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To stop gentrification, support homeless rights

In the past two months, the City of Olympia has conducted sweeps of most of downtown Olympia’s homeless encampments. Some dislocated residents moved to the city-sanctioned camp but many were forced to the peripheries of downtown or other parts of Olympia, far from vital services and resources. Immediately following the eviction of the Smart Lot camp, Olympia Police Dept. officers have reportedly intensified efforts to intimidate and harass homeless people on sidewalks in an apparent attempt to expel them from downtown.

These aggressive anti-homeless practices create the conditions in which gentrification can proceed. In an era of real estate sector dominance, city governments everywhere (Olympia included) are compelled to stimulate gentrification to ensure economic stability and secure sources of municipal revenue, displacing working-class people in the process. Removing homeless people and policing the behaviors they exhibit in public spaces makes urban cores more attractive to high-end real estate and commercial investors, precipitating the rental and price increases that characterize gentrification.

Millions of Americans (including many Olympians) are a mere one or two paychecks away from experiencing homelessness and millions more are at risk of displacement if gentrification continues unabated. Whether homeowner, renter or unhoused, to guarantee a livable Olympia for all, a city for ordinary people and not a playground for the rich, we must extend solidarity and support to our homeless neighbors who are time and again gentrification’s first victims.

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Small businesses and the rhetoric of “community”

In Olympia, the sanctity of small business prevails. The narrative holds that small businesses are community-oriented and less exploitative than their corporate competitors. Business owners are frequently lumped together with workers, consumers and even homeless people in composing an illusory “downtown community.” How do small businesses relate to other constituents in this “community?”

Claims that small businesses are less exploitative are demonstrably false. Data from the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages shows that small businesses pay far lower wages than larger employers. Smaller firms also perform dismally in regards to employee benefits, with only a minority nationwide offering retirement and health plans, a LIMRA study suggests.

Working-class consumers and small businesses weren’t always seen as belonging to the same community. In the early 1900s, neighborhood shopkeepers were often viewed as price-gougers, profiting off the desperation of poor people in need of basic goods. Tensions periodically erupted in class struggle, resulting in protests and riots against high prices.

As downtown Olympia gentrifies, the prospect of altered market conditions will compel business owners to raise prices, actively harming the other elements of this “downtown community.” To cleanse downtown and attract real estate and commercial investment, homeless people are criminalized and expelled. Small businesses have participated in this anti-homeless assault, from supporting the Downtown Safety Team to advocating against more services downtown.

A “downtown community” doesn’t exist, but such rhetoric is effective in masking exploitation and exclusion perpetrated by small businesses – whether against downtown’s workers, consumers or homeless residents.

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Spring 2019 General Assembly

You’re invited to Olympia Assembly’s upcoming general assembly on May 4th at 1:00pm @ Sylvester Park.
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Olympia Assembly is a libertarian socialist organization, connecting people from a variety of backgrounds and political perspectives around the principles of participatory democracy, direct action, collective liberation and solidarity, cooperative economics and mutual aid, and ecological stewardship. We seek to advance a platform to transform our city, region and the world along horizontal and cooperative lines and to provide a practical and revolutionary structure for non-ruling class people to resist systems of domination and hierarchy. We will work in solidarity with other regional and global efforts working towards a new politics of participatory democracy, ecology, freedom and socialism.

Our general assemblies occur four times per year and are a place for community members and radicals to come together to discuss the essential social, political and economic issues pertinent to the community at large & brainstorm radical, direct action and mutual aid based solutions to them. The discussions at these general assemblies helps to determine the focus of Olympia Assembly as an organization for the next several months.

The agenda will be popularly generated by participants, so bring ideas and discussion topics that are important to you and the community at large.

“Doors” will open at 1:00 pm for a potluck and the assembly will be from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

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Science-Fiction, Dystopia and Utopia – April Reading group

Sunday, April 7, 2019, 2 PM – 4 PM @ 115 Legion Way SE, Olympia, WA

This month we’ll be reading and discussing the articles Dystopias Now by Kim Stanley Robinson and The Limits of Utopia by China Miéville.

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Join us for a  discussion of these two short articles by science fiction authors K on dystopias and utopias and how they shape the lens that we interpret the world through and affect our organizing.

Reading group texts do not necessarily represent Olympia Assembly, we read them for critical engagement and discussion.

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Dual Power, Revolution and Symbiosis – March Reading Group

Sunday, March 3, 2019, 2 PM – 4 PM @ 115 Legion Way SE, Olympia, WA

This month we’ll be discussing three different pieces on Dual Power: Revolution is not a metaphor by Sophia Burns, Base-Building: Activist Networking or Organizing the Unorganized? by Tim Horras, and an excerpt from Community, Democracy, and Mutual Aid: Toward Dual Power and Beyond by the Symbiosis Research Collective.

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Olympia Assembly has recently voted to join Symbiosis, an organization which seeks to connect municipalist organizations across the globe to fight for socialism using the tactic of dual power. An Olympia Assembly member (Paige) has brought up that the definition of dual Power used by Symbiosis misrepresents that tactic and portrays it as a method of replacing the economy one co-op at a time rather than a means to build capacity for a revolutionary movement. As stated on the Symbiosis website, “This dual power strategy can help sustain our communities under capitalism, channel our collective action to fight back more effectively, and eventually supplant the institutions of capitalism to become the governing structures of the liberated society.”

Dual power is a term first used by Lenin and Trotsky during the Russian socialist revolution in 1917. To them, the goal of dual power was not to “supplant” the economy, but a means of building an alternative to win a contestation for power, overthrow the Duma government in an insurrection, and establish a socialist government. While the conditions of the world today have changed, and socialists cannot seek to simply copy and paste the tactics of past revolutionaries, a tradition of dual power has been carried on by various Marxist tendencies.

I am recommending two short pieces of reading for this discussion, all that deal with the long term goal of dual power (referred to as base-building in the first article). While the differences may not seem that large, the long term trajectory of a socialist project is very important. Supplanting an economy through co-ops and building revolutionary power share similar tactics in the short term, but without a plan, we very well may lose the class struggle. I hope this can lead to some thoughtful discussion.

~Paige

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Social Reproduction Theory – February Reading Group

This month we will be reading and discussing the essay “Without Reserves” by Salar Mohandesi and Emma Teitelman. Download a pdf here.
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Radical economic analysis has long focused on the conditions and exploitation of workers in the workplace. In the 1970s Marxist-feminists sought to broaden this focus from the production of commodities to the production of life generally. This theoretical intervention, social reproduction theory, particularly highlighted the myriad gendered and often unwaged activities that characterized household labor. Social reproduction theory has now conceptually expanded beyond the household and nuclear family to examine the numerous ways capitalist society is reproduced outside the workplace – whether through gender, race, state violence or market exploitation. This month’s reading, Without Reserves, offers a history of U.S. capitalism from a social reproduction perspective.

In addition to the reading, here is a short introductory video on social reproduction theory:
https://www.plutobooks.com/blog/video-what-is-social-reproduction-theory/

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OlySol Response to Recent Olympian Editorial

For reference, here is a link to the original Olympian article:
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Dear Olympian Editorial Board,

From the beginning, your skewed coverage has made it clear that the Olympian sided with anti-homeless downtown business/property owners, and was unwilling to provide a fair and balanced depiction of what OlySol is actually doing and why. But OlySol members are glad that the Olympian Editorial Board finally came out and put their bias on full display.

The Olympian uncritically prints claims of business owners saying they “feel threatened”, in spite of the fact that they don’t have a single documented example of any threats from OlySol. OlySol has never committed any violent acts or threatened violence against anyone. Meanwhile, the comments sections on the Olympian’s Facebook page are full of business owners and their far-right allies making calls for mass murder and violence against the homeless population and OlySol. There, anti-homeless advocates are calling for the starving, violent displacement, and killing of homeless people as well as  wishing that everyone in the homeless camps would die of overdoses. They are calling for white nationalist organizations to show up in town and form vigilante street patrols and “clean things up”. Business owners are calling for tougher vagrancy laws, increased policing, and employing private security to expel homeless people from safe sleeping locations downtown, putting their lives and wellbeing  at risk. If the Olympian Editorial Board really cared about “violence” or about people feeling threatened, they would be publishing articles about the threats faced by the homeless community, about the violence of gentrification, the violence of the white nationalist groups – threats coming from the well off downtown business and property owners that the Olympian has sided with.

OlySol, which is busy organizing material aid projects, such as Mutual Aid Mondays, for the homeless and preventing private security guards from harassing people while they sleep are “enemies of the homeless”. Organizing working-class people to fight back against anti-homeless campaigns is “creating division” instead of “unity”. Meanwhile, greedy landlords and business owners are literally creating homelessness by driving up rents and paying low wages, so that people can’t afford housing. But they are portrayed by the Olympian as compassionate and caring members of the community who are trying to solve “the homeless problem” (i.e. the proximity and visibility of homelessness to the monied interests of downtown.) If only these meddling kids at OlySol would just “grow up” and stop getting in the way of more “civilized” efforts to make things “safer” and more “vibrant” by driving all of the homeless people out of town, so that downtown businesses can make more money.

The Olympian Editorial Board’s proposed solution is to deploy police violence against OlySol, encouraging the arrest of OlySol members if they protest again. On what grounds? The Olympia Police Department, while I’m sure they’d love to arrest and suppress OlySol members, has already made clear in public statements that they cannot arrest OlySol for exercising their legally protected first amendment rights to protest. If you think that the non-violent forms of protest that OlySol has been using (street demonstrations, flyers, social media campaigns, etc) are not “civilized”, what exactly would you suggest that community members do? The fact is that OlySol’s tactics have worked, and that the influential business and property owners you represent are angry about that, and are using the Olympian to run a propaganda campaign painting their opponents as terrorists.

OlySol gives a thumbs down to the Olympian for blindly reprinting the lies of greedy, anti-homeless business owners and landlords who want to see OlySol members in prison on “terrorism” charges, and the homeless community either dead or violently expelled from Olympia.

OlySol gives a thumbs up to the working-class people who have showed up to support and participate in solidarity actions, collectively proving that direct actions gets the goods (although it might make you some enemies on the editorial board of the local paper).