Smashing windows and handing out burritos in protest
Last week’s call from my activist friend Alyssa was a bit worrisome. The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) was having its big State of the Seattle Economy Forum at the Westin in the morning, and the Occupy gang would be there to hand out burritos to protest the DSA’s opposition to feeding homeless people in the street.
“Word is that Black Bloc is going to show up, and someone’s going to break a window. In fact, I’m probably going to break a window. No. I’m definitely going to break a window. Actually, I can promise you, a window will be broken.”
Whatever I said after I stopped laughing must have sounded concerned, because Alyssa said not to worry. “It’s all under control. It’ll be fine.” I said I’d be there and immediately started wondering if that was such a good idea.
On Feb. 13, bright and early at 7:30 a.m., there they were, in front of the Westin: Alyssa and her husband and about a dozen other young people. Most of them were dressed in punk gear, with black leather jackets, boots and bandanas. They looked like post-WTO urban rebels with a hazily defined cause.
I imagined that if Niketown, just four blocks away, really were a person, he’d be glancing nervously toward Fourth and Stewart, clenching his corporate sphincter at the ancestral memory.
A picnic cooler with 100 foil-wrapped burritos sat on the sidewalk. A couple of Westin security guards watched from the steps as darkly clad punks offered passersby food and a leaflet about what Jesus might do.
Then Alyssa picked up a hammer and smiled. She started walking around in little circles, waiting for the right moment.
I think the most dehumanizing thing anyone ever said to me about homeless people was uttered a half-dozen years ago by Metropolitan Improvement District Vice President Peggy Dreisinger. She’s still in the same job, running DSA’s Downtown Ambassador program. Honestly, she seems like a decent enough person, but here’s what she said:
“What people who hand out sandwiches to the homeless don’t understand is that they’ve abused their bodies for so long their internal organs no longer work. They’re unable to digest food. So they throw it up on the sidewalk or in a bush, and someone else has to clean that up.”
Outdoor feeding has long been opposed by both the DSA and the city.
Last year, Seattle Human Services Director Dannette Smith tried to outlaw feeding homeless people under I-5 near city hall and found that would not be easy. There was major pushback, and the directive was rescinded. A task force was formed, and it came back with conclusions the city doesn’t entirely support. Since then, Smith has leaned on Bread of Life and other evangelical organizations to stop feeding homeless people in parks, and those groups have pushed back as well. An uneasy détente exists at the moment, and everyone is waiting for the next move.
Alyssa eyed the wood-framed window that her husband held over a tarp, drew back with her claw hammer and swung. The glass shattered across the sidewalk, and along with it, the word “Hunger,” which had been smeared across the pane in blue paint. “We smashed hunger!” giggled a young man in a black bandana. “Yay!”
They swept the sidewalk and stuffed the tarp with the broken glass into a milk crate. “Let’s take these burritos to Steinbrueck Park,” someone said. And they were off to feed the hungry. I think Jesus was right there with them.
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