Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Smirking in Seattle?

Our 14-mile peace walk through Seattle ended today at the Sadako Sasaki statue near the Friends Meeting House.  Following the closing ceremony at the statue we moved to the ferry and made our way back to Bainbridge Island for supper at the Winslow Co-Housing.  I am spending the next two nights in an apartment at the Co-Housing complex where 80 people live.  The furnished apartment is temporarily empty while the owner is out of town so I have the whole place to myself.

We walked through Seattle's downtown black community, the Asian community, the business district during the lunch hour amongst the government buildings and restaurants, and the university district.  So we had a good look at the city.  You can imagine that legions of cars and people saw us, heard the drumming, and read our signs.

On the ferry ride to Bainbridge Island after we finished today's walk I rode with two Washingtonians and asked a series of questions so I could try to clear up some of my confusion about the last three days of walking in their state.  I've noticed that we got fewer honks, waves, thumps up and other positive nods than on any peace walk I've ever been on - and I've done about a dozen of them over the years in several different states.

During the past three days (but I want to particularly focus on today through "liberal" Seattle) we admittedly again got nice positive support from the vast majority of black people we saw.  Immigrants (African, Asian, Hispanic) would usually make eye contact and often would nod - they were generally making some kind of human contact.  But amazingly the vast majority (with a few notable exceptions of course) of white people avoided making eye contact and were most often near stone faced, even smuggish, as we passed by.  I've never before seen such emotional disconnection from so many white folks.  (And just to prove that I have not lost my mind a young South Korean woman artist who is walking with us had the very same reaction that I had.)

Of course I questioned my own reactions - although after 14-miles there appeared to be a real pattern to this across age and class divisions amongst white people.  But admittedly I know virtually nothing about white culture in the northwest of this country so I was eager to discuss this with people actually from this state.

Thus during the ferry ride today I told two Washingtonians of my observations and asked them if there was any merit to it.  Could I just be way off base?  Was I being needlessly judgemental?

Their response was quick and resolute.  No, I was not imagining this they told me.  White people in this region "smirk, are smug, don't want to engage, and even many well educated liberals think we live in a post-political period where protesting is old hat."  I was stunned to hear this as Seattle is perceived as a liberal bastion despite being the home ground of military contractor Boeing and Microsoft among many other high-tech corporations.

One of the Washingtonians told me that many folks in these parts are into wearing the right eco-clothes, eating the right organic foods, driving the right eco-friendly car, riding their bikes, and the like but when it comes to dealing with issues to stop endless war, the plight of the poor and minorities, and efforts to overturn the ravages of capitalism they are not so interested.

Now granted there are people like this all over America and around the world.  I understand that but I can say without hesitation that today was the most mind-blowing example of white people either ignoring or arrogantly smirking at us and our message that I have ever witnessed in my 36 years as an activist.

As we walked and I pondered this surprising observation I came up with a biological species identification that best described what I saw during this 14-mile field examination.  I called it Genus Ignorus. 

Tomorrow we go back out into the field for another day of examination of this Washingtonian species.  I'll be sure to pass on what I find.


Blogger Lewis Green said...

I lived in Seattle for 20 years, and worked as an activist and lobbyist with two NGOs. If your insights are accurate, the city has changed a lot since the '80s and '90s. That said, it is possible that the residents have simply been overcome with protests, and just need a break from what in my time there were weekly events. We need to keep in mind that marches are but a tactic and we need strategies that fit each event, and not simply rely on a single tactic to spread our messages.

1/15/15, 10:19 AM  

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