OLYMPIA–For many people, Presidents Day is marked by department store bargains and a chance to sleep in. But for activist groups across the state of Washington, it was an obvious day to lobby–especially in an election season. Instead of snuggling under the covers, groups of students, teachers, union workers, and the occasional choir convened at the capitol early Monday morning in the cold drizzle.
Inside the legislative buildings was a hive of activity. The Senate and House offices buzzed with 15-minute visitations and the hallways were filled with youth in power suits prepping for their next meeting. Thanks to the crowds, the O’Brien Building elevator temporarily malfunctioned due to overcapacity.
Outside, two different rallies prepared for show time.
Occupy Presidents Day was staging their entrance a few blocks from the legislative campus at Sylvester Park. About fifty people encircled the park’s gazebo and listened to the day’s instructions. Scattered around the crowd were home-made anti-war signs, “99%” banners, a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty, and a large sculpture of planet earth (which would be carried to the state house later).
Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm, a 22-year-old organizer for Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation, announced the logistics of the planned Sing-In and Die-In. The Occupiers would arrive inside the legislative building’s rotunda by 1:30 P.M., collapse “dead” on the ground, and then sing in protest of war to the tune of the national anthem. She had the crowd practice the song while a volunteer held up lyrics, handwritten on the back of protest signs.
Military spending is “as big of an issue as Wall Street,” Pruitt-Hamm explained. She added it’s important to make the connection between using the federal budget to finance wars on terror and the impact that spending has on domestic poverty.
According to Pruitt-Hamm, the Sing-In/Die-In’s intention was to “dramatize the issue,” to get people’s attention and spark household debate as well as assert the Occupy movement’s commitment to non-violence.
She admitted to some hesitation about the movement’s past tactics, like marching and blocking traffic.
That alienates regular people and no one in power sees it, Pruitt-Hamm said. Instead, she thinks they need to “build alliances with the broader public” and internal cohesion.
Apparently, members of the famously leaderless movement are trying to do just that. This past weekend marked the first meeting of the Occupy Social Solidarity Forum. Bruce Wilkinson, an Occupy Olympia participant, organized the inaugural event.
“We did it with very few resources and it was a tremendous success,” he said.
According to Wilkinson, around 400 people attended the Forum’s workshops and discussions. A quarter of the attendees were from out of state and 15 different Occupy locations were represented. They congregated in the Labor Council building, talked media strategies, and listened to “self-identified” workshop presenters. The point was “to get people motivated and talking to each other.”
After the winter cold dispersed many Occupy camps and as warmer months now arrive, could gatherings like this reinvigorate the movement?
Wilkinson certainly thought so, “Everybody came out of that pumped.” They’re much more enthusiastic than the “rank-and-file union member,” according to Wilkinson.
The Revenue Coalition grooving to disco hits on the Capitol’s lawn would have likely disagreed.
The medley of education and health advocacy groups—including Washington Can, Poverty Action Network, Planned Parenthood and the Service Employees International Union—gathered from all over the state to protest budget cuts to social programs, meet with legislators, and show its support at the scheduled Senate Health & Long-term Care Hearing.
Over a hundred coalition activists waited for the hearing to commence. They waved their “Protect Our Future” signs in the air to appreciative car horn honks from the road and danced to the loud music. Students from Eastern Washington University’s School of Social Work broke out a choreographed number to “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” while the rest cheered them on.
Jim Morris, a Revenue Coalition participant, summed the atmosphere up, “People who care about people are here.”