OREGON ACTIVISM IS CREATING REAL SANCTUARY CAMPGROUNDS–NOT LATER BUT NOW!

NOTES BY NORSE:  I’m hoping to interview some Portland and Eugene activists on the recent homeless encampment creation activity up there–how much of it was due to slick and friendly advertising, bowing and scraping to authorities, and bad-mouthing those supporting direct action or protest…and how much to that same direct action and protest.  It’s been my initial reaction that the latter has been the essential element.
Sanctuary Camp promotion here in Santa Cruz continues at Thursday’s Forum at S.C. High School (415 Walnut St.) 7 PM where “all” are invited.  HUFF will be discussing the Camp today at Sub Rosa at 11 AM (10-9).  One continuing concern I have is the frequent level of misinformation and abuse put out by advocate Brent Adams about HUFF, the value of protest generally, and the attempt to “woo” conservative elements by adopting Drug War and psuedo-Public Safety rhetoric.  Brent’s organizing & graphic skills have always been impressive.  It is important to consider the historical situation (the defeat of a similar if smaller Sanctuary Campground back in 1990 when there were actually strong Council advocates and a broader Coalition, the crushing of the State Parks operation in 1996, the dismissal of Paul Lee’s Eco-Village thereafter–all these in more liberal times).
What’s different now is that a far more militant hate-based Take Back Santa Cruz has partially taken over City Council’s agenda (displacing the prior talk-liberal-but-support-repression Don Lane Councilites) and that a nationwide homeless-empowering Take Back Wall Street movement has shown the potential strength of direct action.
A recent arrival from Eugene at the Red Church advised me of the Eugene court decision striking down trespass prosecutions under an overnight curfew at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the County Courthouse.  He noted further that it had prompted homeless encampments to come out of the shadows all over the City.
Santa Cruz’s Courthouse and County curfew–also adopted without legislative process or public input in December 2011 to crush the Occupy Santa Cruz movement is significantly worse than Eugene’s and still in force. CAO Susan Mauriello and Parks and Rec Czarina Dannettee Shoemaker decreed these curfews and to the community’s shame, it has meekly complied.  Mauriello’s edict bans sitting with a sign in front of the courts or county building from 7 PM to 7 AM.   Similar City-imposed curfews targeted protesters at the library, City Hall, & the police station a year before Occupy during PeaceCamp2010.  Broader and older ones aimed at the homeless community have closed all the parks at night, curfewed Cowell’s Beach for the first time, set up forbidden zones along the Levee.  I’ve heard a rumor that the City is planning to sell off Scope/Scribner Park across from the Town Clock after having made it a “no go” zone by removing the bench, the Tom Scribner state, and all access paths.
Yo, you civil rights attorneys?!  How about clearing the toxic underbrush in your own backyard here?  Steve Pleich?  ACLU?  Too busy burying resolutions and preening themselves on meaningless support for a weakened and frozen homeless bill of rights at the state level.  All the while, the constitution shredders are seizing the public sidewalks downtown, boosting police power, and raising the level of exclusion and hatred against the homeless community.Gibson writes:
Gibson writes: “Houselessness has been on the rise in America since the Great Recession of 2008, when the slow job market and millions of new foreclosures pushed millions of Americans into the streets.” (photo: Change the World)

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City of Portland vs. The Houseless

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

03 October 13

 

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/19689-focus-city-of-portland-vs-the-houseless
t was dark out and I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but the sound of drums and bells rang loudly enough under the Hawthorne Bridge near downtown Portland for me to get there by sound alone. The six- to eight-month rainy season had begun just a few days ago, but the rain calmed down enough for the Sunday night drum circle to draw out around 20 participants. One man allowed me to sit in on a few rhythms with a six-piece drum set he made out of three buckets of varying sizes, a set of roto toms, and duct tape to strap the entire assembly to a cart. Some of the drummers had lengthy facial hair and were clad in dirty clothes with trash bags taped to their shoes to keep the rain out. Other drummers were younger people with newer clothes and layered haircuts. You’ve got both homeless and non-homeless people here,” said a man who introduced himself only as Dominic, who had been dancing in the middle of the drum circle just minutes ago. “Portland’s street dwellers are a very tight-knit community, and they all stick together. I’d invite almost any of these people over to my house for dinner and a place to sleep.”
“You’ve got both homeless and non-homeless people here,” said a man who introduced himself only as Dominic, who had been dancing in the middle of the drum circle just minutes ago. “Portland’s street dwellers are a very tight-knit community, and they all stick together. I’d invite almost any of these people over to my house for dinner and a place to sleep.”

 

The activist community in Portland refuses to use the term “homeless,” preferring that allies use the term “houseless” instead. While America has roughly 633,000 people considered houseless, 293,000 of them are houseless as a family. Oregon has the largest percentage of long-term houseless people of any state in America. And there are currently 6 vacant buildings for every 1 houseless person in the entire country. Houselessness has been on the rise in America since the Great Recession of 2008, when the slow job market and millions of new foreclosures pushed millions of Americans into the streets. However, simply seizing these vacant buildings from the banks who own them and converting them into housing for the houseless is complicated. The process has to involve cities, banks, developers and advocates for the houseless all coming together on what to do with which property.

 

“These people still have a home in Portland, and they’re as much a part of our community as we are,” said John Langley, co-manager of the Red & Black Café, a worker-owned co-op in the Buckman neighborhood. “They aren’t homeless. They just need a house to live in.”

 

The Red and Black Café considers itself a small business allied with the houseless cause in Portland. Langley said the café has been known as a safe haven for the houseless ever since a famous altercation between a journalist named Cornelia Seigneur and a Portland police officer named James Crooker.

“We have a lot of houseless people who sleep under our awning to stay out of the rain, and we let them come in the shop without buying anything,” Langley said. “Officer Crooker walked by some of the people in the shop, and at one point it looked like he was being intimidating to a customer, so I politely asked him to leave. He finally did, after he made some snide remarks.”

 

After that altercation, Cornelia Seigneur wrote a column about the experience, which caused a media firestorm, even leading to Fox News picking up the story and putting the Red and Black Café in the national spotlight. Langley said while there were block-long lines of people waiting to patronize the Red & Black Café in the wake of the story, the incident took an emotional toll.

 

“We had a lot of people sending us death threats, calling us on the phone, saying ‘I’m going to kill you,’ all for us using our right as an establishment to refuse service to anyone,” Langley said. “We had to hold a press conference to counter their framing and defend people’s basic right to have a safe space in their own city without being harassed by police.”

 

As an ally to the houseless community, Langley said his business has been targeted twice in the past by vigilante organizations using vocabulary with white supremacist overtones, as have other houseless allies like Sisters of the Road and St. Francis, just around the corner from the Red & Black. The emails Langley sent me come from an organization called “Volunteer Vigilantes Enforcing Victory Against Vagrants,” headed up by a man called “Chief M. Freeman” and filled with fascistic messaging about how the Red and Black Café and St. Francis were enabling the houseless by caring for them and tolerating their presence. You can read the emails here.

 

Lif Bowers, an activist ally of Portland’s houseless community, helped organize sit-ins at the mayor’s office last year and early this year. Lif said the city has made its priorities clear in how it allocates city money, and with whom police side with in landlord/tenant disputes.

 

“They cut off all money for free rail systems and funded a new police training center instead,” Bowers said. “And the police served as the goons of a landlord who didn’t pay his mortgage, instead of a tenant who paid her rent, assisting the landlord in evicting her.”

 

John Langley also recalled an incident from the summer of 2013, when notices were put up all over the neighborhood giving the houseless 72 hours to move their belongings elsewhere or to face arrest. According to Langley, the city came through roughly 11 hours after the notices were given, and people had their things thrown away as they watched.

 

“The mayor has this whac-a-mole approach of pushing people out,” Langley said. “He talks about ‘livability’ and ‘cleaning up our streets,’ as if houseless people weren’t even human beings.”

 

Dana Haynes, communications director for Mayor Charlie Hales, said he didn’t know anything about the threats made by vigilantes, and said stories about putting the houseless’ earthly belongings in a dumpster were “false.” According to Haynes, Oregon law states that people have the right to sleep on the sidewalks at night, but doesn’t allow people to camp or claim one part of the sidewalk as theirs. He said that after four arrests were made on the first day of Mayor Hales’ initial “sweep,” the houseless community complied with police orders to move.

 

“We gave people the location of the city facility where they could pick up their belongings within a 30-day period,” Haynes said in a phone interview. “Portland police walked the streets with homeless advocates like Clean & Safe and JOIN. The only things we threw away were things that were obviously garbage, like empty bottles and candy wrappers.”

 

To call Clean & Safe and JOIN “homeless advocates” is a bit of a stretch, considering how closely aligned the board members of both organizations are to the local government and the police. Eight of 11 members of JOIN’s board are corporate or financial executives, and JOIN Board of Directors Vice President Sara Westbrook is listed as a member of the Portland Police Bureau. The sheer number of business executives, condominium developers, and parking garage owners listed as members of the board on Portland Clean & Safe District’s website reads like a sponsors list on the back of a program for a symphony, or an expensive Broadway theatre production, rather than a list of people who work tirelessly to serve the houseless.

 

In the aftermath of the eviction of Occupy Portland, several activists in the houseless community set up a camp on the edge of Chinatown called “Right to Dream Too,” known as “R2D2″ colloquially. The location of the camp at 4th and Burnside, in the heart of the downtown business district, was somewhat controversial at first. The camp is surrounded by a wall of doors with murals painted on each one, depicting the struggle of the houseless. At the front gates, I watched an R2D2 volunteer security guard turn someone away in the rain due to a lack of space for the night.

 

“R2D2 is a place for people to come and get 8 to 12 hours of undisturbed, dry, safe rest,” said Ibrahim Mubarak, chairman of R2D2. “We have at least 100 people staying here every day, and have to turn away 20 to 30 people each night.”

 

Mayor Hales’ candidacy was supported by much of the city’s business community during his fall 2012 election campaign. When he was still a member of the Portland City Council, Hales was the only one who voted against allowing an encampment for Portland’s houseless community, arguing it would be detrimental to the downtown business district. As mayor, he drove the houseless away from their original campsite in front of city hall with food carts.

“A lot of the businesses didn’t really want us here at first,” Mubarak said. “But they got to like us after they saw the violent crime rate went down. We have groups who regularly patrol the surrounding blocks, pick up the trash on the sidewalks, giving resources to people sleeping on the streets, de-escalating conflict between the houseless and the police.”

 

Mubarak is optimistic that the city wants to do the right thing. He said several city council members, like Amanda Fritz, have attended grassroots events hosted by the houseless community and pushed for more subsidized housing. But Mubarak, who has been personally cited several times for sleeping in public at $250 per ticket, still has a few core demands for the city.

 

“Because we live in the streets, we’re criminalized for exercising our basic human rights,” Mubarak said. “We need a homeless peoples’ bill of rights, where we can be guaranteed things like hygiene centers where we can use the bathroom and clean up, storage space for our belongings, and no tickets for sleeping on the sidewalk.”

 

Both John Langley and Dana Haynes can agree on one thing – life won’t improve for the houseless until the overall economy picks up.

“We obviously need more jobs, not just here but everywhere,” Haynes said. “We need an increase in shelters of all kinds, for men and for women, and women with children. And we need more low-income housing in general.”

 

“I’m sure that the city is aware that it needs to send a more palatable message than the one Chief Freeman is sending here. My point is that their goals are essentially aligned.” Langley said in a follow-up interview. “I think, unfortunately, that in times of economic hardship some people react by attacking poor people.”


Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary “We’re Not Broke,” which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at carl@rsnorg.org, and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/19689-focus-city-of-portland-vs-the-houseless

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Judge Rules for Free Speech

From the Register Guard
By Greg Bolt
The Register-Guard
Published: 12:00 a.m., Aug. 16

http://occupyeugenemedia.org/2013/08/17/free-speech-prevails/

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SLEEPS protestors Peter Grotticelli (left) and Bethany Clement walk their tents down Sixth Avenue in Eugene from their campsite near the Ferry Street Bridge to the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the Lane County Courthouse after being evicted by Eugene Police. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

Lane County is 0-for-2 in its efforts to control the use of a public plaza after a judge on Thursday threw out trespassing citations issued to 21 protesters earlier this year, again saying the action violated their free speech rights.

It’s the second time in a week that the county’s actions against protesters in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza have been found to violate the state and federal constitutions. Last week, the same judge dismissed a trespassing charge against a single protester who remained in the plaza after the county said it had to be closed for cleaning.

Eugene attorney Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, said the two rulings show that government must tread lightly when it comes to rules that put any kind of burden on the rights of people to assemble and speak out.

“Our intentions in bringing this case before the court in this way was to have a court rule on what our constitutional rights are at this very public forum in this community,” she said. “We will continue to zealously advocate on behalf of our community’s First Amendment right to exercise free speech and to protest.”

Anne Marie Levis, a spokeswoman for Lane County, said county officials hadn’t had a chance to review the ruling Thursday and couldn’t yet comment on it. But she said the curfew rule that sparked the protest is likely to come up for discussion by county commissioners at a future meeting, possibly in two weeks.
Some protesters returned to the Morse Plaza Thursday night, both to continue a protest over the rights of homeless people and to celebrate the court ruling. The group moved to the plaza from a site under the Ferry Street Bridge next to East Sixth Avenue, where they had been camping to protest police treatment of homeless people.

“We’re exercising our rights to freedom of speech and that was our goal, to protest for the homeless for safe places to sleep,” said James Chastain, a protester who was helping to erect tents at the plaza early Thursday evening.

Thursday’s court ruling centered on a county-imposed curfew on the Morse plaza that closes the public space from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. In January, a group of activists defied the curfew in a protest over free speech rights and the county asked Eugene police to cite them for trespassing, charges that were then challenged in court.

Attorneys for the protesters asked Eugene Municipal Court Judge Karen Stenard to dismiss the citations, saying the curfew does not pass constitutional muster. In her ruling issued Thursday, Stenard did not strike down the curfew itself but agreed that the citations were unconstitutional.

Stenard said she empathized with the county’s challenges in maintaining its facilities with a limited budget and its claim that the curfew was not aimed at stifling speech but keeping the plaza safe and clean.

“Nonetheless, enforcement of a curfew which closes the very area that the county designated ‘Free Speech Plaza’ (much of which is barely distinguishable from a sidewalk) for a third of every day significantly limited defendants’ rights to speech and assembly, regardless of the curfew’s intent,” the judge wrote in her decision.

Even under the least stringent analysis of the case, “the curfew does not withstand constitutional scrutiny,” Stenard wrote.

Regan said she is willing to work with county officials to rewrite the curfew rule in a way that doesn’t infringe on people’s legal rights. She said that would be cheaper for the county than facing another lawsuit in state or federal court asking that the rule itself be revoked.

Stenard stopped short of saying that the curfew rule itself was unconstitutional, limiting her ruling only to the 21 citations issued in this particular case. She suggested that a city judge might not have jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of what is essentially an internal county rule.

But given the judge’s analysis, it’s unlikely anyone else brought before her for violating the curfew under similar circumstances would be convicted. Regan said that essentially makes the rule unenforceable, and she called on the county to change it.

“If there is common sense among any of our county officials, they will sit down with us and figure out a way to resolve this situation in a way that protects the constitutional rights of all our community members,” she said.

The curfew was added to the county’s administrative procedures manual by former county administrator Liane Richardson, who has since been fired over alleged improprieties in how she was paid. She made the change in December after she shut down a protest, claiming she had smelled human feces in a planter and needed to have the plaza cleaned, an argument that Stenard also rejected as unconstitutional in her earlier ruling.

Although the curfew rule allows people to apply to use the plaza at night, Regan said the county did not have any clear procedures or application form for requesting an exception and no clear criteria for deciding whether to grant such requests. One protester testified that she tried to get a permit to use the plaza at night but was told she didn’t need one and that county employees seemed unaware of any process for granting one.

Stenard said she found that testimony troubling and indicated it weighed in her finding that curfew citations were unconstitutional.

“Any permitting or exception process should be so transparent and accessible that all government staff involved in the process are well aware of it, can explain it to the public and laypersons can navigate the requirements,” she wrote. “The curfew imposed by the administrative procedures manual is unconstitutional as applied to the defendants.”

Reporter Samuel Stites contributed to this report.

 

 

One thought on “OREGON ACTIVISM IS CREATING REAL SANCTUARY CAMPGROUNDS–NOT LATER BUT NOW!

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