(submitted via email, hyperlinks provided by TOF)
Open Letter To Dominic Holden
I am writing this letter to you in order to clarify a few points that may have been missed along the way. Much time has elapsed and memory is short all around, but I want to revisit a few moments in recent Seattle history.
Two years ago, almost exactly, the Occupy movement quickly spread across the United States. It was a moment no one had experienced since the anti-war movement in 2003, although it was more similar in form to the anti-globalization movement that existed from 1999 to 2001.
The anti-WTO protest in Seattle was the seminal event that triggered the emergent global movement. Everyone who contributed to the anti-WTO protests in Seattle, whether they marched, burnt, wrote, chanted, filmed, heckled, observed, sang, danced, or reveled, was a maker of history, a participant in something far grander than themselves. It was a movement to save the planet from global capitalism that carried the promise of victory. Unfortunately the events of September 11th, 2001, inaugurated the nightmare world of surveillance and ecological devastation we live in today. Now we can all see how important that moment truly was and what it could have meant for the planet.
The Occupy movement was no less important. When it appeared in Seattle there was an outpouring of support I couldn’t believe was real. Across divisions that were vast only weeks before, there was now a polyvalent movement bringing rhythm, life, and struggle to the middle of Downtown. There was so much promise there that it really sucked to hear so many people arguing about the police. Night after night, the police would enforce insane laws banning umbrellas and sitting on blankets, arrest and beat people, and generally act like real sick people. All of this, you’ll remember, with mayor McGinn nodding his wise gray head. And still, night after night, the general assembly of Occupy Seattle would argue with each other about whether the police should be respected. Very frustrating, but by the end of the first month, pretty much everyone had their minds changed about the police. But not quite everyone.
From what I remember, you were a little upset about how mean people were to the police. Now that I actually look up an article you wrote back then, I find some stuff like this: “the anarchists and agitators that we’ve heard about—people driven by an anti-cop agenda—were silent or absent at the assembly. That said, plenty of people I spoke to were concerned by the persistent division between organizers looking for sustainable occupation and anti-authority types seeking dramatic displays.” The more I sift through all of these articles you wrote, I see that you really had a lot of animosity towards the people in Occupy Seattle who hated the police because of the murders they have committed, the beatings they have inflicted, and the jails they have thrown people into.
Let’s take a look at another one of your articles on the SLOG. When things were really getting nasty, rainy, and fragile, you helped cause some more divisions with words like these: “In a nutshell, lots of people who have supported and camped with Occupy Seattle are getting fed up with a radical, anti-cop contingent of protesters. These folks who have contacted us—including some who slept on the pavement and risked arrest—say these agitators are swooping into meetings and forming a contingent that uses incendiary rhetoric aimed at police.”
See, back then, a lot of people in the assembly were saying that the police enforce the laws of the 1%, attack communities of color, and cannot be reformed. By a lot I mean at least 100. That was the size of the core that consistently went to events that were overt in their antagonism towards capitalism and its police. But it was way more than 100 people, because the Occupy Seattle encampment itself was largely filled with people who were poor, lived on the street, and were quite familiar with the thousands of little abuses the police put people through every day. After a while, it seemed like the little group of 100 was voicing the concerns of the people in the camp (wanting no police, wanting shelter, wanting freedom) while people like you continued to voice the concerns of the comfortable, the not-poor, the housed, and the fed. The anti-police sentiment and the incendiary rhetoric was never the product of a small clique, it was a natural reaction to years of abuse.
The more I look at these SLOG articles, the more I see you were against these people. And this surprises me, given that you recently have been writing a whole lot about a negative experience you had with the police. You admit that far worse happens to other people at the hands of the police every day, which is appreciated, but it doesn’t read right to me. Why did it take you so long to realize such a simple thing? The police view the population as an insurgency base and treat select civilians with a baseline of suspicion and scorn.
All of those evil people in Occupy Seattle had been expressing their total distrust and animosity towards the police, but back then you thought they were scum who stunk of BO. You wrote them off as insane extremists who alienated normal people like you from the movement. And now that you’ve had a truly negative experience with the police, you are ready to take your first steps towards presenting a critique of the police.
I’ve noticed you still think police in general are okay, they just need to have better oversight. In this, you typify what is wrong with the people in the United States: it’s okay to be a little against something only when you feel comfortable and only if it maintains the status quo. When there were hundreds of people taking to the streets in defiance of the police, you condemned them, you blamed them, you demonized them. And in the end, you wrote off the Occupy movement entirely.
The Seattle Police Department was something we all could have tackled together and was a far more realistic target than the big banks that, as you well know, are still coming up with record profits. I’ve been thrown to the ground and kicked in the ribs repeatedly by the SPD. Every single one of my friends has been beaten and jailed by the SPD at some point in their life. Some of my friends have received broken bones, large lacerations, and neck damage from their violence. Recently, one of my friends even had a run-in with another psychotic transit sheriff who almost hauled her off to jail for accidentally walking on the SODO Busway.
A few of my friends have received some money through lawsuits, but the rest have learned to live with the reality that the police can do whatever they want and get away with it, including murder. I suppose we deserve it and are just bad people, but hey, I’m glad you’re finally stepping out of your shell a little bit and helping us out. As you said, it’s not really news to anyone that the police are real shitty, but that Stranger cover with your cop pics on it was great!
All this is to say that we only have a few a few chances to change our worlds. The potential exists every day, but there are specific moments when everyone begins to rise together, wake from the hypnosis of everyday life, and learn to fight back against abuse and oppression. Occupy Seattle was dirty and crazy, but it was filled with promise, a promise of a world that doesn’t look like that Capitol Hill that exists now in 2013. It’s getting really bad, really fast. I don’t know what to say. When I look back at the winter of 2011, I feel heartbreak and love at the same time. We could have done anything, and in the end we could only do exactly what we did, nothing more. I wish we could have reduced the SPD into a clerical staff, I wish we could have abolished rent, I wish we could have held onto a building and then taken another. Seattle changed because of what we all did, and even though the machinery of capitalism is still chugging along, the lines between the oppressors and the oppressed are clearer now than they were before. We know that we can seize and occupy, and hopefully next time we’ll have roofs and heating rather than tents and rain.
We only have a few chances in our life to act together, to be together, to see each other and learn how to live together in world without oppression. We’ll get our chance again, sooner rather than later, so let’s all get our act together for the next round. It’s coming soon, I assure you. So, Dominic, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We are an image from the future,