WALLA WALLA — Demonstrators at Heritage Square Park made some noise in a Saturday protest of a musical tactic being used to chase lingering visitors out of the public space.
Around 2 p.m. a dozen or so people began pounding on buckets, a cowbell and other items in a sort of drum circle that drowned out the Christmas music coming through speakers directed at the park from one of the two surrounding buildings.
The effort was part of an initiative to “take back our park,” according to fliers distributed to passers-by. Saturday’s demonstration was organized by “Wildwood Collective,” a group that on Facebook describes itself as “dedicated to collective living, urban farming, fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism.”
Organizers take exception to efforts by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, as well local merchants, to make the park inhospitable by piping everything from opera to country and now Christmas tunes into the park.
“Their blanket ‘solution’ is unfair and discriminatory to its core,” the flier explained. “We are here to call attention to, and stand up against bullying and demand that the city and (downtown foundation) work with all members of the community and not just a select few to come up with a solution.”
The musical tactic has been in motion since last August at the request of property owners, downtown foundation Events and Public Relations Manager Jennifer Northam said. She said the park had become a den of illicit activity, including drug dealing and public indecency. The music is one of several approaches to dissuade illegal activity, she said. Landscaping was also changed, including the removal of a ramp and some bushes to open up the space. Police patrols also increased and resulted in several arrests by the end of summer, Northam said.
Until Saturday’s demonstration, which was monitored by a city police officer, Northam said the foundation had not otherwise received any calls or complaints about the strategy. “We don’t want to stop people from using the park,” she said. “We don’t want to stop kids who aren’t doing anything wrong from using the park.”
“There are still people in park, enjoying the park, but those illegal activities have been cut back.”
Those interested in learning more about Wildwood Collective or about efforts to “take back our park” email firstname.lastname@example.org .