Sit-In Protesters Removed From State Capitol

By Mark Taylor-Canfield, Occupy Washington

A week-long series of protests has been happening at the State Capitol in Olympia . . . Demonstrations were organized to stand in solidarity with protesters in Wisconsin, and to protest major state budget cuts in Washington State which are negatively impacting poor, disabled, and elderly residents of our state.

On Wednesday April 7, a sit-in began inside the State Capitol building. People have been sleeping inside the building every night, and supporters have been sleeping outside the building in tents and sleeping bags. On Thursday, 17 union members of the SEIU were arrested when they tried to enter the office of Washngton State Governor Christine Gregoire. On Friday an estimated 10,000 union members gathered at the state capitol to protest the budget cuts.

At 8:30 p.m. on Friday April 9th, the Director of General Administration at the State Capitol Building in Olympia, Joyce Turner, read a statement from Governor Christine Gregoire (Democrat) announcing that the protesters who have been occupying the building this week must leave the premises. The implied threat was that we would all be arrested. Although we had met with Turner several times during the evening, she never mentioned any possibility of arrest or removal of the protesters.

During the session in which the House of Representatives voted to approve the new budget proposal, General Administration representatives from the Governor’s office refused to let us into the public gallery to observe the proceedings . . . As justification for being barred from entering the galleries, we were told that the gallery was filled to capacity.

This was a complete and utter lie . . . [T]here were only a handful of lobbyists and observers in the galleries . . . We find it absolutely appalling that GA staff would lie to us so blatantly and without any sense of conscience. We were betrayed by employees of our own state government!

… Washington State Patrol officers began videotaping all of demonstrators and their actions earlier in the evening , including taping all of our meetings. The capitol rotunda soon filled up with police and it was obvious that arrests were going to be made. A contingent of Olympia police in black uniforms also entered the building and surrounded protesters. Although the protesters had been there all evening, we had been given no warning and the sit-in participants assumed they were going to spend another night in the capitol. Some of them had already set up their sleeping bags and were bedding down for the night.

When I asked Washington State Patrol officer Arras if we would be arrested he replied, “You will be leaving the building tonight.” We all took this to mean that we would be physically forced from the Capitol and taken to jail. None of the demonstrators left the building at that point. In effect, there was a showdown between police and the protesters.

Immediately the 35 demonstrators inside the building were forced to make a decision: Leave or face arrest for trespassing. A quick meeting was held among the activists, as facing charges for refusing to leave property when you’re asked can be dangerous to navigate.

Nine protesters refused to leave voluntarily. Around 9 p.m. they were dragged out of the building by Washington State Patrol officers. These protesters were told to sign a “no trespass order” without the assistance of any legal counsel. We maintain that anyone who signed the order did so under duress. The no trespass order bans these individuals from entering the capitol building for 30 days. It is understood that if they enter the building within 30 days they will be arrested and charged with criminal trespass.

Most of the protesters went limp and refused to walk out of the building. They were physically carried out of the state capitol building by … State Patrol officers.

We question the legality of forcing people to sign a document incriminating themselves while under the threat of immediate arrest if they didn’t sign. We also question law enforcement’s position that “no one was arrested.” When police take control of a person’s body and physically move them, they are, we maintain “under arrest”. These people were not “detained” and then released, they were physically removed. Since no charges were filed against any of the protesters, this opens the door for potential civil rights lawsuits against the state government. We are currently consulting with civil rights attorneys and some of us plan to pursue legal redress.

The law that the governor has cited as the justification for this forced removal is a statute which prohibits “camping” on the campus grounds. This meant that anyone setting up a tent or carrying a sleeping bag outside the building would also be arrested.

During the time that demonstrators occupied the capitol building, there were no cases of any property damage or violence. This has been a very peaceful vigil to protest the budget cuts . . . As the protesters were being dragged involuntarily from the building, we all chanted “Solidarity Forever!”

We find it interesting that law enforcement and the governor chose to remove the demonstrators late in the evening when there were no witnesses or news media to record the incident. Only one news agency arrived in time to film the police action.

As the demonstrators left the state capitol they shouted, “We’ll be back!” We maintain that the occupation was a success despite the physical removal of participants. We were staging the occupation in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin. During the [Olympia] sit-in, activists from Wisconsin paid for pizza deliveries to be brought to us inside the building. Public radio news media from Wisconsin provided coverage of our sit-in and have kept in communication with us.

Because we staged the sit-in, were able to force some of our state senators and representatives to meet with us about the budget cuts and to hear our voices … Some of them, including Rep Bob Hasegawa, Rep. Mike Sells, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and Senator Ed Kline, have been supportive of our occupation. Lisa Brown and Ed Kline . . . brought us food. We also met with the Governor’s Chief of Staff Jay Manning, but only after we were blocked from entering the Governor’s office by State Patrol Officers on Tuesday.

We do not have high-paid lobbyists to speak for us or for the thousands of state residents whose incomes and healthcare have been cut to the point of [forcing] homelessness on families and individuals. [But] the homeless shelters are filling up quickly [nonetheless].

The occupation of the state capitol was an act of peaceful civil disobedience in the grand tradition of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There will be more protests. The struggle to hold our leaders accountable will continue …


Joyce Turner: (360) 902-7300

Contact: Mark Taylor-Canfield (206) 380-4041



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