Thursday, January 25, 2001

Seattle's Not From Here

The Last Demonstration Zone

© Dr. Wes Browning

Welcome to the Last Demonstration Zone,

Step right up, take your megaphone, set permanently on mute.

The American Protest Theme Park greets you,

bring your quaint belief in what’s true, they take it for cute.

Remember, don’t mention Mickey Mouse.

You’ll get thrown out of the house, you’ll pay a fine.

Anyone in America can speak out.

Take a number, don’t shout, wait in line.

Welcome to the Last Free Speech hole in the ground.

You may now speak freely to whoever’s around, nobody cares here.

Step behind the rope, dope, nobody cares here.

Is anyone besides me aware that all inauguration ceremonies are propaganda? And that propaganda is government speech? And that therefore if Pennsylvania Ave. is a designated Demonstration Free Zone, then there can’t be an inauguration there either? Is it just me who thinks Demonstration Zones are the worst things that have happened to this country since war rations? What next? Talking Zones? Thinking Zones?

They can’t even hide behind state’s rights on this. We’re talking about the District of Columbia, where all the law is Congressional law. That bit about “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech” has full force in D. C.

Meanwhile our own mayor Schell wants to define Tent City as a political act, apparently because in the past he’s had some success forcing political acts to go away. In connection with the trials of Tent City a word has cropped up often: transient.

transient adj. 1. not lasting, enduring, or permanent; transitory 2. lasting only a short time; existing briefly; temporary -- n. a person or thing that is transient.

Mayor Schell would clearly like to see to it that Tent City is transient. But more importantly, there is the notion that the people who make up Tent City are not deserving of Seattle’s concern, because they are transient, they are only here in Seattle for a while, they are no natives.

I have heard the following statistic quoted: half of all Seattle’s homeless are not from here.

I’ve got news for you all: as of the last twenty years at least, anyone who is from Seattle isn’t a normal Seattleite.

I don’t have to go back to the pioneer days to establish the fact, but I will, just because I can’t resist mentioning that Chief Noah Seattle was born on Kitsap. Or that Denny came from Indiana, or that Doc Maynard came all the way from Vermont.

Do I have to tell anyone that John W. Nordstrom was born in Sweden? That William Boeing grew up in Detroit and didn’t move to this city until he was thirty?

I don’t have to go back that far. I can look at... I don’t know, let’s see now... the Mayor! Paul Schell, born in Fort Dodge, Iowa? So Schell once really did get out of Dodge?

City Council-person Margaret Pageler was born in CHINA for crying out loud. Jim Compton came here by way of Portland Oregon. Jan Drago and Heidi Wills are from another planet.

The Stranger was born in Chicago. More than nine-tenth’s of the Burke Museum was born in British Columbia or the Great Plains. The Pike Place Market got its start in Morocco. The Space Needle was shipped here in a box from the set of the Jetsons.

Surveys have been done that have shown that considerably more than fifty percent of us aren’t from here.

Does that make the majority of Seattle transient? Sounds fair to me.

Thursday, January 11, 2001

Power to the Min

WARNING: This is going to be one of the most diffuse, scattered columns I have ever written. I'm dealing with a concept I don't understand, because I've never had much concrete experience with it. I'm dealing with the concept of power.

So, Tonto. You'd like to make some changes around here, would you? Getting bored with all the picket fences? Want to break out and grow tomatoes, yams, and strawberries in the parking strip, do you, Tonto? Want to raise goats? Want to be the one who wears the mask instead of the one who has to talk to it? Well, get in line, take an application form, and get ready to fill it out, and we'll get back to you in six months if we feel like it.

Sometimes when I get bored I like to multiply and divide numbers to see how big or little things are. Like the other day when nothing was on the TV except Jerry Springer and infomercials for the Psychic Hotline, I got to wondering how big this country really is.

I mean, everyone knows the US is 3,615,211 or so square miles, but what is that in square dog feet? I still don't know, but I found out another cool fact. I found out that if you divide that by the number of people they say we have, and if you know there are 640 acres in a square mile, you get more than eight acres.

Not having grown up on a farm, I immediately converted that answer to football fields, and got almost eight. The US is so big that if you divided it up equally among all its adults and children, everyone would get almost eight football fields worth.

That tells me two things. First, that this country is a lot more crowded than it was in 1864. Back then General Sherman thought there was so much spare space that the freed slaves could all be given 38.72 football fields and a mule and nobody would hardly have to move over to make room. (The trick was to give them land covered with sand that nobody else wanted, and then take it back when nothing grew on it.)

The other thing it tells me is that the problem of homelessness is not that we've run out of places to put people.

No, it comes down to the same thing it came down to in 1864. Power.

People who have power saying that people who don't have power shouldn't be allowed it; it would upset the whole Natural Order of the Universe.

"You can't allow freed slaves to have land." "They never had any land before, they wouldn't know what to do with it." "How can people who only know how to steal chickens raise them?" "It wouldn't look right, have you seen the houses they live in? They're positively eyesores!" "Next thing is, they'll be wanting their children to be able to go to normal schools."

Et cetera. Every possible excuse except the one that gets to the point: "If you give them power, it's less power for me."

Let's see how this works on a smaller scale.

At first glance you would think that if El Centro de la Raza said that 100 or so homeless people could pitch tents on their land until Jan. 16, 2001, that'd be the end of it, wouldn't it?

You'd be right, if El Centro de la Raza had the right to say what happens on El Centro de la Raza land. But in reality, nobody has the right to say what happens on their own land, because power isn't distributed that way.

Go ahead, try painting your house neon mauve, and see what happens.

Or try growing bamboo in your front yard. Or kudzu. That would be interesting, wouldn't it?

Interesting, but not within your power, Tonto. Your Neighborhood Association has some interesting ideas of its own, as does the Department of Construction and Land Use. Their interesting ideas usually involve something called Don't Rock the Boat.

Now if you'd just come in the middle of the night and put up something appealing, like a monolith reminiscent of the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick's "2001, a Space Odyssey," that would be different. That would be art, and this is a forward-looking, artistically sensitive community, which cares about not looking like a bunch of Philistines to the Rest of the World.

What does the Rest of the World have to do with it? Well, they have the power, not us. Didn't you know that, Tonto?