Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Olympia Port Exec Galligan Addresses Council, Protesters Disrupt Meeting

Above: Protesters disrupted the City of Olympia council meeting Tuesday evening. One woman, above, spoke for nearly seven minutes, without a council or television audience. The meeting reconvened in another room. Protesters wanted Mayor Cheryl Selby to continue the public comment period beyond the 30 minute limit, instead of waiting for another public comment period near the end of the agenda. 

The chamber was packed with those who wished to speak about the recent rail blockade of a Union Pacific train from leaving the Port of Olympia with a load of ceramic proppants. Others wanted to speak against the Olympia Police Department, and for the city to take a stronger stance against the Port's shipments of ceramic proppants, as well as a range of other viewpoints and issues.

By Janine Gates

City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby’s opening remarks at Tuesday night's council meeting, combined with Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan’s public comments, set off what was just the beginning of yet another wild public meeting.

The council chamber was packed, with an overflow crowd in the lobby watching the meeting on television monitors. 

It's a dysfunctional relationship, and the lack of communication between the Port of Olympia, City of Olympia, Olympia Police Department, and the community continued into yet another week. 

There's enough blame to go around, said one young protester who took over the City of Olympia council chamber podium during a disruption of the meeting. 

It’s been rough, especially since the Union Pacific train was blocked on November 11 by protesters taking direct action to prevent it from leaving the Port of Olympia with 15 cars of ceramic proppants, a product used in hydraulic fracking.

The raid by law enforcement on the encampment in the early morning hours of November 18 has left many asking questions, and wondering about future shipments, resulting in packed meetings for both public entities.

Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts denounced the Port of Olympia and its acceptance of ceramic proppants during a council meeting on November 22.

Olympia city council was off last week, but in the meantime, last Monday’s Port of Olympia meeting resulted in port commissioners tabling meeting discussions with the city. Commissioner Downing said he was open to a meeting with the city through established channels, which would be between Olympia city manager Steve Hall and port executive director Ed Galligan.

If anyone thought that Galligan had signed up first to speak at Tuesday evening’s council meeting to extend an olive branch to the city, suggest a joint session to discuss mutual issues, or begin dispute resolution, forget it. He didn't.

Then, shortly before 8:00 p.m., after Galligan and other members of the public spoke during public comment, Galligan, Port Commissioner Joe Downing, and an entourage of port staff and supporters left the chambers, along with some members of the public.

Some community members who had been in the audience re-entered the chambers, loudly stating that they wanted Mayor Selby to continue the public comment period. She refused. Business had already continued onto the next item on the agenda, but they persisted, repeatedly shouting, “Can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil!”

Mayor Selby made a motion to recess and reconvene in a few minutes. Television cameras were cut off. As one protester continued to speak at the podium with a hot mic, Mayor Selby, councilmembers and staff reconvened and quickly voted to continue the meeting upstairs in Room 207.

Councilmembers, staff, representatives of The Olympian and Little Hollywood, as well as those scheduled to speak to agenda items, were ushered to the room where business on the agenda continued. The room was already set up for a council meeting just in case it was needed.

After the meeting, Mayor Selby was asked about what happened earlier, and what rule she used to move the meeting. She said that she followed protocol to be used in the event of disruptions to business meetings, developed by city attorneys last spring.

During the time council was not present and television cameras were off, one woman spoke articulately for nearly seven minutes: 

“...I would like to respond to Chief Ronnie Roberts' was a nicely crafted message and I can tell you put a lot of work into it. First, I do want to thank you for calling out the port, but that's about it. I don't appreciate sly words...the way you finagled your language makes it sound like you're actually with us when you're not. The way you come up with fluffy ways to hide the fact that you were directing hide the fact that your police officers were there brutalizing folks....

I've seen Ronnie Roberts blame the port, the port blame Ronnie Roberts, the city council blame the public. There's blame everywhere. And lastly, where's OPD and city council standing up and taking responsibility for their role in all of this?

I don't appreciate your words about protesters' confrontational behavior, Ronnie Roberts, when your police force was initiating confrontational behavior. How about the cops in riot gear confronting peaceful protesters? It was obviously done in the shadow of the morning when people waking up in Olympia couldn't witness this shit....

People are still coughing because of the unknown chemicals used....Your statements about people being injured is completely your actions do not align with your words.

You want to talk about community values...People have bruises and wounds and are still healing, not to mention healing from the trauma they faced from being brutalized in the middle of the street in their town, in their city, at 4 o'clock in the morning....If you didn't want to be a part of this, why were you there?

....The police here is part of the city government - we have every right to be critical about what they do and they need to be accountable for their actions. 

Above: Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan addresses City of Olympia councilmembers on Tuesday night.

Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan’s comments are as follows:

The Executive Director is the highest level staff position at the Port. With that position, comes personnel responsibilities I take very seriously. Those responsibilities include maintaining a positive and safe working environment. This is a duty that I know you take very seriously within your organization, as well.

While the intention may not have been there, and I believe Chief Roberts to be an honorable man that was sharing genuine frustration after an exhausting and stressful event, his comments two weeks ago have had significant negative consequences which have reverberated through the Port of Olympia.

When Chief Roberts said, “It angers me to have to put our officers in combat gear to face off with members of our community over something I don’t believe in myself,” my staff heard that statement as blaming them for the criminal activity that required police intervention.

I am here to voice my concerns and those of my 50 hardworking Port of Olympia colleagues, 31 members of the Local 47 Long Shore, port customers, and local law enforcement. None are to be blamed for the acts of vandalism, trespassing, and harassing behavior of others in this community.

The port has had rocks thrown through our office windows, graffiti spray painted on the walls, lit flares thrown over marine terminal fences, threatening phone calls, and most recently, a port maintenance employee was accosted by protesters while driving a port vehicle through downtown Olympia to purchase supplies at a local merchant. Employees at the Port do not feel safe in their current work environment. They question whether or not they will be protected by the City of Olympia police for the next incident after the remarks made by Chief Roberts. My staff does not deserve this treatment. I hope you agree with that sentiment – and that this treatment is not a tenant of Olympia’s community values.

My desire is to work together towards understanding the roles, constraints, and intent of our actions.

I am committed to fulfilling my role as the executive director of the Port of Olympia. I cannot stand idly by as it is implied, or expressly stated, that those who are doing their job at the Port of Olympia are to be blamed for the criminal actions of others.

In my 11 years of service to the Port of Olympia, port and city staffs have served Olympia by working well together, finding mutually agreeable and positive solutions to many challenges over the decade. We’ve worked together in a professional, collegial and enjoyable manner. 

What changed?”

Speakers during public comment addressed a variety of issues, but several spoke to the Port of Olympia’s contract with Rainbow Ceramics and participation in the fossil fuel industry.

Former port citizen advisory committee member Clydia Cuykendall said she supports hydraulic fracking and would like to know the council’s opinion on Chief Roberts’ statement. 

Others supported the protesters who blocked the train, such as Bourtai Hargrove, who strongly suggested that, lacking federal direction, the responsibility for climate progress may well fall to municipalities like the City of Olympia and Thurston County.

“It’s a big responsibility,” she said.

Zoltan Grossman, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College said, “The world is watching Olympia....”  

For more photos and information about the Port of Olympia, ceramic proppants, the rail blockade, and last week's port meeting, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search button.

To read Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts' statement, go to

To read the blow by blow of last week's contentious Port of Olympia meeting, go to

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Risky Business: Olympia Port Commission vs City of Olympia

Above: Part meeting, part trial, the Port of Olympia Commission met on Monday night with a capacity crowd present. The tenuous relationship between the City of Olympia and the Port of Olympia and county-wide community members involves risky business, and no dispute resolution seems to be in sight.

By Janine Gates

- Port tables discussion of City of Olympia’s hydraulic fracking, Standing Rock resolutions, meeting discussions with City

- 2017 Budget Passes, Downing sought to censure Zita for her role, conduct in rail blockade citing Little Hollywood, The Olympian news sources; McGregor refuses to vote for censure

- McGregor gives statement about Port's Role in Rail Blockade Raid, City of Olympia’s Chief Roberts’ statement 

Like a Thanksgiving family gathering gone bad, it was a Port of Olympia meeting that finally ended, after four hours and fifteen minutes of contentious, downright cringe-worthy, bickering behavior.

Much like the City of Olympia's council meeting last Tuesday night, the meeting room was nearly filled to capacity, and many wanted to speak or at least hear more information about the rail blockade of a Union Pacific train that ended November 18. 

The train, filled with ceramic proppants, was set to leave the Port of Olympia under contract with Rainbow Ceramics on November 11, but was forced to return to the port when protesters blocked the tracks. 

It was the first Port of Olympia meeting held after the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement raid on the camp, and like the council meeting, specific details were absent.

The 48 page agenda dramatically shape-shifted at the outset, with Commissioner Joe Downing dispensing with a discussion of the City of Olympia’s 2014 resolution concerning the oil-by-rail industry, hydraulic fracturing, and oil exports, and its October 2016 resolution in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. 

Commissioners were also scheduled to discuss the details of a possible meeting with the city.

“(We need) to determine, what the city does, if anything, about Chief Roberts' statement. We need to know where the city stands on protecting individual's private property rights and businesses that operate within the city's jurisdiction before we meet with them. It may also make sense that the city initiate a meeting with the port since they mentioned the port in their 2014 anti-fracking oil-by-rail resolution, and one of their employees spoke publicly and negatively about the Port,” said Downing. 

The motion to change the agenda was seconded by Commissioner Bill McGregor.

Downing said he was open to a meeting with the city through established channels, which would be between Olympia city manager Steve Hall and port executive director Ed Galligan.

“So far, we have not heard that from the city or conditions for that meeting,” said Downing. 

Commissioner E. J. Zita said that no decisions were to be made that evening about the cargo shipments, and discussion should proceed. 

McGregor suggested waiting until a work session in January to discuss it again. That suggestion was met with some snickers from the audience. 

Zita wanted to extend public comment to the amount of time it would have taken to have that discussion.

“The Washington Public Ports Association...encourages us to allow as much public comment as the people ask for....We clearly have some damage control to do…by taking the Washington Public Ports' advice, we would be taking a step in the right direction....I think they are giving good advice,” said Zita.

Downing responded that he took exception to the phrase “damage control,” saying, “The port is hurting as well...both sides have taken hits.”

Extending public comment to accommodate speakers was denied, but speakers were given more chances to speak that evening. 

Former Olympia city councilmember T.J. Johnson was one of the first to speak at public comment. Now a farmer, Johnson said that Downing's previous comments that protesters should 'move on to the next issue' was ridiculous. 

In response to McGregor's desire to wait until January to speak with the city about future shipments of ceramic proppants, Johnson said, “...Climate change is the issue. Fossil fuel extraction is the issue. The Arctic is 30 degrees warmer than has ever been recorded in history...scientists this week talk about 19 critical tipping points that were just exceeded in terms of climate change. The idea that people are protesting because they just need an issue to protest, no, this is the issue today, tomorrow, and in January, when you get around to your tabled resolutions, and for the next 100 years.... 

Susan McRae also spoke passionately about the shipments.

“The Nuremberg Trials were clear: when facing a great wrong, each individual is responsible for doing the right thing and working to prevent the injustice.  This is why I am here this evening. I consider the Port’s complicity with the fossil fuel industry a form of genocide. Our earth as we know it is being destroyed by global climate disruption....

“The available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that fracking is incredibly harmful. The citizens of Olympia know this.  The citizens of Olympia do not want the Port to be facilitating fracking in any form.

Several longshoremen spoke: Dwayne Napolean commented that everything on the docks is controversial by somebody's standards, Michael Blocker said that his wages come from the cargo, not the taxpayers, and Richard Corn said he moved here in the late 80s as a young Evergreen State College student against logging. 

The Port has given me a great standard of living, benefits, my children are happy and healthy and have healthcare...I owe that to the port....The port makes it a much nicer place to live in Thurston County.... said Corn.

Above:  Protesters who participated in the blockade, and bystanders who came downtown to help, assist with cleaning up the aftermath of the blockade, while law enforcement continued to guard the tracks on Friday afternoon, November 18.

Downing Seeks To Censure Zita

Yes, the port passed their 2017 budget and capital investment plan with substantial public comment, with the marine terminal revenue and operations still being the most unstable. 

The port continues to operate at a loss in the millions while taxing homeowners nearly $40 on a $230,000 home. Commissioner McGregor said that while he too hopes the port would be off the tax rolls, that it won't happen in his lifetime. 

Then, accusations of misconduct were leveled by Port Commissioner Joe Downing against Port Commissioner E.J. Zita in what amounted to a spontaneous trial.

Downing sought to formally censure Zita on three alleged infractions: talking to the press or public about information learned in executive session, speaking poorly of port staff, and misrepresenting herself as a port liaison in the rail blockade situation without authority.

Downing said Zita violated the port’s 2008 resolution regarding ethical standards, and two articles of its 2015 code of conduct, on integrity and respect. He also added an alleged violation to RCW 42.23.070 under Prohibited Acts, which states that no municipal officer may disclose confidential information gained by reason of the officer’s position.

To support the merits of his case, Downing used excerpts of stories from Little Hollywood and The Olympian, dated November 15, 16 and 17, which were placed on the viewing screen for the public. He proceeded to pummel her for well over an hour.

Zita capably defended herself, pro se, on each point, saying that the information she learned about a possible raid on the camp was not learned in executive session, that port executive director Ed Galligan had, in fact, called her and told her that the camp may be broken up on Thursday. She said she did not know that this was confidential information.

“We should all share concern for public peace and safety. Your way is to keep secrets. My way is to…not keep secrets,” Zita responded to Downing.

Downing continued with his charges, citing a paragraph in a story posted by Little Hollywood on November 15, “Olympia Rail Protesters Given Notice to Vacate, Port Commissioners Respond,” to accuse Zita of speaking poorly of Galligan.

The paragraph he cited, quoting Zita, states, “Port commissioners are responsible for setting port policy, and the executive director is responsible for carrying out the policy. While the executive director may have played a key role in securing the Rainbow Ceramics contract to move fracking proppants through the Port, future decisions on this matter rest with commissioners.”

Zita responded that the statement was neither accusatory nor inflammatory toward Galligan.

“What are our policies on accepting cargo? We haven’t finished that conversation…This is part of a conversation that we have yet to finish…and it’s our job to do that….” she said.

Downing said he sees it as a pattern of belittling the executive director. Zita denied the charge.

Finally, Downing accused Zita of misrepresenting her authority as a liaison of the port in speaking with the protesters. In response, she presented a string of emails dated November 16 – 23 between her and Galligan.

The emails explain the roles she and City of Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones played as liaisons in order to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation.

Her email to Galligan dated November 17 clearly states, “All involved understand that none of the participants are authorized to make decisions on behalf of their groups – Olympia Stand, the City, or the Port.” (Bolded and underlines are in the original email.)

Commissioner McGregor seconded the motion, “so we can get to public comment.” His second required the public comment, as the censure would be an action item. Weigh in they did - nearly 20 speakers. More than one said that Downing’s accusations were a “witch hunt,” and “embarrassing,” and demonstrated a lack of civility.

Many longshoremen spoke in support of Downing and congratulated him for protecting the marine terminal interests and their jobs.

Kelly Atkinson, senior vice president of Talon Marine Services of Seattle, said he represents the ships and vessels and in all his 20 years of coming to Olympia for business, has never seen a meeting like this. He questioned Commissioner Zita and whether she supported the marina division of the Port, saying she spoke in political doublespeak.

Earlier in the evening, Atkinson complimented the port, saying that crews felt safe and welcome in Olympia. He said that 25 vessels came to port, and crew members spent between $10,000 - $12,000 per port of call, dispersed through various channels, including food provisions and Capital Mall, generating about $300,000 a year into the community.

In Zita's defense, Franz Kilmer-Shoultz said that he was one of the protesters at the camp for nine hours a day, and said it was not Commissioner Zita who alerted protesters that a raid was imminent, but that it was, in fact, a city councilmember who told him.

The evening was so dramatic that Downing’s wife, Myra, felt compelled to step up to defend her husband.

Finally, McGregor said that while this has been a difficult discussion, he commended Downing for bringing up his frustration that the port has not been operating as a body of unity.

Instead of voting to censure Zita, McGregor recused himself, and suggested that all three of them be given a verbal warning.

“Let the healing begin,” he said, in part.

Downing said he felt he got his message across, and that the port needs to run more smoothly.

More public comment by a healthy mix of witnesses to the rail blockade raid, community members, longshoremen, and local economic development representatives ensued. For some, it was their first time at a port meeting, and they used a wide range of adjectives to describe the evening.

McGregor Clarifies Port Role in Rail Blockade

Capping off the evening, McGregor had a few words of his own about City of Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts' comments to city council last Tuesday, and clarified the Port's role in the raid on the blockade.

Roberts’ statement was transcribed by Little Hollywood and published in a November 23 article here:

McGregor said that Roberts took an oath of office on the responsibility of police chief and has a legal obligation to respond to those who violate the law. He said he was not going to second guess the appropriateness of the response, and commended officers for enduring taunts and intimidation tactics used by the protesters.

...While we were involved early on in the planning of the removal (of the protesters), the planning changed dramatically due to sensitive information being disclosed to the newspaper earlier in that week by Commissioner Zita. In a follow up meeting, Port staff and/or commissioners were then excluded and were not part of nor privy to the planned action, date, time, etc. of law enforcement plans that were put into motion....

An email from Commissioner Zita to Galligan on November 23 and copied to City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby and city manager Steve Hall indicates that when Zita walked in on the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement meeting held at port offices on Thursday, November 17, the port's security lead was at the center of the head table. 

Zita says that after she noted the presence of the port security lead, he was then also escorted out.

For more photos and information about the Port of Olympia, the rail blockade of a Union Pacific train, the City of Olympia, Police Chief Ronnie Roberts' statement about the Port of Olympia and ceramic proppants, go to Little Hollywood,, and use the search button to type in key words.

Above: There are more ceramic proppants at the Port of Olympia. Photo taken of the Port of Olympia on November 22, 2016.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Olympia’s First Poet Laureate: Amy Solomon-Minarchi

Above: Amy Leah Solomon-Minarchi was selected to be Olympia's first poet laureate. About the position, Solomon-Minarchi says, “It’s not about me - it’s about uniting people in Olympia. I can do this because I care about Olympia and people’s stories….” 

In an interview with Little Hollywood, Solomon-Minarchi explores her role, youth and military life voices, current events, and the culture of Olympia

By Janine Gates

The City of Olympia now has its first poet laureate, Amy Leah Solomon-Minarchi.

Based upon the recommendation of a city arts selection committee, the Olympia city council appointed Solomon-Minarchi to the new position on Tuesday. 

Solomon-Minarchi sat down with Little Hollywood on Friday to speak about the position, and share her thoughts about the meaning and purpose of poetry, youth and other voices that are not often heard, and the changing culture of Olympia. 

Even in an interview, Solomon-Minarchi’s words are eloquent, well-chosen, and quietly spoken, capturing powerful images. 

Solomon-Minarchi, an English, creative writing, and philosophy teacher for 11th and 12th graders at North Thurston High School, is also the advisor for the school’s “Write Club,” and advisor and publisher of the school’s literary magazine, “The Art of Words.”

She is also a choreographer at the school, designing and implementing dances with students for the school musical and Spring Arts Showcase productions. 

A member and student of the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Solomon-Minarchi received her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, and received her master’s in teaching degree from The Evergreen State College in 2010. She has won many honors and awards.

Solomon-Minarchi grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Olympia for eight years. She is expected to fulfill her duties for two years and will receive a $1,000 stipend per year.

“Olympia’s diverse populations are at a serious crossroads in which no one dare cross the road. Let poetry be the place where we enter the crosswalk,” Solomon-Minarchi said in her application. 

She proposed a program called, “I Hear Olympia Singing,” in which she says she will build community through poetry, offering literary arts workshops with the schools that have the least resources and highest need for art programs and enrichment.

She also envisions writing contests and readings with outreach to Community Youth Services and Olympians at large to elevate perception and engagement in the growing downtown arts core. 

Her Writing the City program would hold open calls for short poems, a semi-annual public art display, and a monthly walking tour and writing series that will take students to rotating spaces around the city to practice capturing sensory imagery and sound.

Ultimately, at the end of her term, Solomon-Minarchi says she would work toward editing an anthology of poems that captures Olympia “in all its burgeoning flux that will celebrate the local and rich working history of Olympia and the new, five-story culture of artist lofts, convention centers and Seattle transplants buying property in cash, who look with wide wonder at the eclectic promise of growing roots here.”

Solomon-Minarchi was chosen out of 10 applicants by a committee of five individuals who met for one and a half hours to discuss the applications. Little Hollywood was at the October 27 meeting to observe the selection process.

When they arrived at their decision, they said Solomon-Minarchi, “….has an energy that sets her apart from the others…she’s youth focused and very approachable and accessible. Her poetry is so place-based….She’s someone who will grow the (poet laureate) program and engage us….good presence….Her Writing the City program is so cool….”

The suggestion to have a city poet laureate arose out of a committee referral in 2015 and proceeded through the city’s arts advisory committee to promote poetry as an art form and contribute to a sense of place. 

Stephanie Johnson, city parks, arts and recreation program staff, facilitated the nomination selection and recommendation process. Applicants were referred to by number, not name, while they watched submitted video presentations and evaluated application strengths and weaknesses. The applicants were winnowed down to Solomon-Minarchi and her alternate, Cecily Markham.

Johnson and the committee looked at the selection process paved by other cities such as Tacoma, Fresno, and Reno. Outreach was done through the city website, the city’s Arts Digest email list, the Olympia Poetry Network, and the Old Growth Poetry Network. 

Solomon-Minarchi’s poem, Suburban Danger, was one of the poems she submitted to the arts committee for consideration.

It was inspired, she said, by a brief brush with a speeding car while walking a baby and big dog through the crosswalk at 7th Avenue SE and Boundary, in Olympia’s eastside neighborhood.

Suburban Danger

Cars speed past pedestrians in crosswalks
while babies stain Snugglies, dogs strain leashes
drivers yell, 900 points, and mean it.

Mount Rainier so majestic, could we climb it if
the tsunami hits? Better yet seek the water tower
pack the power bars, guzzle Powerade

and wait to be saved. Or if it erupts
could we outrun the lava flow in our
Prius? Would we run out of gas mid-flee?

If only my mother were here. We could
be generations until the white waves
Wash us out to sea, or the red hand claims us.

Above: Chum salmon make their journey back to spawn last week at McLane Creek Nature Trail in Olympia. Stream Team salmon stewards explained how baby salmon imprint on the water in their home stream. When they migrate back from their stay in the ocean, biologists believe they recognize the smell of McLane Creek by its distinctive smell.

Solomon-Minarchi was asked what she feels South Sound youth need to express, and what poetry might mean to them.

“Young people have a lot to share. They have a treasure trove of stories to tell. Poetry is an efficient way to get out their emotions. Students are working on how their voices have meaning, because, as they are growing and developing, at 16 - 17, this is the time they are playing with their voice. They are saying, ‘What does this mean?’ And once they graduate, they are just like little fish in a huge ocean. 

What poetry might mean to them is finding a way to look around themselves, ground themselves, and face the emotions they are feeling and chronicle the new experiences they are having, whether it is college, a job, relationships…it’s all funny, strange, and new.

“They are also figuring out when to tell their stories, what’s relevant, and how much to share. You know, you’ve got students that just want to tell you every little thing, and others hold it all in and lock it up in a box. 

The role of poetry, or a teacher of writing, is to give them space to be able to sort out those emotions together. They are in a community. They are not alone. Storytelling is powerful and the cultures that last have stories to tell, pass on, and are meaningful. Then there’s the question of how to tell the story. There’s not just one way….”

Asked what local or national poetry she appreciates, Solomon-Minarchi mentioned the art of Elizabeth Austen, a recent Washington State Poet Laureate, who wrote the chapbook, Every Dress a Decision, a finalist for the 2012 Washington State Book Award in poetry. 

She also mentioned the poetry of Brian Turner, a noncommissioned officer in the Iraq War.

Solomon-Minarchi says she will capture the voices of veterans, not because she is one, but because her husband is, and she wants to honor them with an open heart.

“For those who care for veterans, it’s not an easy job – there’s heartache, longing, uncertainty. I’d like to provide a counterpoint voice to say, ‘Hey, this is what it was like back home….”’

There’s also a place for Walt Whitman. “When I ask students to read his poetry, I get groans,” she laughed. “They ask, ‘How do I relate to him? Solomon-Minarchi says that is a valid response.

“I know that my love of poetry comes from the generative process of writing, and writing together with people, being able to see the same thing – going to Percival Landing and looking out onto the Sound. 

My poem might be very, very different from the person sitting next to me, and yet we both share that experience and that brings us together. Part of what I want to do is have open-mic at the Olympia Farmer’s Market. It takes courage to say it in front of others and celebrate our voice in the moment.”

Briefly touching upon the city’s current events, Solomon-Minarchi said she was watching Tuesday evening’s city council meeting from home, and heard Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts’ comments about the Port of Olympia and the recent rail blockade of a Union Pacific train by protesters in downtown Olympia.

“Being in this position right now will be very interesting. We have stories, but we are also making stories together. There is fear in the unknown, and what kind of direction Olympia is going to go in….We see the tall buildings going up and we’re missing our small town….

The culture will change, and there’s a lot of emotion about that, whether it’s anxiety about how that will play out, and whether we’ll be able to keep the things that make us different, like being able to go down to the railroad track at 4:00 a.m. and say, ‘This is not ok.’ This is real. Over the next two years, we want, through poetry, to capture the identity of Olympia, the changing of Olympia, and what brings us together.”

Above: Children and parent volunteers from Roosevelt Elementary School observe the salmon run at McLane Creek Nature Trail last Thursday afternoon in Olympia. A group of older children from North Thurston High School were also on the trail, and were being encouraged by a teacher to “....zoom out and sketch the greater ecosystem....

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Barb O'Neill's Family and Friends 47th Annual Thanksgiving Meal

Above: Rodney O’Neill greets friends as he carries on his mother’s legacy with Barb O'Neill's Family and Friends Thanksgiving event. Barb O’Neill started the meal for family and close friends out of her home in 1969. Eventually, it became a community event.

By Janine Gates

Rodney O’Neill, 50, suffered a stroke on January 31, but says nothing could keep him and a whole lot of friends from pulling off the 47th annual Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends Thanksgiving community meal. The event was held at First United Methodist Church on Wednesday.

“Without the community support and help of everybody, we would be sunk,” he said, crediting support from local nonprofits, the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 443 union, NW Realty and the Van Dorm family, and many more.

About his stroke that affected his right side, O’Neill said, “It happened so quickly -there were no warning signs.” O’Neill has worked hard to recover, and has progressed from using a wheelchair to walking with some difficulty. 

“It slowed me down but it definitely didn’t stop me. I have a purpose. I have been given the right tools to do what I do with knowledge, faith, and a genuine passion to want to help people….” he said, as well wishers and friends constantly caught his attention.

O’Neill estimated that about 150 volunteers turned out to assist with the meal, including a lot of high school students from Olympia High School and Timberline High School, who also provided musical entertainment.

Logistically, volunteers started planning on Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.

“Being prepared and working all day yesterday gave us an advantage,” he said. O’Neill was prepared to serve about 1,500 meals, but by 4:30 p.m., only about 550 meals were served. Each meal was deeply appreciated.

An evening dinner rush before 5:00 p.m. is typical, and volunteers were ready. Robert Johns, who has assisted with the Thanksgiving dinner for four years, wore a festive turkey hat as he stood behind the serving line, ready to replace empty serving food containers with hot, full ones. 

The total number of those served was down, perhaps due to the fact that the event was changed this year from United Churches in downtown Olympia to First United Methodist Church on Legion Way, in Olympia’s eastside neighborhood. 

The new location provides more room for folks to eat, sit, enjoy musical entertainment on a stage, and make new friends, or see old friends. O’Neill is confident people will find and get used to coming to the new location.

“It’s just amazing….Look, there’s no stress on their faces. They are happy to be here,” O'Neill said of the crowd. 

Not only were folks able to eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings, a resource room was set up to provide information about local social services, and a clothing room provided clothes, blankets, coats, and paper bags filled with soups and soap. The YMCA provided free shower passes to those in need. 

Providing enough clothes and warm coats for men is a perpetual need and donations are accepted year round.

Describing how he had worked on the meals by his mother’s side since he was little, O'Neill said that taking over the event was not as easy as he first thought.

“In the last three years of her life, it was like I was in ‘Training Day.’ It was always so intense with everything she was trying to tell me, and I was like, ‘OK, Mom, I got it, I got it,’ but the whole time, I didn’t have it.”

But by the looks of how shifts of volunteers were kept busy and smoothly rotated between stations, and plentiful, hot food, drinks and desserts were served with smiles, with friendly conversation heard throughout the church’s Great Hall, it would seem Rodney O’Neill has got it.

O’Neill’s Family and Friends will have a Christmas meal on Saturday, December 17, from 12 – 6:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, and provide toys and gift baskets.

For more photos and stories about Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends, go to and type key words into the search engine.

To donate food, gifts, gently used clothing, or supplies such as sleeping bags or coats, or to find out how you can get involved in this event or other community events sponsored by Barb O'Neill's Family and Friends, contact Rodney O'Neill at (360) 485-9931 or