The Occupy Olympia street clinic and 24-hour bathroom no longer graces 600 Franklin Street. The Department of Enterprise Services issued an eviction to protesters around 3pm on Monday, giving them 2 hours to prepare for the final eviction at 5pm. By then, activists had already removed the mobile kitchen bus and the port-a-potty.
On Saturday, Occupiers set up the 24-hour port-a-potty, Med Shed, and mobile kitchen bus in the parking lot of the old Department of Personnel building in an effort to respond a need for accessible health care and 24-hour public restrooms in Olympia.
The building has been on sale since January after a process of state department consolidation made it “a surplus to the needs of the state.” The prospect of having protesters camping on a for-sale property was not appealing to DES which manages the property.
“It’s hard to market a building when people are camping outside of it,” Steve Valandra of DES pointed out. Still, the building has received no formal proposals of interest according to Jim Erskine of DES.
The building’s parking lot is being leased by individual state employees of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Valandra said his department received complaints this morning when a few office workers were unable to access their parking spaces. The Occupy Med Shed and the mobile kitchen bus was blocking 3-4 parking spaces.
“That was not our intent and that was an oversight on our part,” Joe Clinton admitted. After realizing this, Occupiers moved the Med Shed so that it was on a small square of non-leased public property. With hands stuffed in his pockets, Clinton said he thought it was ironic that the public wasn’t allowed on that piece of public property.
“I appreciate what they’re trying to do,” Joyce Turner, Director of DES shook her head, “We don’t discourage free speech.” Turner wore a dark skirt and pointed heels as she watched the Med Shed being disassembled. She motioned towards a group of resigned-looking activists on a nearby sidewalk. “They’re free to protest on the sidewalk without a permit…but this is unauthorized use of state property.” The property is also a part of the capitol campus where camping isn’t permitted.
Over the weekend, some protesters had gone into the building to plug-in an extension cord for powering a radio and laptop. In the eviction letter, Turner wrote that using the electricity and parking lot without permission “constitute a trespass.” Activists said the electricity use was minimal and outweighed by the benefits of providing accessible medical services.
On Monday evening, the Med Shed came down slowly. Three middle-aged men who worked for DES wore baseball caps and faded jeans as they unscrewed nails and stacked wooden beams in the back of a truck. A group of 25 activists watched from the sidewalk, snapping pictures with their smartphones and talking quietly. Clusters of state troopers sprinkled the parking lot looking slightly bored, talking softly or even joking with some protesters. Two little boys ran around arguing about who got to hold the red cup.
I asked a group of activists why they remained watching the disassembly process. “It was a vibrant, beautiful space with good people,” argued an activist named Emma who did not want to provide her last name. “They want to turn it into a dead space of concrete and nothing-ness. So I’m here to bear witnesses to the atrocity of them killing a community space.”
“Embedded in the type of experiment this is,” activist Jeff Berryhill pointed towards the Med Shed, “…is the seed to build a better world. I think being here we can recognize and further analyze what kind of system permits this kind of thing to take place – why using an empty building here or a tent in a park is threatening.”
For the three days the Med Shed was up, at least six people used the medical services according to Joe Clinton. Most people just wanted dry socks, hand sanitizer or Ibuprofen.Clinton said it was impossible to tell how many people used the restroom but it was “a lot.”
After an hour and half of mostly quiet disassembly, the workers coiled the extension cords, folded the last of the tent, and shut the back of the truck. Mist began dusting my camera lens just as activists began trickling away into the gray evening. With that, the Occupy Olympia Med Shed experiment was done. At least, for the time being.