Charity vs. Civil Rights?
The controversy surrounding the City of Olympia’s new ordinance making ‘camping’ (sleeping?) on any City owned public property a criminal offense along with the possession of ‘camping’ paraphernalia on the same (sleeping bags, tents, tarps? eating utensils? cups? canteens? sticks?) has been heated and the ordinance itself passionately denounced. Today, citizens are confronted with a municipal law virtually criminalizing the homeless, placing them in the same category as drug paraphernalia and guilty almost by definition. Yet almost all the discussion surrounding the City’s use of the homeless as pawns for political advantage in its internecine budget battles with adjacent sister municipalities and the County of Thurston, both public and private, is focused on the degree of largess to the homeless Olympia demonstrates rather than the legally fundamental question of their Civil Rights.
The cynical use of the term ‘camping’ as an anti-poverty tool with which to discriminate against the poor has been competently rendered by the City’s attorney given the case law permitting regulations material to ‘camping’ along with public health & safety, though not ‘sleeping’, which would be a bit too much like legislating against breathing or eating since they’re part of the human condition necessary for life itself. Common sense dictates what we all know: the homeless do not sleep on the cold hard pavement for recreation. It’s uncomfortable, dangerous, and humiliating. They do it because, despite some naysayers, they have no choice!
So how is it, with the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s within memory, so many progressives fail to see this ordinance as tantamount to the contemporary equivalent of the South’s notorious Jim Crow laws? Will “Homeless–keep off the grass!” signs begin popping up on City lawns? Will its fountains and the Artesian warn they’re for landed Gentry only? Will it’s public restrooms make their taciturn hostility to the homeless (locking them out during evening/nighttime hours) more transparent by announcing, “No Homeless allowed”? Why do citizens allow the Mayor to wring his hands in angst proclaiming how generous he’s been while he shepherds the City’s version of the Nuremberg laws into passage? Yes, we’ve heard similar phrases in the past: “Some of my best friends are homeless/porpoises, but would you want your daughter to marry one?” It’s as if the City wishes to be IN the world, but not OF the world when it uses the homeless as straw men to accumulate political capital. NIMBY politics ultimately make a community MORE dangerous rather than less by refusing to manage by something other than crisis–a tactic the Mayor virtually boasted of on 1-8-13 in the City Council chamber.
Make no mistake, Americans might be better served by immigrating to North Korea where oppression is served openly rather than alloyed with the base metal of hypocrisy in Olympia. Yesterday, it was busking, today it’s sleeping in all but name only. Tomorrow?–standing too close to City Hall or criticizing it? Why not simply acknowledge the bigotry within the Council Chambers by passing an ordinance, as one Florida municipality has, making homelessness, per se, illegal altogether within the city limits?
Has the Statue of Liberty become an anachronism?…a bad joke? Have we transitioned from a nation conceived in liberty with justice for all into one straight out of ANIMAL FARM where we’re all equal under the law, but some are more equal than others? Does ‘camping’ come from the Monica Lewinsky dictionary where it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is? Citizens are not fools. This ordinance has little to do with camping and everything to do with the poor and the homeless. Its far reaching pernicious effects are not attenuated by charity or transfers of tax dollars to NGO’s because the fundamental underlying issue is NOT charity, but civil/human RIGHTS! The Mayor’s apologists have given him a pass for bigotry due to his large purchases of Girls Scout cookies. Worse, most bigots don’t have the opportunity to pass discriminatory laws that undermine the civil rights on an entire class by virtually criminalizing their existence.
It may not be a given, at least in law, that the homeless are entitled to charity or government largess. But they are entitled to one thing that’s not being discussed: The right to be left alone.
A measure of the City’s intemperance is as obvious as its efforts to reduce crime by locking public bathrooms, then complaining of the homeless relieving themselves in public. If there were a litmus test for folly, surely it would closely resemble this state of affairs.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 1/8 (Elena) 2-8-13
Elena works with an Olympia interfaith based outreach program attempting to provide counseling, shelter, fresh clothing, socks, food, and listening to area homeless youth trying to survive on the City’s streets. She discusses her immigration from the Soviet Union 19 years ago, the political realities that lead to its collapse, and deprecates Gorbachev’s contribution to the political changes there.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 2/8 (Ruth) 2-8-13
Ruth & Elena work as part of an interfaith outreach organization providing resources, referrals, food, clothing, sox, comfort, and listening to Olympia’s homeless youth trying to survive on the City’s streets.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 3/8 (march Lorian) 2-8-13
A march on Olympia City Hall from the historic Artesian well temporarily blocks traffic on 4th Ave. until demonstrators led by an (A)narchist’s black flag reach the portals of municipal government in protest against the anti-poverty laws recently passed targeting the homeless, the poor by criminalizing those caught carrying sleeping bags, camping paraphernalia, or ‘camping’ (i.e. SLEEPING) anywhere on City owned public property. The City excuses this discriminatory violation of civil rights by lauding its own generosity, attempting to substitute charity for civil rights.
Lorian says he has worked for years with an interfaith based homeless shelter which recently received $35,000 of the City’s largess. He argues the issue of charity/services for the homeless are inseparable/identical w/civil rights for the homeless, assuring the reporter that public restrooms must either be locked/on display to prevent crime. He also expresses doubt about the statistics analyzing resources available to the homeless by citing how the numbers can deliberately be based on false premises with the intent of milking the system.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 4/8 (Lorian, Jo Robbinhood) 2-8-13
Lorian identifies himself as a Homeless advocate working with a faith based shelter. He discusses some of the issue surrounding neighborhood crime, public restrooms and shower availability along with suspected deceptive practices by NGO’s seeking public funding.
‘Jo Robbinhood’ protects his visual identity while leading the march on City Hall in protest of the Council’s passage of a municipal anti-poverty ordinance targeting the homeless for ‘camping’ (sleeping!) on public property, possessing camping paraphernalia on City public property (sleeping bags, tents…tarps? Sticks? Silverware? Sandwiches?) The (A)narchist black flag can be seen as an affected symbol planted against the injustice, and oppression of the state and its deaf elected officials.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 5/8 (argument) 2-8-13
A local City resident for over 42 year chooses to remain unidentified as he engages in heated debate over the newly passed City ordinance targeting the homeless, their choices, and the bona fides of the protesters in challenging the law. He expresses the view that the NGO charity available is more than adequate to meet the needs of the homeless. He asks why the protester he engages with doesn’t invite the homeless to his own residence. His tone and indifference rapidly escalate the heat in the exchange.
It isn’t entirely clear whether one/both were playing to the camera. What was clear was both wanted to clarify their positions which never addressed the issue of civil rights for an entire class of people now virtually criminalized by the City’s new anti-poverty ordinance targeting the homeless.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 6/8 (Whisky Saloon) 2-8-13
Across the street from the reputable Darby’s Cafe and on the block adjacent to the Capitol Theater, the Olympia Film Society’s home, stands the Whisky Saloon, a nightclub where the Vault (a bank) once was not so long ago. The area gives a visual impression of a City down on its heels needing a manicure and some pride in appearances. Many of the businesses which once catered to office supply needs and State workers are now gone, replaced with bars, restaurants, and empty walk-up apartments or 2nd story office fronts. The City has become a reflection of the greater national economic malaise. To it’s credit, the Whisky Saloon was in the midst of giving dance lessons when this reporter happened by after a dinner at Darby’s Friday night.
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 7/8 (homeless contrarian) 2-8-13
Conversations w/Oly’s Homeless 8/8 (homeless contrarian) 2-8-13
This homeless gentlemen had difficulty remaining on topic, but expressed reservations over ‘fighting’ for a piece of concrete. In fact, the homeless on hand for the protest were few in number, compared to the ratio of homeless advocates and political activists who arrived for the event.