The Occupy Seattle protests reached a milestone on Saturday afternoon with their estimated numbers reaching close to 3000. Saturday’s protest activities included the movement’s “Night of 500 Tents” where protestors set up tents in a direct challenge to the city’s stated commitment to evict campers from the park after 10:00pm. By 9:00pm there looked to be around one hundred tents set up in the center of the park.
Accompanied by a light contingent of bicycle police, city sanitation workers began arriving at the park around 8:00pm, but by 10:00pm the sanitation workers and police had disappeared, leaving the protesters alone in the park without incident. Numbers in the park remained high late into the evening with protestors at one end of the park dancing around a large drum circle while the protest’s biggest General Assembly to date met at the other end. A joyous and festive mood among protestors held steadily through the night.
Along with the increased numbers, there was a marked rise in the visibility of communication strategy and technology among the protest organizers. In the protest’s information tent, volunteers huddled over laptops tweeting protest updates and checking on the Occupyseattle.org website and online Livestream video feed. Wearing a taped yellow band around his arm one media volunteer said that there were at least 40 people signed up as media liaisons with as many as six on–site on any given day. Identifying himself only as “William” he said that he regularly worked a 7:00am until 7:00pm shift at the park answering questions from reporters and curiosity seekers.
There was also a roving protest reporter holding a laptop in one arm and a webcam in her hand who was documenting the protest activities live to the Occupy Seattle site. She could be seen making continual circles around the park for most of the evening. She was finally spotted resting on a bench long after the daylight had disappeared from the park. Other protestors used Flip cameras, cell phones and all varieties of handheld video cameras to document the protest. As of Sunday, a search on Youtube for “Occupy Seattle” yielded more than thirty pages of mostly user–generated videos of the Seattle occupation.
There were other signs that the occupation is becoming more organized. A contingent of union stage–hands were on hand Saturday providing and operating a donated PA system for protest speakers to use throughout the day. The nightly General Assembly included reports from protest “working groups” with agendas ranging from the hip-hop music coalition to the social media outreach group. Indeed it seems like the most popular working groups involved outreach through social media and technology.
Hoping to support the growing movement, army vet Mike Johnston made his first visit to the occupation on Saturday afternoon coming down from Lake City Washington, a suburb just north of the city. A Metro Access bus driver and not much of a social media user,
Johnston had been keeping up with the protests on Seattle’s lone AM progressive talk radio station. Dressed in a light military style jacket with camouflage pants, Johnston looked like someone who would be just as likely to attend a Tea Party rally, but Johnston was particularly upset with the number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who couldn’t find jobs. At the festival he joined a contingent of military veterans who have maintained a visible presence at Westlake throughout the occupation.
Young mother of four, Toni James has been following the protests via Twitter since its inception. She was also making her first visit to the protest where she spent most of the afternoon and early evening mingling with protesters and checking out the scene. Worried about her children’s future, James had made the visit in a sign of solidarity with a movement she believes is just going to get bigger. One of her teenage sons has also expressed interest in the movement and she is considering bringing him down to Westlake with her in the future.
By 10:00pm the police presence in the area dwindled to almost nothing. Protestors flirted with filling 4th Avenue every time there was a lull in traffic. They would spill into the streets dancing and shouting and then quickly retreat when the traffic light turned green again. Despite reports of police ticketing drivers who honked in support of the protestors, there was a steady stream of drivers who honked or raised an outstretched fist. These displays of solidarity drew loud cheers from protestors lining the sidewalk.
As an autumn chill descended on the evening, dancers, protestors and campers showed no sign of leaving or giving up. Despite ultimatums from city officials, the tent city that now dominates Westlake Park makes it look like the Occupy Seattle movement will be at Westlake Park for sometime to come.