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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

WORK FOR A HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS!

“WRAP was created [by the members below] to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness in our communities”

 
 WRAP Members
Right to Survive                    * Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee    
St. Mary’s Center                 * Street Roots                               * Street Spirit

 

October 24th, 2013
Please don’t forget to add wrap@wraphome.org to your Safe Sender/Primary Email list so that we end up in the right inbox! 

 

WRAP recently launched the Homeless Bill of Rights (HBR) Campaign which seeks to provide a framework for communities to fight back against discriminatory local laws. We believe that people living on the streets deserve support and access to affordable housing, not criminalization for their mere presence on public land. We launched a social-justice-based campaign that will create bills which protect the following rights and prohibit the enforcement of any local laws that violate these rights: 

 

1.     Right to move freely, rest, sleep, & pray and be protected in public spaces without discrimination,

2.     Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle,

3.     Right to share food and eat in public,

4.     Right to legal counsel if being prosecuted,

5.     Right to 24-hour access to “hygiene facilities.”

  

The core of our HBR campaign is based on our outreach to homeless and poor people, in which we document their experiences with local police and private security. We have recently surveyed 1,276 people in five states and twelve cities. The civil rights violation people are experiencing everywhere are eerily similar. The main “illegal offenses” that homeless people are being harassed & criminalized for include: sleeping 81%, sitting or lying down 78%, and loitering or hanging out 66%. 

 

We are seeing unprecedented campaigns by local municipalities to enact anti-poor people laws. (Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Fresno, Albany, Hayward, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Venice, San Diego, and the list goes on) “Quality of life” ordinances are criminalizing homelessness and preventing people from attaining basic needs such as resting and sleeping. Additionally, with limited resources and funding cuts, poor people have very little support and are faced with numerous barriers which make escaping homelessness impossible. 

 

The time has come for a renewed national movement to protect the human and civil rights of poor and homeless people. WRAP is engaged in community organizing, research, public education, advocacy, and direct action efforts to build the power to defeat misguided housing legislation and overturn discriminatory “quality of life” laws. 

 

Learn more about our Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign.

                

Do you represent an organization working for social justice and equality? If yes, please endorse our Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign in California and Oregon!
 
Click here to download the form.

Launching Los Angeles  the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to End Criminalization
Launching Los Angeles the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to End Criminalization

Albany has an obligation to do a better job for the homeless
 
October 22, 2013
By: Paul Boden 
Over the past decades, as federal funding for affordable housing nose-dived, the solutions to homelessness have been left to local governments. Though the effort has been far from perfect, almost all Bay Area cities have contributed resources to housing our region’s poorest residents. Many have spent significant city funds. But not Albany.
 

The city of Albany has no homeless shelter. It has next to nothing on providing affordable housing, for years. It has been out of compliance with state law regarding zoning for affordable housing since at least 1999.

 

Oppose the San Francisco Park Closure Proposal!
 
 
 
San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced legislation to close all of SF’s public parks from 12 midnight until 5 am. This proposal will be voted on by the Board of Supervisor’s on Tuesday October 29th @ 1 pm.
 
The proposed law would:
  • Fine and jail people who are living/resting in public parks because they have nowhere else to go;- waste precious city funds on signs, fences, and costs of enforcement
  • Further eliminate already diminishing access to public space for ALL.

Take Action! 

We Need Your Support!
 
Please make a donation to WRAP and help sustain our efforts to make ending homelessness a national priority!
 

Homeless Bill of Rights New Narratives
 
September 8, 2013
 
Editor’s Note: Continuing our coverage of rights-based movements and narratives. Simon Davis-Cohen speaks with Paul Boden about Homeless Bills of Rights.

 

Paul Boden is Western Regional Advocacy Project ‘s Organizing Director. He became homeless at the age of 16 after the death of his mother. Paul served as Executive Director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness for 16 years and was a founder of the Community Housing Partnership, a nationally recognized permanent housing corporation with optional supportive services. He has received dozens of community awards during the last twenty-five years and recognition from the city and county of San Francisco, the State of California, and the Congress of the United States. Paul regularly writes articles and op-eds and travels throughout the country giving talks and trainings.

 

Connect with our members’ campaign in Oregon! Join their lists and endorse their Bill. 
 
 
Oregon Campaign Goals:
  • Pass a Homeless Bill of Rights in the state of Oregon (introduce the Homeless Bill of Rights into the Oregon State Legislature in 2014).
  • Investigate the priorities of the unhoused community
  • Change public perceptions of the unhoused
  • Educate the housed and unhoused about systemic causes of homelessness
  • Connect homelessness to public health
  • Build action teams to achieve incremental victories
  • Mitigate the negative impacts of criminalization ordinances (anti-camping/sit-lie)
  • Build local & statewide allies
 

On South Carolina’s Troubling Criminalization of Homelessness
 
U.S. Catholic Blog
 
In our August cover story, author Paula Lomazzi argued that we shouldn’t enact laws and policies that effectively make it a crime to be homeless. Lomazzi, formerly homeless herself and now the director of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, made a compelling argument in favor or community, compassion, and practical solutions to ending homelessness. Our readers agreed, with 67 percent indicating that they would vote against legislation that prohibited sleeping outside in their city.
 

Food Truck That Feeds Homeless Could Be Forced To Move From Streets Of Hollywood 

 

October 16, 2013 
 
The Los Angeles City Council is considering new regulations that could potentially shut down a food truck that has been feeding the hungry on the streets of Hollywood for more than 25 years. The Public Works Committee heard a motion introduced by Councilman Tom LaBonge Wednesday, which urges city departments to consider banning non-commercial food distribution in public rights of way, an initiative that would force the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition to move.
Western Regional Advocacy Project 
(WRAP)
 
 
415.621.2533
wrap@wraphome.org
 
We are sustained through individual donations and generous foundations. We need your support to continue our work and help us stand up for poor and homeless peoples’ civil rights!

 
 
 
WRAP is a 501(c)3 organization. 
 
 
  
 
Donations are tax-deductible.
 
 

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This Crow Won’t Fly

The United States has a long history of using mean-spirited and often brutal laws to keep “certain” people out of public spaces and out of public consciousness.  Jim Crow laws segregated the South after the Civil War and Sundown Towns forced people to leave town before the sun set. The anti-Okie law of 1930s California forbade poor Dustbowl immigrants from entering the state and Ugly Laws (on the books in Chicago until the 1970s) swept the country and criminalized people with disabilities for allowing themselves to be seen in public.

Today, such laws target mostly homeless people and are commonly called “quality of life” or “nuisance crimes.”  They criminalize sleeping, standing, sitting, and even food-sharing.  Just like the laws from our past, they deny people their right to exist in local communities.

In June of this year, Rhode Island took a meaningful stand against this criminalization, and passed the first statewide Homeless Bill of Rights in the country. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)—a West Coast grassroots network of homeless people’s organizations—is now launching simultaneous campaigns in California and Oregon. Rhode Island will only be the beginning.

Today’s “quality of life” laws and ordinances have their roots in the broken-windows theory.  This theory holds that one poor person in a neighborhood is like a first unrepaired broken window and if the “window” is not immediately fixed or removed, it is a signal that no one cares, disorder will flourish, and the community will go to hell in a handbasket.

For this theory to make sense, you first have to step away from thinking of people, or at least poor people, as human beings. You need to objectify them. You need to see them as dusty broken windows in a vacant building.  That is why we now have Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) with police enforcement to keep that neighborhood flourishing by keeping poor, unsightly people out of it.

We have gone from the days where people could be told “you can’t sit at this lunch counter” to “you can’t sit on this sidewalk,” from “don’t let the sun set on you here” to “this public park closes at dusk” and from “you’re on the wrong side of the tracks” to “it is illegal to hang out” on this street or corner.

Unless we organize, it isn’t going to get much better soon.   Since 1982, the federal government has cut up to $52 billion a year from affordable housing and pushed hundreds of thousands of people into the  shelter system or into the street.  Today we continue to have three million people a year without homes.  1982 also marked the beginning of homelessness as a “crime wave” that would consume the efforts of local and state police forces over the next three decades.  Millions of people across the country sitting, lying down, hanging out, and — perhaps worst of all – sleeping are cited in crime statistics.
WRAP and our allies recently conducted outreach to over 700 homeless people in 13 cities; we found 77% of people had been arrested, cited, or harassed for sleeping, 75% for loitering, and 73% for sitting on a sidewalk.

We are right back to Jim Crow Laws, Sundown Towns, Ugly Laws and Anti-Okie Laws, local laws that profess to “uphold the locally accepted obligations of civility.” Such laws have always been used by people in power against those on the outside. In other words, today’s Business Improvement Districts and Broken Window Laws are, at their core, a reincarnation of various phases of American history none of us is proud of.

And they reflect a political voice now openly entering the political and media mainstream that dismisses social justice as economically irrelevant and poor people as humanly irrelevant.

This is not about caring for or even advocating for “those people.” This is about all of us. As Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  If you are not homeless, if you are not the target now, then understand that you are next. Isolated and fragmented, we lose this fight.

But we are no longer isolated and fragmented.  On April 1, WRAP and USCAI (US Canadian Alliance of Inhabitants) sponsored a  Day of Action in 17 cities.  We are one of hundreds of organizations and allies, from Massachusetts to NewYork and from Tennessee to California, all separate but all working together to give meaning to social justice and protect the civil and human rights of all of us.

We can only win this struggle if we use our collective strengths, organizing, outreach, research, public education, artwork, and direct actions. We are continuing to expand our network of organizations and cities and we will ultimately bring down the whole oppressive system of policing poverty and treating poor people as “broken windows” to be discarded and replaced.

To join our campaign for a Homeless Bill of Rights in both California and Oregon contact WRAP at wrap@wraphome.org and we will hook you up with organizers working in both of these states or others as this movement continues to grow.

 

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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Anti-Okie Laws

The agricultural workers who migrated to California for work in the 1900s were generally referred to as “Okies”. They were assumed to be from Oklahoma, but they moved to California from other states, as well. The term became derogatory in the 1930s when massive numbers of people migrated West to find work. In 1937, California passed an “anti-Okie” law which made it a misdemeanor to “bring or assist in bringing” extremely poor people into the state. The law was later considered unconstitutional.

Jim Crow Laws

After the American Civil War (1861-1865), most Southern states passed laws denying black people basic human rights. Later, many border states followed suit. These laws became known as Jim Crow laws after the name of a popular black-face character that would sing songs like “Jump Jim Crow.” In California, Jim Crow played out against Chinese immigrants more than black people. From 1866-1947, Chinese residents of San Francisco were forced to live in one area of the city. The same segregation laws prohibited inter-racial marriage between Chinese and non-Chinese persons and educational and employment laws were also enforced in the city. African and Indian children had to attend separate schools from those of white children. In 1879, the California constitution read that no Chinese people could vote and the law was not repealed until 1926. Oregon and Idaho had similar provisions in their constitutions. In 1891, a referendum required all Chinese people to carry a “certification of residence” card or face arrest and jail. In 1909, the Japanese were added to the list of people who were prohibited by law from marrying white people. In 1913, “Alien Land Laws” were passed that prohibited any Asian people from owning or leasing property. The law was not struck down by the California Supreme Court until 1952.

Ugly Laws

From the 1860s to the 1970s, several American cities had laws that made it illegal for people with “unsightly or disgusting” disabilities to appear in public. Some of these laws were called “unsightly beggar ordinances”. The first ordinance was in San Francisco in 1867, but the most commonly cited law was from Chicago. Chicago Municipal Code section 36034 stated: “No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.”

Operation Wetback

Operation Wetback began in 1954 in California and Arizona as an effort to remove all illegal, Mexican immigrants from the Southwestern states. The Operation was by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and coordinated 1,075 border control agents along with state and local police agencies. The agents went house-to-house looking for Mexicans and performed citizenship checks during traffic stops. They would stop any “Mexican-looking” person on the street and insist on seeing identification. Operation Wetback was only abandoned after a large outcry from opponents in both the United States and Mexico.

Sundown Towns

Sundown Towns did not allow people who were considered “minorities” to remain in the town after the sun set. Some towns posted signs at their borders specifically telling people of color to not let the sun set on them while in the town. There were town policies and real estate covenants in place to support the racism, which was enforced by local police officers. Sundown Towns existed throughout the United States and there were thousands of them before the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination in housing practices. Sundown Towns simply did not want certain ethnic groups to stay in their towns at night. If undesired people were to wander into a Sundown Town after the sun had set, they would be subject to any form of punishment from harassment to lynching. While the state of Illinois had the highest number of Sundown Towns, they were a national phenomenon that mostly targeted anyone of African, Chinese, and Jewish heritage.

Today…… Broken Windows Laws Current “Quality of Life” laws also take a certain population into account: homeless persons. Using these laws, people are criminalized for simply walking, standing, sleeping, and other regular human behaviors. In other words, they are penalized and harassed simply because of who they are. Just as with Jim Crow, Ugly Laws, Anti-Okie Laws, and Operation Wetback, how people look and their very existence is the basis for charging them with criminal behaviors.

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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

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Every year for more than 25 years, lovers and friends of Martin Luther King Jr. have celebrated his birthday on its actual date, Jan. 15 (1929). This Saturday the 15th, the party will start at 6:00 PM at the Vet’s Hall in Garberville with a spaghetti dinner, free to all. Everyone is encouraged to bring a potluck dish as well. By 7:00 PM you can expect a little appropriate music by the SoHumsterdam Choir. The feature of the evening will be video versions of some of King’s most memorable speeches (almost any).

 

The event is sponsored by the Vets for Peace and donations will benefit the Southern Humboldt Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign got its start a few months back on Oct 1 protesting both the gentrification of the one time parking lot in the center of town and the fenced off “Vet’s Park,” now inappropriately named after environmentalist and political progressive Jim DeMulling.

The walkers at this campaign kick-off were mostly refugees from the Friday afternoon Peace Vigil. However, leading the walk that day were several large posters of Rev. King himself while the group sang a Bob Marley song. The Campaign was then born as a Civil Rights movement synced up suddenly across time with the last years of King as he developed the original Poor People’s Campaign.

King’s campaign was born of his comprehension of the Vietnam War as “a demonic destructive suction tube drawing men and skills and money away from the rehabilitation of the poor.” He sought to turn energy from “war to social uplift” with an inclusive coalition of poor people from environments as diverse as West Virginia, East L.A., Watts and Wounded Knee. Suddenly the unopposed triumph of the Banksters and the Corporados shows the need more than ever for a local Poor People’s Campaign to draw poor people together under a common banner. King’s “one in six” in poverty has increased to “one in five” and will soon be “one in four.”

At the beginning of winter, the Campaign had a second – “Vee Vant to Zee Yur Paperz” – protest on the day after the police “swept” Garberville and Redway. The police practiced crude profiling, stopping and questioning local poor people as suspected “transients.” Incredibly, some were asked to show papers to prove they were local.

From law enforcement’s vantage point, it was all jolly fun: a self-styled TEA Party. This “Transient Enforcement Action” included our recently elected Sheriff who strode Garberville’s main street flanked by several armed minions. “Transient Enforcement” meanwhile suggested a Building Code parallel where poor persons go out of compliance with – the what? – the Dollar Code? – if they are homeless. Individuals are then ticketed or arrested as appropriate

Unfortunately this kind of profiling is not appropriate for American people! One of the projects of the local Poor People’s Campaign is the formation of a Nomads Union to spread the word that poor people have civil rights. The Nomad’s Union hopes to go on to support people who assert these rights. As King was aware, if it was okay for Black people to have civil rights, it was okay for poor people in general to have them. Not an insurrection, but in King’s spirit, a resurrection. You don’t have to be poor to sign up, just one of the people..

So come celebrate the synchronicity of Peace and Justice in honor of Martin Luther King jr – manifesting his spirit in our local community this Saturday at 6 at the Vet’s Hall in Garberville.

Paul Encimer 707 923 4488

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It’s Crazy To Criminalize Homelessness

Posted on by WRAP Comms

WRAP has been documenting the increases of mentally ill people in local jails as a result of diminished funding for mental health treatment and housing, escalation of “nuisance crime” enforcement by police and private security, and expansion of mental health courts.

The scale of this issue is enormous: it is reported that the LA county jail alone houses 3,000 mentally ill people a night. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as many as 64% of people in jails nationwide have mental health problems.   In the 1980s and early 1990s, people with severe mental illness made up 6-7% of the jail population. In the last 5 years, this percentage has climbed to 16-30%. Nationwide, there are three times as many people with mental illness in prisons as there are in hospitals; 40% of people with severe mental illness have been imprisoned at some point in their lives; and 90% of those incarcerated with a mental illness have been incarcerated more than once and 30% have been incarcerated ten times or more.

We at WRAP see this ever-increasing incarceration of mentally ill people as part of a trend toward using the criminal justice system to address health and socioeconomic needs.  On the ground, this means that mentally ill homeless people who lack adequate access to housing and treatment services are vulnerable to getting caught in the criminal justice system, especially arrest or citation under local “quality of life” or “nuisance crime” laws that include sitting/lying on sidewalks, panhandling, and loitering. Oftentimes, the seriousness of these infractions is escalated to “failure to appear” bench warrants, which require jail time.

To gain a clearer understanding of the scope of the problem, we are conducting outreach to self-identified mentally ill people, service providers, justice system employees, lawyers and researchers.  We have also conducted a literature review of Department of Justice reports and periodical pieces.  We were stunned to learn that never before has there been systemic outreach to self-identified mentally ill homeless people about this issue.

During the month of August 2010, WRAP did street outreach with 253 self-identified mentally ill homeless people in six cities (Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Denver).  The National Consumer Advisory Board of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council is doing 350 more in seven cities across the country. We currently have a small sampling of online surveys from 36 frontline service providers.  If you or your organization would like to participate in either of these surveys contact staff at WRAP.

The initial responses tell us we need to bring together all the concerned members of local communities and finally start to reverse this trend.

Here’s just some of what the street outreach found:

  • 76% reported being stopped, arrested, or cited due to “quality of life” offenses.
  • 60% reported being harassed by private (Business Improvement District) security.
  • 35% reported having ignored tickets issued against them.
  • 59% reported having Bench Warrants issued for their arrest.
  • 22% reported having outstanding warrants at the time of the survey.
  • 21% reported being incarcerated while 5% reported being referred to a program when brought before court.
  • 29% reported losing their housing or being discharged from a program due to incarceration.

This closely mirrors the initial service provider experiences even though they were not all in the same cities:

  • Almost 20% of service providers report that their clients’ interactions with police occur because they appear to be homeless.
  • More than 60% of service providers report that their clients’ interactions with police occur because of drinking related offenses
  • 30% of service providers report that their clients interact with police because they are loitering, 16% report interaction because of jaywalking, and 16% for trespassing.
  • 53% of service providers report that approximately 20% or more of their clients have bench warrants against them.
  • 44% of service providers report that 50% or more of their clients have outstanding tickets.
  • 74% of service providers report that at least 70% of their clients have been arrested.

By looking at and analyzing the experiences of the clients and of the service providers and relating these to the research that been done on issues of decreasing access and increasing criminalization, we will lay the foundation needed for all of us to come together and finally begin to dispel the myth that mental illness and homelessness are the result of people choosing a lifestyle and that service providers are incompetent. These claims have gone unanswered far too long and the result, as we all see, is killing us.

While re-funding housing and treatment services might seem to be a logical response, local and state governments, with the support of the Federal Department of Justice have instead been implementing Homeless and Mental Health courts. In the last 10 years, the number of Mental Health Courts in the U.S. has increased from 4 to 120.

In theory, the mental health court system is a collaborative effort between judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, caseworkers, and mental health professionals aimed at figuring out an appropriate treatment plan for the offender. Some recent studies suggest that mental health courts substantially reduce recidivism, and others have shown that participation in mental health court increased defendants’ access to long-term care. Which would seem to disprove the whole services resistant argument, which is so prevalent in the creation of these courts.

However, mental health courts also have significant drawbacks.  In order to gain access to the mental health court, defendants must plead guilty to the crime they are accused of and agree to adhere to the courts recommendations or be remanded to the traditional court.  These conditions are coercive and can also perpetuate the criminalization of people with mental illness. As one service provider noted, “in Mental Health court, people are often “remanded to custody” for non-compliance with court case management, which includes medications. To jail someone for not taking medication, especially if it is medication that causes extremely adverse side effects, is questionable from a legal standpoint, and from a treatment standpoint, it is barbaric. Everything described above then happens: people [lose] their income, health insurance, housing, and everything else.”

WRAP seeks to ensure that jails do not replace community-based mental health treatment services and that the hundreds of millions of dollars that are currently funding the whole bureaucratic process of criminalizing people instead be applied as an initial down payment towards the housing and treatment that is not only much more humane, but in the long run, much more affordable as well.

We’ll use our collective strengths, organizing, outreach, research, public education, artwork and direct actions. We will continue to expand this network of organizations and cities and we will train ourselves to ultimately bring down the whole oppressive system of policing poor people and poverty as a non-human broken window to be discarded and replaced.

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Sisters Of The Road Launches Dorothy Day Community School

Posted on December 3, 2010 byWRAP Comms

From the trenches to the frontline, we are the leaders we’ve been looking for!

Sisters Of The Road is embarking on an ambitious and creative plan to build-up, educate, and organize leaders in our community to join the movement for Economic Human Rights.  Sisters is allied with amazing organizations like the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and the Western Regional Advocacy Project who continue to work with and train people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty to be effective leaders in the struggle.  Embracing this idea is no stretch for Sisters who has always used the wisdom and knowledge of our community to seek solutions to end extreme poverty and homelessness.  What we have lacked is a comprehensive way to do leadership development that combines existing Sister’s resources with other tools and resources from the broader activist community into a structured and ongoing program. Well…it’s here!  This creative and collaborative effort is called The Dorothy Day Community School (DDCS). 

“We make the road by walking…”

Leaders exist all around us.  Weather they are fighting to meet basic needs for themselves, their families and friends or are already working within established organizations working to advance the causes of economic, social, and environmental justice, people in our communities have some of the essential ingredients to participate in building a better world.  The DDCS will build off of those existing skills and knowledge to create a cross-class group of strong and empowered leaders capable of winning social justice and economic human rights for all by providing the training, skill-building, political education and analysis necessary to grow the movement from the ground up.

Over the months of October and November, the Systemic Change Team at Sisters conducted outreach to our community and to local community organizations to message about the schools goals and activities.  This outreach identified existing skills and knowledge and has helped us by providing a “road-map”, grounded in the strengths of the community, for what the DDCS’s leadership development program will offer and what it will look and feel like.

How do I get involved?

A cross-class mix of community members, emerging leaders, and already established leaders have given valuable input to the DDCS about the leadership development program but we still want to hear from you!  November marches on and there is still time for you to share with us your thoughts and ideas to help shape leadership development at the DDCS!  Call us to set up a meeting with you and/or your organization.  We are building towards a retreat in December that will bring the leadership base together to train, build relationships, and share skills.

Contact:

Brendan Phillips, brendan@sistersoftheroad.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , (503)222-5694 Ext 13
Lucilene Lira, lucilene@sistersoftheroad.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , (503) 222-5794 ext. 37

“The earth for all the people. That is the demand. The machinery of production and distribution for all the people.  That is the demand. The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interests of all the people. That is the demand.  The elimination of rent, interest, profit, and the production of wealth to satisfy all the people. That is the demand.  Cooperative industry in which all shall work together in harmony as a basis of a new social order, a higher civilization, a new republic.  That is the demand.” -Eugene V. Debs, 1902-

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by Paul Boden Nov 18, 2010
Organizing Director, Western Regional Advocacy Project

This is the third article in a series we’re writing on Quality of Life ordinances, our contemporary version of the vagrancy laws that have been with us for centuries. In the South, they were used to force freed slaves back to the plantation. In the North, they were used to instill a Protestant work ethic in indigent whites. This compulsion to control labor and separate the “worthy” from the “unworthy” is deeply ingrained in our culture and institutions.

In the previous part of this series, we showed how the Broken Windows Theory put a new spin on this old theme. In this segment, we draw comparisons to three specific episodes in our history and thus hope to shake the complacency surrounding our present civil rights failures. If we don’t, future generations will surely ridicule our hypocrisies as we do those who came before us.

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

How ugly is too ugly? How dark is too dark? How poor is too poor? These perverse questions were at the heart of ugly laws, sundown towns, and the Bum Blockade — unconstitutional predecessors of today’s Quality of Life ordinances.

Unlike the above policies of segregation that brazenly named the objects of their scorn -− “masterless men,” “cripples,” “negroes,” and “Bolshevik bums” −- today’s vagrancy laws are dressed up in post-civil rights legalese. By targeting behaviors like sleeping, lying down, sitting, and urinating in public, Quality of Life ordinances attempt to sidestep the protection afforded by the Civil Rights and Americans with Disabilities Acts.

In reality, this legal fine-tuning is the same old wolf in sheep’s clothing. The ableism, racism, and classism that underwrote yesteryear’s ugly laws, sundown towns, and the Bum Blockade can be found in today’s Quality of Life ordinances.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham jail ring as true now as they did in 1963: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Many liberals and progressives, when aware of them, look back at past exclusionary practices with scorn and shame, yet they are silent when it comes to current battles over public space, freedom of movement, and civil rights. We bring the following history to your attention so that we wake up to what Quality of Life ordinances really are.

What follows draws heavily on the scholarship of Susan Schweik, James Loewen, and Hailey Giczy.

The Ugly Laws

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century with San Francisco, other cities including Portland, Chicago, Omaha, Columbus, Cleveland, and Denver began enacting “unsightly beggar ordinances.” These ordinances came to be known as ugly laws. Their main purpose was to control disabled people’s freedom of movement and speech in public space.

Chicago’s 1881 ordinance read: “Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in this city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 [about $20 today] for each offense.”

The laws specifically proscribed a person from exposing a disability in public space for the purpose of begging. They were one of the country’s first panhandling laws. A large percentage of ugly laws had “poor house clauses” that banished disabled people to jails or almshouses if they couldn’t pay the fine.

Susan Schweik writes, “The crude elements of ugly law may be broken down roughly as follows: the call for harsh policing; anti-begging; systemized suspicion set up to winnow the deserving from the undeserving; suppression of acts of solidarity by and for marginalized urban social groups; and structural and institutional repulsion of disabled people, whether by design or by default. None of these have disappeared since the demise of formally enacted unsightly beggar ordinances.”

The last known arrest stemming from an ugly law happened in Omaha only 36 years ago. Ugly laws attempted to accomplish what cities are now aiming to achieve with sit/lie and anti-panhandling ordinances: to reinforce social boundaries and marginalize those considered “unsightly” in the newly preserved historic downtowns of the closed city.

Sundown Towns

In response to the upheaval in “race relations” caused by Reconstruction and the Great Migration following the Civil War, white towns from Florida to Oregon barred African Americans and other despised ethnic groups like “Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, Native, and Mexican Americans” from entering them. One such town in Illinois went by the name “Anna,” short for “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.”

Known as sundown towns, these white supremacist redoubts got their name from the customary signs placed at the entrance of town warning targeted ethnic groups “not to let the sun set on you” within city limits. Government complicity, vigilante justice, and race riots backed these threats.

Lesser known than their southern counterparts — Black Codes and Jim Crow — sundown towns were far from being a marginal phenomenon. There were thousands of them and many could be found in elite suburbs right outside of metropolitan areas like New York City and Chicago.

Loewen concludes, “From the towns that passed sundown ordinances, to the county sheriffs who escorted black would-be residents back across the county line, to the states that passed laws enabling municipalities to zone out ‘undesirables,’ to the federal government — whose lending and insuring policies from the 1930s to 1960s required sundown neighborhoods and suburbs — our governments openly favored white supremacy and helped to create and maintain all-white communities. So did our banks, realtors, and police chiefs.”

The Bum Blockade

“Bolshevik bums.” “Won’t workers.” “Migratory criminals.” “Two-legged locusts.” Los Angeles Police Chief James Davis hurled invectives like these at Dust Bowl refugees in the pages of The Los Angeles Times throughout 1935. Like contemporary Quality of Life campaigns, Chief Davis linked the influx of “Okies” with crime and financial loss to scare up support for his “Bum Blockade.”

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce did its part by stoking nativist resentment. They reported that migrants were costing taxpayers millions of dollars a month in state relief — aid that many struggling Californians were unable to receive. The public relations campaign around the Bum Blockade fueled a nasty parochialism that drove a stake between segments of the working and unemployed poor, scapegoating those from other places for the high unemployment and long welfare rolls wracking the state.

In 1936, Police Chief Davis took matters into his own hands, enforcing an aggressive finger printing and deportation campaign for anyone arrested on vagrancy charges in Los Angeles. He also took the extraordinary measure of sending well over 100 officers to the borders of California and Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada. Officers set up blockades to question incoming travelers if they had money or work. If they didn’t, they were told to either go back to from where they came or face hard labor. Around the same time, California put an anti-Okie law on the books that made it a misdemeanor to bring an “indigent person” who wasn’t a resident into the state.

Such measures directed at “Okies” spurred John Steinbeck to write in The Grapes of Wrath, “Well, Okie use’ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re a dirty son of a bitch. Okie means you’re scum.” The Bum Blockade eventually failed because it was too expensive and the Supreme Court struck down California’s anti-Okie Law as a violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause.

Hailey Giczy writes, “In order to preserve the homogeneity of Los Angeles’ ‘imagined community’ of wealthy and culturally advanced Anglo-Saxons, tactics used to exclude racial groups were employed to attack class groups, raising exclusionary sentiment in Angelinos which fueled a fear of moral and aesthetic degradation.”

An Emphatic “No!”

Vestiges of the ugly laws, sundown towns, and Bum Blockade persist in our current Quality of Life ordinances. They create second-class citizenship, criminalize poverty and disability, close public space, and encourage vigilante justice. The media fear mongers and dehumanizes, business groups like the Chamber of Commerce demand the state protect their interests, and police overstep the constitutional limits of their power.

Throughout this sordid history, courageous people have stood up and declared an emphatic “no!” to policies that exclude, segregate, and deny universal human dignity. The concluding part of this series will highlight the work of those carrying on this tradition of resistance, those who today are demanding social justice.

This series is a collaboration between researcher Casey Gallagher and Western Regional Advocacy Project.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-boden/the-quality-of-whose-life_1_b_785714.html

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by Paul Kivel

MY FIRST ANSWER TO THE QUESTION POSED IN THE TITLE is that we need both, of course. We need to provide services for those most in need, for those trying to survive, for those barely making it. We need to work for social change so that we create a society in which our institutions and organizations are equitable and just and all people are safe, adequately fed, adequately housed, well educated, able to work at safe, decent jobs, and able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Although the title of this article may be misleading in contrasting social service provision and social change work, the two do not necessarily go together easily and in many instances do not go together at all. There are some groups working for social change that are providing social service; there are many more groups providing social services that are not working for social change. In fact, many social service agencies may be intentionally or inadvertently working to maintain the status quo.

The Economic Pyramid

I want to begin by providing a context for this discussion: the present political/economic system here in the United States. Currently our economic structure looks like the pyramid in Figure One in which 1% of the population controls about 47% of the net financial wealth of the country, and the next 19% of the population controls another 44%. That leaves 80% of the population struggling to gain a share of just 9% of the remaining financial wealth. That majority of 80% doesn’t divide very easily into 9% of resources, which means that many of us spend most of our time trying to get enough money to feed, house, clothe, and otherwise support ourselves and our families.

There are many gradations in the economic pyramid. Among the 80% at the base of the pyramid there is a huge difference in the standard of living between those nearer the top in terms of average income and/or net worth, and those near or on the bottom. There
are a substantial number of people (nearly 20% of the population) who are actually below the bottom of the pyramid with negative
financial wealth, i.e. more debt than assets.

Regardless of these complexities, there is a clear and growing divide between those at the base and those in the top 20% who have substantial assets providing them with security, social and economic benefits, and access to power, resources, education, leisure, and health care. Most of the rest of the population have an increasingly limited ability to achieve these benefits if they have access to them at all.

I will refer to the top 1% as the ruling class because members of this class sit in the positions of power in our society as corporate executives, politicians, policy makers, and funders for political campaigns, policy research, public policy debates and media campaigns. I call them a ruling class because they have the power and money to influence and often to determine the decisions
that affect our lives, including where jobs will be located and what kind of jobs they will be, where toxics are dumped, how much
money is allocated to build schools or prisons and where they will be built, which health care, reproductive rights, civil rights, and
educational issues will be discussed and who defines the terms of these discussions. In other words, when we look at positions of
power in the U.S. we will almost always see members or representatives of the ruling class.

The ruling class does not all sit down together in a room and decide policy. However, members of this class do go to school together, vacation together, live together, socialize together, and share ideas through various newspapers and magazines, conferences, think tanks, spokespeople, and research and advocacy groups. Perhaps most importantly, members of this class sit together on interlocking boards of directors of major corporations and wield great direct power on corporate decisions. They wield almost as great a power on political decisions through lobbying, government appointments, corporate funded research, interpersonal connections, and advisory appointments. The next 19% of the economic pyramid are people who work for the ruling class, whose jobs don’t carry the same power and financial rewards, but whose purpose is to provide the research, skills, expertise, technological development and other resources which the ruling class needs to maintain and justify its monopolization of political and economic power.

The other 80% of the population produces the social wealth that those at the top benefit from. They work in the factories, fields, classrooms, homes, sweatshops, hospitals, restaurants, small businesses, behind the phones, behind the desks, behind the wheel,
and behind the counter, doing the things that keep our society functioning and productive. They are caught up in cycles of
competition, scarcity, violence, and insecurity that those at the top are largely protected from.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
• Where did you grow up on the pyramid, or where was your family of origin on the pyramid?
• Where are you now?
People at the bottom of the pyramid are constantly organizing to gain more power and access to resources. Most of the social change we have witnessed in U.S. history has come from people who are disenfranchised in this system fighting for access to education, jobs, health care, civil rights, reproductive rights, safety, housing, and a safe, clean environment. In our recent history we
can point to the Civil Rights Movement, women’s liberation movements, lesbian and gay liberation movements, disability rights movement, unions, and thousands of local struggles for social change.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
• Are you part of any group which has organized to gain for itself more access to voting rights, jobs, housing, education, or an end to violence or exploitation such as workers, women, people of color, people with disabilities, seniors, youth, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people, or people whose religion is not Christian?
• How have those struggles benefited your life?
• How have those struggles been resisted by the ruling class?
• What is the current state of those movements you have been closest to?

The Buffer Zone

People in the ruling class have always avoided dealing directly with people on the bottom of the pyramid and they have always wanted to keep people from the bottom of the pyramid from organizing for power so that they could maintain the power, control, and most importantly, wealth that they have accumulated. They have created a network of occupations, careers, and professions to mediate for and buffer them from the rest of the population. This buffer zone consists of all the jobs that carry out the agenda of the ruling class without requiring ruling class presence or visibility. Some of the people doing these jobs fall into the 19% section of the pyramid, often performing work that serves the ruling class directly. However, most of the people in the buffer zone have jobs that put them into the top of the bottom 80%. These jobs give them a little more economic security and just enough power to make decisions about other people’s lives—those who have even less than they do. The buffer zone has three primary functions.

The first function is to take care of people on the bottom of the pyramid. If it was a literal free-for-all for that 9% of social wealth allocated to the poor/working/and lower middle classes there would be chaos and many more people would be dying in the streets, instead of dying invisibly in homes, hospitals, prisons, rest homes, homeless shelters, etc. So there are many occupations to sort out which people get how much of the 9%, and to take care of those who aren’t really making it. Social welfare workers, nurses, teachers, counselors, case workers of various sorts, advocates for various groups—these occupations, which are found primarily in the bottom of the pyramid, are performed mostly by women, and are primarily identified as women’s work, taking care of people at the bottom of the pyramid.

The second function of jobs in the buffer zone is to keep hope alive. To keep alive the myth that anyone can make it in this society—that there is a level playing field. These jobs, often the same as the caretaking jobs, determine which people will be the ucky ones to receive jobs and job training, a college education, housing allotments, or health care. These people convince us that if
we just work hard, follow the rules, and don’t challenge the social order or status quo, we too can get ahead and gain a few benefits
from the system. Sometimes getting ahead in this context means getting a job in the buffer zone and becoming one of the people who hands out the benefits.

The final function of jobs in the buffer zone is to maintain the system by controlling those who want to make changes. Because people at the bottom keep fighting for change, people at the top need social mechanisms that keep people in their place in the family, in schools, in the neighborhood, and even overseas in other countries. Police, security guards, prison wardens, soldiers, deans and administrators, immigration officials, and fathers in their role as “the discipline in the family”—these are all traditionally male roles in the buffer zone designed to keep people in their place in the hierarchy. During the last half of the 20th century when multiple groups were demanding—and in some cases getting—critical changes in our social structure such as better access to jobs, education, and health care, the ruling classes needed a new strategy to avoid an all out civil war.

Co-opting social change

This strategy has been to create professions drawn from the groups of people demanding change of the system, creating an atmosphere of “progress,” where hope is kindled, and needs for change are made legitimate, without producing the systematic change which would actually eliminate the injustice or inequality which caused the organizing in the first place. This process separates people in leadership from their communities by offering them jobs providing services to their communities and steering their interests towards the governmental and non-profit bureaucracies that employ them. This process has the effect of creating new groups of professionals providing social services without necessarily producing greater social justice or equality of opportunity.
One example of how this process works can be seen in the Civil Rights Movement, which was a grassroots struggle led by African Americans for full civil rights, for access to power and resources, and for the end of racial discrimination and racist violence. Although legalized segregation was dismantled as a result of those struggles, the broader racial and economic goals of the movement have largely remained unfulfilled. However we now have a larger African American middle class because some opportunities opened up in the buffer zone: in the government, in middle management and academic jobs, and in the non-profit sector.

The issue of racism is now “addressed” in our social institutions by a multiracial group of professionals who work as diversity or multicultural trainers, consultants, advisors, and educators. Although the ruling class is still almost exclusively white and most African Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color remain at the bottom of the economic pyramid, there is the illusion that substantial change has occurred because we have a few very high profile wealthy people of color. Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and others are held up as examples to prove that any person of color can become rich and powerful if they work at it.

The Civil Rights Movement is not the only arena where this process has occurred. Another example is the battered women’s movement, the organizing by battered and formerly battered women for shelter, safety, resources, and an end to male violence. Again, some gains were made in identifying the issue, in improving the response of public institutions to incidents of male violence, and in increasing services to battered women. But systematic, large-scale efforts to mobilize battered women and end male violence have not been attempted. Instead, we have a network of (still largely inadequate) social services to attend to the immediate needs of battered women, and a new network of buffer zone jobs in shelters and advocacy organizations to administer to those needs.

In both of these examples we can see that the roots of racism and male violence are not being addressed. Instead we have new cadres of professionals who administer to the needs of those on the bottom of the pyramid. In fact, in both of these cases we now have more controlling elements—more police, security guards, immigration officials, etc. than ever before—whose role is to reinforce the racial hierarchy and reach into the family lives of poor and working class white people and people of color.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
• Who are you in solidarity with in the pyramid—who would you like to support through the work that you do—people at the top of the pyramid, people in the buffer zone, or people at the bottom?
• What are the historical roots of the work that you do?
• What were your motivations or intentions when you began doing this work?
• Who actually benefits from the work that you do?
• Are there ways through your work, your family role, or your role in the community that you have come to enforce the status quo or train young people for their role in it?

The Role of the Non-profit

A primary vehicle that the ruling class created to stabilize the buffer zone was the non-profit organization. The non-profit tax category was created to give substantial economic benefits to the ruling class while allowing them to fund services for themselves.
Even today, most charitable, tax exempt giving from the ruling class goes to ruling class functions like museums, operas, art galleries, elite universities, private hospitals and family foundations. A second effect of the non-profit sector has been to provide a vehicle for the ruling class to fund (and therefore to control) work in the buffer zone. A large amount of the money donated to non-profits either comes from charitable foundations or from direct donations by members of the ruling class. Non-profits serving the 80% at the pyramid’s base often spend inordinate amounts of time writing proposals, designing programs to meet foundation guidelines, tracking and evaluating programs to satisfy foundations, or soliciting private donations through direct mail appeals, house parties, benefits, and other fundraising techniques.

Much of the work of many non-profits is either developed or presented in such a way as to meet the guidelines and approval of people in or representing the ruling class. Within the last twenty years, due to the massive cutbacks in government support services
and thus the greater dependence of non-profits on nongovernmental funding, this process has been exacerbated.

The ruling class established non-profits to provide social services. Jobs were professionalized historically to co-opt social change. Funders today generally look for non-profit programming that fills gaps in the provision of services, extends outreach to underserved groups, and stresses collaborations which bring together several services providers to use money and other resources more efficiently. It should not be surprising that so much of the work of the buffer zone is social service—keeping hope alive by helping some people get ahead.

How does co-optation work?

The ruling class co-opts the leadership in our communities by providing jobs for some people and aligning their perceived self interest with maintaining the system (maintaining their jobs). Whether they are social welfare workers, police, domestic violence shelter workers, diversity consultants, therapists, or security guards, their jobs and status are dependent on their ability to keep the system functioning and to keep people functioning within the system no matter how illogical, dysfunctional, exploitive, and unjust the system is. The very existence of these jobs serves to convince people that tremendous inequalities of wealth are natural and inevitable and those that work hard will get ahead.

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