Support for Occupy Seattle Swells

Story by Sam Bernstein

SEATTLE -- Occupy Seattle received a major boost on Saturday as supporters from the community and organized labor came out for a large rally and march in Westlake Plaza, the site of the ongoing encampment.

Following an antiwar rally Friday evening that brought hundreds out to mark the 10th anniversary of the war on Afghanistan, the Saturday rally brought thousands more out to show their solidarity and check out the Occupy Seattle encampment--most of them for the first time.

The rally was planned months in advance to commemorate Indigenous Peoples' Day, but as soon as Occupy Seattle sprung up, organizers opened it up to the Occupy Seattle movement. As labor unions and community groups began endorsing Occupy Seattle, they made this rally the first focal point for mobilizing their memberships in support of Occupy Seattle.

SEIU Local 925, representing 23,000 workers in Washington State--mostly at the University of Washington, sent an email to their entire membership urging them to get involved. "These courageous young activists have given us all a shot of inspiration and hope that we can indeed turn this country around," they wrote. The King County Labor Council also urged its 75,000 members to participate.

"Labor organizations have a huge responsibility in stepping up and helping out people that don't have a voice," Pedro Espinoza, a member of the carpenters union, told Q13 Fox News.

The rally had a festival-like atmosphere as people listened to speeches, circulated through the encampment, checked out information and literature tables, discussed politics, made signs at the arts and crafts station, and danced in the drum circle.

Louise was at Occupy Seattle for the first time. "I came out to show my support for this movement. I've been following it on the news, Twitter, and Facebook, but haven't been able to come down yet because of work and my family."

She was excited about the movement because "it can hopefully make those people in three-piece suits realize that this economy is hurting real people. My husband has been unemployed for 22 months. We have four kids, one is autistic." Without health insurance, Louise's family has had to rely on the state's Basic Health Plan for low-income families--a program that the Seattle Times recently argued should be eliminated in order to cover a looming $2 billion state budget shortfall. 

No matter what her family does, Louise feels like there's no way to get ahead. "I've been a massage therapist for 15 years, but after the financial crash, my business dried up. No one has money to spend on that kind of thing. Now I'm working two part-time jobs, seven days a week. My husband went back to school and got a project management certification but has still had no luck getting hired. He just wants a job! How unreasonable is that? This isn't where we thought we'd be at 50 years old."

Many speakers at the rally addressed the larger context of growing corporate greed, political corruption, massive inequality, and the vicious attacks on working people. "The 1% is extraordinarily rich because the 99% is struggling," said Jesse Hagopian, a teacher at Garfield High school and member of Social Equality Educators and the International Socialist Organization. "There's a secret that the 1% doesn't want us to know: the 99% creates all the wealth in this society. While the 1% needs us, we don't need them! Teachers can teach without the 1%. Nurses can heal without the 1%. Longshoremen can handle cargo without the 1%."

Following the rally, over 2000 people marched on the sidewalks to the Bank of America Tower where a very spirited rally and speak-out was held. On the way back to Westlake Plaza for the day's General Assembly, the un-permitted march took to the streets chanting "99 to 1--They don't stand a chance!" and "Whose streets? Our streets!"

As the march approached Westlake Plaza, the police had blocked the street in such a way that it would be very difficult for people to actually enter Westlake. With the march stopped in the intersection of 4th & Pike--one of the busiest intersections in Seattle--everyone decided to sit down and hold the General Assembly in the street.

While the police scrambled to figure out what to do, demonstrators publicly and democratically debated the merits of getting arrested in an act of mass nonviolent civil disobedience. Given the lack of structure and reliance on consensus decision-making in the movement, the question of whether or not to hold the General Assembly in the street was voted on, re-voted, and voted on again.

Following twenty minutes of debate and voting while sitting-in in the intersection, participants ultimately decided to get up and proceed into Westlake Plaza to hold the General Assembly. A handful of demonstrators stayed in the intersection with two ultimately being arrested. Still, the energy and size of the march as well as the power everyone felt while sitting down in the street was a big step forward for Occupy Seattle and the new activists it's creating.

"This is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen," said Zack Pattin, a 25-year-old longshoreman from Tacoma who has been sleeping out at Occupy Seattle.

"Just like the Longview ILWU struggle this is exactly the kind of thing we need to revitalize the working-class movement. It's an open movement, it has broad appeal, and it is passing radical politics to different sections of the 99%. It's absolutely crucial that the working class, working poor, and unemployed get involved and speak out to shape this movement. I only see it snowballing from here."

Louse agreed: "I'm so psyched about this movement. I love the energy, the creativity, the democracy. It's like the civil rights movement--politicians are going to have to start listening. We can change how politics and business are done--not just here but all over the world because this is a global thing. Multinational corporations control the world and this all started with the Arab Spring. I think we'll look back on this moment and see the beginnings of a massive movement for change. It's just so exciting to be a part of it!"