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Demonstrators Occupy Westlake In Weekend Protest Action

Bryan Buckalew

City officials are enforcing the no–camping rules at Seattle's Westlake Park this morning. Several hundred demonstrators were camped out there over the weekend in defiance of Mayor Mike McGinn's request they vacate the park at night. Police have started taking down the tents this morning. The demonstrations have been going on downtown for over two weeks. KUOW's Bryan Buckalew followed two protestors over the weekend, and brings us this profile.


Greg Plancich is at Westlake Park because he has thousands of dollars of school debt and no prospects for a good job.

Plancich: "I'm here to fight for economic justice and economic equality. So many students here are tens of thousands of dollars in debt and we can't find a job, and the jobs we do find are minimum wage jobs."

He recently graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia with a degree in History and Literature. That's where he met his friend Devin Matthews–Jensen. He graduated with a degree in History and Economics and can't find a job either. Devin tells me they've been coming to Westlake for a week, often staying up all night.

Matthews–Jensen: "I came down here about a week ago thinking I was just going to check it out and I've been coming back every day ever since. It's very communal and everybody works together to make it through these cold nights. Bring food to each other. Take care of each other. Watch each other's backs. "

Greg was busy pitching his tent on the concrete pavers at Westlake Park.

Bryan Buckalew: "Have you ever camped in a city square before?"

Plancich: "I haven't camped in a city square before. This is a first time for everything. I spent the night here, but I was awake. But now I've pitched a tent and I'm ready to brave the cold."

As we stand talking, other tents go up around us. Seattle Police have been arresting demonstrators who tried to camp. Campers tied their tents together to make it more difficult for police to carry them off should it came to that. Greg and Devin wrote their names and phone numbers on their rain flys. One of the demonstration's legal advisors came around collecting names and phone numbers.

Buckalew: "Are you worried about being arrested tonight?"

Matthews–Jensen: "Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. And I hope not to be. But that's why we're trying to get as many people as possible to come down, to make it an impenetrable mass of people."

Plancich: "I don't want to be arrested. But this is civil disobedience. This is political action here. If I need to be arrested to affect political change, I'm willing."

As more and more tents pop up across the park, Greg and Devin grow more confident in their decision to camp. As it grows dark, demonstrators gather for what's called a General Assembly. It's basically a large, free–form meeting. Demonstrators can stand up and give comments, ask questions or raise concerns.

Matthews–Jensen: "I checked it out for a while. Today is more of a formal General Assembly than most days because there's too many people to make any major decisions. It's more of a pep rally sort of for the night. "

Two major questions pervade most discussions: "Do you think police will make arrests?" And, "What's our next step?" Opinions are as diverse as the crowd. I ask Greg and Devin:

Buckalew: "How important is the physical place to the movement do you think?"

Plancich: "Well, occupying Westlake is symbolic. The mayor has offered to put us into City Hall. But City Hall would be shoving us out of the way. It's a much smaller area."

Matthews–Jensen: "Part of the reason Westlake is an important place to be at is because it's the financial center, more or less, of Seattle. To move to another place, once we've been invited by the mayor, or if the police suggest we move, it's really a sign of weakness. And once we start acquiescing to the demands of the authority that we are trying to speak to, then we lose a lot of steam."

Buckalew: "Do you think that's it? Do you think it would be like, you know, losing face? Like backing down?"

Matthews–Jensen: "I think that would definitely be a big part of it."

As it turns out, Greg and Devin never had to choose whether to stay or go. As park closing time came and passed, rumors flew: the Parks Department was going to try to clean up the space, then they weren't. The police were here and then gone. But maybe they were going to come back in force?

As midnight Saturday approached, it became clear that park rules were not going to be enforced, and campers were going to be allowed to stay. A drum circle gained steam. Boxes and boxes of pizza filtered through the crowd. I asked Greg if a few years ago he would have imagined himself involved in something like this.

Plancich: "I would not say I'm radical at all. But I'm much more radical now that when I first came to college."

Devin says the "Occupy Seattle" demonstration is many things.

Matthews–Jensen: "Exciting, empowering. Yeah. It's ... I'm not quite sure the right word to use. Because it's still work, you know. You're exhausted. You're voice is hoarse. But it's definitely exhilarating. I guess exhilarating is a good word to use."

On Sunday I asked Devin if he planned to camp again. He replied that he was headed home to do some job searching, but planned to return to Westlake that night. Greg said he planned to camp again, too.

For KUOW News, I'm Bryan Buckalew.

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