I Witnessed Our City Kicking Homeless People Out of Their Tent Community, This is What I Saw and Learned

20170307_081557I took  these pictures on my cell phone only minutes after arriving. Seattle Police were arresting an activist. Others on the scene told me the activist had been trying to approach the homeless camp. He was trying to offer help to the houseless folks inside. Police cuffed him and sent him to jail.

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20170307_081829I showed up to the scene intentionally, as someone who was going to watch and take pictures–someone who was going to share what I saw with anyone who’d watch. When I got off the bus at what’s referred to as “The Field” early Tuesday morning, I found more than 50 Seattle Police officers and all their vehicles, carrying weapons and surrounding the community of dozens of houseless people living in tents. Police were set for a city-mandated sweep of the area.

I felt it was important to witness this since homelessness is such a prevalent issue in our country, and especially in Seattle. The issue of homelessness brings to the surface the larger societal issue of vast income inequality, and classism from some leaders and from folks who are average citizens living in expensive areas and who pay  no attention to the issue at all.

I showed up at 7:30 a.m. It was cold and pouring rain. I’d heard about the need for people to witness by way of a Facebook invitation from our Neighborhood Action Coalition. I ended up being one of the first in our group to arrive, which meant some of the handful of reporters on the scene asked me questions. One reporter quoted me on a Seattle news site called Patch:

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As more Neighborhood Action Coalition members showed up, my friend Daniel and I started walking a full circle around the perameter of the community to count the number of police officers and vehicles. It was a large police response. Some Neighborhood Action Coalition members even brought donuts for the folks inside the community.

20170307_082358Neighborhood Action Coalition organizers got to work quick, forming a group circle to plan a tactic for protesting the sweep of the field. That organizing involved deciding on group chants and songs, finding the right place to stand, how to stand, etc. Here are some  more pictures I took as Daniel and I walked around the community:20170307_08003420170307_08501620170307_07444520170307_075258The Neighborhood Action Coalition showed up after a huge win for the group only a week earlier. On February 28, members of the group in Ballard successfully blocked police from sweeping a homeless camp under a bridge there. Here is some of what they said and showed on Facebook that day:

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What’s truly heartbreaking is that the community of homeless folks at “The Field” had began to organize, showing up to Seattle City Council, getting one council member, Mike O’Brien to visit their camp. Residents of “The Field” were setting up plans to keep their community safer and cleaner. Afterall, many of them had started living here because they were tired of violence and conflict in “The Jungle”, a houseless camp that Seattle swept back in October. Residents of “The Field” said they were led to believe they could stay where they were. Here is part of the documents they put together and submitted to the City well ahead of the sweep, asking for more time and showing their plans:Document 1Document 2

During my time on the scene, I did my civic duty and posted my firsthand  pictures to Facebook. My post is below. And, take a look at what happened in the comments to it! People got involved in a real discussion of how we might be able to better approach this issue and some of the more nuanced details of what’s going on.

I am no expert on this issue and have a lot to learn, hence some of the lack of detail in this post.  Below is the long string of comments to my post, but an interesting and important string that I learned from. My friends brought up points like the fact that they didn’t see medical care on scene or pest control for the rats. So, I’m posting the whole thing here, but with names deleted, so you can learn from these folks too.

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Learning to be an activist can feel like a full-time job. And, I already have a full-time paying job, so my life feels busier  than before. Just 12 hours before witnessing what happened at “The Field”, I was at U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal’s town hall. She’s my representative, an immigrant and the first Indian-American to serve in the U.S. House. Here are some pictures I took at her town hall. I was sitting in the back of the packed room of more than 500 people:

20170306_17535820170306_185527Jayapal started her town hall by passionately saying she stands with everyone who is scared right now. She mentioned the recent hate crimes in our communities and she mentioned the newer and second version of a Muslim Ban from this Republican administration, a ban that had been announced only about nine hours earlier. The lead paragraph about that ban in the Washington Post was ominous:

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Jayapal’s town hall felt much different than Representative Smith’s townhall, which I’d attended two days earlier. Jayapal has only been in office a couple of months, Smith has been in office 20 years. Jayapal mainly received happy, thankful questions and comments because many feel she’s been doing a good job and that she’s been fairly bold in her first weeks in office. That was not the case for the crowd at Smith’s town hall.

There is so much other news in our world, the news cycle is so full that it’s hard to focus in on any one thing. For starters, today is International Women’s Day:Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 6.00.07 AMHere are other headlines I’ve seen from The Washington Post on my phone since the last time I wrote:

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