November 17, 2011


The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor, to sleep in the parks  –Paraphrased from Anatole France

Police attacks on Occupy movements from Wall Street to Oakland, Portland, Denver … have often been justified by the “need” to prevent the use of tents or shelters in public places.  Of course, we know that the real reason is that the powers that be don’t like the political and social views that are being expressed by the Occupations. 

We’ll get back to tents in a minute, because I find this part of the story fascinating, but lets look at the other pretexts that have been used recently.  From Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams, to Oakland’s Jean Quan, to New York’s Michael Bloomberg, suddenly there is a great concern for the “health and welfare” of the protesters.  Massive police violence, pepper spray, beatings and “less lethal” projectiles leveled at non-violent people does not arouse the same level of concern, although it is without a doubt a far greater threat to “health and welfare” than anything that goes on in the camps.

So, what does go on in those camps that is so terrible?  Some of the allegations are so far off base that they are just silly.  For one thing, after two months of occupations all these cities suddenly have terrible problems of crime, drug use and homelessness going on in the camps. Obviously caused by the Occupy movement(?)  And did I mention this is a few days before large demonstrations planned for November 17 to mark two months of Occupy Wall Street?  Jean Quan justified the attack on Occupy Oakland by citing a murder. Actually that murder had nothing to do with the occupation and was not in the camp. The most that could be said is that somebody got killed near the camp. Unfortunately, people are killed pretty frequently in Oakland. How does beating up a bunch of people that had nothing to do with it, arresting them – not the  criminal -  and throwing away their possessions solve that problem? 

Several cities justified their actions because homeless people were moving into the camps. “That’s not protest” they say, “It’s just dirty drug using homeless people taking the opportunity to move back into public spaces. We can’t allow that”  Well, first of all having homeless people in the camps is a political act.  The whole point of the movement is that a tiny minority has seized control over our economic and political systems. They are enriching themselves and using the political system to prevent any attempt to regulate or control their anti-social behavior.  One of the results that we have been seeing is that people are losing their jobs and their homes. They have nowhere to go. Homelessness is one of the symptoms of our problem.  As is drug use (and make no mistake, alcohol is a drug). People are there to enrich themselves at the expense of the hopeless.  But the government ends up criminalizing the victims because solving the problem would challenge the entrenched system that relies on being able to keep people poor, keep wages down and keep profits up for the 1%.  If people overdose, it would have happened wherever they were. It is not because of the Occupy camps.

If those of us who have homes and some kind of jobs had to really confront homelessness, we would want to change that system. And that brings us back to why homeless people can’t be allowed in the camps.  They become visible when they come out of the hiding places they have been forced into by those who just don’t want us to think about it.  And that is why there are laws against tents and against sleeping in public parks. This does nothing to solve the problem. It just forces people to sleep under bridges or deep in the bushes. It makes them invisible, which is, of course, the point. 

The authorities are using these same anti-tent or anti-camping ordinances against the Occupy Movement. And for the same reason. To make them invisible.  To make them go away. To keep them from challenging the system that makes some people homeless, makes us all poorer (99% of us) and prevents the majority from forming the more equitable society that most of us want to live in. 

The movement can respond to the relatively rare crimes that may be committed in their neighborhood.  When women were harassed at Occupy Wall Street they created a safe space for themselves and set up women only tents. In general this movement has been good about policing themselves. We wouldn’t raze a suburban street because there was a crime committed there, and certainly not a gated community with the stately homes of the wealthy. Why then use that excuse to tear down Occupy camps? It has nothing to do with “health and welfare” and of course we all know that.