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Seattle WA: #DivestfromICE Protesters Shut Down Bank of the West

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Originally posted on It’s Going Down

EDIT: Since the July 11th demonstration and following similar demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, Bank of the West’s parent company, BNP Paribas has announced its intention to divest from GEO Group! This is the latest victory in a wave of divestments resulting from grassroots pressure.

 

On July 11th, over 30 people picketed outside the downtown Seattle branch of Bank of the West, demanding the bank cut ties with ICE. Protesters attempted to enter the bank branch but were barred by Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers utilizing bicycles as barricades. Shortly after, bank management informed SPD officers that the bank branch had locked its doors. The picket continued for an hour as protesters shouted chants, distributed leaflets to passers-by and continued to block the bank entrance. At 5PM participants in the bank shutdown marched to the Close the Concentration Camps rally at Westlake Center organized by El Comite and May 1st Action Coalition.

Bank of the West is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, a large bank that provides funding to GEO Group, a private prison corporation contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain migrants. GEO Group operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, long a site of resistance and migrant solidarity, both inside and outside its walls. According to recent financial records, Bank of the West’s parent company, BNP Paribas, is listed as GEO Group’s “administrative agent” and is one of its leading lenders. Following activist pressure in March 2019, JPMorgan Chase announced that it would cease further financing of the industry. Wells Fargo, US Bank, Bank of America, and SunTrust have also recently pulled back. Without this access to capital, the future for CoreCivic (another large ICE prison contractor) and GEO Group is in jeopardy.

The bank protest was co-hosted by Olympia Assembly, El Comite and May 1st Action Coalition and was organized in conjunction with the July 8th-12 Week of Action to Shut Down ICE Profiteers.

The week of action encouraged concentrated disruptive protest be directed against financial firms invested in ICE prison contractors, GEO Group and CoreCivic. In a number of cities, the call was heeded with shutdowns at Bank of the West and PNC Bank branches, but also with protests at the offices of ICE-tech collaborators, like Microsoft and Amazon.

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Social Ecology – July Reading Group

Sunday, July 14, 2019, 2 PM – 4 PM @ Burial Grounds Coffee 211 5th Ave SE, Olympia

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This month we’ll be reading and discussing the Emily McGuire’s Social Ecology pamphlet.

This illustrated pamphlet is a fun an accessible introduction to social ecology: a theory developed by Murray Bookchin as an appeal for social reconstruction along ecological lines.

Join us for a reading a discussion of social ecology –– whether you’ve done the reading or not.

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

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Evictions at Angelus Apartments Are Only the Beginning

1a11111-1068x601In early May, over a third of tenants of the Angelus Apartments in downtown Olympia were issued 20-day tenancy termination notices. New co-owner of the property, investor and apparent house flipper Tom Glaspie neglected to include any justification for the sudden evictions. Tenants called management to find out why they’re being asked to leave, only to be told they don’t “fit with the plan for the future of the building.” If the plan for the building involves anything like making mad stacks of profit on jacked up rent, newly possible due to creeping gentrification, it requires vacancies. Any low-income tenant in the way already “doesn’t fit with the plan.” Allegations such as noise disturbances, illegal activity and unpaid rent leveled upon tenants by Glaspie that were later reported by news agencies, apparently bore little on the eviction process however. Therefore, instead of issuing “pay or vacate” or “cure or quit” notices that relate to specific landlord-tenant disputes, no-cause tenancy terminations were issued, permitting a swift and indiscriminate boot and hinting at the larger economic forces at work.

Sudden, unexplained mass evictions and likely subsequent conversion of Angelus apartments into expensive, market-rate units is a forewarning to Olympia residents: as our property values increase in our downtown core, real estate investors and developers will gobble up cheap property, drive up rents and kick out lower-income tenants to seek a more affluent and exclusive clientele. The more luxury apartment complexes pop up all over town, the faster residents will be priced out of longtime homes.  

While gentrification can appear a complex and inevitable process, it is constituted by specific individuals who make conscious, calculated decisions: landlords decide to hike rents and evict families and developers decide to tear down low-cost housing and replacing it with luxury units. From a brief gleaning of available public information, Tom Glaspie seems to fit the profile well: a shadow investor who apparently periodically creates shell companies for the purpose of house-flipping and other shady real estate endeavors. Some of these shell companies have been administratively dissolved, indicating sketchy, potentially illicit financial behavior. The predatory real estate industry producing gentrification in city after city is fraught with money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and other illegal activities. In cruel irony, while landlords and real estate investors frequently skirt the law to secure hefty profits, they have no problem invoking the law to punish and displace tenants.

The City of Olympia’s proposed offer of financial assistance (this offer hasn’t been guaranteed as of this writing) to Angelus tenants facing displacement isn’t unusual either. City governments frequently intervene to smooth over the thorniest aspects of gentrification. This often takes the form of punitive policing and the criminalization of homeless and marginalized residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. Olympia is no stranger to anti-homeless practices, from a policy of “whack-a-mole” homeless camp sweeps to the closure of the Artesian Commons. But city governments also assume more conciliatory approaches, such as providing moving assistance to tenants being pushed out. These funds can be crucial for tenants in immediate terms but they do nothing to stymie displacement or address the severe lack of affordable housing. Moreover, the landlord in question is let off the hook. Instead of landlords or developers assuming any responsibility for the social consequences of their actions, the city government effectively subsidizes displacement for them. This pattern could encourage further mass evictions in the future.

The evictions at Angelus are only the beginning. More than ever, it is time to talk, organize and strategize with our neighbors – whether we rent an apartment, own our home or have no housing at all. The gentrified vision of Olympia that the Angelus evictions point to is not an Olympia for its current residents. It is an Olympia for the rich, complete with ugly condos no one can afford and fancy shops selling stuff no one needs. Let’s keep this vision a vision, and not a reality.

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OlySol Response to Recent Comments on New Campaign

Our recent post announcing the start of a new campaign received significant backlash, much of it rehashing familiar complaints and arguments. Supporters also made their voices heard—we appreciate these commenters, and thank all those who challenged and contrasted the histrionic rhetoric pervading the thread, with composure and humanity.
We’d like to address some of the most egregious and recurrent accusations. The decision to do this in a singular post rather than in direct comment replies has mainly to do with avoiding unnecessary repetition and our intent to reach those who may agree with grievances against OlySol or question our politics/actions generally, but have not engaged with us explicitly.

Should tenants just ‘move out’? Moving out can be a fine solution to housing problems if a tenant is capable of doing so. Tenants who are capable of moving out of poor housing generally tend to do that instead of working with OlySol—commenters are correct in their assumption that moving to a better location is the easiest and most immediate resolution to housing disputes. So if tenants aren’t moving out, it stands to reason that this is because leaving is not an option. Moving is a particular hurdle for disabled tenants or tenants with children or elderly dependents. It is only those without a significant degree of individual power who must opt for collective bargaining instead. Olympia is actively undergoing rapid gentrification, leading to increasingly less affordable housing for low income residents to choose from. Without countermeasures like rent control policies or public housing availability, the ability of long term community members to maintain a minimum consistency and quality of life becomes ever more unstable and uncertain.

In regard to the notion that this complex’s rent/conditions are not so egregiously unbearable as to warrant this campaign: we are sorry that you and/or people you know are experiencing worse situations than the tenants we are currently working with. OlySol’s main mission is to improve the lives of all tenants who are experiencing harassment, are vulnerable to being priced out of their homes, and lack basic necessities which are minimally functional and accessible. It is unfortunate that our capacity to help those in the worst situations, in order of need, is limited according to who contacts us and by the relatively modest scope of our personnel and resource availability. Thus far we have only been able to take on one campaign at a time, and without being in contact with every renter in Olympia, it is almost certainly always going to be the case that there are tenants facing more drastic rent hikes, poorer quality conditions, and/or crueler landlords, who we are not actively working with. We don’t disagree that our current campaign may not be addressing the most exploitative, neglectful, unpleasant slumlord in Olympia—it is more or less regrettable that we are unable to do so, but nevertheless we firmly assert the justifiability of the current campaign and the fairness of our demands to address legitimate grievances by tenants who are subject to lower quality housing and at a greater risk of houselessness than the majority of Olympians.

The assumption that OlySol “votes Democrat” is totally baseless and irrelevant. Nothing about the work we do is on behalf or in support of the Democratic party. We don’t endorse them as an organization and it is incorrect to associate us with the party. It’s almost hard to really even take issue with the complaints about the Democrats on our page because they are so unrelated and inconsequential.

Our right to make demands comes firstly from the material necessity for tenants’ collective action in order to secure, minimally, conditions and affordability constant with standards previously adhered to over the duration of tenancy, promised in lease agreements, and guaranteed by state and federal law. Unfortunately, it is the case that this minimum may be met and yet living circumstances by no means constitute much more than abject squalor. It is because of this reality that landlords may be directly challenged by and on behalf of their tenants who are otherwise at their mercy, defenseless not only to indignities and inhumanities permitted by law, but also illegal transgressions which tenants circumstantially cannot afford to battle in the expensive and time consuming arena of court. A person without money and without time nonetheless has a moral and legal right to not be exploited or forced to live in slum conditions.

Are we ‘ignorant of the law’ or ’terrorists’? OlySol and the tenants we work with cannot afford to have legal action taken against us, while the landlords we confront have significant advantages, legally and financially, at their disposal to pursue that course of action against us. Thus OlySol must and does work meticulously within the boundaries of the law—which in Washington state are already relatively more stacked against us. Such claims that we are criminals or legally oblivious are plainly absurd.

To those genuinely fantasizing about OlySol members or the tenants we work with becoming victims of homelessness or worse: your cruelty and spite speaks for itself. It is never surprising, but always disappointing, to witness this magnitude of vitriol directed at one’s own neighbors. Even if the harshest accusations leveled against us were true, to wish such violence and/or destitution upon any human being is still appalling and unwarranted. We don’t direct or desire violence toward our opponents, whether spectator, landlord or boss. We only demand basic decency and respect.