A simplified reading of a new poll shows that a near-majority of Americans agree with the issues the Occupy movement is protesting even as they disapprove of how those protests are being conducted. But if today's planned Occupy Seattle protest at the site of a future Capitol Hill condo building is any indication, America's disapproval of Occupy's methods will soon be equaled by its annoyance at who they choose as targets.
Thanks to Capitol Hill Seattle's excellent run-down on the protest, I can tell you that "the 36,000 square-foot, 1904 warehouse has recently been home to wine business Cork House, which lasted one year in the space, the Museum of the Mysteries, which left last fall, Black Label Spirits, which was gone from the space before it started, and the Capoeira and Brazilian dance infused Union Cultural Center."
For our purposes, it's important to note that that last business, the recently departed cultural center, wasn't (again, from CHS) "a community center on par with something like the Miller Community Center." In other words, for the purposes of bringing people together in the same room with no eye for profit, it was good, but not great.
So then, time to hear from the protesters, yes? Here's what they sent CHS in a Facebook message on Wednesday. (All bolds mine.)
On Friday December 16th, there will be a rally at 5:15 outside of Seattle Central Community College to highlight the issue of for-profit development and gentrification in the neighborhood.It'd make my argument stronger if I could know exactly how many of the people who plan to participate in this "fight for community over capital" actually live in the community which is begrudgingly hosting their bout.
It will be followed by a march to the 10th and Union Warehouse at 6 pm. The plans for demolition of this warehouse will be taking place within a month. The 10th and Union area will make way for a 20% affordable or 80% unaffordable 79 unit, 6 story apartment complex over ground floor retail.
According to the Multi-Family Tax Exemption Plan, developers will be exempt from paying property taxes for 12 years if 20-30% of their units are set aside as "affordable" at rents between $850-1100/month. Unfortunately, "affordable" caters to individuals who earn at least 65% of the Seattle median income. Most tenants in Seattle earn 55% of the median income, which means the rents are priced hundreds of dollars above what most people and especially low-income people can afford. In short, these are not affordable rents. Furthermore, who really suffers at the hand of these tax exemptions? At the rate developers are participating in the program, by 2013, the Multi-Family Tax Exemption will cost taxpayers 150 million dollars. Ultimately, our tax dollars are subsidizing apartments that are unaffordable for the majority of people in Seattle, allowing developers to make huge profits at taxpayers expense, and neglecting those who are truly in need of low-income housing.
This warehouse has also recently served as a site of contest. On December 3rd, around 4 a.m., fourteen participants of Occupy Seattle were arrested in the warehouse at 10th and Union during an action to reclaim public space. In the face of the recent slew of closures and cuts to libraries, community centers, and other public spaces, they sought to restore the warehouse, formerly the Union Cultural Center, to its use as a "supportive educational space for teaching, sharing and creating vibrant culture".
This protest is to further mobilize the community in a fight for public spaces as well as a halt to the unaffordable developments taking place. This is a fight for community over capital.
But since I can't possibly know that, I'll just repeat, again, that within a very short stroll of this warehouse, soon-to-be sacrificed as a gift to the pagan God of gentrification, is an immaculate showroom where, for roughly $150,000 (base price; taxes not included), you can purchase a two-door Italian sports car with 570 horsepower and a hydrating cream specifically made to treat its interior leather.
Leave aside for a moment that if the Occupiers were farmers they would yell at you for not closing the barn door years after the runaway horse had died. More important is that this protest is just plain stupid.
Who exactly gets hurt by the introduction of new apartments, luxury or otherwise? Not people currently renting in Capitol Hill, whose landlords will be forced to contend with more competition. And not the fictional, low-income strivers being forced out of the only homes they can afford, because in this instance they don't exist.
Gentrification is a slippery, greased weasel of a word that people can't seem to keep a firm grip on even while they insist that it proves their point. So alluring is it to the young, impressionable mind which insists there must be one reason for all the world's ills, that it was banned as a subject at the writing fellowship that I took a few summers ago; the professors who ran the show were so fed up at having to explain to us soft-headed rubes that, yes, there were actual advantages to having people wealthier than you move in next door, that they decided to eliminate the possibility of the subject even coming up.
It's probably naive to think that the kind of people who would protest the demolishing of a mostly abandoned warehouse care about what other people say about them to a pollster. But since they keep insisting that they're doing this for us, maybe they should.