No nudes is good nudes? Beach rally at Discovery Park turns into civic standoff

A highly publicized nude beach rally Saturday morning at Discovery Park's north beach featured more cops and media members than birthday suits, with the event inspiring heated debates about what constitutes "offensive" behavior, and the sole nudist getting hauled away by cops in front of an applauding crowd of "clothing optional" advocates.

An old saw among Midwest sports fans goes, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out." Well, about this week-end's "As Bare As You Dare" nude beach rally sponsored by the Body Freedom Collaborative (BFC), one similarly could say: "I went to a nudie rally, and a civics lesson erupted."

Rather than risking arrest, most participants at the Sept. 4 rally chose to remain clad - albeit some scantily - while debating cops as well as the single Magnolia resident who called in a 911 complaint about public nudity.

Altogether the event proved more media circus than meaningful event, though BFC spokesperson Mark Sto-rey, a teacher at Bellevue Community College and longtime community activ-ist, considered the rally a "victory" because it drew attention to the cause.

"There's a number of us who want to see a clothing-optional beach in the Seattle area," said Storey, who along with Daniel Johnson started the Body Freedom Collaborative about two years ago. "There really needs to be a grassroots effort. We have absolutely no desire to offend anybody.

"In fact," he added, "I'm offended that someone could be offended by nudity. There's nothing wrong with being and appearing fully human."

At least one Magnolian appeared to disagree with Storey's assessment of the acceptability of public nudity. Randy Hansen, who said his plans for bringing his grandchildren to the beach Saturday were thwarted by the potential of bare butts, called in a com-plaint to Seattle Police when he spotted a single naked man on the beach. Though that man quickly evacuated the site, Hansen stuck around, mingling with the several Seattle police officers present and debating a handful of irked naked-beach advocates.

"I do not wish to have the potential where I walk into that," Hansen said of the possibility of a nude beach in Discovery Park. "We come down here on a regular basis."

Hansen said he'd have no problem if nude advocates went through the proper political channels in establishing a nude beach; it's the element of surprise that he objects to. "I got no issue," he said of someone opting to strip. "If somebody chooses to do it, there's a consequence. That's their right to break the law."

As it's his right to be offended. When it comes to his personal feelings about folks going au naturel in public, Hansen is unambiguous: "Yeah, I am offended by it."

Your tax dollars at work

It wasn't long after the rally's scheduled 10 a.m. start that the police presence - along with the requisite KOMO, KIRO and other microphone-toting, camera-carrying Seattle media - became inordinately heavy, considering the nature of the event. A Seattle Police boat patrolled the water a couple of hundred yards offshore, and men in blue stood poised in clusters of two and three on the walkway above the beach area.

"There was a complaint," acknowledged Off. Lou Eagle, adding that whether anyone was arrested would hinge on the nature of the offense. "It would depend on the circumstances," Eagle added, citing the pertinent RCW dealing with indecent exposure. "There has to be a victim."

That victim, apparently, was Hansen, who admitted to hanging around "to basically make sure the law's enforced."

Storey, addressing the crowd on be-half of BFC, suggested folks save their nudeness for another day, adding that he'd been alerted that the cops were there to arrest anyone who stripped. "Keep your tush out of jail," he said; "there will be other times. We want to show that we're here to have some fun. The purpose isn't to alarm or offend anybody."

Instead of skinny dipping, folks played a variety of beach games: kicking a ball through a hoop and shotput-ting a rubber ball with a tie-dyed sheet. At one point, Storey challenged anyone "offended" by nudity to a tug-of-war with the heavy naval robe he'd carted to the beach. There were no takers.

It was after the major local media departed, having acquired their quota of sound bites and framed nonsense, that things heated up a bit.

Several sunbathers on the fringe of the gathering - and not necessarily associated directly with the collaborative - suggested stripping en masse and risking arrest as a form of civil disobedience. One woman wondered aloud why so many police officers were hanging at the beach instead of busting crack dealers, and a guy in bikini briefs yelled: "If this was the '60s, we'd all be naked in a second!"

A number of people decided to challenge Hansen - who, for his part, remained calm and articulate - on the philosophical implications of public nudity, asking what was so offensive about the human body. Some folks de-bated individual officers on points of law.

On one point of law there was little to be debated: the guy who went skinny dipping was promptly, if politely, arrested. There is nothing so supremely odd as watching two uniformed cops standing over a middle-aged man as he pulls on his skivvies.

All in due time

Mark Storey is a man on a mission. "I've got a plan that goes three or four years," he said after the rally. And that plan, as far as Saturday's rally is concerned, did not involve getting arrested - at least not yet.

"There's a time for civil disobedience," said Storey, who added that, while he admires the tactics of such historic figures as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., he doesn't adhere to the notion of confrontational or aggressive protests, nonviolent or otherwise.

"I like the cops," he said. "I start off with a prima facie respect for the law."

That being said, Storey does believe "there are times we need to push the legal envelope." His vision of civil disobedience, he added, is more in keeping with Ken Kesey's legendary Merry Pranksters than with the anarchist tactics - tipping cars, blocking traffic, breaking windows - that made Seattle's WTO protests world news.

Storey said he believes it's important, when pushing for social change, to have fun. "Do good to get attention instead of bad," is how he puts it. He said his dream is to drive into a park with a van full of nudists, pile out and clean up the park for 15 minutes, then leave.

The end result of such action, Storey said, is to establish a place somewhere along the state's substantial public shore-line for nudists to enjoy themselves. "We've got a very intricate coastline with thousands of miles of beach," he said. "We should be able to find a stretch that's open to everybody."

Storey sites a number of places around the country where nude beaches are not only tolerated but also admired for their orderliness and cleanliness - places such as Oregon's Rooster Rock State Park and Torrey Pines Beach in San Diego. He said these, as well as similar places in Canada, Mexico and, of course, Europe, are successful examples of how clothing-optional beaches can become an acceptable part of the public landscape.

"If Mexico can handle it, I would think Washington could, too ," Storey joked.

He said one of the reason nude beaches have been successful is that they tend to be clean and peaceful. "The nude self-police," Storey said.

To emphasize how generally well-kept and respectable most nude beach-es are, Storey trots out the inverse example of Teddy Bear Cove, a formerly nude beach north of Bellingham. "For decades it was used as a nude beach," he said. "It was clean."

However, what Storey calls "certain religious factors" on the city council succeeded in shutting down the beach, with what he calls deleterious effect. "Since then the place has become a pig sty. If they allowed it to be clothing optional again, the beach would be cleaned up in a week.

"That was a loss," Storey added.

According to Storey, Saturday's rally was an exception to the sort of activities typically sponsored by BFC, which usually involve only the already initiated. "We just bounce around to different parks around town," he said. "So far, it's been amazingly successful."

He said the collaborative - which has also sponsored the Seattle World Naked Bike Ride and the annual Polar Bear Dip - tends to steer away from trouble. "We really do plan ahead to make sure if it's going to negatively im-pact a neighborhood," Storey explained.

He said the north beach at Discovery Park was chosen as a potential site for a nude beach because of its relative seclusion, low level of use and accessibility to the general public, whether by bike, bus or automobile. Saturday's event, he added, is "the only time this year that we plan on having a public-type thing."

Storey said he feels the best way to establish a clothing-optional beach is to gather neighborhood groups and law enforcement together in order to reach some sort of agreement suitable to everyone involved. As a professor of phi-losophy and someone well-versed in social movements and political activism, he said he believes strongly in public process and plans on using his knowledge to do this thing right, he said.

"We're going to approach city council when the time's right," Storey said. "There are stories to be told."

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