Rantz: Activist says Seattle tree occupation will last as long as it takes

Jul 24, 2023, 5:55 PM | Updated: 8:16 pm

An activist nicknamed Droplet 2 felt called to live in a 200-year-old red cedar tree slated for removal in Seattle. For her, it’s a spiritual calling to help the tree they dubbed “Luma.”

Luma sits in an empty residential lot in the Wedgwood neighborhood. She’s the second activist since mid-July to occupy the space. With the proper permits, Legacy Group Capital has been trying to remove the tree to build six new affordable housing units. But activists, who claim a housing emergency, don’t want the tree removed. They’re camped in and around the tree to prevent the developer from cutting the tree down, knowing the city of Seattle won’t do much to force the situation.

“I do wish that the council would talk to the neighbors … would talk to the tribes and say, ‘Look, we want affordable housing, and we need to have some trees stay. And why can’t we make that all happen? We can,'” Droplet 2 told The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH in an exclusive, longform interview. “What can’t happen? We can’t dig really deep, and have homes that are just the same homes we’ve seen everywhere. We need to realize we’ve got to get creative. If we’re going to survive, we have to get creative. And it’s actually not harder, it’s funner [sic]. It’s way more fun to be creative than to do the same thing.”

Old school eco-activism with Seattle tree protest

Perched approximately 50 feet in the tree, in a harness as she straddles a massive trunk shaded by the cedar’s leaves, Droplet 2 won’t reveal her identity. She said she’s over 50, a lifelong Washingtonian who owns a business in the “labor” industry. But this activism isn’t about her. It’s about saving the tree and, right now, she’s the one who has been “chosen” to help protect Luma.

“The Spirit tells you when it’s time to let someone else have a turn. And that’s how I think about it,” she said. “… and we also know that it’s not just a hero that’s sitting in a tree. It’s a collective, it’s a lot of Droplets. It’s a lot of different people. It’s not just one person saving [the tree]. So actually, I don’t know when my turn is, but when Luma said that it’s time for me to go, when I learned what I need to learn, then another Droplet will have a turn and gain wisdom in their own way. And this is also designed to be long term. I mean, this could happen. If it’s a year, it’s a year. If it’s tomorrow, then it’s tomorrow. We are also just led by the Spirit of how long Luma needs us.”

Droplet 2’s goal is to convince arborists to refuse to cut the tree down for the developer. She said two companies already dropped out and a third, after she made a call to them, did the same.

“I said [to the owner], ‘I’m in the labor industry. And I just wanted to say, this labor person to labor person, that I’m asking you not to cross the picket line. That’s not what you do. When you cross a picket line, you’re called a scab. And we are just pleading with you in the kindest way we can, that if you end up cutting this tree, you’re cutting your reputation, you’re destroying your longevity of livelihood,'” she recalled.

Surviving on Luma

Droplet 2 said she’s taken several precautions to make sure she doesn’t get hurt. If anyone gets hurt, she said that will “let Luma down.”

“We have a climbing support team,” she explained. “Like last night, we have professional climbers that are on site somewhere. And so I can call them and they’re going to be there within a couple minutes. And so there will always be somebody that is very close by. There’s always someone here, [that’s why] we call them ground support.”

The so-called “ground support” are volunteers perched in lawn chairs under the shade of Luma. They’re there to coordinate any of Droplet 2’s needs, such as food and water. Below the tree, volunteers posted a flyer with their current needs, which include a WiFi hot spot device, locking storage bins, carabiners, and butane lighters. The neighbors next door appear to support Droplet 2’s efforts, talking to her about preparing cookies and soup when I arrived.

With a bucket and pulley system, Droplet 2 can pull up items or deliver some down. While I was there, Droplet 2 used the bucket to exchange cookies as visitors introduced themselves from below. Some thanked her for her activism; one mom brought her two kids to hug the tree. Droplet 2 said folks have come from all across the state to say hello. A volunteer said she had seen a couple dozen visitors in the two hours she was volunteering Saturday morning.

During our conversation, Droplet 2 looked uncomfortable. Her left leg was dangling from the trunk, with just her right leg seemingly keeping her in place. But she said she felt fine. She’s anchored in with “two points of safety” at all times. She said she takes it so seriously that she hasn’t taken off her pants since she went up last week because her harness must stay on at all times. I did not breach the important “bathroom” conversation since kids were around.

The politics of Occupy Luma

The activists are getting more organized as they plan to stay for the long haul. And there was a conversation, Droplet 2 explained, about whether or not to hang an American flag that someone donated. While Droplet 2 believes “everybody that contributes something should be welcomed in their own way,” the American flag was deemed controversial because “we’re not the America we should be.”

“I was thinking, what if the American flag was held and then below it, it had a hopeful message like ‘Redefining America,’ because right now we’re so divided,” Droplet 2 said. “And this neighborhood is, and this tree Luma has connected us together again. We were separated, and all of a sudden, we’re glued together. So if we can, in this block, actually create what we wish to see, then maybe we can have an example of how to live.”

Droplet 2 sees her work to save the planet tied to a greater geopolitical fight. She said Americans have become so divided that Luma could bring people together. She would like to see the area become a park setting that models healing and unity.

“I don’t think we could imagine how we get unstuck from the division that’s happening in our country. And we’re embarrassing, we’re not the greatest. We’re not the greatest anymore. But we can be. We can go back and build up. But with the way it’s going, we’re not going to make America great. But I do think we are going to make America great, we’re going to take over and see a new vision,” she declared.

The hypocrisy of the activism

Droplet 2 and the volunteers at Luma all seem sweet and caring.

The 50-something Droplet 2 acts and sounds the way you’d expect of someone willing to live in a tree to stop it from getting cut down. The volunteers below are older Seattleites who miss the activism they used to engage in, but can’t march (or riot) like they used to. They can, however, sit in lounge chairs and watch. This gives them something to do — some meaning. They’re obviously passionate and this tree is how they can show their love for the environment.

But there’s also a tinge of anti-capitalism that clouds their judgment. The same activists who claim we’re experiencing a housing emergency that’s leading to homelessness, are the ones getting in the way of six affordable housing units. And while residents who try to stop large complexes in single-family neighborhoods are derisively labeled “NIMBYs” (which stands for “not in my backyard”), these activists escape Seattle’s left-wing judgment because they’re looking to save one tree.

More from Rantz: Homeless at encampment with pool explain why they won’t leave

Housing vs. trees

Activists are trying to have it both ways and it’s exposing a selfishness to their movement. They need to pick a lane.

They can’t demand we destroy the look and feel of Seattle neighborhoods for more density, bullying anyone who stands in the way, but then give a pass to environmentalists acting the same way. If NIMBYs are selfish and self-serving, then so are the environmentalists. One isn’t more noble for wanting to save a tree than another who fell in love with the character of a neighborhood they’re looking to protect. Bringing multi-unit apartment complexes to single-family neighborhoods brings an increase in traffic and noise. Their aversion to that change is no different than the passion of environmentalists, even if one may find their feelings misplaced.

During her stay in the tree, Droplet 2 said she overheard a couple mocking her activism. They wondered why, with all the problems in the world, she wanted to save a single tree.

“And I just thought to myself, why would you want to be angry when you can choose to work with people and be joyful? But instead, the people that are angry… are they threatened that we’re going to accidentally make the world a better place?” she asks.

I suppose it’s a fair point. But shouldn’t that attitude go both ways? If left-wing activists want more housing, they’ll have to cope with sacrificing some trees and work with good-faith developers. There’s only so much space for us to build. But if these activists are unwilling to give an inch when it comes to their own priorities, then they ought to be more understanding of those they label NIMBYs.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). He is the author of the book What’s Killing America: Inside the Radical Left’s Tragic Destruction of Our CitiesSubscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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