Call to support the continuing autonomous encampment in Chico, California that was organized in the wake of the Camp Fire in early November.
Many people have come to Wallywood: those displaced by the Camp Fire, those houseless before the fire, those who were houseless and also displaced by the fire, those who were evacuated from homes that are still standing but haven’t been allowed to return, those who are able to return but don’t have reliable vehicles to make a 2 hour trip via backroads because the shorter and more direct route is blocked by the National Guard, and so many others with their own unique stories.
Regardless of the reason why someone is at Wallywood, they deserve to have their needs met.
For many people, and for many reasons, the emergency shelters that have been set up around Chico and other nearby towns are not a workable option. People have shown up at Wallywood in wet clothes, shivering and asking for a sleeping bag. Others have come from other nearby shelters and there are rumors that more shelters in Chico will close soon, possibly causing more to come and the number of tents to grow.
The encampment is on private property owned by Walmart, and as occupied space that was organically formed by people displaced by the fire, it has developed into an autonomous zone that, without much effort, brings to mind the squatted community at Albany Bulb, or perhaps even La ZAD.
The community at Wallywood is in need of material support. Based on needs observed over the last several days, here are some ideas for possible projects:
* Transportation – People need rides to/from Wallywood to various places around Chico and the surrounding area. That could include giving a ride to the Chico Airport to look for a lost pet or getting a ride to the official Red Cross emergency shelter in Gridley which is 30 minutes away from Chico on Highway 99. It might also mean giving people rides to Magalia which currently means a multiple hour trip since the road is closed and you have to take the long way.
People could borrow or rent a 16 passenger van or minivan and put together a free shuttle between Wallywood and the various other shelters and locations around town. There could be a phone number that people know to call when they need a ride somewhere, and a system worked out to provide those rides to people as they are needed.
* Laundry – People have wet or dirty clothes that need to be laundered. Wet clothes are extremely, extremely heavy to carry and hard to transport on the bus.
An ad hoc laundry service could be developed where someone walks around tent to tent asking people if they have any wet clothes or other laundry needs being done. This is already happening to some extent but could be greatly expanded. At a nearby shelter a portable onsite laundry center was developed.
* Food – There is a constant need for warm coffee. All day and night people come through the mutual aid tents asking for coffee. Making sure coffee is always on is super important when the weather is bad or it’s cold and people just want to come in and warm up. Having warm soup available is also a worthwhile project – a lot of the food that is donated is too hard for some peoples’ teeth, especially some elders.
There is a kitchen space but it would be interesting to see it fully utilized and meals prepared in it a couple times a day. There is currently a steady stream of food donations but not always enough. Having consistent meals prepared at Wallywood in an outdoor kitchen space would feed a lot of people who are present at the space. People living at Wallywood have taken responsibility of maintaining food service, but they need support.
* Tents and sleeping bags – People need help setting up tents, relocating tents, putting tents up on pallets, weatherizing tents with tarps, and staking tents. There is a constant need for help with tent set up and new tents go up everyday. When it rains it’s possible for some tents to flood. There are also people sharing tents who would rather have the privacy of their own tents, and small clusters of tents have developed as more have been donated.
People can walk around and ask people if they need help with their tent, if they need a tarp or want their tent elevated off the ground on a pallet floor. When new people show up they don’t always have a tent or any sleeping gear. Having someone present with tents and sleeping bags available to pass out is really important. This effort could escalate to finding RVs and trailers and parking them in the field and giving them away, perhaps later people could experiment build rigid structures like sheds or tiny houses for people to live in.
* Defense – Finally, as a squat and a contested space, Wallywood is precarious because the land owner wants to remove the people living there. Walmart has hired Brosnan Security, a private security firm to patrol and police Wallywood. They have intimidated, harassed and threatened community members and have stolen their tents and supplies and thrown them away. They regularly lie and spread misinformation to people at the camp as a way of wearing them down overtime in order to get them to leave. There is a well known story of a man who was reduced to tears upon returning to the tents he had set up for his family after being displaced by the fire and finding them gone — thrown in a dumpster by Brosnan. There should be no confusion over what interests the Brosnan agents are there to serve (they literally have the words “Asset Protection” in large letters on their clothing) as they are the same security firm that Walmart hires to protect their stores from looters in disaster situations.
People could monitor the Brosnan Security personnel to ensure that they are not harassing anyone or preventing people from dropping off donations. Intervention has already been necessary in the past and the tension should be top of mind for everyone involved since they maintain a constant presence at Wallywood. The local police and the city of Chico have expressed that they will continue to be “hands off” about the issue of people camping on private property at Wallywood, leaving Brosnan and Walmart to use intimidation and harassment to get people to leave instead.
This is a call for people to come to Wallywood and help maintain and extend the infrastructure supporting this impacted yet resilient community. Some people from the mutual aid project have committed to staying until the last tent is gone. That means a lot of help will be needed over time. This is a emergent project with many concrete needs – consider coming to lend a hand and put solidarity and mutual aid into practice, right now, today. There are concrete things happening everyday. You don’t need anyone’s permission to come and help.
Everyone deserves to be warm and dry, to have food, to be safe and comfortable, to have friendships, to experience joy, and to be supported by their community when they have unmet needs.
— Everything for everyone.