People Are Not Garbage – Hundreds Occupy Seattle City Hall to Stop Homeless Sweeps
“Rather than spending millions on the ineffective and inhumane practice of sweeping homeless people, who are not trash,” Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative City Councilmember, demanded on November 1, “use those millions to provide services of every kind to help people transition quickly to permanent housing.”
Seattle’s annual ritual of passing a business-as-usual budget, prioritizing the greed of big developers and corporations over the need of ordinary people, got disrupted not just with 500 attending a council hearing on next year’s budget, but then hundreds staying for an illegal campout. Activists occupied City Hall and stayed over night to demand a fundamental change of the city’s priorities.
Socialist Alternative and Kshama Sawant’s city council office played a critical role in organizing the campout and building the movement to stop the sweeps and fund affordable housing. Working with activists in the Housing for All coalition, the People’s Party, Neighborhood Action Councils, the Affordable Housing Alliance, and many other organizations, we built energetic and broad support for Kshama’s budget amendments to stop the sweeps and tax big business to fund housing and services.
Ryan Whitney, an activist from a local Democratic Legislative District (LD), spoke about the unanimous votes to Stop the Sweeps in the LDs. “601. That’s the number of sweeps from last year. A ridiculous number. An expensive number as well. We introduced the resolution in our Legislative District. Everyone agreed that we need to stop the sweeps. Everybody agreed that we need to fund affordable housing, and that we need to fund services for the homeless.”
As hundreds rallied inside, a tent encampment was constructed in the outdoor City Hall plaza as a protest against the sweeps, and a hub for the hundreds of blankets, tarps, tents, and other donated supplies. Local musicians and performers put on a free concert as part of the demonstration. Andy Ribaudo, a veteran and activist who led the supplies drive announced to the crowd, “We’ve given out over 150 sleeping bags and tents, we’ve raised over $4,000 … We are doing the job the city is supposed to be doing and providing basic supplies and services to our unhoused neighbors.”
The demonstration took place on the two-year anniversary of a declaration by the city of a homeless state of emergency. Over 130 people have died from homelessness since then. “These are our brothers and sisters out there. I have lost so many friends,” said Susan Russell, a formerly homeless Seattle resident.
“People are not garbage. You do not sweep human beings. You build affordable housing,” said Violet Lavantai, an organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington State.
In the morning, before ending the occupation, activists gathered for a final demonstration in the lobby of City Hall for city employees to see as they came into work: a “die-in” protest of 66 activists, each one bearing the name of someone who had died this year from being unsheltered. As their names were read from a poem titled “Fallen Silent,” the activists would fall to the ground as if dead.