Thursday, November 10, 2011
Were it not for a few handmade signs posted around the picnic area, you’d never know the half-dozen tents spread amongst the trees in Veteran’s Park Nov. 6 are part of an organized occupation.
It’s a stark contrast to the day before, when nearly 150 people gathered on the lawn in front of Monterey’s City Hall for a press conference kicking off the Occupy Monterey encampment. The boisterous cheers and strident signs of Saturday’s actions are nowhere to be found in the Sunday evening chill.
“It’s like the city planned this so we would be out of the way,” says a 20-year-old ‘houseless’ traveler who goes by Cardinal. Another teenager from Monterey pipes up: “Why aren’t we in front of City Hall, anyway? So the tourists don’t see us?”
An older voice responds.
“We want to pull the town along with us and not upset everyone and disturb them,” says Tim Wilson, an unemployed Monterey resident.
Some Occupiers wanted to push the city for camping privileges on the City Hall lawn; others, citing the city’s willingness to waive fees at Veterans Park and open the lawn for a 24/7 vigil space, thought the park’s group campsite was the best choice. The encampment pitched its first tents a mile from downtown Saturday night.
Zandy Crawford, an Occupier who’s homeless, sees the encampment as more than a way to placate the city.
“Out here, where people get face-to-face with each other and realize that the person wearing ripped-up clothing is just another person, this is where the re-teaching and un-learning happens,” says Crawford, who’s been occupying forests, parks and alleyways for years.
Adds Ray Arrowood, a “nomadic” Vietnam vet: “The homeless are the best bet for keeping this thing going. What better symbol for the clash between the 99 percent and the 1 percent than the bottom of the 99 percent?”
But not everyone shares his sentiments. Later that evening, a pair of homeless youth leave the encampment after being denounced for drunkenness and threatening violence. Occupier and Marina resident Colin Gallagher says the balance between building community and enforcing order is difficult, particularly for a diverse and diffuse movement like Occupy.
“City officials told us we were going to have to deal with homeless people,” Gallagher says. “We’re not going to exclude people just because they have issues, but we do have to have some level of de-escalation in place.”
The homeless Occupiers present a nuanced challenge for encampments from Oakland to Toronto to Wall Street. Some are sane and healthy; others struggle with addiction and mental illness.
Santa Cruz city officials started cracking down on their local Occupy encampment in San Lorenzo Park last week after increasing numbers of homeless people provoked complaints from residents. Yet many feel the homeless are central to a movement aimed at eradicating economic injustice.
“People have been occupying Chinatown [in Salinas] for decades,” says longtime homeless outreach worker Peter Nelson. “They aren’t protesting injustice, but they’re experiencing it.” He’s offered to work with Occupy Monterey’s encampment to navigate the challenges of integrating the homeless into their movement.
Gallagher says the homeless must be included in Occupy Monterey: “Should people refuse to support that, it’s a refusal to accept the new reality this nation is facing.”