where working class people, people of color, homeless folks, queer folks, artists, and economic refugees can thrive? Or is this a city run by Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Amazon, and their Wall Street friends?
This is not just about our right to camp. It is about taking back downtown from these corporations, as a base of operations to eventually take back the rest of the city. Eventually we will reoccupy the Central District, Capitol Hill, and other neighborhoods where wall street- backed developers have pushed out the working class. By holding our base at Westlake we are already fighting this process of gentrification. The 1% can’t party at the convention center, or shop at Nordstrom without having to deal with US. Let’s keep it that way!
For the research backing these arguments, check out the book Securing the Spectacular City: The Politics of Revitalization and Homelessness in Downtown Seattle by Timothy Gibson.