Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Seattle Central’s Tougher “Occupy” Code Advances

by March 20th, 2013

Under proposed new state regulations all-night vigils by off-campus groups would be allowed outside of Seattle Central Community College, but a no-camping proviso already enacted would stay in place and a series of other guidelines would be enacted around the exercise there of First Amendment-protected free speech rights. Non-college protest groups such as “Occupy Seattle” – whose wild and wooly days-long encampment on the college’s grounds in fall 2011 sparked conflict with the college and neighbors while inspiring declarations of support from faculty and students – would be subject to a registration clause. They’d have to comply with provisions to limit noise; clean-up; pay costs for any litter left and damages caused; and refrain from blocking students and faculty from using college facilities. There’s also a long list of what constitutes prohibited “camping,” as well as a ban on leaflets with obscene language or incitements to violence, and a strong suggestion such flyers include author or group contact information, to encourage accountability.

The rules are expected to be the subject of an as yet unscheduled public hearing in Seattle in late May. At its meeting last week the Seattle Community College District Board of Directors heard the first reading of the newest draft of Washington Administrative Code language on “Use of Facilities For First Amendment Activities.” The proposed rules pertain to the campuses of Seattle Community Colleges only, and have been submitted to the state Code Reviser’s Office “as notice of the upcoming changes to the WAC,” Chancellor Jill Wakefield wrote in an attached memo to the board. Following 50 days of public notice and the planned public hearing they would either be passed into law by the board or amended, noticed for another 20 days, and then approved.

As the October 2011 “Occupy” encampment on Seattle Central’s grounds began to raise public health and quality of life concerns with college administration and some Capitol Hill neighbors, the district successfully defended in court its emergency ban on outdoor overnighting there. In June of 2012, a “small change” to state code more clearly barred encampments, according to Wakefield’s memo. Then, new more sweeping rules to govern protests at the popular spot on the urban campus were prepared but scrapped; and later re-drafted with a community and college task force. Wakefield wrote, “..we are upholding First Amendment rights while respecting the educational process and all Seattle Community Colleges constituents.”

The new draft rules spell out what would constitute disrespect, and potentially arrest if warnings to cease are ignored, the district says. Already-barred overnight camping is now defined six ways – as occurring between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and as including either sleeping, cooking, storing personal goods, pitching tents, or devising any other temporary quarters. Non-college groups exercising their Free Speech rights on the college’s grounds have to register and provide contact information. Amplified sound can’t disrupt classes, offices or labs. Sites used would have to be cleaned up and left as they were, with the registered group responsible for clean-up costs if they don’t, and for any property damages. Pedestrian, bike and vehicle traffic must be unimpeded.

Flyers and leaflets can be passed out so long as the language is clean and they do “not promote the imminent prospect of actual violence or harm.” The new code language also strongly urges that pamphlets made available at free speech events on campus grounds include the name and address of the responsible party.

An enforcement clause says violators of any of the code’s provisions would be warned and then asked to leave if their misbehavior persists, and that they would be subject to arrest under state or city law. A special proviso makes clear overnight assembly is allowed on Seattle Central’s grounds, but no camping.

When scheduled, the public hearing is likely to to lively in part because of ongoing concurs within and without Seattle city government related to police accountability. Activists were outraged over the beat-down by Seattle Police of an octogenarian female protestor during the fall 2011 conflagration at Seattle Central. The incident made global news and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn issued a public apology.

TO PARTICIPATE: The preproposal statement of inquiry submitted to the Washington State Code Reviser’s Office by the college district provides contact information for stakeholders who want to weigh in on the draft rules. Once date, time and place have been decided, notice on the late May public hearing will be provided in the “meeting schedule” section of the district’s board of directors page.

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