This Crow Won’t Fly
by: Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project Posted on: October 08, 2013
Editor’s Note: Continuing our coverage of the Homeless Rights Movement. See here for an introduction to the movement by one of its most outspoken leaders.
Also, in a recent San Fransisco police newsletter the insulting language used to describe the homeless was made plain and clear. See it here(.pdf).
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 2012, 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 dirty 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 any 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 scaryingly increasingly common 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we will hook you up with organizers working in both of these states or others as this movement continues to grow.
One Response to “This Crow Won’t Fly”
Leave a Reply
Articles On Community Rights
- May 19 Part 2: Jordan Cove LNG Backers Spend Huge Money to Sway Tiny Oregon County Election
- May 2 Part 1: Oregon County Faces Gas Industry Funding, Lobbyists in Battle to Halt Jordan Cove LNG Project
- Jan 12 For Teachers and Citizens: How to Respond to Federal Immigration Raids
- Jan 5 How To Respond When Your (Local) Government Gets Sued By A Corporation
- May 25 Interview: The Working Class Movement Fighting for Local Authority
- Apr 29 Interview: Challenging Corporations’ ‘Right’ To Grow GMOs in Rural Oregon
- Nov 3 Cancer Clusters Spark Historic Pesticide Vote in Oregon
- Dec 8 The Devil In The Details of Local Law
- Dec 8 Don’t Tread On Us-A Message from Colorado
- Dec 8 Making Sense of Recent Legal History
- Dec 8 Where Push Is Coming To Shove, USA
- Nov 8 The First Big Win for the $15 Movement
- Nov 8 A Legal Definition for ‘Unsustainable Energy’?
- Oct 8 When The State Pushes Back
- Oct 8 This Crow Won’t Fly
- Oct 8 A New County Constitution
- Sep 8 Homeless Bills of Rights-New Narratives
- Sep 8 Colorado Anti-fracking Movement Heating Up!
- Sep 8 Local Initiative Process Gutted
- Aug 8 Obstacles to Asserting Rights
- Aug 8 Benton County, OR Moves Forward with Nation’s Potential First Food Bill of Rights
- Jul 8 Spokane Continues to Fight for the Right to Vote
- Jul 8 Foster Youth Bill of Rights, New Narratives
- Jul 8 Santa Monica Passes West Coast’s First Rights of Nature Ordinance
- Jun 8 Housing Justice: Fighting for Rights
- Jun 8 A Community Rights Ordinance For South Puget Sound
- Jun 8 County Government Writes History, Hydrocarbon Ban is First of its Kind
- Jun 8 Food Bills of Rights and Monsanto-Speech
- Jun 6 GM Wheat Discovered in Oregon, Benton County Continues Work on Food Bill of Rights
- May 8 Does Food Sovereignty Exist in the United States? Food and the Community Rights Movement
- May 8 Washington Community Action Network Talks Rights
- Apr 7 Under the Radar: How a Multinational Corporation Quietly Bought a County-Wide Election
- Apr 2 Day One of the Occupation of Detroit
- Mar 25 Crude Oil Trains Proposed for Grays Harbor, WA: Citizens Challenge Permitting Process
- Mar 18 Middle School Elevates its Rights above Corporations’
- Mar 12 What a Difference a Degree Makes
- Mar 2 The Story of Broadview Heights, Ohio
- Feb 17 Democracy Denied in Small Town, USA
- Feb 4 The View from Plymouth, NH
- Jan 27 Benton County’s Fight to Protect Our Seed Heritage: A Food Bill of Rights
- Jan 16 Fighting for the Right to a Sustainable Food System: Benton County, Oregon
- Jan 6 Rivers and Natural Ecosystems as Rights Bearing Subjects
- Dec 31 Case Study: The Community Right to Sustainable Energy
- Dec 24 Barnstead, NH: Establishing the Community Right to Water and Self-Governance
- Dec 19 New Section: Community Rights
- Sep 23 Changing ‘Fundemental Law’, a Case Study: Bellingham
- Mar 29 The Right to Self-Govern