Olympia, WA @ Artesian Well (6-9-14) — It was a balmy Saturday, but the hectic competition for parking at Oly’s Farmers Market made alternatives more inviting despite a stage with talented buskers and fresh produce vendors. Sylvester Park had comfortable benches, trees, shade, a manicured lawn, and a more casual pace. It also turned out to have a lot of trash on the grass, an assortment of sleeping homeless secure in the knowledge the park, belonging to the State, had none of the anti-poverty laws targeting the homeless during daylight hours, the only time the park is open. It’s gazebo continues to be fenced off from public access, and while there’s a water fountain, there are still no public restrooms. The State would love to give it to the City of Olympia, but the council is having none of it, the cost of maintenance being prohibitive.
A lot of money and arrogant social engineering had piqued interest in the gentrification of the Artesian. It’s hard to pinpoint who the most obnoxious culprits in Oly’s downtown corridor are: Steve Hall (city manager) & Co., the city council, the drug addicts leaving hypodermic needles in the park and on the Artesian’s asphalt, the black marketeers in the town’s tenderloin district surrounding the Artesian, or the queer brigade now bent on becoming the dominant lords of the streets.
For all the hoopla and promises of a nicer more gentrified Artesian, it looked more like the dark side of the moon than ever. Fences (now augmented by steel posts/barricades) still made it feel like a forward base in a war zone. Rather than ANY grass, the City has laid down fresh layers of asphalt and painted over the tasteful graffiti art on the surrounding walls with black. The masonry dog watering trough for thirsty animals in a concrete desert has been replaced with a styrofoam box. A handicapped capable Sanican toilet has, however, been installed replete with accompanying steel posts designed for errant drivers. The fact it accommodates wheelchairs provides hope it’s going to be permanent rather than a temporary convenience for tradesmen during the construction phase.
There continued to be homeless sleeping on the pavement leaning against the unshaded black walls despite the threatening signs warning of video surveillance. Lots of symbols of authority/exclusion had been erected, but not a single blade of grass. Despite the best voluntary efforts of some local artists, it had all the charm of a bomb shelter.
Yet, the well has more friends than ever. It continues to receive a constant stream of visitors, 24/day, in their quest for water. Like the wide array of species sharing some African waterhole in the Serengeti, denizens from every social, economic, marginalized and ethnic class recognized/respected their mutual dependency on this wet stuff of life. In that sense, it served as a rare point of mutual accommodation as it had for many centuries before the arrival of white settlers.
Only 50 feet from the Artesian at 4th & Jefferson were the Queers Rock Camp Carwash offering a quick vehicle bath in exchange for $5 – $20. It was a ready made photo-op, or so it seemed…at first.
The first couple of snaps went off without a hitch–good light, colorful subjects, smiles, advertising signs, tattoos. Then the encounter with the first gender bender who more often than not rely on intimidation rather than reasoned dialog or even the most rudimentary understanding of what they’re demanding…or they simply (as one admitted) don’t care.
She/he/they/it/whatever approached the photographer who was standing firmly on the public sidewalk adjacent to the parking lot where, armed with a hose, buckets of soapy water, and a sponge, they were attempting to earn enough money for summer rock camp. There’s no doubt this beats panhandling all to hell. Their business acumen, however, was more than a little lacking.
“You must ask for our permission to photograph us,” she/he/they/it/whatever demanded. “No, it’s not required,” responded the photographer. “Yes, it is,” she/he/they/it/whatever rejoined.
An older teen approached the photojournalist and temporarily joined in the conversation. He opined that permission was needed when children were present. The photographer attempted to disabuse him of his misapprehensions, but he was having none of it, claiming he knew more about this area of law than the photographer who also happened to be a paralegal who specialized in this area of law. “Are you a lawyer?” he was asked. “No,” the kid responded, “but, that doesn’t mean a paralegal necessarily knows the law about this either.”
Having met so many vacuous attorneys and even judges, the kid’s point was hard to argue with. “Tell ya what,” invited the photographer, “let’s call the cops, who are charged with enforcing laws surrounding disputes such as this, and let them enlighten you.” The kid seemed taken aback, but, as it turned out, his mother must have thought this was a swell idea as she called the man (who turned out to be a woman) to arrive on the scene.
Having been advised by the dispatcher to protect himself, the photographer made his way across the street next to one of the bars with an open door for a better camera angle and less harassment. The Queers continued to charm the photojournalist and the public with an upraised middle finger while waving their signs seeking customers. Like a bared teeth dog wagging its tail, it was difficult to know which end to believe.
Once a few shots had been acquired, it was time to call it a day in Olympia. Walking through the Artesian, some folks (one in particular) had watched the scenario. When questioned, yours truly spoke of how photography was not a crime, but a fundamental right in public venues. Some of the more obtuse began to express differing opinions until the more civic minded guy pronounced his understanding in accordance with 1st Amendment principles.
Just then, the cavalry arrived, a young female Olympia police officer, by herself, approached the photographer. Almost immediately, the mother and her teen son closed in to express their complaint about the photographer (Photographing, [*gasp*] children in public…or so she said, though the teen son had disavowed being a minor when asked earlier). The officer ordered them to step back so she could finish her interview with the photographer, which she did.
After listening to his explanation and the importance of preventing force and fraud, not just reporting it, she cut the dialog short by emphasizing, “I get it!” “I’m finished with you,” she advised before turning her attention to the mother in waiting, and to give her a clue.
A full shot of the LEO’s face, name tag, and badge wasn’t made because she declined to have her picture taken while admitting she had no legal right to prohibit it. Prudence suggested, under the circumstances, not to push the point since her responding to the situation was largely discretionary.
Having struck a blow for exercising our rights to avoid losing them, the photographer left the scene to write this story. The obtuse and aggressive continue to dominate the downtown streets of Olympia. Belligerence and intimidation continue to be the order of the day there. It is hoped the Olympia police department will add more emphasis on drawing bright lines where the boundaries of fundamental liberty interests lie.
The police do not have the inclination (the above referenced officer made that clear) or resources to control the streets and our public spaces. The public itself will have to assume some responsibility to reclaim them. Today, everyone has a camera. Today, we are the press! Today, we can reclaim our public spaces by exercising that responsibility, that right.
Yielding to arrogant bullies and the violently obtuse only encourages the abuse. The abuse will only get worse until the public puts a stop to corruption, both in government AND in the people!