The Ugly Reality of J28

To all local Government Elected Officials:

I’m writing to warn you of a far greater danger that occurred on J28 then I have heard anyone discuss. The frustrating part is that I know most of you lack the education, understanding, experience and capacity to respond to it in any meaningful way because our society works to deny us these capacities because then we might actually be free. I understand that most of you are well intentioned people seeking to make the world a better place and yet intentions are not the same as impacts. So I only write this as a friend hoping to show you the truth of the matter despite the fact that your inability to respond will just lead you to further rationalize your complicity.

My experience is a bizarre one and its why I think I can see this better than you. I started my career as a political activist when I was 5 years old in the early 1980’s helping my mother mail envelopes to mailing lists to help elect women to the Iowa State legislature. My mom was part of pro-choice PAC’s and two failed Equal Rights amendment campaigns. My real education started when I joined the High School policy debate team where I was exposed to philosophy, radicalism and concepts like dehumanization. My senior year of college began a couple weeks after 9/11 and I spent that year organizing against the senseless bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. 

It was a very lonely business as many people were tricked in to believing that revenge against the poorest, most war torn people on earth would somehow bring us justice. Today, I am more confident than ever that everything I argued back then has been proven true as both of those wars continue to breed enemies and consume resources to this day. So I want you to know that the accusation I am about to make is deeply considered and borne of hope for a better world. 

The Mayor indicated on J28 and in meetings since that he undertook a police action to remove people from their homes at 210 Lottie because he feared violence. The mayor correctly noted that a call was made by Bellingham Occupied Protest for anyone who believes in Human Rights to join the protest to attempt to pressure the mayor to fulfill his promise to house people camped at 210 Lottie instead of violently removing them. This is not an illegal act. The protest had been going for nearly 3 months without being declared illegal by the mayor. In fact, the initial response from the mayor was to provide services for the campers.

There is this notion that there is some distance that is too far to travel to protest dehumanization. All of the people coming to protest the violation of the human rights of those not being allowed to shelter themselves are Americans. They are all human beings. Upholding the humanity of everyone everywhere is the most important thing we can do with our brief time here. The literature and thinking coming out of the post-holocaust world implores to fight this evil as soon as it appears in any form and at any amount. As witnessed in Nazi Germany, the slope is extremely slippery. Once the seal has been broken, we cannot know how far the damage will go and therefore duty bound to stop it.

So knowing that people of conscience were coming to Bellingham to save us from ourselves, the mayor decide to accelerate the time frame to deny them their first amendment right to protest this crime against humanity. That is the act of an authoritarian fascist. This was not about preventing violence, it was about avoiding a political disaster where the mayor would be embarrassed by either having to arrest hundreds of protestors or accept political defeat.

The mayor is not completely oblivious and carefully crafted rationalizations for his actions. First the City claimed protestors would be violent. The past 7 months have seen hundreds of leftist protests and the sum of the violence coming from protestors has been burning garbage and broken windows. No doubt the state has engaged in vicious violence in the form of chemical warfare, pepper balls, beatings with billy clubs and the extra judicial murder of a Portland activist who dared to defend himself from a right wing extremist. The mayor’s office has offered no evidence or specifics of violence other than quoting anonymous intelligence. 

Watching the Impeachment hearings today brings the alternative to stopping the protest into sharp relief. Despite widespread calls for gauntly dangerous violence leading up to the January 6th insurrection, the protest was allowed to happen. Yet the mayor stopped a non-violent protest without any evidence of violence.

Now the January 6th insurrection started with a permitted march. No doubt one can argue that the planned protest of the removal of Camp 210 did not have a permit. Yet, the government knew that the permitted rally was not the sum of what was planned on January 6th. Anyone paying attention knew it. 

Legality aside, the morality of the issue is clear. Ask yourself what anyone of moral stature, Ghandi, Jesus, Mohammed, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, would do when fellow human beings were being removed from their homes. I find it hard to believe they would let the lack of permit cloud the issue for them. When John Lewis took a knee on the Edmund Pettis bridge to place his skull in striking distance of the police officers baton, I do not think he was worried about a permit.

The paradigm of domination and repression engenders an ugly paradox. By seeking to suppress those that will advocate for our humanity, it risks winning leaving no one to fight for humanity or it risks raising the stakes so those that are committed to our humanity are forced to fight violently. In short, the Mayor denying the peaceful expression of support for human rights therefore increased the propensity for physical violence. If you clog the pressure regulator, you are asking for the whole tank to blow.

Now you may be condemning me right now for acknowledging the need for violence to protect human rights. Where I grew up, I was taught that the greatest act of violence in human history, the dropping of atomic bombs and World War 2 in general, was justified because the war was suppose to protect our humanity. I have always believed that violence is a last resort yet can be justly invoked to stop dehumanization. The alternative is to let evil dominate us. 

What we have seen since J28 is the mayor scrambling to justify the actions of the state. His presentations on J28 and in Monday’s City Council meetings have been textbook Orwellian double speak. Escalating violence at 210 Lottie can all be linked to escalations taken by the City. After weeks of amicable communication with Eric Johnston, I warned him that the communication around establishing the 25foot perimeter was dreadful and that while many campers wanted to comply, many understood this to be a violent action to clear them. His response “Understood.” This indicated to me that the City wanted confrontation, while saying “if anything happens, we will no be the aggressor.” Straight up Orwellian.

The mayor laughed as he lied about snipers not being present when we the pictures were on Facebook. When lying about wanting to help campers move to a new location on J28, both Police Chief Flo Simmons and Eric Johnston choked in their comments as they realized in their heads that had no where for them to go. Where were they going to take them? Is anyone going to ask them that? As advocates have been saying for months, no one there could or would go to Base Camp.

The Mayor then created the fantasy that negotiators for the Bellingham Occupied Protest moved the goal posts. We were clear from the start that we wanted unconditional housing for everyone on the lawn and throughout the city. It was city staff that set arbitrary numbers like 50 or 100. We continually rejected those numbers and moved on to areas where we thought progress was possible. We were exceedingly clear at every point that the city’s proposal of 25 units was inadequate. Yet Rick Sepler relied on repeating his goal of 25 units enough times to convince City Staff it was an agreed number.

The Mayor did trick me. When he said repeatedly in meetings that “the social contract is broken” I took that as an admission that the government must either solve problem immediately or allow the public to provide for shelter for our unsheltered neighbors outside government policies as was happening at 210 Lottie. The social contract is the belief that the government is only morally justifiable using force if it meets its obligations to provide for the human rights of everyone. Instead, the actions taken by the Mayor indicate that he believes the broken social gives him the despotic power to use the deadly power of the state to arbitrarily impose his whims to separate people from their homes and prevent folx from protesting that injustice. These beliefs are extremely dark and cannot be tolerated. This is the “first they came for the homeless moment” if you are brave enough to see it.

We have been talking to business owners at the Haskell Business Center. When campers moved to Frank Geri Fields, they were already mad at the Mayor. They have been experiencing increased crime since this summer with no help from the City. Their calls to the mayor are not returned. The city’s policy of ignoring this crisis is failing everyone. 

In the days following J28 this Frank Herbert quote came up in my twitter feed and I think it speaks to this moment perfectly.

“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.”

At best, the Mayor should resign immediately. Next best would be contrition and admitting wrong doing. At least, the council should pass a resolution condemning the actions on J28 in  addition to an ordinance stopping sweeps. (Sorry that’s camp “Clean-ups” in Orwellian double speak.) You won’t because you are ill prepared for your jobs and will seek comfort over justice. The result will be the further erosion of public trust and moral authority of the government for which we will all suffer greatly. 

Please prove me wrong. Please put the Bellingham Occupied Protest out of business and house the people slowly dying in our streets. Please find the courage to advocate for the human rights of everyone and not the bottom line of the real estate industry. You will tell yourselves you can’t because it’s not practical but you can be the change. You can be the light.

As Amanda Gorman, said in the culmination of her Inaugural Poem:

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it

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