Mayor says Occupy Seattle protesters must leave Westlake

Seattle resident Elizabeth Tolson, 19, adjusts her tent at the anti-Wall Street protest in Westlake Park. Mayor Mike McGinn said the "Occupy Seattle" group is free to protest but can't camp overnight.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Wednesday morning said that the “Occupy Seattle” protest group camped out at Westlake Park must take down their tents.McGinn declined to say when the city policy against the tents would be enforced. The group could continue to protest, the mayor said.

When pressed by the media at a news conference called about a community-center building project, McGinn declined to go into detail about a potential timeline.

“We’re just not going to set a timeline here in a press conference,” he said. He added that the city is working “collaboratively” with the protesters.

“The right to protest in Seattle is a cherished one and one we uphold,” McGinn said on Wednesday at the Rainier Beach news conference. “By putting up tents in Westlake Park, it means you are excluding other users.”

Two law-enforcement sources told The Times on Wednesday that a directive from Seattle Parks and Recreation was supposed to be issued to the protesters on Tuesday — to move their tents out of the city-run park or be arrested by Seattle police.

Police monitored the protest on Tuesday, and on Wednesday remained in the area while the protesters and their tents stayed in place. A spokeswoman for the parks department could not be reached Wednesday morning, but officers with the Seattle Police Department’s West Precinct said no clear directive had been issued from precinct commanders.

Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said “officers in the area are monitoring the situation for any law violations.”

The protest group has been at Westlake Park since the weekend. It is an offshoot of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations taking place in New York City and elsewhere.

“Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions,” the Seattle protest website says. “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

The group grew in size Tuesday as word spread among protesters that arrests were possible. By midnight, no police were to be seen and close to 100 protesters were still occupying the park.

Liam Wright, 24, of Seattle, said protesters received word about 10 p.m. there might be arrests.

“So we called people to defend the occupation,” he said, “but the cops never showed up.”

The protest began Saturday, and each night the number of people sleeping in tents has grown, Wright said. Other protesters head home at the end of the night.

“We decided that we are not going anywhere,” Wright said at midnight. “We plan to keep this going indefinitely.”

A post on the protest group’s website, occupyseattle.org, said the group had about 30 tents and 125 people at Westlake Park early Tuesday.

“We need people to come and occupy with us more than anything!” the post said. “Come whenever you can for as long as you can. … ”

Around midnight Tuesday, protesters were standing around talking in the rain. Some were playing music and singing. Some were holding signs such as: “Stand up against corporate greed” and “We are the 99 percent. Corporations are not people.”

Another sign said: “Honk for freedom,” and vehicles passing by honked in acknowledgment of the protesters.

Noelle Stoffl, 25, of Seattle, had been at the park since 6 p.m. Monday. She had a sign on her back saying “info” but said she wasn’t a spokeswoman because the group was leaderless.

The group has permission from the “parks service” to be at Westlake, she said.

A list of 30 people had volunteered to resist, and in the event police come to break up the camp they will put themselves between the tents and the police, Stoffl said.

Other people, like herself, she said, are not willing to be arrested.

McGinn also issued a statement Tuesday night, in which he offered support for the protesters’ cause, but concluded saying the demonstrators would be asked to remove their tents.

“I support the efforts of the protesters at Westlake Park to address this country’s economic situation,” the mayor’s statement began. He then referenced his budget speech last week, quoting himself:

“We are facing unprecedented inequality in this country. It is always true that bad times are harder on the poor. But we have not seen income inequality this great since 1928, the year before the Great Depression started. The top 1 percent control 34 percent of the nation’s wealth. The top 10 percent control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth. It is an unprecedented grab by the most powerful to get a bigger piece of a shrinking pie.”

The mayor’s statement went on to say that a number of other events and protest groups have permits to use the park in the coming days, and the presence of the tents “has the effect of displacing others who have a right to be here.”

Stoffl said one of the groups the mayor cited had been in touch with protesters and was “in solidarity” with them.

“The middle class is disappearing,” Stoffl said. “More and more, it seems that corporate interests take precedence over human interests.”

Wright said the protest has a global context, citing recent demonstrations in Cairo, Madrid and Greece. “For every person,” he said, “there is a different idea why they’re here.”

That’s both a strength and a weakness of the protest, he said.

For Wright, his motivation is “a sense of the total unaccountability and underrepresentation” of government.

Jeff Hodson: 206-464-2109 or jhodson@seattletimes.com

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Comments are closed.