Open only after the heatwave...
Open only after the heatwave... Charles Mudede

The kind of society we live in is deliberately structured to make the hatred for the poor much easier than hatred for the rich. And the reason for this is easily explained by the fact that our system concentrates the benefits of our long-developed sociality at the top of a hierarchy. Complex cooperative behaviors, which are enhanced by cultural learning and coding, form the core of the kind of animal we are. And this is where individualism gets away with murder.

Individualism is not the diminution of human sociality but its privatization. There is, in a word, nothing but society, and the sole function of poverty is, in an economy that reduces the inherent richness of human cooperation to a desiccated system of exchanges, to deprive a person of access to their natural mode of species being. Poverty is the effort to make you less human. And socialism names nothing but the effort to reinstate these natural (or, some might say, God-given or human) rights.

With this understanding, we can see why the restrooms of Rainier Playfield were closed during the heatwave.

These restrooms provide relief and water to everyone, and everyone in public spaces includes the poor. This inclusion has placed Rainier Playfield and other parks under greater scrutiny during a homeless crisis that's culturally determined. (There is no natural poverty in our society, it is entirely imposed.) Spaces of consumption are privately and thoroughly policed. Public spaces do not have this luxury, which is why tents sprout in or near them.

The self-preservation of capitalism, which is fundamentally a class-structuring institution, requires the punishment of poverty. This is its key meaning-making mechanism. It's not that poverty must be alleviated (that is the business of another economic order), but that it complement a moral universe where it's role must always conclude in some form of punishment (homelessness, prison, mental illness). In Christian morality, non-believers are punished. In capitalist morality, those with access to the culturally limited riches of human cooperative behavior are rewarded.

During the lockdown, the Rainier Playfield fountains where shut down because of COVID-19. But the restrooms were open and, true, often used by the homeless to access fresh water. It was not unusual to see a person leave a car parked on South Oregon Street with empty jugs in their hands, enter the restrooms for a moment, and return to their car with jugs filled with water. But parents with kids playing in the playground also regularly used the restroom. This is the meaning of public.

A month ago, Seattle Parks closed the restrooms and replaced them with portable toilets that quickly became unusable unless the user was very desperate. No clear explanation was offered for this closure. (But it's not hard to imagine the most powerful influences on park administrators in a society that morally authorizes the misery of the poor in private and public spaces.)

Then the heat dome settled over the Pacific Northwest on June 27. The record-breaking days began. And the bathrooms remained closed for no good reason (outside of capitalism, that is). Councilmember Tammy Morales was alerted about the situation by my post on Rainier Playfield's water-supplied restrooms, and she contacted Seattle Parks to get clarity on the matter. But instead of getting real answers, she got played like a piano. The Seattle Parks play was to say COVID-19 shut down fountains because of the pandemic and public health issues. The fountains are on. Go drink water. This sort of thing.

The issue here, and one Morales also considered, was how Seattle Parks was slow to prepare for a crisis that had considerable advanced notice. With Rainier Playfield, the situation unfolded in this way: Because the fountains had been closed during the pandemic, people who needed access to water used the restrooms. But these were closed a month ago, effectively making the park dry. When the heatwave began, Seattle Parks kept the restrooms closed and offered zero non-online or on-park notices about the fountains that were re-opened at the very last minute (Friday, June 26).

This is how I saw things go down in my neck of the woods; and when I tried to confirm my view with the Seattle Parks and Recreation department, I got no response. However, I did notice today, the day after the heat dome lifted, that the restrooms were suddenly open again.