I saw in the newspaper yesterday that 15 wallets were stolen
this week from people's purses while they shopped at corporate stores in Lacey. I wonder if these people will come flocking back to the safety of downtown Olympia for the rest of their Christmas shopping. I can just imagine the angry letters
to the Olympian: "I used to shop at chain stores in Lacey, but since the wave of crime and filthy hooligans that have taken over suburbia, I am afraid to walk from the Target on Sleater-Kinney to my car. We need to get these jokers on the Lacey City Council to take some action before South Sound Mall declines into a feces-covered, dilapidated, crime-ridden freak show!" Somehow I doubt it.
Becasuse I don't think any of the hysteria about downtown Olympia has ever been about people's actual experiences of crime or danger. They could be mugged and beaten for their shoes in the Hawks Prairie Walmart parking lot weekly and they'd still rather buy new shoes there every week than have to parallel park downtown and walk past a poor person spanging. The city has said one sort of sensible thing about downtown, and that is that we have a "perception problem".
The reason I say "sort of" sensible is because saying this is not the whole picture. The perception isn't an actual perception of unsafety, like some people claim. Its more of the perception of an unsafe perception that people are reacting to. Rather its not a perception of danger, but a dangerous perception that is being outlawed.
What I mean is that the fear is of the perceptions one may have downtown which they don't wish to have, which make them feel very unsafe. I would call this a problem perception.
People are afraid of percieving poverty.
The perception of poverty has an unpleasant smell: a mixture of wet socks, malt liquor, cigarette butts that are being saved for later, and a raging mouth infection.
The perception of poverty has an unpleasant sound: bitter, sometimes a little mouthy, always desperate, and this time of year it has an unsettling bronchial cough.
The perception of poverty has an unpleasant look: shabby clothes that aren't at all stylish or respectable-looking, and often aren't even attempting to be. Sometimes no shoes when its cold outside.
Yes, the very perception of poverty is dangerous and threatening. Dangerous to our cold hearts. Threatening to our greed. Not at all safe for our plans to buy ungodly amounts of stuff for our kids and family and friends this Christmas. Percieving this is dangerous to our way of life.
It is more dangerous than wallet-snatchers or drunk drivers or vandals or any other actual crime.
The bad news is that many people really feel this way. Mark my words, there is no charitable way to stave off the perception. The only way possible to get rid of the horrible perception is to swallow any pangs of compassion and legislate the poor from our peripheral vision-which our city manager determined stretches exactly 6 feet from the front of anywhere we want to shop.
The good news is that many people do not feel this way. I have been noticing the bustle downtown lately, despite the brisk temperatures. I see people with nice coats and shopping bags more often than I see people with cardboard signs. (Impressive, since it seems more people than ever have to hold cardboard signs these days.)
I see what downtown Olympia is best at: lots of different types of people engaged in a diversity of activities. Playing, working, shopping, sitting, learning, competing, riding, preaching, wandering. It warms the heart. Of course, that is my
perception. Some people think love is a perception problem.
I suspect if you surveyed the people who shop downtown, you would find them to be much more interesting and decent and kind than those that refuse to shop downtown. The reason I suspect this is because I know that the perception of poverty is not readily dangerous to people who are looking for opportunities to understand the way things work, or solve problems, or do meaningful things, or be grateful for what they have, or share what they have.
In fact, these people are much more threatened by isolation, and malls devoid of creativity, and oppressive, phony laws than they are of the perception of poverty. We may be threatened by the experience
of poverty, since through it we find ourselves in a condition of genuine danger, but we are not threatened by its mere perception.
It is a shame that we have the first kind of people in any elected position for this town. They have no credibility in this role, no business designing our law, as evidenced by the city's unconscionable amendments to the pedestrian interference code.
Its a shame that we allow the first type of people to be running the town newspaper. The Olympian gives them a forum in which to broadcast their ludicrous insights and pass them as reasonable thought. They do not publish any sense about downtown in their newspaper. It is strictly banned, except for sometimes a letter to the editor or a business profile. All the rest is nonsense and propaganda. You can tell Mike Oakland I said that.
What this town needs more than anything right now is to gather all the people who shop and work and live downtown, all the wonderful downtown businesses who are thriving because they are a part of the landscape of Olympia's spirit, and we need to begin to shape the policies in this community.
It is terrible that all the greatest thinkers and kindest hearts in this town are subject to a bunch of dumb rules made by people who happen to be more organized.
If some of our people were on council, a lot less time would be wasted by guilty Ebenezers touting how fair and charitable they are, and could be spent instead collaborating with other strong minds and hearts, working on some real solutions. Living wage jobs, transitional and low-income housing in downtown, safe streets, supporting the arts, building local business, and other things that have to do with real issues of safety and vitality.
I think that if Olympia has a New Year's resolution for 2008, that should be it. She should resolve all of this balderdash up at City Hall, and get some officials who are going to work for a sound future for our community, economically and socially.