from the PPU, Olumpia WA

Memories of Camp Quixote

The (abbreviated) story of Olympia’s Camp Quixote

My name is Ray Kavick, anarchist and member of the Olympia Poor People’s Union (PPU). This is a short reflection on the first week of an encampment we set up in Downtown Olympia on Thursday, February 1st. We called the encampment Camp Quixote. This piece is not that comprehensive, but gets the basic story out there. My comments DO NOT represent those of the PPU. The PPU is a non-hierarchical group dedicated to improving the lives of the poor and “homeless” in Olympia by whatever means available. To contact the PPU write us an email at or, if ABSOLUTELY necessary, call us at 925-285-5342.

The first tents were awkwardly set up with the people at the campsite looking over their shoulder every once in a while. I felt that many of us were waiting for the police to come immediately. During the planning meetings, it was assumed by nearly everybody that we would be at the site for an hour at most. When the first five tents went up and an hour had passed, none of us were completely sure what to do. But that soon passed, the group got together and we decided to go ahead and put as many tents and as many people on the sight as quickly as possible.

A local peace group was holding a sit-in at two locations that day protesting the laws that the city passed banning sitting, panhandling or performing on Olympia sidewalks. Once it was over many of them came down and hung out with us. People passing by stopped to see what was going on. The energy was beginning to grow in the small, gravel and mud parking lot. The tents continued to be erected, we made a few pallet runs in order to get the tents off the ground, different musicians came by and played for us and random people dropped off food. A port-a-potty arrived by truck later in the day. The pigs were nowhere to be seen.
By nightfall, the group was operating smoothly and the unity we had talked about and hoped for in the meetings was materializing. Once the fear of the police had subsided we all threw ourselves headlong into the undertaking and the sense of excitement among the group gave us all a small, constant buzz. We were no longer doing something “illegal”, we were doing what we needed to do. If something needed to be taken care of, people got up and did it. Whenever someone needed something, we gave it to them, or tried to. At the end of that day, the hope I had for the encampment multiplied exponentially.

The next day, in our local, shitty newspaper, we were on the cover. The Olympian was telling everyone that we set up the camp to “protest” the new laws. While all of us despised the laws, we did not do this to “protest” anything. We did this create what we needed: housing and a sense of community. But it was easier to label us as “protesters” for The Olympian, something they are still doing. Anyway, that day brought the media, along with more people, more food and more tents. There was no word on the police, but the in the paper the city council expressed anger at us for being “ungrateful” for all the City had done for the “homeless”. Everyone laughed at this and the day went on. We set up a communal tent to store food and serve as a makeshift kitchen. An Olympian photographer wandered through the camp, as well as a snobby reporter. The City manager, Steve Hall, a exceptionally disgusting human being, came by and informed us that this action represented a “poke in the eye” to the City. I suppose he thought this would fill us with shame and make us leave. Later in the day the Seattle stations came down and began filming.

A few us felt a sense of disgust and anger upon seeing them but we put it aside in order to get the word out about what were doing, accepting that our message would get skewed. I was to discover later, however, that the Seattle stations gave us pretty decent coverage, probably because they weren’t worried about upsetting the wingnuts, wealthy business owners and rich City Council members of Olympia as much as The Olympian was.

It was ridiculously cold that second night. A few people brought a barbeque down and some coals, being that burning a fire to keep warm was forbidden us. Later, even was burning coal was made “illegal”. The cops had started driving by regularly that day, going up and down the alley next to the camp. It got down to twenty two degrees that night. Perhaps if Steven Hall had stayed the night he might not have run his arrogant mouth as much he did and still does.

The next three days brought us a number of things which I will tackle in no meaningful order: a communal hall was built with lumber donated from a local salvage company. It was draped in tarps and became an awesome little spot for us to hang out. Our kitchen was expanded and a fantastic fellow named ____ acted as our cook, making food that blew out what the Starvation Army dished out. In the hall we had communal food and tobacco, with new donations coming all the time. We shared everything there. A few people were a little reluctant to share their tents and some people got mad at the positioning of certain tents, but the problems were dealt without much friction. I have not felt so at ease in a long time. I will probably say it again, but this was a small slice of the kind of community and future many of us dream of. Some of you may give me shit, but I wanted to cry a few times for absolutely no rational reason.
Those three days also brought the City Council meeting and the first real worry of the police raiding us. The PPU planned to go as a group to the Council meeting and flood it, but it occurred to many of us that this would be an opportune moment for the police to come. So those who could be arrested stayed at the camp and those who could not went to the meeting. Quite a few people spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, and one of those people was a woman named Carol. She ripped into the Council and expressed her outrage towards what they were doing. We didn’t get raided that night, but Carol was later arrested.

She had a warrant out for her, but the police knew she was in town since it was issued. This arrest was purely political in nature. Someone who angrily denounced the Council was in jail the next day. I am sure this disgusts you just as much as does me so I will not comment on it anymore. Needless to say, this unnerved us all, being that we were expecting them to come for all of us. At night, cruisers were driving by, some of them flashing their searchlights into the camp at two in the morning in order to wake us up. The pigs seemed to hate people trying to improve their lives so much that they constantly looked at us with scorn if not hatred as they drove by. We weren’t doing anything wrong, not even by their bullshit standards. But the OPD are a bunch of psychotic, ex-military mutants who never graduated from junior high, so I guess I kind of understand.

Lastly, those three days were filled with paranoia at the seemingly inevitable police raid. The Council, in comments and at the meeting, stated that they would not talk with us and that we had to go, period. Steve Hall said that if we didn’t leave then the police would come in. Rumors began to circulate. At 6 at night. Within 12 hours. Definitely in the middle of the night, probably 4 AM. In retrospect, the police and City did an effective job at freaking us out. During those weary days, people with warrants or carrying children took off. Each time we heard a rumor everyone was on the phone, calling their friends and the media in order to get as many people to the site as possible. The corporate media eagerly descended from Seattle in order to get those juicy pictures of people getting cracked on the head. Strangely, I believe their presence kept the cops away on at least one of these night, although I cannot be certain. Each of those rumors turned out to be false, though, and I think people got a little burnt after three days of preparing themselves for a confrontation.

On the second to last day the police gave us written warnings to leave or face arrest. On the back of the warning was a list of numbers for shelters that the residents of the camp could call. All of them were either out of service, full or impossible to get into quickly. After that, we began to look for another spot to house the encampment. A church was contacted and it seemed likely that they would let us. When the word finally came that could in fact move to the church’s property we informed the City that we would be moving. Nevertheless, the State had to flex its muscles and surround the encampment at the 4:30 Friday morning. We were basically out of there already and we finished cleaning out the spot under the eyes of the pigs. We left the spot cleaner than we found it.

Now we’re at a new spot in West Olympia, being graciously put up by the Unitarian Universalist Church. They are not dogmatic and are truly good people. While the camp is no longer Downtown where more people can get to it, we still have a safe place to go. The community and the bonds that grew out of that first week are still alive and strong. The City and their hired thugs cannot destroy the trust we all now have for each other, and that trust is the most important thing to come out of the whole endeavor. Without it, we would not be able to continue. The new camp is up and we’ll be up to more mischief later. But I can’t tell you any more than that. Just keep your eyes peeled… … .

Love, Ray Kavick of the PPU

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