Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘self determination’ Category

PARC’s Presentation to Veterans for Peace

Please check out the below presentation we gave in April 2017 about the origins and work of Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community.  Also, here is an anti-war Radical Rap radio show that Verbena hosted on KMUD April 17, 2017: https://www.mediafire.com/?4ljyg6dw8y4ecob


WE THANK AND ACKNOWLEDGE ALL OF YOU who donate to PARC– we know you support us from your Social Security checks, your as you struggle with health problems, while you raise a family, while you support your loved ones, as you work your asses off, even though you are thousands of miles away, while you struggle with injustice, as you create your art, as you teach, while you build or work to repair your communities, as you provide daily healthcare, as you rescue animals, and while there are so many worthwhile projects and movements and people to support. THANK YOU!

PARC Presentation to Veterans For Peace, Humboldt Bay, Chapter 56 

PARC is an organizing and resource space that has been in Eureka CA, where it started, since Nov. 2007. Many of us who established the space had been organizing as PEOPLE PROJECT and Acción Zapatísta for several years. Earlier in 2007, we created a beautiful encampment in Arcata, the purpose of which was to expose and bring attention to: the fact that there is no free and legal place for people to sleep; the criminalization of people who are poor, homeless, and have no place for dignified rest; and the human rights violations that accompany an intentional politics of cruelty. Some of you might remember that 12 day and night encampment because Jim Sorter and other Vets For Peace would share dinner with us during sunsets.

So, PARC was created with that kind of organizing in mind- the need for space to meet and simply be, to work and build solidarity and power among the people, and a space that was welcoming, and often run by people of color and LGBTQI folks. In the summer of 2007, Martin Cotton II, a white homeless man with visible mental health issues, unarmed, was beat to death by Eureka Police in front of the Eureka Rescue Mission, and thrown in the jail- where he died. Those of us doing copwatch work realized that we needed a place where the many witnesses could safely come and talk about what they saw and experienced.

Those are the origins of PARC which we say is “focused on justice and care.”

We have run a modest, grassroots space for almost 10 years now- all donation-based, all volunteer. We’re still dealing with the same realities that led to the PEOPLE PROJECT encampment, and have created other safe sleeping spaces in Eureka, weekly “End the War on the Poor” protests, a campaign to raise Eureka’s minimum wage, and myriad projects against state violence. Many groups have used the space. Many military veterans plug in with PARC, as volunteers or to access resources. PARC is very active in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), working to end solitary confinement in CA prisons and jails and support the prisoner class led human rights movement. Currently, we are trying to end a torture campaign of sleep deprivation in CA’s solitary confinement units. We have 4 phone lines-for the statewide PHSS, PARC, Jail Support, and Redwood Curtain CopWatch. We do court support and strategizing- for tenants’ rights, for people getting put through the in-justice system, assisting people who’ve had their rights violated, child custody and family court support, help with restraining orders, homeless court intake, filing paperwork, documenting situations, and the list goes on. We also do a lot of dishes, laundry and vacuuming.

PARC is open 7 days a week, 9-12 hours a day, facilitating many essential community functions and what the Black Panthers would call “Survival Programs.” Unlike other facilities, we have a no paperwork, no hoops policy. No applications, no breathalyzers, no proof of id. A person does not have to meet any special requirements in order to receive experienced advocacy or have their basic needs met. No one is charged (or gets paid) for assistance, space, food, literature or other resources.

PARC is the ONLY place that provides jail support to assist people who’ve been arrested. Many of these arrests result from direct actions (environmental, anti-war, homeless rights, immigration rights, anti-police brutality). Also, jail support is provided for people arrested unexpectedly on the streets or in their cars.  We help people successfully navigate through the complicated court proceedings resulting from arrest and organize more support.

PARC takes a stand against sexism, racism, heterosexism, homophobia, bullying, and state intrusion. PARC not only provide services and resources, but we ACTIVELY organize and speak against oppressive state forces of violence, intimidation, control, and harassment and discrimination from anyone in general. The daily PARC crowd is multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-gendered, and from a wide spectrum of life experiences. We assist people on an individual basis, understanding the ‘big picture’ injustices that have created such needs, traumas, and crises of humanity and planet.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Days Of Action Against Police Brutality, Oct 22-23 2013 EUREKA

ImageImage

Below is a reportback from Skye, a participant this year.  Verbena, of Redwood Curtain CopWatch, wrote the following 3 paragraphs only to fill in what Skye was not present for.

Sending love & comfort & solidarity to young Andy Lopez‘ spirit and his family & community.  13 year old Andy was killed by Santa Rosa deputies on Oct 22.Image

from Verbena
On the night of Oct 22, 2013, while some protestors slept at Cesar Chavez park, a couple of us went, from midnight to 3am, to the Humboldt County Jail for “Welcome Out”!  ImageWe sat in a car right near where people exit the jail, with a bin of warm socks and clothes, tobacco, and a sign on the windshield to welcome people out on the cold, blustery night.  It is such a worthwhile and necessary activity; should be a regular thing. We encountered about 7 people who needed something warm, the use of a phone, maybe a cigarette, a friendly face and listening ears.

The next morning, October 23rd, people gathered for breakfast at Clarke Plaza, open to everyone who was hungry or wanting coffee or tea.  One of Chris Burgess’ brother’s came by; this being the 7th anniversary of his brother’s death.  Even those of us who never met Christopher during his short life, will always remember him.

After some music, some tears, and gathering up our signs, we marched and biked to Eureka Police Department where murder and cruelty are common practice.  And where violent creeps, like Terence Liles, Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez, Murl Harpham, and Justin Winkle, reside.  We are not afraid to call that out. Then we moved on (happily) to the neighborhoods of Eureka, where we talked with folks, and people remember Christopher and show spirited agreement- from their cars, houses, and yards- with the messages in our chants and banners: STOP POLICE BRUTALITY, LILES IS A KILLER, BEING A YOUTH IS NOT A CRIME, R.I.P. ZACHARY COOK (DEC 23 1989-JAN 4 2007) KILLED BY EPD’S LILES, CHANGE IS POSSIBLE,  WE REMEMBER CHRIS BURGESS. With dignity and strength, and care for each other, we decry and defy the intimidation of the police state.  ~Verbena

from Skye 10-25-13
For the past eighteen years, cities across the United States have rallied on October 22nd to show solidarity against police brutality. I am learning that occurrences of police brutality are much more numerous and severe in the United States than they are back home in Canada. A sad truth that is only deepened through the discovery that such violence often leads to death. This sharp reality felt all too often in the communities of the most northern part of California where police brutality ranges from daily intimidation to outright murder, tasering to decades of confined isolation.

Typically a one day event, the March is extended to two days in Eureka to honour the memory of Christopher Burgess, a 16 year old who was shot by a Eureka police officer on October 23rd, 2006. The supporters met at noon on the 22nd to share in discussion, food, and sign making. Despite the cloudy skies and serious purpose, spirits were high with the anticipation to flex our vocal cords and work our legs during the march. The call went out to begin and we each picked up a sign and gathered outside the park on the street.

Marching along an unplanned route, the group walked past the high school as the students were being released for the day. ImageMany showed their support to the idea of removing police from schools. An understandable reaction from students who are finding their schools resembling prisons more and more – security check points, undercover police, random locker searches, metal detectors. I hope we realize soon that treating people like criminals does not help in any way, especially when they are not. After a quick break the group continued to march through the city, waving signs, yelling chants, and throwing up peace signs to passing traffic.

Much to the group’s gratitude, the police encounters passed by without incident. Many people showed their support for our protest with honks from their vehicles as they drove by. The drivers who found themselves in a hurry were not too pleased with our presence on the street, even though we always left room for them to pass around. An understandable reaction to the injustice of having one’s life run by a clock – we wished them free time in response to their show of frustration. As the time to march came to a close, we stopped at another park to set up for the evening’s events.

An abundant feast was gifted to the sore footed group to nourish their bodies and hearts after the day’s walk. And while we ate, entertainment of the highest calibre was shared for our pure enjoyment. As night fell the community came a little closer together through the sharing of gifts and the exciting of our taste buds and ear drums. The live music provided reflection and introspection, as well as laughter and participation. Deeper connections were made as we were given space to share stories, jokes, and hugs. Through the coming together over a common surface problem, we are given practice to dive deeper into a shared community experience.Image

 After dark fell, a humid, foggy candlelight vigil took the remaining group back to the day’s starting point for an overnight park camp out. This is where my path diverged – to return the next day in the late afternoon with one of my gifts – fresh cucumber mango guacamole and baked yam fries. Posted on a busy street corner with signs and free food for whomever was hungry, the group honored the fallen victims by sharing their stories with passerby’s. Another year to gather and remember those whose lives continue to be afflicted by the brutality of violence from those we give our trust to be protectors.

I am grateful for the opportunity to show support to a community bringing awareness to an important shadow of our culture – the disconnection that allows one person to take another’s life and to perpetuate violence of the most disgraceful sort. The pervasive and obvious favoritism, elitism, and corruption infecting the enforcement agencies of this area have left me stunned and humbled. I honor and acknowledge the challenges faced by a population of people who are dealing with such a horrible treatment on a regular basis. No being deserves oppression at any level – be it physical, psychological, or spiritual. To commit such acts of violence require a disconnection from one’s heart so vast that the whisper of consciousness seems to have disappeared entirely.

Somewhere inside, buried deeper in some, the spark of light resides and awaits its chance to be heard and felt. This light exists in all of us. A hell inside creates the horrors of our lives. The love inside creates heaven on Earth. In this dawning age of truth, justice, and integrity we are each asked to step into our highest expression and to take responsibility for the actions we take and words we speak. Are you looking at a badge, uniform, or costume – or are you looking into someone’s eyes and seeing them standing there – as scared as you are – as full of beautiful creative potential as you are? The resolution and healing processes being born through the new consciousness of humanity will seek not the false, demeaning, and inadequate deterrence and ‘punishment’ oriented solutions, but ones focusing on root causes, emotional healing, and collective community restoration. Sickness and health in a community is shared by all.

photos from Rogue Planet News and radmul.blogspot.com

Read Full Post »

January 14, 2013
This morning, a man staying at the Eureka Rescue Mission (an evangelical Christian shelter unavailable to many] was told by a staff member the following: a young man who the shelter turned away the night before because he didn’t pass the required BREATHALYZER to eat or sleep at the Mission, died in the cold. Froze to death. IT’S TIME, FOLKS. TIME TO RISK YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND SAVE LIVES. WE ARE READY TO ASSIST AS EXPLAINED BELOW. More blankets and sleeping bags need as well. ~Verbena (707)442-7465

EMERGENCY- Freezing weather and people with no shelter.

Cold weather, especially over an extended period of time, takes a heavy toll on the health and well-being of the most vulnerable members in our community.

A few years ago, a small household in Eureka, made its garage available as a safe sleeping space for people with no shelter. The household and a group of friends (many PEOPLE PROJECT folks) organized the space in response to the dangerous weather and police conditions on the street. It was actually quite simple. Prior to opening the safe sleeping space, we discussed how we thought it would work best. One of the things decided beforehand was that we would make the space available for 11 nights (December 21-31), and would be explicit about that time frame, so that people sleeping there could depend on a stable schedule.

At this time, opening your home or some covered space is imperative. We were so grateful for the garage, and all went well. Being only a temporary situation, we are reaching out to you, asking you to open your garage, yard, or big room for whatever time you decide is possible.
We imagine a rotating emergency sleeping space.

We have found that when a community cooperates and shares in the protection of its most vulnerable members, the result is a vital sense of security experienced by all.

The people who shared their garage and those of us who supported and helped coordinate that emergency shelter space are available to talk with you about our experiences. We are eager to assist you in many ways if you are able to open up a sleeping space.

Ways we can assist you include: collecting floor padding, blankets, sleepware, and other necessary warm things (the garage just used had a cement floor); driving folks who need a ride to and from the space; and being present in the sleeping space overnight. The volunteer-run PARC (Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community) in downtown Eureka fully supports the creation of temporary or permanent dignified community sleeping spaces. PARC is available, for any set-up you may provide, as a phone contact, a donation drop-off, and a dedicated resource for people offering or utilizing a safe shelter.

Please Call PARC: (707) 442-7465

People can and do freeze to death in cold or wet or windy weather.. here we have all three at once. And the police continue to harass people and ruin their gear in the rain and cold. Please call and/or email if you want to talk about opening a space up yourself. It is freezing at night, and we can make a way through these hard times together.

Please Call PARC: (707) 442-7465

The following are the guidelines that were posted on the inside of the garage. You may have some different ideas for your place. We believe that emphasizing honor, dignity, and relationship makes for a truly “safe space.”

\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ WELCOME ///////////////////////////

This is a hate-free space. that means…
NO racism, sexism, homophobia, etc
* please no physical or verbal violence
* smaller room is for women only
* bigger room is for all

To protect this safe sleeping space…
– no drinking alcohol or doing drugs (including pot) here
– use lights, not candles
– every night, come through front house door when you first arrive;
then use the front gate to go in/out.
– use bathroom in the house (walk in back door, then to right)
– quiet after 9pm, and during cigarette breaks

You are welcome to sleep here…
– every night through the night of Dec 31st.
– Please come in no earlier than 6pm and no later than 10:30pm
-mornings, out by 9am please

Please do not leave your belongings here,
as no-one is here to protect them

Please communicate theses guide-lines with newcomers

If you need anything, please feel free to ask.

\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\///////////////////////////////////////////

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary activities are illegal when performed in American streets.

Demonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park.: Bryan Smith/ZumaDemonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park. Bryan Smith/ZumaThis story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided—to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1 percent. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?

Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the US have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in DC, a twentysomething occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it’s open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues—arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome—should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.

Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities—”as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist,” travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled “Criminalizing Crisis,” to be released later this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:

Toward the end of 2010, a family of two parents and three children that had been experiencing homelessness for a year and a half applied for a 2-bedroom apartment. The day before a scheduled meeting with the apartment manager during the final stages of acquiring the lease, the father of the family was arrested for public urination. The arrest occurred at an hour when no public restrooms were available for use. Due to the arrest, the father was unable to make the appointment with the apartment manager and the property was rented out to another person. As of March 2011, the family was still homeless and searching for housing.

What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets—not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities”—that is, to build a latrine—cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”

It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Walmart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy”—the stock brokers and investment bankers—were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed “broken windows” or “quality of life” ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look “indigent,” in public spaces.

No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown—the deaths from cold and exposure—but “Criminalizing Crisis” offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina:

During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be “squatting.” In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.

Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules—such as no drugs, weapons, or violence—enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.

There is nothing “political” about these settlements of the homeless—no signs denouncing greed or visits from left-wing luminaries—but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the “American autumn.” LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Ohio, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying: “The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight.”

What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.

But the occupiers are not from all walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards—from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure—leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless “nouveau poor,” and normally encamp on friends’ couches or parents’ folding beds.

In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.

Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch regular, is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a new afterword).


http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/homelessness-occupy-wall-street


Read Full Post »

Richardson Grove Action Now invites you on a trip to Sacramento!

We plan to leave SOON. We’ll venture out on Wednesday, June 8th and will return June 10, Friday night.

We’re riding down in a bio-diesel bus. We will send a creative musical message to Gov. Jerry Brown and to people ALL OVER- which will be broadcast on the world wide web. Our serenade will demand that the highway expansion plan through Richardson Grove be canceled. We will be covering old classics like “One Demand, Cancel the Plan”, “Resist Invasion,” and “We want old growth, not corporate flow.”  

 

We will be bringing a loud temporary presence to Sacramento regarding the road widening- which would bring a PERMANENT impact to our lives and to the survival of ancient redwoods.

 

If you are not able to join us, in person, on this trip, please support the action by contributing food or money. We are trying to raise $650 for travel expenses. And the food is for the people.

 

If you really want to go and you think there is some obstacle, call us.

 

If you are in the Bay area, we would like to come there for the night and bring you with us!
We are also considering, on the way, visiting the spiritual encampment/action at Glen Cove.

 

Our phone number is 707.602.7551
Our email: rgroveactionnow@gmail.com

Read Full Post »

The Quality of Whose Life? Final Part

Linocut by Art Hazelwood

 

Author’s Note: This is the final part in “The Quality of Whose Life?” series.  It focuses on the proliferation of “quality of life” laws across the country that make it a crime to sit or lie on a sidewalk, sleep outside, panhandle, and urinate or defecate in public even when suitable alternatives do not exist. “These repressive new laws trample on the constitutional rights of the poorest of the poor, but few people are even aware of the massive extent of these human rights violations because they are targeted at people who are almost invisible to mainstream society, explains Terry Messman, editor of Street Spirit. “The sheer inhumanity of these discriminatory laws would cause an immediate outcry if imposed on any other minority group in our society.”

“Quality of life” laws are usually part of the gentrification and redevelopment of downtowns and they are enforced in conjunction with the closure of public parks, banning of free food and clothing distribution, and banishment policies like trespass admonishments. To gain public support for passing these laws, officials promise homeless services that seldom get fully implemented.

Part 1 introduced the series, Part 2 examined the broken windows theory that these laws are based on, and Part 3 showed how these laws revive the disgraced vagrancy and banishment frameworks found in Ugly Laws, Sundown Towns, and Bum Blockades. This concluding part details what four West Coast cities have done and are doing to expose and challenge these unjust and discriminatory laws. Their efforts illustrate the dedicated work that is being done across the country. 

Congress and the President recently negotiated how intense this round of the bipartisan war on the middle class and poor will be. The situation will only get worse if Representative Paul Ryan and company get their way.  In this “winner-take-all” social order, “quality of life” laws establish control over shopping and business districts and push the collateral human damage out of sight.  It is a social order that masks and suppresses untenable inequality and cruelty.

The aggressiveness by which “quality of life” laws are enforced varies from place to place depending on local politics, police departments, and community opposition, but three things are consistent across the country. Downtown business alliances and Chambers of Commerce wield too much power over the process, urban public space is being privatized, and poor and homeless people are being stripped of basic citizenship rights.

Civic determination and private resources support “quality of life” restrictions. Chambers of Commerce, business alliances, city officials, and consulting groups meet to share expertise and troubleshoot obstacles.  For example, in 2007, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce sponsored representatives from the Business Alliance of Portland to come to San Francisco to present Portland’s “Street Access For Everyone” plan to city officials. The plan included a sit/lie ordinance. A few years later, Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced a sit/lie ordinance for San Francisco.

Resisting A Filthy, Rotten System

Local social justice groups like the ones we detail below are at the center of opposing what Dorothy Day once described as “our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”  They are forceful and often successful in confronting this trend in individual cities, but they also recognize that as long as this work remains isolated by geography and jurisdictional limitations, it is no match for the formidable wave of power and money that is sweeping the country.

In recognition of this reality, seven west coast groups came together to create a social justice alliance that has communities working jointly whenever and wherever needed.  In 2005, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness (the Coalition), Sisters Of The Road (Sisters), Street Roots, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Street Spirit, and Real Change became founding members of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP).  We recognized that only by joining forces, first regionally, then nationally, can we build a movement strong enough to counter the ongoing assaults on poor people and present injustices like the current “quality of life” laws.

For this final part, we look at the groups that make up WRAP.  We highlight the multifaceted civil rights work they are doing to educate, activate, and defend their communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Berkeley. Strategies include research, public education, grassroots media, community organizing, advocacy, Community Watch, and citation defense. We conclude with the collaborative work that is being done as WRAP to challenge “quality of life” laws at the regional and national level.

Los Angeles – LA CAN

The Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles is the most heavily policed area outside of Baghdad. In the three years of the Skid Row Safer Cities Initiative, 36,000 “quality of life” citations were issued and more than 27,000 arrests were made in a 50-square block community of 15,000 people who are mostly poor African Americans. These mind boggling statistics give Skid Row the notorious distinction of being ground zero for “quality of life” policing.

Photo Credit: LA CAN

To educate, mobilize, and share the stories of their community, LA CAN produces the Community Connection newspaper, their rendition of the North Star and Liberator. Community Connection covers policing, housing, health, budgetary, and other community issues from the perspective of Skid Row residents.  At the end of 2010, LA CAN also released an influential human rights assessment on the negative impacts of the Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row. Most recently, they published Downtown Blues: A Skid Row Reader, which explores the struggles against displacement, misrepresentation, and civil rights violations in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. In February, a release party for the book at the University of Southern California featured contributors Robin D.G. Kelley, Cedric J. Robinson, Clyde Woods, Pete White, General Dogon, Gary Blasi, Damien Schnyder, LisaGay Hamilton, and Jonathan Gomez. Over 100 people attended the event in celebration of Black History Month.

LA CAN has fearlessly attempted to address the police’s “culture of abuse” through official channels at the local level.  They have used public records and declarations to illustrate illegal actions, public testimony to the Public Safety Committee and City Council, and, with the help of the ACLU and civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, lodged a complaint in federal court that found LAPD — by its own admission — guilty of illegal stops and seizures in Skid Row. Since most attempts have been rebuffed, they submitted a color of law complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and are now in conversation with DOJ staff over the violations that need to be addressed.

In 2005, LA CAN launched a Community Watch program to reduce the harmful impacts of unaddressed state and private security violence. Teams of four LA CAN members patrol the neighborhood with clipboards and a video camera, monitor the police and Business Improvement District security guards known as “red” or “purple” shirts, and gather evidence when the civil rights of residents are violated. Their presence and documentation ensures fewer incidents of brutality and racial profiling. The Nation has recognized Community Watch as “One of the Top Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets.”

LA CAN also runs a legal clinic that provides education, services, and representation to help low-income tenants and homeless Skid Row residents get their housing needs met. In 2007, they launched a Citation Defense Program in response to the dramatic increase in “quality of life” citations (roughly 1,000 a month) issued under the Safer Cities Initiative.

In order to break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and disenfranchisement in Skid Row, LA CAN teamed up with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Fulbright and Jaworski, LLP, and other law firms working pro bono to defend Skid Row residents.  Of the 700 tickets handled by the clinic in 2009, 90% were issued for crosswalk violations like jaywalking.  Among the 700 tickets from 2009 that have been resolved to date, 86% had the charges and/or all penalties dismissed and an additional 10% had the community service penalty significantly reduced. Amongst those who reported their disability status on intake forms for the tickets, 60% had a disability.

Through the legal clinic, organizers were also able to identify a resurgence of illegal property confiscation by LAPD from homeless residents.  Again with pro bono legal support, residents claimed initial victory when a Temporary Restraining Order was issued on April 22, 2011 to prevent LAPD and the City’s Public Works Department from seizing or destroying personal property without following proper procedures.

General Dogon, a LA CAN organizer and Skid Row resident, summed up the paradox of punishing the poor this way, “How do you criminalize the blind for being blind or the lame for being lame? If a man don’t have no where to go, he don’t have a job, and the city don’t have nothing to offer him, you can’t criminalize the man for that and this is what they’re doing. The cold part about that is, on this street right here, Main Street, they were allowing the yuppies to sit on the sidewalk. That’s the new in-crowd, and the city is supporting them. They’re the ones getting everything.”

San Francisco – The Coalition

San Francisco suffers similar harassment.  Since the mid-1990s, San Francisco police have issued well over 100,000 citations for minor offenses that target homeless people on the streets.  While these citations do not allow incarceration, the failure to pay the fine is a misdemeanor. Since most homeless people cannot afford to pay the fines, warrants are issued for their arrest.  The end result is that up to 25% of the people in the San Francisco County Jail are homeless.

Outstanding bench warrants for these misdemeanors can also block access to housing and other services needed to exit homelessness. To provide some defense for its community, the Coalition initiated the Citation Defense Program in 1995. Volunteer outreach workers collect citation information and narratives, which they give to pro bono attorneys who provide representation in court. Over the past several years, the Citation Defense Program represented roughly a quarter of all “quality of life” citations issued in San Francisco. The attorneys in these cases have a 97% success rate for getting cases either discharged, dismissed, or fines stayed in guilty findings. LA CAN and Berkeley’s Citation Defense Programs were modeled on the Coalition’s.

In addition to outreach and citation defense, the Coalition has documented police and other government employee harassment and court inequalities to better protect homeless people from injustice and uses its newspaper, Street Sheet, to educate and mobilize the community against anti-homeless measures.  It also used video documentation to end a Department of Public Works program called “Operation Scrubdown” in 2008. Operation Scrubdown sent police-escorted water trucks through the Tenderloin, a neighborhood where homeless people sleep on the sidewalks.  Every morning before dawn, the trucks power blasted the sidewalks and hosed down sleepers with water and a cleaning agent that city officials identified only as “lemon.”  The video documentation brought media attention to this inhumane practice, which led to the program’s termination.

In 2009, the City of San Francisco opened a new Community Justice Center (CJC) in the Tenderloin neighborhood, against the wishes of the electorate. It targeted homeless people, half of whom were charged with no crime other than sleeping outside. Because the City and the courts claimed that they could not provide documentation of the cases heard at CJC, the Coalition attended court almost daily for three months and collected every court calendar that was produced in order to document the injustices occurring.  Although the Coalition was unsuccessful at closing down CJC, the court began to document its work and move away from a homeless focus toward more serious crimes.

In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors considered a sit/lie law to make sitting or lying down on the sidewalk a criminal act. The Coalition produced reports on the effects of similar laws on small business in other cities, the impact on real crime in other cities, the constitutionality of the law, racially unequal enforcement of similar laws, and the impacts of criminalization on homeless people’s daily lives and on their chances of housing access. This documentation and reporting, in combination with meeting with public officials, public actions, and strong community organizing, led to the Board ultimately deciding to oppose the law.

The law then barely passed in the November election after a $400,000 media campaign that was aired during the San Francisco Giants World Series and financed by individuals from Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America. However, with less than $10,000, the Coalition and a newly formed group, Sidewalks Are For People Coalition,  reduced support by 16% from just nine months earlier.

Photo Credit: Sidewalks Are For People Campaign

Since then, Coalition civil rights organizer Bob Offer-Westort writes, “the Coalition on Homelessness has begun developing documentation and know-your-rights trainings for members of our community who are cited or threatened with citation.  Simultaneously, attorneys from the ACLU and Disability Rights Advocates, as well as independent attorneys, have begun work developing legal strategies to challenge what we believe to be an unconstitutional law. Through coordinated documentation, litigation, and through public pressure on our legislators, on a new mayoral administration, on the media, and on the consciences of fellow San Franciscans, we know ultimately we will win.”

Portland, Oregon – Sisters and Street Roots

In Portland, Sisters Of The Road (Sisters) and Street Roots have been at the forefront of resistance to “quality of life” measures, including a camping ban and sit/lie ordinance. In 2003, Sisters and Street Roots launched the Right to Sleep Campaign, urging City Hall to look at alternatives to criminalization measures that target individuals living on the streets. In their newspaper, Street Roots highlighted the civil rights issues faced by people experiencing homelessness through in-depth reporting on private security in downtown Portland and how it relates to the criminalization of homelessness. Over the years, the newspaper reported on a number of criminalization efforts, including alternatives to the camping, sit-lie, and Drug Free Zones. Due to community pressure and legal challenges, the sit/lie ordinance was twice struck down as unconstitutional in 2004 and 2009.

 

Photo Credit: Michael Lloyd/Oregonian

In 2010, the city proposed another version of the sit-lie law called the Sidewalk Management Ordinance. In response, Sisters organized an action in celebration of sidewalks being for everyone that was attended by over 200 unhoused and housed allies who then marched to City Hall to testify against the measure.  Sisters exposed the classism and bias of the new ordinance in a public statement they used in their media work, outreach to the community, and in City Council hearings.

Sisters also gave a presentation to the city’s Human Rights Commission on the history of the two previous sit/lie ordinances, how it had been used against homeless people, and how the Council was manipulating the issue to make the new ordinance seem like it was about mobility rights for “differently-abled” people.  They specifically objected to the way the ordinance used the Americans with Disabilities Act. Homeless people were targeted for blocking sidewalk access for people with disabilities even though the Portland Housing Bureau recently found that 47% of homeless people had a high risk of mortality caused by untreated disabilities.

A week after the presentation, the Human Rights Commission took a public stand against the ordinance. At the next City Council hearing on the ordinance, three Commissioners testified that it violated human rights and the City Council should vote no on it.

Despite these efforts the ordinance passed. Sisters immediately switched gears and launched a “know-your-rights” campaign. They did street outreach that included handing out 2,000 flyers to educate Portlanders on their rights under the law and invited them to organize with them to oppose the ordinance. Sisters’ organizer Chani Geigle-Teller notes, “Largely because of this organizing on the streets, conversation by conversation, our weekly Civil Rights Workgroup consistently has over 12 volunteers who come in throughout the week to help us carry out this work!”

Berkeley – BOSS

Berkeley, another “liberal” city, is now considering its own no-sitting ban to go along with a no-lie ordinance passed in 2007 under Mayor Bates’ Public Commons for Everyone Initiative.  Since the 1990s, there have been multiple attempts by merchant associations such as the Downtown Berkeley Association and Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District, the Mayor’s office, and City Council to clear out homeless people from People’s Park and the shopping districts along Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues.

Like anti-homeless measures in other cities, the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative promised a mixture of services and policing. Largely due to pressure from groups like BOSS, East Bay Community Law Center, and Homeless Action Center, the city made a little progress on outreach, Social Security Income advocacy, extension of public bathroom hours, treatment services, and addressing harassment complaints against the Berkeley HOST Program (a private ambassador program paid by the city to patrol the downtown area).  But it has fallen woefully short on providing housing and other services that were promised.

Photo Credit: Janny Castillo, BOSS

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association are now pushing to ban sitting on the sidewalk. The Chamber of Commerce says the ban is necessary to curtail negative behavior and scary pets that are frightening people away from the downtown area. Advocates argue that there are laws already in place to address these issues and the new ban will target homeless people. Like the new sit/lie law in San Francisco, Berkeley’s latest effort directly targets homeless youth. To assert any homeless person’s right to exist in public space, BOSS and allies organized a “sit down for justice” action last month. Michael Diehl, a long-time community activist led a sit-in and demonstration that drew local news and passersby. UC Berkeley students from the Suitcase Clinic and other student groups joined the sit-in. Later that evening, the group marched to a Berkeley City Council meeting to speak out against the sit ordinance and its likely negative impact on the homeless population.

To focus public attention on this growing trend of discriminatory laws and reclaim public commons in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Portland, WRAP, the Coalition, BOSS, Sisters, Right to Survive, and other allies coordinated a “Sidewalks Are For People Day” on May 22, 2011. This three-city action is a small example of the type of collaboration and solidarity that is needed to overcome the civil and human rights issues raised in this series.

As shown by the work described above, local civil rights efforts have been effective at curtailing the level of criminalization in individual neighborhoods and cities.  They have led to many successful actions and put pressure on mayors, police chiefs, local human rights commissions, and even the DOJ, to begin responding to these widespread abuses. Important victories have been won, but they have been separated by geographical boundaries.   They need to be joined and that is the mission of WRAP.

Coming Together For A More Inclusive Quality of Life

WRAP is creating an organizing model that builds strategic relationships across local boundaries and unites community organizers, poverty and civil rights activists, students, the faith community, public defenders and progressive lawyers in the civil rights struggle.

In our short history, we have organized a regional “House Keys not Handcuffs” action in San Francisco that brought together over 1,000 people from up and down the West Coast to demand the federal government begin addressing our civil rights and housing issues.  We are now organizing a Community Congress for August that will bring together our member organizations and hundreds of grassroots leaders from their communities. It will include know-your-rights, citation defense, and Community Watch trainings, as well as strategic planning on how we can combat discriminatory “quality of life” laws, enforcement, prosecution, and homeless courts on a regional level.

WRAP has also documented the impact of “quality of life” policing on over 300 self-identified homeless and mentally ill people in six cities.  Our research found that nearly 80% of the people surveyed had been stopped, arrested, or cited for “quality of life” offenses, 60% were harassed by Business Improvement District private security, and 29% had lost their housing or were discharged from a program due to incarceration. This coming June, we will use this research on a criminalization panel and Congressional briefing that are part of the National Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s Forum on the Right to Housing in Washington, DC.

We are in the beginning stages of building a movement.  The recession, jobless recovery, and gridlock in Washington, DC lay bare the bankruptcy of the current system. Never has the need and imperative been more critical to defend the due process and civil rights of those being criminalized as more of our neighbors are forced onto the streets.  But in the end “defense” is not enough. We must also assert a vision for the future that reflects our humanity and interconnection. We all need a safe place to call home, freedom from fear and want, nutritious food and health care to sustain our bodies, education and culture to expand our minds, and dignified work.

Throughout the many civil rights struggles in our nation’s past, communities have bound together to fight for a more inclusive democracy. The abolitionist, women’s rights, labor, civil rights, disability rights, and environmental movement have all shown that change happens on a large scale only when pockets of resistance create a network of support and solidarity. The collective resistance forming to the present injustice of “quality of life” laws is no different.

Will you join in this movement for a better quality of life for everyone?

Special thanks to Marlene Griffith, Casey Gallagher, Becky Dennison, Chani Geigle-Teller, Israel Bayer, Bob Offer-Westort, Janny Castillo, and Michael Diehl for their contributions to this article.

http://wraphome.org/pages/?p=1218&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »