Filed under: Community Organizing, Editorials, Gentrification, Housing, Northwest, Repression
The following statement comes from the Olympia Solidarity Network, and pushes back against the claims made by local property owners and politicians, who have attempted to label the community organizing group “terrorist.”
Lately, Olympia Solidarity Network has been subject to increasingly normalized slander through a highly liberal application of the term “terrorism.” Downtown business/property owners, Olympia residents and Olympia City Council member, Lisa Parshley, have all directly participated in this jingoistic smear campaign. These claims have been amplified by The Olympian and right-wing talk radio station KVI. Both of these media platforms interviewed Amy Evans, of real estate firm Kidder Mathews. She has largely originated the local terrorism panic. Much of the fear-mongering has been in response to OlySol’s use of patrol disruptions, a tactic which yielded success in the campaign to suspend the anti-homeless Downtown Safety Team security scheme. However, comments on social media alluded to OlySol’s supposed “terroristic,” “threatening” and “bullying” tendencies long before even this tactic was used.
OlySol’s disruptions of the Downtown Safety Team nightly patrols have been labeled “terrorism” despite the fact that they were clear legal expressions of first amendment rights. When Amy Evans was asked on KVI what kind of threats were made to the guards during the disruptions, Amy Evans admitted that she did not actually know of any examples. No physical altercations occurred and no one was harmed during these disruptions. The same cannot be said about the Downtown Safety Team’s efforts. These efforts inflicted harm upon houseless people by sweeping alcoves and actively contributing to cycles of displacement and criminalization that cause adverse effects to their health and wellbeing. Moreover, OlySol and CopWatch members experienced assault on multiple occasions from Safety Team guards while attempting to legally monitor their activity. OlySol does not dispute claims that Safety Team guards felt uncomfortable during the disruptions. However, terrorism isn’t reducible to discomfort and if it were the term’s pervasiveness would yield it inconsequential.
The use of masks by demonstrators has largely been cited as evidence of terrorism. It is true that many demonstrators wore masks and costumes. It is also true that some of these people wore black clothing. However, many chose not to protect their identity. Everyone has their individual motivations for wanting to remain anonymous, but the widespread use of masks was largely motivated by attempts to falsely incriminate demonstrators in the past by the former Safety Team, the Downtown Ambassadors, and the Olympia Police Department. There is still one demonstrator facing trumped up felony charges stemming from a patrol disruption in October. Rather than spend months or years unexpectedly navigating the legal system due to false accusations, many opted to protect their identities.
As is often the case, the term “terrorism” is employed as an expression of hysteria and desperation. Divorced from any consistent and meaningful definition, “terrorism” is used solely to condemn, skirting further critical investigation. “Terrorists” become the scapegoat, preventing the exposure of more fundamental, underlying social issues. At its worst, “terrorism” is the justification for incarcerating the innocent, torturing detainees, and slaughtering civilian populations.
In the context of OlySol’s Safe Sleep campaign, it is important to not only analyze OlySol’s conduct but also the nature and content of the campaign’s subjects, the Downtown Safety Team particularly and the downtown business class generally.
Before the disruptions, OlySol used tactics such as demand deliveries, phone zaps, postering campaigns and street theater. These tactics were labeled as “threatening” and “bullying” on social media and by Olympia Downtown Alliance director, Todd Cutts. These tactics were perfectly legal expressions of first amendment rights. The question of whether OlySol exhibited such behaviors is not the real question though. What should be asked is who initiated the cycle of such behavior and relations? OlySol did not initiate the mass displacement of houseless people from one of the few and inadequate options for safer sleeping. OlySol did not hire muscle to threaten and bully people who often do not have the means to access consistent shelter. OlySol does not mobilize large groups of business/property owners to City Council meetings to threaten and bully elected representatives to in turn act as the bullies toward the houseless on behalf of the business class. What should one do if they, their friends and/or their family were being categorized as undesirable by a connected and influential class of people and then slated for removal by them? Why are small business/local property owners exempt from criticisms, even as they systematically exhibit the behavior they accuse others of?
Right-wingers online have gleefully taken advantage of the escalating rhetoric of “terrorism” to level death threats against OlySol members and houseless people. Comments on social media have suggested far-right and notoriously violent vigilante groups, posses, and mercenaries assume downtown security patrols in lieu of the former Safety Team. There have also been calls for OlySol members to be “hauled off”, “cleansed” from downtown, shot in the streets, and suppressed with fire hoses. One person claiming to be a business owner expressed interest in forming a patrol with “relaxed rules of engagement” and “Sherman’s type of warfare.” Local business owner Casey Carlson is one commenter who called for mercenaries and cleansing. There has also been a call to starve the houseless, to let them all overdose, and “send the bums packing” regardless if “a few get hurt in the process” in response to the OlySol campaign. Also in response, local landlord Darin Richards has stated, “Push those worthless bums into the sound #crabfood.”
Another instance of reported violence originating from the business class was perpetrated by Brad Beadle, the owner of Pizza Time’s downtown Olympia location, and two others at a meeting primarily attended by business/property owners and ODA representatives. They physically attacked an individual at the meeting assuming this lone person was protesting it. This person had arrived to the meeting late and was silently observing until he attracted the attention of attendees who thought he should not be there. The vast majority of business/property owners who witnessed the attack felt emboldened enough to lie to police and say the observer initiated the assault. The police released all involved parties since the vast majority of statements made to them contradicted the physical evidence of the assault.
Accusations of terrorism leveled at OlySol have served to legitimize threats of violence and violence against anyone who even appears to oppose the business class’ agenda. It is an attempt to limit freedom of expression and speech with the threat of violent retaliation from the state, vigilantes, and the business class. It is a damaging trend for all those who seek to stand up for themselves and others in the face of injustice and disregard. It should not be tolerated by anyone who wishes to see significant movement from the status quo in this society and the world.