Analysis and report on the ongoing campaign in Downtown Olympia to fight gentrification, displacement, and closing off of public space.
Olympia Solidarity Network (OlySol) has moved forward with its campaign against anti-homeless security contracts held between downtown Olympia businesses and the private security firm, Pacific Coast Security (PCS). A couple dozen business owners, property managers and building owners contract with Pacific Coast Security in a scheme facilitated by “business advocacy” group, Olympia Downtown Alliance (ODA), called the “Downtown Safety Team.”
This is the video of the #olympiawell protest I talked about in my earlier post. It shows two arrests that the police allege are for assaulting police officers. The first woman was grabbed while trying to get back to the other protesters. The second, a 59 year old man who spoke little English, can be seen being shot in the back before pepper balls while he was sitting on the edge of a planter, his back to the police. They then pulled him on the ground before arresting him. How was that necessary?If anyone has more footage of any of the arrests or police actions I would love to see them.
Posted by Orion Canning on Tuesday, September 25, 2018
PCS guards hired for this scheme perform nightly patrols from 8PM to 12AM and trespass and displace people sleeping in the alcoves or other parts of property owned by participating parties. On September 5th, 30 OlySol members and supporters delivered demand letters to two businesses that contract with PCS, Harlequin Productions and Cooper Realty/Orca Construction, demanding contract cancellation. Letters were also issued to other participating businesses, property managers and building owners, noting that if their contracts aren’t cancelled they too could be subject to a campaign.
When after 14 days neither Harlequin Productions or Cooper Realty/Orca Construction nor any other participating party issued contract cancellation OlySol immediately resumed action. In the last couple weeks OlySol has done the following.
September 19th: Harlequin and Cooper Realty/Orca Construction Postering
Upon 14 days following the demand deliveries, OlySol organized a poster campaign targeting the two businesses. Posters discouraging consumers from patronizing the enterprises were placed throughout downtown and adjacent to the offices of Cooper Realty/Orca Construction.
September 29th: Street Theater and Leafleting at Harlequin’s Annual Gala
Harlequin Production’s annual gala is the theater’s largest fundraising event. This year, the gala was visited by ten OlySol members and supporters. Leaflets were distributed to the gala’s attendees while a number of others staged an improvised and humorous skit portraying PCS guards sweeping people sleeping on the ground. The action was concluded with an anti-PCS song sung collectively by the group, eliciting the slamming of the propped open front door by an apparent gala organizer.
October 2nd: Cooper Realty/Orca Construction Phone Zap
Thanks to promotion from It’s Going Down and on social media, OlySol held a successful phone zap of Cooper Realty/Orca Construction, flooding the business’ phone lines for the day. Although less flashy, phone zaps are easily executed and can yield tangible effects by disrupting business-as-usual for targets.
October 4th: Picket at Harlequin Productions
Over 40 people dressed in a diverse array of costumes and otherwise funky attire staged a festive picket outside of Harlequin Productions. The picket occurred 30 minutes before the opening of a new show at the theater. Demonstrators distributed pamphlets and leaflets about the security contracts, banged on drums and shouted chants. Some chants included, “Cancel the contract, or we’ll be back!” and “Stop the sweeps, stop the sweeps, PCS off our streets!”
October 4th: Mass Copwatch and Disruption of Pacific Coast Security’s Nightly Patrol
Immediately following the picket, the demonstration moved to confront PCS guards beginning their nightly patrol shift at 8PM in a comical and playful but highly disruptive direct action. Upon notice of the impending demonstration, PCS guards did an about-face and started to return to the office of the Olympia Downtown Alliance, where PCS guards take breaks and begin and end shifts.
Demonstrators than marched around the block where ODA is headquartered before settling on the sidewalks adjacent to the two entrances of the building, occasionally taking notice of the two security guards lurking in the hallway. Around 10PM, with the protest dwindling, officers from Olympia Police Department and Thurston County Sheriff’s Department, including some clad in riot gear advanced toward the protest. PCS guards were then escorted to police vehicles and driven away. The protest dispersed, satisfied with preventing PCS from performing nightly patrols for nearly 2 hours.
Pacific Coast Security is headquartered in Tacoma, WA and provides services throughout the south Puget Sound region. PCS (like other private security forces) is distinct from but complementary to state-operated police departments. PCS guards have the power to trespass people sleeping or sitting in alcoves and alleyways but must call upon Olympia Police Department (OPD) to perform arrests of trespassed individuals.
The recent increase in contracts between downtown businesses and Pacific Coast Security has been encouraged and facilitated by the Olympia Downtown Alliance (ODA). ODA is a self-described “business advocacy” organization whose actions constitute a significant political force for gentrification in the city. While ODA doesn’t directly financially subsidize contracts, the group provides technical assistance and other conveniences that incentivize businesses to contract with PCS. Disturbingly, nightly patrols by PCS guards have been effective in driving many homeless people out of the core of downtown and into encampments on the periphery of downtown, or further into the city’s eastern and western neighborhoods. Out of downtown, homeless residents have a harder time accessing necessary services.
The PCS contracts highlight the current contradictory trends regarding responses to homelessness in Olympia. On the one hand, as Olympia gentrifies there is strong pressure from the city government and business owners to displace and criminalize the hundreds of homeless people who call Olympia home. On the other hand, persistent direct action and mutual aid organizing from homeless solidarity activists has forced the city government to concede on some issues. Recently, the city council passed resolutions to open limited legal camping sites and allocate funding for a day center and other services. As minimal as these reforms are, they have provoked outrage among Olympia’s local ruling class, hence business owners increasingly utilizing PCS security services. More recently, the city government has taken more repressive and criminalizing measures against the downtown homeless population.
Firstly, attempts were made to evict three downtown encampments, all of which were indefinitely stayed due to the potential legal implications of the Martin V. City of Boise case of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Secondly, the city continues to enforce a variety of ordinances to displace people sitting or lying on sidewalks, sleeping in tents and living in vehicles. Tensions flared to new heights when Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation Director Paul Simmons issued the unilateral decision to shutter the Artesian Commons, a local park and important home and hang-out for street youth in particular. These measures, but especially the park closure, has sparked marches, sit-ins, new mutual aid projects and a large and festive direct action that successfully temporarily re-opened the Artesian Commons, culminating in street confrontations and multiple arrests.
For more on recent resistance efforts, we suggest the following articles:
As conflicts over homelessness and access to public space heighten, OlySol is well equipped to intervene in the broader homeless solidarity movement in Olympia. With a track record of successfully combating stolen deposits, wage theft and refused repairs, a consistent capacity to mobilize community members, and politicize working-class people in the process, OlySol can help advance a viable, direct action-based strategic approach within the movement.