I was never fortunate enough to meet Cal Anderson, the man for whom the park is named, but stories of his career surround Capitol Hill, Seattle, and Washington. With just a few hours left before police sweep through the park, chasing away people with nowhere else to go, I can’t help thinking that the entire situation is a poor way to honor his memory.
Born in the late 1940s, Cal was Washington’s first openly gay state legislator, and from 1987 to his death in 1995, he worked tirelessly to protect vulnerable people. My favorite Cal Anderson story is from the time the Liquor Control Board threatened to shut down a gay bar called Tugs Belmont for hosting an underwear night; Cal said he’d start hanging out at the bar in his underwear, daring police to arrest a state senator. It was just one of countless times that he stood up to those in power.
Cal was a relentless advocate for those in need. He sponsored bills to remove kids from abusive homes; to restrict weapons permits from people convicted of substance-abuse-related crimes; to protect public access to government meetings; to stop Republicans from banning gay parents from adopting; to use taxes to bolster education and social services; and to block efforts to ban colleges from discussing homosexuality.
Tomorrow, no matter what happens in the park, Cal’s name will be invoked countless times in discussions about housing insecurity and police power. I don’t think there’s any point in speculating about what historical icons “would have wanted” — such speculations are always wrong — but I think there’s significance in what Cal represents today.
Cal was at times a pragmatist. At other times he dreamed big: His entire time in the legislature, he repeatedly introduced an equal-rights bill that failed every single year, finally passing a decade after his death. He knew what he was up against, and he wasn’t afraid of sticking to his ideals, no matter how impossible they might seem — after all, his presence in the legislature was nothing short of a miracle, given the times.
When I think of Cal’s legacy, I think of someone who rose to a position of power that he then used to uplift those in need. It’s obscene that today we’ve failed to provide safe, dignified shelter to everyone who needs it; and if Cal's name is to be associated with anything today, it should be with the radical refusal to allow the marginalized to suffer.