I came across this post in the Seattle Stranger, a publication I’m familiar with from years of living in Portland, Ore. and I was disturbed to read this line about the Occupy Seattle library: “Make The People’s Library into something worth our attention, rather than a couple of cardboard boxes in the middle of a much-contested thoroughfare.”
It isn’t that Occupy Seattle was using cardboard boxes for their library that disturbs me, it was the criticism of that fact by the author. Sure, the Stranger and their Portland weekly, the Mercury are better known for sarcasm than journalism. But the critique the author makes is that Occupy Seattle should be trying to “build the kind of utopian society you want” instead of “fuck[ing] shit up and piss[ing] off the police.”
First of all, every Occupy Library starts out as a few books, usually they’re lucky to have a cardboard box to keep them in. Here’s our library in the beginning of the occupation. We didn’t even have cardboard, just a plastic sheet they sat on.
And here’s our library after the eviction resistance this past Friday. This was all that was left, a corkboard. And after everything you’ve spent weeks building is taken apart – you go right back in and put it back together. And it’s not always pretty.
So, the second point I’d like to make to Mr. Constant of the Stranger is that keeping up a library in an occupation is a constant struggle. It’s a fight against the elements, against police who want to dismantle it, against people who steal from it, against occupiers and visitors who want to stand on it or spill coffee on it, from working groups who want to take that space for their own projects. And if your entire occupation is facing constant harassment and threats of displacement and eviction from the police, it’s not always number one on your list to make the library pretty – you feel lucky to have some books at all.
My final point, to Mr. Constant and all those who commented on his article saying things like “the occupiers should do this” and “the occupiers should do that” – this is not a sit-on-the-sidelines and complain, back-seat-driver movement. If you see something that you want to change, get your ass down there and do it. If you don’t hear something being said that you want to hear, get your ass down there and say it. Get involved, volunteer your time and resources. Don’t whine about it from the safety of your computer by posting snarky articles or comments about their cardboard boxes, don’t sit there and tell those brave folks that what they’re doing “flies in the face of what the Occupy Wall Street protesters have created” – get up! go down there! and bring the folks some plastic bins.