Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What is People's Belltown Republic?

Belltown is my neighborhood. It's one of a handful of residential neighborhoods in Downtown Seattle, and is kind of like where all of metropolitan Seattle goes to party. Good suburbanites come to Belltown on the weekends for a nice dinner at one of our many restaurants, have a few drinks at our local bars, and watch live music. Bad Suburbanites come, drink too much, puke on our doorsteps, have drunken fights on the street, and drunk drive home. I enjoy the restaurant and bar culture on the weekdays in Belltown, so I forgive the Suburbanites for their weekend transgressions.

On the weekdays, however, there is a seedy side of Belltown that most of these Suburbanites don't see. Belltown has been an open-air crack market for the last twenty years. Recently crack drug arrests have gone up, drug dealers have seemed to be more brazen, and some residents have reached a boiling point. Some residents have been talking to the city for years about the crack problem, and have gotten nowhere. Some residents feel disenfranchised from the existing governmental system and don't even bother. Some residents watch the "crackheads" fight with each other and view it as entertainment. Some residents live so high in their ivory tower on First Avenue that they couldn't care less. Most residents are simply at a loss about what to do. Most of us have thrown up our hands in resignation.

The city of Seattle really doesn't seem to care about Belltown. The police do, they're working hard to do what they can with the resources they have. Governmental officials, who promised us a Community Center, have done nothing to help. They talk and talk and politic, and like every other topic in Seattle, seem to do nothing. At least we don't see any improvement. Mayor Nickels sits in West Seattle in his nice warm suburban house while we get stabbed, threatened, and intimidated by people who are in a horrible situation themselves--they're hooked on one of the most addictive substances known to man. Nickels doesn't seem to care about the crack addicts, and he sure doesn't seem to care about us.

I was at a loss about what to do myself. I talked to neighborhood leaders from every background (punks, businesspeople, drunks, barflies, restauranteurs, politicians, and activists) to obtain as many perspectives as possible. Still nothing came to me. It seemed as if everyone had done something already that hadn't worked. People were depressed.

I sat with the problem for months looking for a way to heal the situation. Then, one day over a glass of wine, it came to me.

We can't fight violence with violence. It simply doesn't work. Residents getting upset with the crack addicts will only make things worse. We can't use our hands to fight, but we can plant. We can express our love of our neighborhood by maintaining the neighborhood. We can be guerrilla gardeners.

People's Belltown Republic was born.