On Monday 28 November the Washington State Government started a special session to discuss cutting an additional two billion dollars from the already stretched state government budget. Some in the Democratic Party suggested offsetting some of the cuts with a state sales tax, which will disproportionately tax the poor, and only prevent new cuts to education. This not only does not address the defunding of education over decades, but also leaves other social programs on the chopping block in a classic divide and conquer strategy. No voices in state government stood up for workers, young people, or the oppressed.
Trade unions, socialists, and the occupy movement around the state mobilized a mass protest on that Monday morning, in Olympia, the capital of Washington state, followed by an attempted occupation of the capital building. There were about three thousand people at the peak in the afternoon. Hundreds of protesters flooded the capital and peacefully refused to leave. Many entered the congressional sessions, and using the people’s mic, demanded their voices be heard.
The protesters failed to hold the capital building overnight, but have returned day after day to protest and disrupt the special session and its budget slashing agenda. Both Republicans and Democrats have been shown that their support for big business will not go unnoticed. However, more action is needed. Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire announced later in the week that corporate taxes will surprisingly decrease this year. She said this was a good thing. However it is not a good thing for the mass of poor and working class people who will see their taxes go up, and their essential services cut.
The state police were called in Monday night to remove the protesters. They carried out their job with excessive force. Two Socialist Alternative organizers interviewed below, Clay Showalter and Sarah Moses-Winyard, talk about the police brutality they experienced:
Q: What were you protesting in Olympia?
Clay: For the past few years the ruling class has forced workers and youth to pay for a crisis they didn’t create. Half of my college savings were lost in the economic crash in 2008 and my tuition has gone up 70% since I started school. On top of tuition hikes, work study and Pell grants [a type of federal student grant] are being slashed.
But it’s not just about education. These cuts affect all layers of the working class and I believe that an injury to one is an injury to all. This is class war. We must raise consciousness through organizing and fighting back.
Q: What did the police do to the protesters?
Sarah: The police forcibly removed protestors who were inside the Capitol building. They arrested some, and three or four were put on an Intercity public transit bus. Police did act violently toward us, pushing, dragging us off the street. At least one protestor was punched in the face. The police ended up tasering four protesters, and a fire truck was called in as one individual was in need of a medic.
Clay: Peaceful protesters occupying the street were brutally attacked by the Washington State Patrol. We were trying to prevent a city bus from transporting people who had been arrested inside the building. I was standing in front of the bus when two police officers charged me and struck me in the head before wrestling me to the ground. One of the officers stepped on my face, cutting my eye and cheek on the pavement.
My partner and I were repeatedly carried and dragged out of the street by police as the blockade reassembled in front of the bus. At one point an officer held me by the neck while painfully twisting my shoulder. I am still in significant pain today, and a later x-ray confirmed I received a fractured rib.
Eventually enough protesters locked themselves together so that the police were unable to pull us apart. After yanking on our legs for a few seconds an officer yelled “Spark up” and the police got out their tasers and started electrocuting us. I scrambled out of the street after being tasered and lay down under a tree for a while before rejoining the action. At least three others were tasered, and one person was repeatedly tasered until he lay motionless in the street until medics arrived.
Were the protesters ever violent?
Sarah: No. There were individuals who expressed their frustrations about the situation at hand and the state of our nation by yelling things like “Fuck the police,” but this message was not shared by all protesters.
Clay: I am glad that the protesters remained non-violent, especially in the midst of such brutality from the Washington State Patrol.
Q: Do you think the police were just doing their job?
Sarah: Yes. The police exist to protect the state, but the state does not represent the people. The state protects the ruling class and maintains the 1%’s power and privilege.