Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’


 

by Keith McHenry, author of Hungry for Peace and primary author of The Anarchist Cookbook

Even though I have shared meals with the hungry for over 36 years, I find it shocking that today, in 2017, so many people are coming to eat with Food Not Bombs.

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports there are “2.5 million children in America that are homeless each year.” A society that lets millions of children live on it’s streets is a society that is collapsing.

To address this crisis we need to change our local and national priorities. That is why Food Not Bombs shares its meals outside: to encourage public dialogue about redirecting taxes from the military to providing real security for our people in the form of housing, education, and desperately needed services.

But instead of a humane, sensible response to homelessness, the Santa Cruz City Council has turned instead to making it illegal to be homeless via its law against sleeping outdoors. To make matters worse, a year-and-a-half ago, the City Council closed down the only homeless shelter in our city.

Anti-homeless architecture is also common in Santa Cruz. This includes installation of high frequency sound “Mosquito Boxes” in parks (activated after closing hours), removing planter boxes and free speech zones on Pacific Avenue, replacing the City Hall lawn with gravel and rocks, and now the ugly chain link fencing at the historic downtown post office.

These policies contribute to the death of homeless people, including 53-year-old Micheal Mears who died of hypothermia on February 17, 2017. Medical staff told his sister Jenny that his body temperature was 70 degrees when he was found on Potrero Street.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverAnother response to homelessness is to pass laws seeking to end sharing of meals in public in the hope that hiding hunger and homelessnes will reduce pressure to fund programs to help the poor.

To justify laws against sharing meals outside, advocates of repression cite a theory claiming that “street feeding” keeps people homeless.

One of those seeking to drive the homeless and groups that share food outside out-of-sight is Janet Fardette. In her 2009 Sentinel letter, “Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz,” Ms. Fardette writes, “Our city no longer belongs to us. It has been taken over by drug addicts, homeless, panhandlers and the like.”

I can understand that it must be frustrating for property owners to see an increasing number of people living outside. They worked hard to obtain their homes and businesses, and the growing number of people living outside must be disheartening, and does nothing to improve the value of their property. Still, does it really do any good to hide hunger and homelessness? Will that make these problems go away? Wouldn’t it be better to help suffering people than to persecute them.

The campaign to stop Food Not Bombs’ free meals includes an online petition, and phoning and e-mailing local officials. Ms. Fardette suggests in a February 13, 2017 e-mail that officials look into “Robert Marbut’s widely successful” theory — mentioned on the NPR report, “More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless” — that “Street feeding is one of the worst things to do, because it keeps people in homeless status. I think it’s very unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of recovery programs.”

Marbut’s “solution” focuses on “correcting” the behavior of those living on the streets, treating people as though they were naughty children. Marbut doesn’t even consider a failing economic system, gross disparities in wealth and income, and the obscene price of housing in neither his analysis nor his “solution.” In short, he posits that it’s the homeless person’s behavior that keeps him or her from paying for housing.

Blaming the victim isn’t working. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people still live outside in the cities that have adopted Marbut’s program and many in those cities still rely on Food Not Bombs and other groups that provide free meals.

Those who would like the homeless to disappear from Santa Cruz are lobbying to adopt Marbut’s “solution” and drive Food Not Bombs from public view. In short, they want to adopt Marbut’s “stick” but in all likelihood not adopt his inadequate “carrot.” The $5,300 a month that might be spent on Marbut’s consulting fee could be much better spent on maintaining 24-hour bathrooms.

Food Not Bombs is not a charity. We share vegan meals in visible locations with signs and literature promoting change in society, change that will mean that no one is forced to live on the streets or to depend on soup kitchens.

We can end homelessness if we divert even a small fraction of the billions wasted on armaments, and insted use it to provide real national security in the form of affordable housing, jobs for anyone who wants one, and access to quality education and healthcare for all. A living wage (a net boon to the economy) would also make it far easier for people to get off the streets. Blaming the homeless for their condition is clearly not working.

Sign the petition
https://www.change.org/p/support-the-right-of-food-not-bombs-to-share-free-food-info-and-ideas-in-public-spaces-in-sc?source_location=minibar

Keith McHenry is a co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement.



by Keith McHenry, author of Hungry for Peace

Even though I have shared meals with the hungry for over 35 years, in a time of ever-rising profit and productivity, the numbers of the hungry and homeless have risen, not fallen, over that time. In many of our cities, it feels as if we’re still living in the Great Depression.

The National Center on Family Homelessness published a study in 2014, based on a calculation using the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education and the 2013 U.S. Census, which found that “2.5 million children in America—one in every 30 children—go to sleep without a home of their own each year.” A society that lets a over two million children live on it’s streets is a society that is collapsing.

The most common government response to the suffering of those being forced into homelessness is the passage of laws against being homeless. Laws against sleeping, sitting, asking for money, living outside, or what officials call “quality of life crimes” make this bad situation even worse, and make the lives of homeless men, women, and children even more miserable.

Another aspect of this punitive response to homelessness is passage of laws prohibiting the public sharing of meals with the hungry. The hope is that hiding from public view the problem of homelessness will make it go away. This is an all too common tactic in cities across the country. Over 70 have passed laws that ban or place restrictions on the public sharing of meals. Orlando, Florida has a twice-a-year limit per park on providing free meals to the hungry. Ft. Lauderdale restricted the meals by requiring a permit and making it illegal to provide meals within 500 feet from any building, and provide toilet facilities, essentially eliminating all possible locations and making it impossible to comply with the permit restrictions. To justify all this, municipal authorities are citing a new theory that claims that “street feeding is unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of [substance abuse] recovery programs.”

One of those seeking to drive the homeless and groups that share food from public sight, and to make public food sharing impossible, is Janet Fardette, founder of the Leveelies — a group of volunteers that pick up trash along the San Lorenzo River levees in Santa Cruz, California. In her 2009 letter to the local paper, “Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz,”  she wrote, “Our city no longer belongs to us. It has been taken over by drug addicts, homeless, panhandlers and the like.”

One can understand her annoyance. It must be frustrating to property owners to see an ever increasing number of people seeking shelter in doorways, sidewalks, and along the
levee. Seeing people living outside, near or on their properies must be disheartening.

What’s not so understandable is the attempt to hide the homeless from public view without doing anything to address the root causes of homelessness or doing anything to aid the homeless.

As part of her campaign to drive the “homeless problem” out of sight–including an online petition, phone calling local officials and the police, and speaking out during the public comment portion of a board of supervisors meeting–Ms. Fardette suggested that officials look into “Robert Marbut’s widely successful” theory, mentioned in the NPR story “More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless” that feeding homeless people helps to keep them homeless.

Marbut puts it this way: “Street feeding is one of the worst things to do, because it keeps people in homeless status. I think it’s very unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of [substance abuse] recovery programs.”

Marbut’s proposed way to end homelessness focuses on correcting the behavior of those forced to live on the streets, treating people as though they were naughty children. A failing economic and political system with low paying jobs, high rents, underfunded education, and little access to both physical and mental health services isn’t the culprit. Rather, as outlined in his “Guiding Principles” for solving the problem of homelessness, it’s the homeless peoples’ bad behavior that keeps them from being able to pay for housing.

Marbut’s “Guiding Principles” include:

* “Positive behavior should be rewarded with increased responsibilities and more privileges. Privileges such as higher quality sleeping arrangements, more privacy and elective learning opportunities should be used as rewards.”

* “Too often there are no consequences for negative behavior. Unfortunately, this sends a message that bad behavior is acceptable. Within the transformational process, it is critical to have swift and proportionate consequences.”

* “External activities such as ‘street feeding’ must be redirected to support the transformation process. In most cases, these activities are well-intended efforts by good folks, however these activities are very enabling and often do little to engage homeless individuals. Street feeding programs without comprehensive services actually increase and promote homelessness. Street feeding groups should be encouraged to co-locate with existing comprehensive service programs.”

The last Guiding Principle is  “Panhandling Enables the Homeless and Must Be Stopped.”

Marbut’s program might not be as successful as those who cite him hope. The Rivard Report’s February 10, 2016 article and video, “No End in Sight for Homeless Camps in San Antonio,” claims that Marbut’s theory has not been as effective as promised even in his own home town. After ten years of implementing Marbut’s program via Haven for Hope of Bexar County, there are still thousands of people living outside.

Those promoting his approach may have big hearts, and if Marbut’s theory worked it would be great. But Marbut’s theory is not working for most people in the cities that have hired his services.

The Associated Press cited a case in point in a September 2011 story on homelessness in St. Petersburg, Florda:

“St. Petersburg’s struggles with some of the most rampant homelessness in the country reached a crescendo when police officers with box cutters slashed up a makeshift tent city near downtown.

“Enter Robert Marbut, a former San Antonio councilman and White House staffer who came to town last fall wielding what he likes to call a “velvet hammer.” City leaders hired the $5,300-a-month consultant after buying into his idea of forcing the homeless off the streets but taking them someplace better — a sprawling, one-stop complex where people could be housed, fed and start to get help with mental illness, addictions and the other problems that put them on the streets.

“More than a just big shelter, it would be a ‘transformational campus’ like the one Marbut helped establish in San Antonio.

“Marbut was the architect and first CEO of a similar shelter compound in San Antonio called Haven for Hope. The 22-acre, $100 million complex with room for about 1,000 was built with private and public money. It opened last year and is filled to capacity.”

This means that some, probably a great many, are not being helped on Marbut’s home turf. They’re still out on the streets — and hungry.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that “St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has said the city will eventually begin arresting homeless people who sleep in parks or on public rights of way, with Safe Harbor [a ‘transformational’ jail] an eventual destination for them.”

Riann Balch, head of Phoenix’s Human Resources Department, launched a program in September 2016 called the “Street Feeding Collaborative,” asking local churches to stop “street seeding,” because there are “better ways to help [the] homeless.”

Balch told AZ Family, “'[Our] mission is to educate faith and community-based groups about why street feeding can do more harm than good.’ Balch said that giving someone a meal will encourage them to stay on the street and wait for another one.”

It is clear that blaming the victim isn’t working, especially given the inadequate, underfunded programs to help the homeless. Hundreds of people still live outside in St Petersburg, Ft Lauderdale, San Antonio and the other cities that have adopted Marbut program, and
many homeless people still rely on the outdoor meals shared by Food Not Bombs and other groups.

While it is great that some people in some cities have transitioned into homes through the shelters and programs inspired by Marbut, the number of people living on the streets in those cities has continued to increase.

Those who would like the homeless crisis to disappear from Santa Cruz are lobbying officials to adopt Marbut’s approach and drive Food Not Bombs and its free meals from public view. (The $5,300 a month they might spend on hiring Marbut could be much better spent on maintaining 24 hour bathrooms. That would improve the lives of the homeless.)

Food Not Bombs is not a charity. We share our vegan meals in the most visible locations possible with signs and literature encouraging the public to support social and political change so that no one is forced to live on the streets or depend on soup kitchens for food. We can end homelessness if we just divert some of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent every year preparing for war, and instead spend that money on the real national security of a living wage, affordable housing, guaranteed work for those who want it, and high quality education and healthcare for all.

Blaming the homeless for their condition is clearly not working.

Keith McHenry is a co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement and the author of Hungry for Peace and The Anarchist Cookbook.

To reach Keith go to www.foodnotbombs.net.

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More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless

St. Pete making progress with legions of homeless

No End in Sight for Homeless Camps in San Antonio

“Janet Fardette: Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz


The liberal, oh-so-hip city of Santa Cruz, California has for the last several years been waging war on the city’s homeless population. A year and a half ago the city council closed down the town’s only homeless shelter, and lately the city government has ordered the cops to enforce a law that bans sleeping outdoors between 11 pm and 8:30 am.

To call attention to this inhumane approach to the homelessness problem, an unknown person — and we ain’t sayin’ who — produced the following leaflet, designed to look like a public announcement from the City of Santa Cruz, that invites citizens to a council meeting where the council members will discuss giving citizens free methamphetamine to help them comply with the no-sleeping ordinance. Here’s the flyer:

Free Meth flyer from Santa Cruz

The best part is that a lot of people are dumb enough to buy it. Some are outraged, while others really want to know where they can get their free meth.

The kicker? The head of the right-wing Santa Cruz “citizens” anti-homeless group was just indicted for — you guessed it! — manufacture of methamphetamine.


Anarchist Cookbook front coverOn September 19, we reported on Anarchist Cookbook author and Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry’s arrest for defending the rights of street vendors and performers, and homeless people  in Santa Cruz, California. Originally charged with a felony, the d.a. subsequently reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, but piled on other misdemeanor charges, probably in an attempt to coerce McHenry to plead guilty to a single charge. The latest charge was failure to obey a police officer — to use a crosswalk on a deserted street at midnight.

In return for pleading to the single charge, the d.a. generously offered a deal in which McHenry would be jailed for two months. McHenry essentially told the d.a. to stick it, and has another court date on January 26 in Santa Cruz. His attorney has indicated that the charges don’t have a leg to stand on, and that the d.a. is essentially wasting taxpayer money on harassment and intimidation of a political activist.

We’ve reproduced the new press release from McHenry’s defense committee below.

* * *

DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF THE POOR
Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 10:00am
Department 1 – Superior Court of Santa Cruz County, California
701 Ocean St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

FOOD NOT BOMBS CO-FOUNDER KEITH McHENRY FACES NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR HIS WORK TO DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF THE POOR

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry is facing three misdemeanor charges in Santa Cruz Superior Court as a result of his work to defend the rights of the poor. The original case stemmed from an action where McHenry replaced 33 “blue artist boxes” on Pacific Avenue that had been removed by the city. On December 8th, Santa Cruz District Attorney
Archie Webber told the court that a warrant had been issued for Mr. McHenry’s arrest in a new case where he has been charged with “offensive words” under California Penal Code 415(3). The other new misdemeanor was ‘Failure to obey a police officer’ who claims he told McHenry to use a cross walk at City Hall at midnight during the Freedom Sleepers protest. Santa Cruz City Council member, Cynthia Chase, City Redevelopment Manager, Julie Hendee and two others came together to observe Keith McHenry and Abbi Samuel’s December 8th court hearing. A hearing on the three misdemeanor cases was held on Wednesday, December 16th in Department 1 in Superior Court before Judge Paul Burdick.

The District Attorney Webber offered a plea where McHenry would plead guilty to vandalism and have all other charges dropped. Mr. Weber told the court that if McHenry agreed to do this he would do two months in jail which the judge said could be work release. The DA also said the offer would include a years stay away from Pacific Avenue Mall and Assistant City Manager Scott Collins which would make it impossible for McHenry to continue protesting the city’s anti-homeless laws. The offer makes it clear that city officials believe it important to silence McHenry’s effective work in bringing attention to the criminal actions taken by the city against its poor. The next important court hearing will be held on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 10:00 AM.Please show your support by attending the hearings.


Anarchist Cookbook front coverby Keith McHenry, primary author of the new Anarchist Cookbook, author of Hungry for Peace, and co-founder of the international Food Not Bombs movement

 

The government and business leaders of Santa Cruz, California have stepped up their decades-long effort to drive the city’s poor and homeless out of town. The most dramatic assault this year was the June 2015 closing of the Homeless Service Center, which took away showers, meals and a safe place to sleep for hundreds of people who depended on the facility.

At the same time, the city continued its aggressive enforcement of the city’s sleeping ban ordinances. The city council also voted to implement a more aggressive version of the park closing law adding harsher stay-away provisions. The city also installed “mosquito boxes” in areas frequented by the homeless. The boxes cost about $1,500 each, and.according to J.M. Brown of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, they “let out a high frequency sound that is so annoying it causes headaches.”

In response to the closure of the service center, homeless people and their supporters began organizing, starting with a campaign of “Emergency Breakfasts” at the high visibility intersection next to the closed Service Center, followed by weekly sleep-outs at City Hall.

While it was attempting to make life so miserable for homeless people that they’d leave town, the city council also increased restrictions on street artists, many of whom not only make their living preforming or vending on Santa Cruz’s main commercial street, Pacific Avenue, but also relied on the closed service center. These people were trying to make ends meet, to make a meager honest living. The city council decided to make that much harder for them to do. In the fall of 2013, it drastically restricted free assembly by placing 61 performance and free speech “boxes” along Pacific Avenue. Not long after, the city spray painted “blue boxes” on the sidewalk. Security guards and the police enforced the law making people move after one hour, ticketing those outside the blue boxes or whose layouts or performance spaces were too large to fit in the designated spaces.

Pacific Avenue artists have become globally loved performers and visual artists. Among them are Artis the Spoonman, who has played with Frank Zappa and Soundgarden; the Flying Karamazov, Tom Noddy,’s Magic Bubbles, and The Great Morgani. I also painted along the avenue in the 1970s and often paint on Pacific today.

On Tuesday, February 18, 2015 The Great Morgani announced he would no longer perform in downtown Santa Cruz “due to the recent strict enforcement of current ordinances” passed by the Santa Cruz City Council. Six months later the “blue boxes” started to disappear.

Artists would discover that their favorite location had been erased. In August, artists began to resist the elimination of their “free expression” zones by creating their own. According to journalist Bradley Allen, “The action of painting blue boxes comes on the heels of two well-known artists, Joff Jones and Alex Skeleton, being arrested by Santa Cruz Police on August 20 for displaying art in front of [the] Forever 21 [shop] which, as of recently, is not allowed since the boxes there were removed. A few days later on Sunday, the artists defiantly returned to the sidewalk in front of Forever 21 dressed in Colonial attire with displays of their artwork and a painting of the First Amendment. They were not arrested a second time.”

Jeff Jones said:

My art expresses my social, religious, and existential views. My first amendment guarantees me the right to express that in a public space. My friend Alex and I were arrested yesterday for exercising these rights. . . . Stand up for your rights!!!

They arrested me, too. Santa Cruz Police arrested my partner and me during a sleep out at city hall on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, charging us with felony vandalism and conspiracy to commit a crime. Officers said we had spray-painted new blue boxes in 33 locations throughout the downtown area.

The felony (!) charges are still pending. We go to court in Santa Cruz at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, September 30, 2015.

Santa Cruz police spokeswoman Joyce Blaschke said:

The blue corner marks that Abbi Samuels and Jonathan Keith McHenry made were similar to official city markings for street vendor areas. Authorities noticed the 33 markings and caught the pair by reviewing surveillance footage. In addition to vandalizing the city sidewalks, the act undermines the city’s program to establish safe, orderly and fair use of the downtown sidewalk space.

The morning after the new blue boxes appeared, city officials were outside Forever 21 in a state of confusion, as they tried to figure out why the performance spaces they had removed a week or two before had suddenly reappeared.

And what harm came from this? Low-income people have places to earn a few dollars. A guitarist sang outside New Leaf, and was excited that a new blue box had been placed at exactly the right location for him to reach an appreciative audience.

Street performance thrived on Pacific Avenue for years with the community working out conflicts as neighbors. Tom Noddy and his Bubble Magic show started on Pacific Avenue. Noddy took his performance art to Late Show with David Letterman and fills auditoriums in cities all around the world. He helped create the Street Performing Voluntary Guidelines negotiating with members of the Downtown Neighbors’ Association and a group of 35 street performers. Noddy says the guide lines “allowed us all to use common sense and try to keep petty disagreements from getting us all into court, or city council chambers.” The informal relationship lasted for years, but corporate pressure changed all that through the passage of laws restricting street performance.

Tom ScribnerWhen the possibility of an anti-street performance ordinance first surfaced decades ago, Nobby shared the news with musical saw player Tom Scribner. The city had already placed a monument to Scribner on Pacific Avenue, showing him playing the saw. Noddy says Scribner spoke at one city council meeting saying if the law passed he would set up next to the monument of himself and be the first to be arrested. Noddy thinks that if Scribner had been arrested, it would have made national news. So, for the time being, the city tabled the ordinance.

While the struggle against free expression on Pacific Avenue has a long history, the most recent drama started on September 10, 2013 when the Santa Cruz City Council passed an amendment to the city code that restricts the space allotted for “noncommercial use of city streets and sidewalks” (i.e. street performance) to 12 square feet per individual or group.

After the council vote, Dixie Mills, founder of the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival, noted:

This new ordinance will silently kill the street performer/vendor scene that is so much a part of the flavor of downtown Santa Cruz. If the ordinance just banned this kind of activity all together, there would probably be a big uproar. This way these activities are still allowed, but they are so constrained with rules that slowly but surely we will have a quieter, and less interesting downtown. It seems to me the spirit of Santa Cruz would want to attract these artists instead of making it difficult or impossible for them to share their talents.

Conflicts between street artists and business leaders forced the issue to be revisited by the city council in the fall of 2014. The new changes, which were unanimously approved on October 28, 2014 and passed at the November 18, 2014 council meeting, stated that the city would set up 61 color-coded spaces along Pacific Avenue where vendors and performers could stay for up to one hour.

The city never did place 61 color coded spaces along Pacific Avenue, but it did paint a couple of dozen blue boxes on the street side of the sidewalks. During the year after the policy was adopted, a number of these spaces were quietly erased without public input, sparking new protests by local artists. It should not have been a surprise to anyone that artists would resist as police and hosts used the disappearance of popular blue box locations as a way to drive them off Pacific Avenue.

Private control of public space is one of many threats to democracy, free expression and the health of our communities. Confiscation of public space for private use is common across the United States. This confiscation has limited efforts to communicate about such important issues as climate destruction, war, racism, poverty and civil liberties. It has limited the public’s access to unique expressions of art, music and theater. It has robbed people of the right to make a living selling their artistic talents. It is a threat to the soul of our community.

I have spent my adult life defending the right to communicate with the community in public. Macy’s and Filene’s were among the stores that first confiscated public space in the United States with the formation of Downtown Crossing in 1979 in Boston. Before that, the main obstacle to sharing alternative ideas and culture with the public had been the construction of shopping malls. Malls lured people away from the public spaces created by downtown shopping districts to privately owned spaces that banned or limited the distribution of information, the selling of art or street performances. Malls became a gatekeeper to ideas and free expression. Corporate friendly messages and art were permitted. Any challenge to corporate ideology was eliminated.

Downtown Crossing brought this concept of mall censorship to public spaces. An invisible blue line was drawn around the center of Boston in the area with the most pedestrian traffic, an area where those with little money or resources could have an audience of thousands.

I discovered this invisible line one morning when I started to set up a literature table outside the Park Street Subway Station in the Boston Commons. Police arrived and told me I had to move and directed me to an office on Washington Street where I could pay hundreds of dollars a week to rent a place on the sidewalk. I refused. I had been setting up my literature at that location for years. After all, there was even a monument to the idea that the Commons was to remain free for all forever. After more threats of arrest, I finally set up just over the invisible “blue line.”

Food Not Bombs in Golden Gate ParkOn August 15, 1988, official efforts to remove uncomfortable speech came with the arrest of nine Food Not Bombs volunteers who were sharing free vegan meals and peace literature at the entrance to Golden Gate Park.

During the arrests of 1988, San Francisco Police Spokesperson Jerry Senkir explained to the media that, “There has to be some kind of (police) action. At this point it seems to be a political statement on their part not a food give away issue.”

The effort to drive Food Not Bombs’ message out of sight continued in 1989 after 27 days of occupying Civic Center Plaza. Police Captain Dennis Martel told the media that, “They (Food Not Bombs) don’t want to feed the hungry, they just want to make an anarchist type statement and we aren’t going to allow it.”

The San Francisco police made over 1,000 arrests in eight years of seeking to silence the message that we could end hunger and homelessness if the country changed its priorities.

One of the first “designated protest zones” or Free Speech [restriction] Zones was declared by Mayor Andrew Young in Atlanta during the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Free Speech Cages or First Amendment Areas started to become the norm at public events or outside government offices.

Authorities justified their restriction of free speech and free assembly through the Broken Window Theory of criminology first introduced in a March 1982 article in the Atlantic Monthly by social scientists, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The “theory” (more accurately a poorly tested hypothesis) is that trash and litter promote the accumulation of more trash and litter and the social breakdown that goes with such dilapidation. In the case of free speech and free assemply restrictions, authorities are equating political demonstrations, political speech, street vending, and street performances with trash, litter, and dilapidation, while providing no evidence that such things are synonymous.

This social “theory” helped lead to numerous “quality of lfe” laws and policies across the nation, including anti-street vending, busking and panhandling campaigns, sleeping bans, sit-lie laws, and public expression limitations exemplified by “blue boxes” in Orlando, Florida and Santa Cruz, California.

Things sure have changed in Santa Cruz. The city placed Marghe McMahon’s 1978 sculpture of anarchist street performer Tom Scribner outside Bookshop Santa Cruz to honor the street culture of Pacific Avenue–a monument to the very culture the city seeks to eliminate today.

The spirit of tom and other artists has made Santa Cruz an inspirational place attracting visionaries and tourists from all over the world. Tom Scribner was one of those who encouraged a culture that championed free expression. The retired logger could be heard playing his saw on Pacific Avenue during the 1970’s until his death in 1982. His radical ideas resonated with the street community that made Pacific Avenue home. After all, he had spent a lifetime defending free speech. Tom wrote of an earlier free speech struggle in Washington state:

Weeks earlier, the local police had begun arresting IWW’s for speaking on the street. There had been a general strike of the Shingle Weavers A.F.L. and the I.W.W. at the time and free speech had been banned. Well, the minute the organization heard about that, Wobblies began pouring into Everett to continue the campaign. Wobblies came from near and far just to “speak on the street.” Of course, they had to be arrested for such a heinous crime so the jails were full.

We need the spirit of Tom Scribner and the 1960s Free Speech movement to rise again. The confiscation of public space and limits to free expression have had far wider impact than most people realize. Imaginative expressions of art, music, and theater have been crushed. Low income visionaries have been gagged, and many conversations have been limited or eliminated by anti-free speech/anti-free assembly policies. These include conversations about climate destruction, the funding and waging of wars, the transfer of our economic health to the wealthy, corporate domination of society and other threats to our freedom have been silenced. Reclaiming pubic space is crucial. A free society depends on it!

Supporters are organizing A Festival of the Streets the day that we’re scheduled to be arraigned. It will be held on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at 8:00 a.m. outside the Superior Court of California-Santa Cruz, 701 Ocean St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. We hope to see you there.

We’re not criminals. The real criminals are those seeking to drive the artists off of Pacific Avenue. If we don’t start to reclaim public space, we’ll likely find that free expression and freedom itself will continue to erode away until they no longer exist. No wonder city officials took the replacement of 33 blue box “free speech zones” so seriously. It is a direct threat to their power. Power that they are misusing in the interest of corporate domination of our community.