Early last Wednesday, as the Occupy cehkc protest camped out in Westlake Park, a steady rain soaked me to the bone. Despite the plastic sheet that covered my mat and sleeping bag and the heavy tarp that someone added during the night, by 3 a.m. it was clear that sleep was futile.
By Seattle standards, this was a nice night: low 50s and no wind with a light rain. "This," I thought, as I lay in my wet bag, "is fucking miserable."
I got up. Between the six large tents and all the people on the ground outside, I counted about 100 of us. There was a guy upright in a wheelchair with an umbrella and a blanket, and a bunch of kids who looked like they probably didn't have anywhere else to go. The Sani-Can smelled like wino breath. A handful of folks were up, but most of them slept if they could as the rain came down.
Last January, the One Night Count found nearly 2,600 people outside after the shelters were full. That's 26 times the number of people I saw in front of me, but that was on a much colder night. It was hard to fathom, even with the evidence around me. Full buses rolled past in the quiet pre-dawn hours, and those aboard didn't much look like they were going to work.
At 4 a.m. the KING 5 news truck pulled up and slowly extended its broadcast tower into the sky. The klieg lights bathed the sleeping campers in white as a young reporter in a snappy yellow jacket asked, "Is this the return of Occupy? That's what it looks like." I shivered in the blinding light and tried to redirect as I gave one of the more inarticulate interviews of my life.
As the reporter stood on the steps of the stage and tried to deliver his live setup piece, a handful of young protesters heckled. After about 10 minutes of this, the reporter shut off the lights and asked why they were being such jerks. A half-assed critique of the capitalist media ensued, with the reporter insisting he was there as an agent of truth.
The whole thing was sort of funny but mostly annoying on both sides.
Then, a half hour later, something interesting happened. The reporter came up to me off camera and said, "This really isn't about Occupy, is it?"
"No," I said. "It's not."
He walked away, and I didn't see him again. In the morning, about 100 of us marched loudly down Fifth Avenue to the quarterly meeting of the Governing Board of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. KING 5 was there, and they got the story right. Our protest was about the need for more survival services and the unacceptability of such widespread human misery.
The more titillating "Return of Occupy" frame was dropped in favor of something closer to reality, and we probably had a more-radical-than-thou young man and a reporter alone with his early morning thoughts to thank for it. There's a moral in there somewhere.