One may alternately view the profound sight of this encampment in downtown Olympia, the Capitol of Washington state, as either a source of inspiration or as a visible gaping wound exposing our society’s massive shortcomings. 

I am not accustomed to writing about social/political/economic justice campaigns from the outside looking in, but that is mostly the perspective from which I am now positioned in relation to my community’s Occupy encampment: Occupy Olympia.  So it is with a deep sense of humility and gratitude that I currently serve as the FireDogLake Occupy Supply liaison for Occupy Olympia.

Occupy Olympia’s first package from Occupy Supply arrived at my house on December 1, 2011.  The hats, socks and scarves were enthusiastically received by grateful recipients.

My main contact at the encampment is a young woman named Audrey.  She and her husband Alex, both students, have two small children and have been core participants from the outset, setting up and maintaining the medic tent which distributes supplies and dispenses first aid.

I first encountered Alex in the early weeks of the encampment on a cold rainy day in late October.  I went to the medic tent and asked what supplies were most needed.  Alex responded that 8 x 10 foot tarps were needed as something in which to wrap cold, wet, shivering people coming to the medic tent in the middle of the night on the verge of hypothermia.  I returned later that day with a load of tarps, and used fleece blankets and jackets but looked around at the cold, muddy encampment and was overwhelmed by the enormity of the need in evidence.

Shortly thereafter Audrey posted an urgent online request for supplies such as wool blankets, socks and hats.  I sent her a private email: “When I read your words about the very wet, very cold people I had to wonder if there was any discussion about putting the physical occupation off until around May.  Not only because of serious health risks but also the enormity of the task and the resources, time and energy the maintenance of the encampment consumes.”

Audrey replied:

Thanks for the compassionate and thoughtful message. I’d like to respond.

Aside from this occupation being part of a global solidarity movement (and therefore by its very nature occurring NOW and not next year), we here at Heritage Park find ourselves in a very unique situation. Because we intended initially an overnight encampment, and because we advertized our ability to provide people with gear if they wanted to participate, we have been inundated with the local houseless community. We have given out countless blankets, coats, socks, sleeping bags, etc. to folks, and we’re being increasingly relied upon for these items. I feel like the needs we’re addressing are so basic and so immediate, walking away at this point would be both irresponsible and unfeeling. We’re directly addressing the problems caused by the dysfunction of our current system – this is direct action at its best. The people we’re helping would be cold and wet without us – we aren’t giving blankets and sweaters to trust-fund activists, we aren’t making people cold because we have an encampment, they’re cold because there is gross inequality in our country.

That having been said, I didn’t sign up to run a mission. We need more help, we need more expertise (especially in dealing with the houseless community and their issues), we need more resources… and we need a long-term plan. My kids are here with me, and getting smacked in the face with the proof of their privilege, as am I.  I’ll be here as long as I can be, but obviously this isn’t infinitely sustainable.  All I know, regardless of what happens later this week, or next month, there are people in the park with me, right now, who need help.  And I can finally see it.  ~ Audrey.

When I encounter my comrades from previous campaigns or people new to me who are immersed in this Occupy project, I am struck by how unaware many are of their own heroism.  The physical/emotional/psychological toll, not only from the daily logistical demands of the encampment, but also from working through tedious matters of group process and complex issues around oppression, seems to have left many of them unable to appreciate what a profound thing they have already achieved.

Since Occupy Olympia’s first days of occupation, there have been dozens of tents, usually between 110 and 150.  A recent survey conservatively estimated between 60 and 70 homeless residents are currently living at the encampment.  One may alternately view the profound sight of this encampment in downtown Olympia as either a source of inspiration or a visible gaping wound exposing our society’s massive shortcomings.

The encampment began on October 15, 2011 in Sylvester Park, a state-owned park in the center of town.  A couple days later the encampment moved to Heritage Park which is an extension of the Capitol campus.  From the beginning at least two meals per day have been served and the medic tent has been staffed around the clock.  There are currently a number of wood-framed structures.

From the outset it may have appeared that the state was benevolently accommodating the occupiers, providing 24-hour open restrooms and electricity.  But the truth is that the People Power and popular support behind the movement gave the state little choice but to cooperate.

The state has asked Olympia occupiers to voluntarily leave on multiple occasions but has thus far not threatened a forced eviction.  Occupy Olympia sent the following letter to the state official responsible for managing Capitol properties:

November 13, 2011

Joyce Turner
Director, Department of Enterprise Services

Dear Ms. Turner,

We are Occupy Olympia. We are peaceful people, and we love this land. We care enough to take critical action on behalf of 99 percent of our citizenry.

We appreciate the fact that the Department of Enterprise Services wishes to, and is willing to accommodate our freedom of speech interests. It is critical that this protection be honored.

The tents in Heritage Park make a statement for the entire world to see.  The tents are our core free speech message. We are occupying with great visibility to get this message across with simplicity. Many of us are guided by the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in our peaceful protest, exercising our First Amendment rights.

Through the visibility of our tents, we send the message that the 99 percent will not be ignored. We are working people, we are the unemployed. We are homeowners. We are the homeless, the poor, veterans and the disabled. Most of all, we are the people, and we stand united. We are people who are taking action against apathy and standing up for what is right in the name of social justice.

We will continue to work with you to protect these free speech interests represented by our tents, and stand with you in standing up against the greedy destruction caused by the few.

Our tents send a message of solidarity and symbolize this message in a very strong visual manner.

Yours Truly,

Occupy Olympia

Occupy Olympia now seems on the verge of making a transition; the encampment in its current form may not last much longer.  Regardless of what comes next, what has taken place in this small community is profound and heroic; it is an amazing story that deserves to be told.  What follows here are a few highlights which have been documented along the way:

Occupy Olympia on the edge of Capitol Lake, Nov 2011:

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Occupy Olympia on Dec 10, 2011:

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Orange Occupy Supply hats are worn by Occupy Olympia Peace & Safety team members as part of their “uniforms,” Dec 2011:

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Another happy Occupy Olympia recipient of a toasty Occupy Supply hat, Dec 2011:

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Keeping our faces warm at Occupy Olympia thanks to Occupy Supply, Dec 2011:

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Early days of Occupy Olympia: green grass and sunny skies:

Occupy Olympia, feels like revolution, Oct 2011:

Occupy Olympia, Woodchips  Nov 2011:

Occupy Olympia, Drive by, Nov 2011:

Danny Kelly singing at Occupy Seattle, “We are here,” Come to Olympia, Nov 13:

Occupy Olympia happy campers, Nov 2011:

Happy Campers

Occupy Olympia medic tent, Dec 2011:

Med Tent Scene

Snowy, muddy Occupy Olympia encampment, Nov 2011:

Saturday Morning

Occupy Olympia — Spreading woodchips and mulch to deal with the mud, Nov 2011:

Yay Team

Local carpenter Rod Tharp builds structure for Occupy Olympia, Nov 2011:

STructure

Occupy Olympia General Assembly, Nov 2011:

Sunday General Assembly (starts at 1pm)

Occupy Olympia laundry pile ready to be taken for washing, Nov 2011:

Laundry Pile

Making art at Occupy Olympia, Nov 2011:

barnraise

Occupy Olympia One Face at a Time, Nov 2011: