Students swell ranks of Occupy Seattle; camp moving to City Hall
College students swelled the ranks of Occupy Seattle Wednesday, and participants said they would camp at City Hall Plaza at night while continuing to protest at Westlake during the day.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Raw AP Video: Protests in Seattle
The ranks of Occupy Seattle demonstrators at Westlake Park, which had dwindled to a couple of dozen Wednesday morning, swelled to as many as 500 in the afternoon, following a walkout by students from the University of Washington.
Among those on hand was Faith Coben, 19, who was hand-lettering a sign reading, "Students deserve futures, not debt."
Coben said she's been part of the demonstration for most of the past week.
"I've seen more and more people struggling to make ends meet," she said, "and they're having trouble making it because the economy is so messed up."
A student at Cornish College of the Arts, Coben said students are "graduating with thousands of dollars of debt, and there are no jobs."
Between 100 and 200 students and some professors gathered at the University of Washington's Red Square at noon Wednesday for an hourlong round of speeches — the first time the Occupy movement has touched the state's largest college campus. They then marched through campus toward Westlake, briefly shutting down traffic on University Avenue, the University Bridge and Eastlake Avenue. They were escorted by Seattle police.
Arendt Speser, a graduate student in the English department who also teaches English composition at the UW, said he was speaking out because he's concerned with the way state budget cuts have affected the school. At one time, it was "almost a promise that you were guaranteed a seat here if you were from in-state and you worked hard," he said.
But increasingly, to pay the bills, the UW is accepting more out-of-state and international students, who pay higher tuition rates, he said.
"I've seen with my own eyes how directly this university has been impacted," said Speser, who said his salary for teaching undergraduate classes has been frozen for four years and he's recently started taking out student loans.
He said he wants to see the Legislature reassess the tax structure and close corporate loopholes.
Mark Engle, a student in the UW Foster School of Business, said he joined the protest because he believes money has distorted politics, and that the system is in need of reform. He said he was in Berlin earlier this year when demonstrators helped persuade Chancellor Angela Merkel to phase out nuclear power in the next 11 years. The power of those protests convinced him that the Occupy Wall Street movement could be a catalyst for reform as well, he said.
"I love business, I love making money, but the problem is regulating it in a way that makes sense," Engle said.
"We're very much in solidarity: Get money out of politics," added Angela Herr, another Foster business school student, who marched with Engle from Red Square toward Westlake.
At Westlake, about 300 demonstrators were gathering for an afternoon rally, with protesters collecting names of people who wished to speak to the crowd.
The group plans a 6 p.m. "general assembly" to decide the next move in the protest.
Protesters spent the night at the park Tuesday, but Wednesday morning Mayor Mike McGinn issued a statement that the city would begin enforcing park rules.
"I have instructed the Parks Department and the Seattle Police Department to enforce the rules at Westlake Park, starting this morning. This includes prohibitions against camping and unpermitted activity," McGinn said.
But McGinn also said that the city would authorize permits for First Amendment uses at Westlake.
Many participants in the movement had said they planned to begin shifting Wednesday to City Hall. They said they would camp at City Hall Plaza at night while continuing to protest at Westlake during the day. Some vowed to continue remaining overnight at the park.
About two dozen protesters at Westlake around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday were cleaning up the area and taking down their supply tent while city workers sprayed the sidewalks clean.
Dustin Noah of Seattle, who said he has been at the Westlake protest for five days, said it's not clear what the group will do next, but he hopes the protesters retain a presence at Westlake.
"Apparently city ordinances are more important than civil rights," he said, complaining about the city's Wednesday morning cleanup of the park. "There seems to be a power struggle going on between the mayor and police."
One protester who wouldn't provide his name said that the group is moving its tents to City Hall. Decisions on the group's further actions would have to be made later Wednesday at a "general assembly" meeting, he said.
Demands and a delay
After a "general assembly" meeting Tuesday night, protesters voted 108-17 to send a proposal to McGinn on behalf of those who plan to start staying overnight at City Hall.
The move was part of ongoing negotiations between the city and representatives of Occupy Seattle.
Those familiar with the negotiations said the mayor wanted a proposal by 8 p.m. Tuesday; in return, he promised not to order arrests that night of those who remained at the park after 10 p.m., when it closes.
McGinn said in his statement that the protesters had given the city a list of demands "for use of City Hall" and that the city would continue discussions with the protesters.
On Monday evening, park security officers had announced the park was closed at 10 and those who remained could be arrested for criminal trespass. Police patrol cars occupied both ends of the park and left their lights flashing that night, but no arrests were made.
The protests are a spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street protests challenging government policies favoring the superrich. The protesters are in the second week of their "occupation" of Westlake, in the heart of downtown Seattle's retail core.
Some said Tuesday they would continue to spend nights at Westlake, risking arrest, while others said they were concerned for their health and safety by sleeping outside without tents in the rain. McGinn has said tents would be allowed at City Hall.
Camping is prohibited in city parks, and police made 25 arrests last week at Westlake when some protesters refused to take down their tents. Eight were charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.
Artie Nosrati, a protester who Tuesday night led discussions of the proposal to the mayor, at one point said the city would "sweep the plaza tonight and arrest everyone" if the mayor did not get a proposal by 8 p.m., though that did not occur.
What they want
The protesters' proposal demands McGinn meet with nominated representatives of Occupy Seattle to discuss their long-term goals.
The group issued several demands for those who will camp at City Hall, including four large tents for medical, kitchen and other purposes; 24 "occupancy shelters" for the health and safety of protesters; and 24-hour access to the first floor of City Hall to use restrooms and meeting rooms.
Protesters also want a written statement from McGinn supporting their right to indefinitely occupy City Hall Plaza.
On Tuesday, mayoral spokesman Aaron Pickus said the city continues to support the right to protest during the day at Westlake Park, as long as protesters don't block access to businesses or prevent other groups from access to the park.
The threatened crackdown Monday night was simply to enforce park rules that have always existed, he said.
"We've been really patient with them," Pickus said of the protesters, while acknowledging the city wanted to give them time to consider relocating tents to City Hall Plaza.
Information in this article published on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, originally misspelled the name of protester Dustin Noah.