Due to debris cleanup and the reseeding of Heritage park’s grass, the Occupy Olympia encampment has cost the Department of Enterprise Services, the state agency responsible for cleaning the former campsite at Heritage Park, $24,000; a number that is projected to rise over the course of the repairs.
After living at Heritage Park for about a month Robert Whitlock, Occupy Olympia member, grew sick due to the harsh winter elements, he said. To him, the eviction on the morning of Dec. 16 was “bittersweet”.
“I was sad to see [the camp] go away,” Whitlock said, “but at the same time we didn’t have the resources to deal with camp issues and maintain structure. I began to no longer feel safe or willing to spend time there.”
Whitlock said that this was not due to a lack of support for Occupy ideals, but because protesters with, “severe issues,” were not being taken care of properly.
These, “issues,” ranged from various medical needs to drug abuse, a problem confirmed by the Department of Enterprise Services.
According to Enterprise Services department member Jennifer Reynolds, workers cleaning the park have disposed of items ranging from simple garbage to hypodermic needles and crack pipes.
Still, Whitlock remains positive about the momentum of the movement.
“General Assembly attendance has remained strong…and I remain optimistic for increasing attendance in the future,” he said.
Some students at South Puget Sound Community College are not as sure about Occupy’s future, or its legacy.
Hannah Leib, an SPSCC student said, “Their original idea was a commendable American idea, but I believe the actual protest process has failed.”
Leib has been to both Occupy Portland and Occupy Olympia. She said the negative impact of the camps in both locations damaged the effectiveness of the Occupy message.
“The camps were primarily filled with hobos who did nothing to advance the cause. It wasn’t taken seriously,” said Leib.
During the eviction process in December, police discovered protesters had moved into the abandoned Thurston County Board of Health building the night before the deadline. It was a project that had been under discussion for some time according to General Assembly minutes.
According to Occupy member Alicia Hilgers, the 20 or so persons inside had intended to convert the building into the Rachel Corrie Community Center.
According to Hilgers, Occupy members wanted to make use of the building since it was going to waste in its abandoned state. The center would have been a key step in fostering community empowerment and unity; some of the central goals of the movement.
Despite the failure of the community center project, or doubts about the movement’s future effectiveness, Occupy Olympia members are not demoralized in the least.
According to Whitlock, the protesters have now formed groups, each working on new plans for future action.
One plan is for an Occupy Solidarity Social Forum set to take place Feb. 18 and 19 in downtown Olympia. The forum will be made up of various workshops focused around the local and national Occupy movements.
“We are hoping for good local attendance as well as people from Occupy movements in California and New York,” said Whitlock, “just because we are in Olympia doesn’t mean we aren’t a part of Occupy protests across the nation.”
Whitlock also encourages fellow Occupy members and supporters to, “keep the faith,” as the protest moves forward.
Currently, in solidarity with fellow protesters nationwide, the Occupy Olympia members continue to hold General Assemblies on the Capitol Campus and at the First Christian Church.
The movement also hosts its own radio program, “The 99% Report,” Fridays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Free Radio Olympia 98.5 FM. The show is hosted by DJ 99 and DJ Marmalade who provide commentary on current news within the Occupy community.
Photo courtesy of David Anthony Wood