I am writing as an individual and not representative of anything other than a free American. There is imminent encampment of Occupy Kalamazoo, in Michigan. Monday, September 3rd, at 10pm, I will begin to perform a habitual Civil Disobedience in protest of the public sleeping laws in Kalamazoo. This is a peaceful, non-violent protest demanding sanctuary for the homeless in Kalamazoo with Occupy Kalamazoo’s 2 month encampment, so that they may at least have a place to sit in peace. I will be performing this protest until Occupy Kalamazoo may obtain land in a September 24th, local auction. I will not recognize nor accept citations. I will not resist arrest.
Occupy Kalamazoo is beginning an encampment called “#Op-Compassion Park”. Kalamazoo is currently and most recently named the 6th meanest city in the nation to the homeless. We received this dubious honor in 2009, by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s “Homes Not Handcuffs Report” published in 2009.
Since then, the city of Kalamazoo has seen multiple deaths of homeless people due to freezing and lack of capacity. Just this summer, we have seen the end of “Tent City”, an area which the homeless have stayed for over 5 years. Local chapters of Food Not Bombs have been given orders by the police to stop feeding the homeless. The Mission, our largest shelter, cannot sustain the homeless, and are filled – literally – to the doorway and is struggling with a seemingly insurmountable infestation of bed bugs.
In addition to this, there has been a noticeable increase of citations given to the homeless in Bronson Park. In several cases these citations have been for things that are not in the city ordinance, even our own members of Occupy Kalamazoo have been told they could not play an acoustic guitar in the park.
I do not mention this in the spirit of blame and recrimination. We are doing our best to work with the police and the city. Occupy Kalamazoo met with city officials on Friday to learn that our encampment may put up tents (as long as they are not stationary by breaking ground). Additionally, we may not sleep at night in the park.
I do not offer blame to our city nor its officials, the blame lays at the feet of a larger systemic crisis. We have gone to the city meetings about homelessness, we have heard the pleas from people like our own mayor Mr Hopewell asking for the community to get involved and help with this issue. I have even told the city commission in a meeting that I am proud of their efforts. Likewise, with our local police to several Occupies at our National Gathering.
The homeless problem is everyone’s problem. It is a community problem. It transcends the authority of city officials and law enforcement. Elected officials are not equipped, or able, or meant to deal with what our nation faces, regardless of politics, religions, or any rules.
The concept of humanity and compassion must be the priority. Not the regulation. Compassion must lead us, the community needs to fight for that. If we lose our humanity and compassion that loss is what’s more dangerous than any economic statistic.
The apathy people feel right now is something that is not limited to the homeless, it is in our schools, our universities, our bars, our jobs, our homes, our loved ones, and ourselves. I’ve seen it in our city officials as much as the rest of us. It is in my opinion, that apathy is the plague underlining many instances of depression, social anxiety, and the mania’s we suffer under and misdiagnose.
Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
On September 3rd we are doing it differently. We are claiming Bronson Park and re-naming it “Compassion Park”. The homeless have held these sleep by day events many times before, under “push” and under other names. There was no change after this. I find it very personally conflicting that we divide the Homeless. We have operated under the trust that the rules are here to help us. However at what cost? Apathy has made us strangers of each other, and things like social media have given us ways to escape instead of ways to address our problems.
Apathy keeps us glued to TV’s, facebook, and twitter to escape in the frustrations of others, and in games to feel the magic of heroes to come and save us. Yet through these escapes we forgo the ability to fix ourselves.
I love people, animals. I love my home and our river that has been robbed of us. I also am a Christian and the grandchild of solders. Men and women give everything for the freedom of others everyday, regardless of the wrong of war. My action does not do justice to their sacrifice, but as one who couldn’t join, I serve my country here and now. I am drawing a line as an individual not of a group or organization, but as a free individual I am willing to perform Civil Disobedience, as many times as needed to shatter this enforcement of laws that keep apathy in place. I do not recognize this as the country my grandpa told me his friends at Pearl Harbor died for on December 7th, 1941.
I would argue that what really saved our society in the Depression was not the Industrial Revolution. It was never the money, it was the community. It was the beginning of organizations like Salvation Army that have long since lost their way. It was the fight of unions, and laborers, and farmers. It was of people who saw the needs of others and took the time to help them.
This civil disobedience is not simply one of angry protest. This is a direct plea to the people of my community. Not money, not a political party, not a government, and certainly not authority – these are nothing more than things.
My grandpa gave me his hammer and wrench, he told me these are tools to fix things. Our actions, our civil disobedience are tools of the people, for us to use. As a nation, the people are the wielders of these tools. We are all together in this regardless of who we are or where we come from or what we’ve done or failed to do.
This civil disobedience is meant to highlight the fact that we have gotten so lost in the details of being right and wrong we have forgotten why right and wrong were important. Of the approximate 636,000 (1/5th the number of vacant homes), individuals who are homeless [on a given night] in America, nearly 4 in 10 are unsheltered (living in the streets, cars, or other places not intended for human habitation. 33% are veterans. The most recent estimates of homelessness in Kalamazoo suggest somewhere between 40-60% in our town are un-housed with full capacity.
We can not ignore this problem, it is growing not shrinking. It is here because we the people have passively accepted authority, we have passively accepted apathy because we were never fully educated, or aware of it’s grip. We see the concrete steps of congress, yet we miss the sweat and the blood to which the steps were 1st built.
It will take the people of our country to forgive, to start with ourselves in the mirror and say you forgive yourself, then your family and friends, and forgive what we have all done to each other, to take a first step together and to look out our window and not see just homeless people. See People, who are homeless. Only the People change things. Our government for good or ill is paralysed. They are not meant to decide for us. They are made to make what we say possible. The people are the only force in the world capable of fixing our country, and we begin at home. We begin with saying compassion takes place over authority.
Demanding change not for it to be done by our officials but by, of, and for each other. We raise our fists not in defiance, but in a level of compassion that makes us say we can longer accept this. For the people of Kalamazoo we must urge each other to look 1st in the mirror, and then at our children, our mothers, our brothers and sisters, and no longer allow them to fall because we don’t have the energy. To ask them how can I help you fix what is wrong. We have to start saying hello to our neighbors and learn their name. We must stop wishing for this to be the country we want it to be. We must say signs in the North side will not stop drug dealers.
Traditional white males like myself must also realize that perhaps before we try to make our own reparations out of self-guilt, we might first realize we are doing so for ourselves, and understand why we are taking these actions. When we are healed we can heal each other, and then we begin to make lasting change, because it is the result of proper work as people, for the people . We are the power of our nation, we are the change we need to see in it.
I ask the community of Kalamazoo to stand with the homeless, to stand for each other, not in anger, but in love. Not to fight the police, or the government but to fight apathy itself.
I am willing to put my freedom at the mercy of my community because I believe in you more than many of you believe in yourselves, (because people like my teacher Schenk, who believed in me when I did not, showed me the power of compassion and encouragment).
You decide what our city, and what our community looks like. In the words from someone else who showed me this. “ We can no longer sit in the stands, It’s time to rush the field”
submitted by: An Individual