Did the world end? Has our economy crashed? If you can read this, leave me a comment below to tell me how it all ended. I'm writing this on Tuesday night, so I'm not sure if we breached the debt limit and America's credit crunch killed the world economic system.
Anyway, if it is alright, let's take another look back at one of the earlier times we crashed into a failing world economy in 1933. I wrote about that last hunger march here, but that remembering was from a pro-marcher point of view.
Lora Weed's retelling here speaks of "*(the marchers') attackers used broom handles to beat the marchers into ending their march." But, this telling by former Olympia mayor E.N. Steele (in his self-published memoir) tells of a more patient and then flabbergasted response to the marchers:
I shall never forget watching them come in. Police met them at the city limits and escorted them to the park. It seemed as though the end would never come. They came in every kind of a conveyance; cars old and new of every vintage, and trucks of all makes and kinds. Many had tents. Those who did not were able to provide in someway. They came in January so it was rather cold, but they soon had fires going.It is striking the difference in tone and perspective between Weed and Steele. Obviously, both are coming at it from different perspectives. But, today, I keep on coming back to the "Lord of the Flies" story on KPLU this week.
These people were for the most part good citizens who needed food and comfort. Hunger makes men desperate. Part of them were farmers, but most of them were from Seattle, Tacoma, or other cities where industries had closed down, throwing them out of work. There was no social security in those days, but there are always radicals and at a time like this they stir things up and really make trouble. We did all we could to make them happy.
But, negotiations with the state legislature for some sort of economic relief were slow going and conditions at the park went downhill.
Sanitary conditions were especially bad. As mayor of the city it was up to me to get them out of town. I submitted the matter to the Director for the State Department of Health. He directed a letter to me, stating that they must move at once, in the interests of their own health as well as the entire city, should an epidemic break out. I wrote a letter fixing a date for their departure. It was sent out and served on the leaders. Copies were posted on the trees.
They sent word they would not leave. Some of the most radical made speeches trying to stir them to fight. Rumors were whispered around town indicating real trouble. I called a meeting of the businessmen and others. After advising them of the entire situation, I asked for volunteers to be sworn in as deputy police. Those present volunteered almost to a man. The new police were organized. None were to carry guns. Each of these hundred men were to assemble at 8:00 A.M., at the Chief’s office, each wearing a badge. Each of them was given a short club to be used only in emergency. By 8:30 each was at his assigned post. There was a string of men on each side of the road the trespassers were to follow. At that time the Chief of Police entered the Park. The men and women were standing around in groups but showed no signs of moving out.
They indicated that they were not leaving and tried to get the Chief into an argument. His only comment was that he had a hundred deputies and the State Police at his disposal and that unless they were on the way by nine o’clock he had instructions from higher up to place them all under arrest. Some grumbled but some began to pack, others followed and at the appointed time they were on their way.
I failed to tell you that after a meeting about midnight a State Police Officer came to me and said there might be trouble as several of the visitors had been hanging around all evening. He took me by the arm and we went down a back way that I did not know was in existence, to the garage which is in the basement where I had my car. He rode home with me and to my surprise I found a shadow police had been on guard for the protection of my family.
That was the only time in my life that I have had to be guarded by secret police.
It is interesting how perspective is skewing our conversations about the sitting ordinance, the lower barrier shelter and the current nature of downtown. Either the city is too accepting or the city is criminalizing the poor. We can look back into history and find strains of the same debate throughout our history.