SEATTLE – Protesters tussled with police officers and clung to camping tents as the Seattle version of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration reached tense moments Wednesday.
Officers arrested 25 demonstrators when police and city park rangers cleared Westlake Park of dozens of camping tents erected by participants of the Occupy Seattle rally. The demonstrators had been defying city mandates against camping at the city plaza in downtown Seattle since the weekend.
After the arrests, demonstrators vowed on their website to continue to be at the park.
“Our numbers will only grow stronger as the public contemplates the unjust” arrests, the website for the Seattle demonstration said, adding “the occupation continues.”
The protest in Seattle is mirroring the long-running rally against Wall Street and economic inequality in New York, which saw its numbers swell to thousands on Wednesday as unions lent their muscle for a march in lower Manhattan.
Like in New York, many chanted here “we are the 99 percent,” contrasting themselves with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Others chanted “this is our park” as police removed tents.
Christopher Williams, acting superintendent of city parks, said most demonstrators complied with a city request to remove their tents on Wednesday. Only a few tents remained up, drawing the police activity.
Williams said they’ve been asking the demonstrators to leave the park since the weekend. He said the city does not allow camping at this site because it obstructs pedestrian flow and cleaning crews from pressure washing the heavily used plaza.
Parks spokeswoman Dewey Potter said demonstrators are welcomed to have tents, but that they have to take them down when the park closes.
Police said those arrested included 21 men, two women and two minors.
About 100 people make up the core group in Seattle, said Lindsay Conquest, one of the organizers. Conquest, who is unemployed, said organizers would like to keep a few tents to shelter people from the cold and also hold onto first-aid kits and donated food, but that the city has not allowed that.
Conquest said they’ve tried to keep the camping demonstration as “peaceful as possible” and to be at Westlake because it’s the “heart of downtown.”
As the arrests were being made, Jack Bolton held a sign against corporate charters. Bolton, who is a traffic engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said he received an at-risk letter recently, meaning he might lose his job soon.
“We’re all in this together,” Bolton said. “This will go on. It will grow.”