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Apr 26, 22

State Drops Lawsuit Against Housing Protesters in Boise; Agrees to Build More Units for Houseless

Report on the end of an ongoing protest for housing and against police harassment at the Boise state capitol, the dropping of a lawsuit against protesters by the State and the winning of 100 new units for the houseless.

For two and a half months, unhoused protesters maintained a tent demonstration across from the capitol in so-called Boise, Idaho. In response, folks were given a printout from capitol security and Idaho state police that informed them that they would be ticketed/trespassed from the area and potentially arrested if they remained past the 28th of March (a date that the State conveniently decided to begin early lawn maintenance and sprinkler set up).

Fed up from constant state repression, and still facing a lawsuit and criminal charges, demonstrators decided to disband and scatter. The thought of further raids, ticketing, and repression from the State was too much to bear. Instead, people were forced back into the original conditions they had began protesting in the first place: on the streets experiencing constant harassment from the police (ticketing, arrest, theft of personal property and survival gear), simply for existing outside and not possessing wealth.

As Teddy, one of the demonstrators who remains on the streets said, “The harassment from the Boise police continues, just the other day I found a safe place to sleep for the night where I knew I wouldn’t be bothered. All I had was a tarp and piece of string attached to a piece of concrete and a pole and a sleeping bag set up, and they gave me a ticket for camping in the park.” Other protesters have given similar accounts since returning to the streets, reporting that everywhere they have set up, even in very remote spaces, they have been made to pack up their belongings and leave. There is no where to go, so it’s a constant state of being shuffled and chased around the city.

The State eventually dropped the lawsuit when it’s purpose: repressing resistance and getting people experiencing houselessness out of the public eye, was fulfilled. The lawyers who were defending unhoused folks have turned around and are now suing the state on behalf of the folks that were demonstrating.

Roughly a month after the protest ended, the city decided to begin looking to build 100 additional units for those that experience chronic houselessness and have little to no income (with 200 more slated to be in the works for future construction). Upon first glance that’s a great outcome. And while we do celebrate the very real material difference this will make in people’s lives, further inspection leaves a lot to be desired. People spent months putting their lives on the line to improve their own material conditions and the conditions of the communities in which they exist – and it was too much for city officials to merely meet with people and listen to what they need and had to say.

The blatant hierarchical design of solving people’s suffering without direction and consultation from those that are experiencing the suffering is condescending and, ultimately violent. One of the unhoused protesters, El Gato Negro, reflected, “Frankly, I’m worried about their follow through and what they consider is doing ‘good for the people’ without asking the people. As far as I can see, the people have never been asked to any meeting, how do we know what’s going on is good for us? We need to be able to make a decision on what’s good for us. We can’t entrust the government to do that in the best of our interest. There’s too much red tape and too much money being wasted. How can they say that they don’t have any money to give us for a piece of land and infrastructure when the government wastes billions of dollars of resources in this country every year?”

Another demonstrator, who has faced heavy repression from the State (arrest, tickets, theft of private property) during the demonstration and wishes to remain unnamed, adds, “Too little too late, every day there’s new faces out here. We’re glad it’s gonna happen but it’s not gonna be here until, what, 2022? 2023? A year, 2 years, 3 years later, and they’ll all be booked and there will be a fresh set of people that are struggling. They already have units that are vacant and available, why can’t we use those? Several empty hotels and motels that are empty and set up for housing, all you gotta do is go in and get them up to code.” The valuable insights and direction that unhoused folks had to offer to city officials went uncollected, wasted, and ignored.

To add to this frustration, the only way that those involved in the resistance (the reason this additional housing is being created) found out about the construction was from reading it in a news article. The article mentions nothing about the motivations or clarity that politicians received from the hard work and suffering of those that made it happen: the unhoused demonstrators. As if the city just came to this conclusion on their own; as if their city planners had any interest in meeting people’s needs before people began to organize as a thorn in the side of the existing power structure.

In fact, the year before the demonstration occurred, Ada county pulled financial support from the only housing project, known as Housing First, that exists in the state, (touting that they believe in ‘treatment first’ model for housing, which is a polite way of throwing a middle finger to folks experiencing houselessness). The current Housing First building only exists in Boise because of heavy resistance that occurred several years ago under a mayor that famously said, “Housing First will never exist in Boise!” It wasn’t until he faced relentless resistance that he was ‘moved’ to allow the Housing First apartments to be created as a “pilot project.”

All this to say, they do their best to hide our effectiveness from us, sending their police after us, and vilifying us in the media. Meanwhile, they are in private meetings drawing up plans inspired by the messages we send; the energy and space we take up forces their hand. Simply put, they are terrified of our power. They will never tell us of our collective effectiveness, there are so many of us and so few of them; to do that would be to admit defeat. If the word spread and the general populace understood the power we carry every time we clock into work exhausted and depressed, the whole thing would change tomorrow.

While we celebrate the small victories, we let out a collective and disgruntled sigh of exhaustion. Are we not tired of fighting for crumbs? Is it not us that bake the breads, why then can we not eat? Our movements are disjointed as we struggle, often in isolation; is there not a way to broaden our impact? How long can we continue this resistance for small improvements, chipping away at the surface as the poison occupies a stronghold deep in the roots? Let us first imagine what it would be like to get to the heart of the problem, then let us work towards making that a reality. We are capable of whatever it is we can imagine; there are too many of us suffering to limit our abilities to what they have told us is possible. The desire for liberation is spoken in many different tongues, with many different words and actions across the globe. We want community and collaborative liberation, we don’t want our lives to be subject to the shit we wade through every day. This country specifically, the United States, developed a framework, implemented on land stolen through unspeakable violence, that intentionally sought to dominate and exploit anyone who isn’t a wealthy, white cis-man. It should come to no surprise to us that there are so many folks without access to old money living on the streets, our comfort and well-being was never considered in the plans.

Unfortunately for those in power, we’re fucking sick of it and the time for mass resistance is nigh. We do hold the power to change it, to destroy what destroys us, to make space to build a more equitable and caring environment. No longer will we cower to the State and satiate our hunger with crumbs. We are effective and capable of anything; and we will not let up until we’ve obtained equitable and true collective liberation.

After some time to reflect on the effectiveness of their efforts, unhoused demonstrators chimed in with a revived spirit. Jon Rogers offers, “[300 units] is a good start, that’s badass. We made a difference, fuckin’ right. Let’s do it again.” And Teddy reflects, “Operation Hope Aint Goin Nowhere hasn’t gone anywhere, we are not finished with our work. That’s all I have to say about that, thank you.”

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