In my first Mobilizing Ideas blog entry (Nov. 21), I focused on part-time or weekend activists in the Occupy movement. I noted that Occupy Seattle (OS) moved their camp to a local community college campus from their dowtown location. On Dec. 2, a county court ruled that camping on community college property is illegal and, in their emergency ruling, ordered the camp to be dismantled. The OS movement showcases competing elite viewpoints (elite in terms of the college community) as well as negative framing of the movement, particularly by the media, and the use of that framing in the decision by the college administration to evict Occupiers.
When it was announced that OS would set up its tents in a small square on the community college campus in late October, it seemed clear that the college, or at least many at the college, including faculty, were sympathetic and welcoming. Even the administration, albeit reluctantly and calculating, tried to facilitate what was depicted by the college as the inevitability of OS presence on the campus. Indeed, just a few weeks earlier, the president of the union representing Seattle community college employees, encouraged members to join the 99% movement in downtown Seattle as a way to express support for the Enough Already campaign to reinvigorate the Community College Act of 1967. Subsequently, numerous faculty at the college expressed their support for the movement’s on campus presence , framing support mainly in terms of shared grievances related to budget cuts to community colleges and services, such as child care. Ironically, the child care center would mark the beginning of contention both within and outside of the community college as it was located in close proximity to the encampment.
A few days later, in November, the faculty senate echoed the union’s position that the best way to deal with Seattle occupiers was to get involved. Indeed, the union had encouraged such things as teach-ins and maintained a regular dialogue with representatives of OS. But here too, in these dialogues, issues of sanitation and substance use began to surface. By this time, media coverage focused a great deal of attention on this and related issues. The week of November 7th saw an increase in this type of coverage such as Community College wants Occupy Seattle to leave (Associated Press Nov. 11) and Seattle Central Community College wants Occupy demonstrators to leave (KIRO-FM, Nov. 11). The following week, the school’s president issued a statement. In that statement, he mentions the doubling of the size of the camp, and reports from the county health department regarding health and safety issues that remained unaddressed. According to the statement, these reports were presented to OS leaders. Thanksgiving week saw a new wave of media coverage including Police investigate possible sexual assault at ‘Occupy Seattle’ camp (Q13 Fox News Nov. 21), College may boot protesters over sanitation (Seattle times Nov. 19), SCCC wants ‘Occupy’ protestors to clean up (KOMOTV Nov. 19).
On Thanksgiving Day eve, the board of trustees of the college voted to evict the occupiers on Nov. 28th. Many in the college community voiced their discontent regarding this decision. However, it had been noted by some on campus that a sizable number of people on campus did not have positive attitudes towards the movement, particularly students. When the decision to evict OS was announced, those who are sympathetic to the Occupiers argued that the media influenced students’ and others’ negative attitudes about the movement. Some believe that local news focused entirely on overcrowding, sanitation, the homeless, drugs and alcohol and rogue dogs. Some supporters at the college claim that the administration, which was never embracing of the movement, but reluctantly sought to ease tensions and quash any potential violence – used sanitation as a tool to evict OS. The court ruling modified the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 132F-136-030 to state that “College property may not be used for camping, defined to include sleeping, carrying on cooking activities, storing personal belongings, or the erection of tents or other shelters or structures used for purposes of personal habitation.” College officials issued trespass notices to occupiers the following week. That week also saw headlines like College posts eviction notice on Occupy Seattle (Q13 FOX Dec. 6) and School to Occupy Seattle: You have 72 hours to leave (Seattle P-I, Dec. 6).
This case highlights the discourse among divided elites (reluctant administration, supportive faculty and union, and divided student body) and activists. It also sheds light on the link between the media’s framing of OS and elites’ use of that frame to deal with a “problem” situation they always sought to avoid. In many ways, the work of media and elites reinforced one another, and for many sympathizers, this was by design. Perhaps evidence for the notion that OS is misunderstood and portrayed negatively, there was an increased attempt to reach out to the campus community through the use of teach-ins and information sessions. The Occupied Seattle Club at Seattle Central Community College was also created as a vehicle to inform the campus community about the goals of the movement. In the end, these attempts were, for the most part, in vain.