Cardboard Boxes

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.


Filed under #OccupySeattle, Announcements, OccupyLibraries

7 responses to “Cardboard Boxes

  1. Pikush

    Unfortunately, a cardboard box just doesn’t look cool, and looking cool is, arguably, Mr. Constant’s primary motive. And to be totally frank, the PNW’s take on the movement is little more than a fashion statement to begin with, which is evident, I think, in 1) how far they’ve strayed from the OWS’s main objectives and 2) their all-too-ready embrace of popular liberal talking points as their core values. If you look at the Occupy Seattle website (, you’ll note that their page of ‘Accountability Principles’ doesn’t mention classism until halfway down its list of valued principles. This comes after: “white supremacy (racism against people of color), Patriarchy (sexism), Ageism (oppression against youth and/or elders), Heterosexism (oppression against LGBTQ people), Transphobia, Anti-Arab sentiment (or Islamophobia), Anti-Jewish sentiment, [and] Religious intolerance or intolerance of non-religious people.”

    I mean, people are occupying Wall Street BECAUSE this is an issue with corporate greed, the disappearing middle class, the busted economy, etc., right? Last time I checked, people are occupying Wall Street, a financial center, because this is a class issue. Apparently, the folks in Seattle seem to have missed the memo, and are defaulting instead to whatever they can remember from that Sociology class they took in junior college a few years ago. They’ve defaulted to screaming about the Utopia you mention in your main post, I think, because they don’t know what the hell is going on. To reiterate, ‘transphobia’ is above classism on their list of core principles (and for some reason, prejudice against Jews and Arabs isn’t racism, it’s a phobia…?). Lastly, I’d encourage you to check out their Needs Section as well, as books are not listed. They need latex gloves, snack foods, and hot water,but apparently, they’re doing just fine in the literature department.

  2. Julie

    While you have valid points, in Constant’s defense, OccupySeattle has chosen to emphasize the protest part of the occupation over the building of a broad-reaching movement that embraces less-protesty activities such as books, teach-ins, art & culture activities. They’ve chosen to defend their choice of a particular park-space that involves almost constant civil disobedience, rather than working with the mayor, who can be lame, who has offered camping space with storage at city hall (protest space is aloud at their preferred park from 6am-10pm). Constant has almost constantly been on site nite & day.. As well as many others on Stranger’s staff. I’m just trying to round out your comments here, offering a contribution, not a contradiction.

    • Michael

      Thanks for replying, I appreciate hearing your view. We at #OccupyWallStreet, in Liberty Plaza, are in a constant state of civil disobedience – engaging in daily marches and protests and direct actions that result in arrests and we have refused to move. There is absolutely no reason that #OccupySeattle should move to a ‘designated protest area.’ Of all places, activists in Seattle should claim space and stand their ground no matter what, especially after the horrifying state of exception that the police and city created during the WTO protests. The moral imperative to occupy doesn’t have a closing time.

  3. Anyone want to join me in organizing the library for Occupy Seattle? Please write:
    I’ll be there on Wednesday the 20th all afternoon.
    Jonathan Betz-Zall

  4. Well said. It really shows how miserable a person’s life must be when all they notice is the cardboard box, missing completely the main concepts, not to mention the books themselves!

  5. Pingback: Cardboard Boxes | Jobs Not War |

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