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(en) US, Columbia (SC) anarchists protest arrests of homeless

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 30 Mar 2005 22:05:51 +0200 (CEST)

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- On Saturday, March 26, a ragtag
collection of anarchists and sympathizers gathered in Five Points
to protest ongoing discrimination and harassment of the homeless.
The gathering was directly in response to a February incident in
which the owner of The Gourmet Shop, Dennis Hiltner, called the
police on Albert Witherspoon, a homeless man, for washing hubcaps in
front of his store. Albert was arrested and faces the absurd charge
of "operating a business without a license." He is threatened with a
$600 fine and jail time. This is not the first incident of harassment.
Dennis is known among the homeless and others for his poor treatment
of the homeless and others who use the area without economic motives.

Some members of the community responded to the arrest with
donations and charity for Albert, and others took more direct action.
Angry phone calls kept the store busy for days, with even some
reported death threats. The day after the incident, unknown
individuals threw a brick through the window of The Gourmet
Shop. People were obviously pissed.

To spread this outrage, some local anarchists already working on
anti-gentrification projects turned their attention towards Dennis
and the Gourmet Shop. Conversations with Albert and others
revealed incidents of racism as well as poor treatment of workers.

And so, a science experiment ensued. The anarchists posed the
question -- if more folks knew the truth about this guy, would they
continue to shop at his store? Working with a negative hypothesis,
the anarchists printed up hundreds of flyers to distribute to

But, the harassment of homeless isn't just the result of
business owners. In fact, many genuinely community-oriented
business owners do not call the police. Harassment and arrest
happens all over the city, so the police must take some initiative on
their own. And so, another question arose -- if lots of people
operated a business without a permit together, would the police
arrest everyone? In this case their hypothesis was unclear, but the
anarchists found it worth testing anyway. The Unemployed
Workers Union local 803 was formed, a worker-owned
hubcap-cleaning, car-washing, music-playing, clown-clowning
illegal business.

On March 26, the UWU open-air shop opened on the public strip
right in front of the Gourmet Shop, and employee-owners spanged,
busked, washed cars, played music, danced and clowned while
passing out flyers letting passers-by know about Dennis's
naughty misdeeds and calling for a boycott of the Gourmet Shop.
Chalk given away freely, and a number of exciting things were
written on the sidewalk where Gourmet Shop customers eat,
including "Stop pigs and the rich from harassing the
poor," "Boycott the Gourmet Shop" and
"The Gourmet Shop (m)ucks over the poor" [was edited
during the day]. Also, the UWU posted advertisements that read
"Hands off the homeless!" "Arrest the Rich"
and "Homelessness is not a crime."

A number of police cars drove by, but they were unwilling to arrest
or even talk to the 20 UWU illegal workers. On an even more
exciting note, many customers avoided the Gourmet Shop when
they read about Dennis, with one person shouting across the street,
"I'm going somewhere else to get my wine!"

The experiment reached its conclusions -- many customers are
willing to stop shopping, and the police are unwilling to arrest a
crowd of illegal workers. It is noteworthy that this was the first
anarchist-organized protest in Columbia, and the UWU plans to
make this a continued campaign until the charges against Albert
are dropped. The UWU sees its role as spreading information about
the incident to the community, sharing the tools for action with
those who are enraged but do not know where to begin, and
encouraging action to increase the pressure on Dennis and the city
to drop the charges.

Albert's case is not an isolated incident, but the UWU will
make an example of Dennis & the Gourmet shop to show that
attacks on the poor and homeless will no longer be tolerated. We
will organize ourselves for our own interests, outside the control of
politicians and businessmen. We have nothing to gain by
capitalist-oriented development of the city, and we will resist the
encroachment from those who stand to profit by increasing our

We have nothing to lose but the boredom, ugliness, alienation and
poverty this city wreaks upon us, and we have a world to gain.

Out-of-towners who wish to lend a hand can give Dennis a call at
the Gourmet Shop -- (803) 799-3705. Please be friendly to the
workers, they have been overwhelmingly sympathetic and they get
enough crap from Dennis as it is. Also, we are interested in
expanding our science project, perhaps even hosting a science fair
of sorts. Keep an eye out for more info.

For more info on Columbia and the local anarchists, check out our
work in progress:
The Future Is Unwritten... (http://scanarchy.blogspot.com)
For more info on the arrest, corporate news stories are posted at:
Copied from infoshop.org

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