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(en) US, Modesto, DAAA Collective - Reclaim the Parks: A Cry for the Commons

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 24 Aug 2004 09:08:36 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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Gathered around two picnic tables filled with food and clothes,
the anti-authoritarian and street communities blended together to
call for a change in city policy toward the homeless and an end to
the policy of harassment towards the street community that is so
common in cities small and large in the Central Valley. Looking
around Tower Park that morning something was missing. With
people of varied race, age, and background; families, couples,
friends, and children chasing after kittens; it may have been hard
to put your finger on it looking at the cacophony of life. However,
those gathered to eat, talk, and laugh knew what was missing:
the all too common lines of division.

Tough Weeks, Tough Months.

With the unity in the group, it was hard to tell the pressures that
had been placed on the group at Tower Park. Pressure that has
been increasing since the last Reclaim the Parks action,
drastically so in recent weeks and months. Modesto’s Direct
Action Anti-authoritarians (DAAA) is not bowing to the

Tower Park in Modesto has been the safe haven for the street
community, but that has been changing. One man who had been
on the streets in Modesto for a few years now had a clear
message to give, “The police don’t want [us] here, they
come in and harass us trying to run us off. They [Modesto PD]
used to leave us alone here, now there’s not anywhere where
we are safe.” This sentiment was echoed unanimously, but
the causes were an issue of debate.

While some in the street community felt that the police had it in
for them, many others felt that there was more going on.
According to DAAA, the feeling that the system is against the
best interest of the street community is not misplaced. DAAA
has witnessed an increasing cold wind running through those
who are charged by the ‘mainstream’ to provide care as
more and more services are privatized.

“They [those put in place to provide services] have been
telling people not to come to Reclaim the Parks, they say that we
are jeopardizing the creation of a permanent shelter and
don’t really have the homeless community’s interests in
mind,” said DAAA’s Doug Gilbert. Those from the
street community didn’t agree. “They [DAAA] are out
here every Sunday with food and clothes, they actually get to
know us and care what happens, I don’t see anyone else who
REALLY cares,” said one man with nods from those
standing around him. For those activists from Fresno, it is an all
too common conflict. The difference according to Gilbert,
“we’re real with them.”

Religious institutions have also become part of the systemic
harassment and labeling of the street community. Recently, one
church that sits on the edge of Tower Park claimed that a
homeless person broke a window and stole a purse during
services. With no reported witnesses, DAAA doesn’t buy
claims that this incident was committed by a homeless individual
and wonders if the church is perpetuating stereotypes and
nothing more.

With all that is going on, many in the community are becoming
frustrated by being stereotyped and treated like,
“nobodies.” This feeling came out recently in one
homeless man in nearby Merced, who in an act of protest;
lowered, burnt, and then raised upside-down an American and
California Flag that flew in front of Merced’s old-courthouse.

The point he was trying to make was subsequently drown out by
local media who focused on calls for retribution. The Merced
American Legion commander was quoted in the Merced
Sun-Star saying, “Anybody messing with the flag ought to
get their arms broke.” While those gathered felt that what
they were doing was a more pro-active way to voice the same
frustrations, all seemed to understand what drove this man to
take the actions he did.

Know Your Rights.

In between meals and breakout discussions, the main focus at
Tower Park was educating the community on their rights in the
face of increased police harassment. One issue that was apparent
during the Know Your Rights discussion was how dealing with
the police was an every day concern for everyone gathered.

The attitude that law enforcement takes towards the street
community is one major cause of a sense of helplessness in a
system that stereotypes the street community as criminals and
drug abusers. While much of the focus was on rights to
non-consent, and how to deal with police contact, the concerns
stretched past a typical Know Your Rights workshop.

This was exemplified by one woman and her home health care
provider who told the group that they were recently on the street
after their landlord had pushed them out of their housing, going
so far as to remove basic amenities such as their refrigerator. As
we discussed issues like how to find a lawyer and legal aid, how
to deal with not having an address in legal issues, as well as
rights outside of dealing with the police, the systemic nature of
the issues faced by the community and the spiral of civil rights
violations was apparent.

Anti-Authoritarians Take the Streets!

As the street community, fearing harassment if they took part in
the action, left to meet the march at Graceada Park,
Anti-Authoritarians took the streets for a 30 minute march
through sleepy downtown Modesto, raising echoing cries for
justice and an end to police harassment. As the group targeted
areas where youth and the homeless typically face harassment,
passers by stopped to waive, others came out of cafes and shops
to hold a peace sign or raise a fist in solidarity. It seemed that
others in the community too, wanted to see more services and no
more prisons.

Remarkably, what wasn’t seen was a police presence. Many
in DAAA wondered why after shutting down downtown streets
for 30 min, the only squad car seen seemed to be more interested
in coffee than the group of anarchists marching down K st.
Perhaps after faulty alerts slandering the group as
‘Terrorists’ for holding a legal fundraiser, the Modesto
Police Department figured out that this group is focused on
feeding and clothing the homeless.

From Graceada to Blackstar Squat.

As the group of Anti-Authoritarians from Fresno to San
Francisco made their way into Graceada Park, chanting their way
through families and picnics that, moments before, were
ignoring the fact that homelessness exists all around them.
Groups of people from all walks of life came to join the group for
the dinner meal and guerrilla video showing.

While Modesto certainly isn’t alone in its issues with
housing, jobs, and the police; it serves as an example of the
issues faced by Valley towns. Settling into the Blackstar Squat,
opened to meet the need a permanent shelter in Modesto would
fit, I realized that it also serves as another example: how a small
group of people can make a great difference both in the minds
and spirits of the community they care about.


Link: http://www.geocities.com/modanarcho
Pictures of march: http://www.geocities.com/modanarcho For
Further Coverage: http://www.indybay.org/centralvalley

Copied from infoshop.org

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