Information About the Latest Attempt to Make it a Crime to be Poor in Downtown Olympia
In a recent issue, Olympia Power & Light ran an article called “Battling Malt Liquor” about the Olympia Downtown Association Safety Committee’s latest plan to sweep all the scum off the streets. The ODA wants to make downtown an official “Alcohol Impact Area” in which it would be illegal to sell fortified beer and wine like Steel Reserve and Night Train. This represents yet another in a series of efforts to control public space in downtown Olympia through the criminalization of the broke and boisterous.
The target of the AIA is clearly the houseless and transient street community, young people, and anyone who’d rather drink a cheap beer on a sidewalk bench than in a stuffy, expensive bar.
The OP&L article listed bosses’ and workers’ complaints about chronic public drunkenness, litter, and urination/defecation in alleys and entrance alcoves as reasons for the proposal.
No doubt it sucks when the first task of your workday is to clean a puddle of vomit from the doorstep. But people pee, poop, and puke in unconventional places usually because they don’t have another good option. The hundreds of people flocking to Olympia’s downtown bars every night don’t need to worry about having a safe, legal place to relieve themselves. The money in their wallet buys them the privilege to sit on a toilet and flush their crap away.
“Battling Malt Liquor” pays lip service to solving the perceived public inebriation problem holistically through substance abuse treatment programs and housing projects but also admits that there probably isn’t much money for it.
Now isn’t the City dropping $35.6 million $38.6 million on an ugly New City Hall that most people think is a terrible waste of money and an eyesore to boot? No wonder the recent fire ignited a little glee in so many hearts!
The OP&L cover asks whether malt liquor is a threat to downtown Olympia. What the paper is really asking is if poor people are a threat to downtown Olympia. Some people—especially those with money and political power—seem to think so. “Malt liquor” is just a symbol of what the rich actually fear—rebelliousness and growing disregard for the laws that protect private property and govern so-called public space. Most simply, they fear the loss of control.
Remember the Sidewalk Ordinance, the RV Parking Ordinance, and the Noise Ordinance? It’s obvious that City Council and the ODA are most interested in making downtown more comfortable and appealing for wealthy consumers and business owners.
The thing is, if you don’t have much money, odds are you’ll be spending a lot of your downtown leisure time outside, perhaps doing things that are fun (and not so different from what people with more money are doing) but not exactly legal. For example, when you’re poor and/or young, standing on a street corner quickly becomes unwanted “loitering” and sitting on the sidewalk at certain times is a crime.
If the downtown Olympia one wants to see is a sterile place where only certain behaviors are acceptable—that is, spending money and behaving oneself—then poor folks and youth certainly could present a threat.
But what if the downtown Olympia one wants is the one full of life and noise, where it’s ok to get a little rowdy and hang out on the street, at least until your neighbor politely asks you to quiet down? Then the Olympia Downtown Association,City Council, the Olympia Police Department, wealthy business owners, and Olympia Power & Light are the real threats.
Alcoholism amongst both housed and unhoused people is a very serious issue. But banning cheap booze isn’t going to solve the problem. It certainly didn’t work during Prohibition, and it’s not going to work today. Widespread drinking is a symptom of a much deeper problem. It’s called capitalism. Many people drink—at home, in bars, or under bridges—to cope with the painful, depressing reality of everyday life. Limiting the sale of specific (that is, low-cost) alcoholic beverages while allowing the taps to flow in the downtown bars does nothing to change this.
What kind of solutions would actually put an end alcoholism and houselessness?
How can we make downtown a better place for poor folks and youth?
Think about it. Write about it... on walls, if you want. Talk about it. Put up posters about it.
See you in the streets!