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Feb 12, 20

Austin, TX: Stop the Sweeps Mobilizes in Solidarity with Encampment Under Attack

Stop the Sweeps in Austin, Texas, reports on a recent effort to defend a homeless encampment.

Stop the Sweeps Zine HERE

Last Friday, Stop the Sweeps was present to defend against the siege on Camp Pleasant Valley. Alerted to “cleanup” notices posted this week, we came to offer support to our friends at the Camp in a similar manner to our weekly interventions at the underpass sweeps. What we got however far exceeded our initial expectations.

As our crew and supporters initially rolled up, we distributed informational resources and offered some support in packing as we have done at other sweeps. However, shortly before the sweep was scheduled to begin, some of us and our friends in the camp made a decision. We would support the people at Camp Pleasant Valley in standing their ground, and instead of moving would create a separate pile of trash that the City could clean up without the pointlessness of forcing people to move everything across the street. The folks at this spot, whom we had been in contact with for weeks providing legal support, material aid, and support for resistance, seemed to hold a new found power and confidence in the possibility of collective action.

A couple people spoke with one of the supervisors with the Public Works Department, who was in charge of Friday’s sweep. Over the course of the conversation, it became clear that he had no understanding of the camping ordinances nor any of the legal authority for the cleanups, and claimed he was “just following orders.” He did, however, seem to agree that their focus was on trash and that they were not aiming to hurt people or steal people’s belongings.

All that went out the window when the rest of the crew showed up. A belligerent Public Works lead supervisor and a crew manager for Relief Enterprise, the sub-contractor responsible for City-led sweeps, stormed through the Camp threatening people with the theft of whatever was not taken down immediately. Despite collective protest, and despite the residents of the Camp putting in the work to create a separate trash pile, the crew got to work ruining people’s lives. Supervisors were quick to label tents and other personal property as “abandoned” and trash, and then accused those of us trying to save people’s belongings of “stealing.” Without any context or information about the people who owned the tents they grabbed, they declared them “abandoned property”–even if the owner had just stepped away to use the bathroom, get food, or go to work. One woman came back to find her tent caught in a tug of war between us, trying to stop it from getting taken, and the contractors, who had ripped into it with a box cutter. Through confrontation, we were able to prevent some people’s things from being trashed.

As we struggled with the contractors to prevent theft–with some people putting their bodies on the line, grabbing or laying on things to prevent them from getting trashed–the cops began to show up. Despite up to 11 cops standing around us, they seemed almost as powerless as the contractors–continuously trying to get us to back down to no avail. At moments, we forced their hand to get the contractors to back off as we helped people preserve and move their belongings.

The next few hours would be defined by a constant back and forth. Every time people would begin moving some of their belongings away, the contractors would spring into action trying to throw away any items they hadn’t moved yet. In response, many of us got into repeated confrontations with the contractors, demanding that they stand down, step back, and let people move at a reasonable speed.

While they constantly aggressed against and threatened us, they watched as disabled individuals experienced injury and exhaustion from trying to move all of their belongings.

At one point during all of this, one of our friends was arrested for “failure to obey a lawful order,” as he attempted to prevent the theft of a tent. He is out now and well.

We considered our intervention a limited success. We were not able to stop the sweeps or get the contractors to leave people’s belongings alone. We were, however, able to energize and support people standing up for themselves, save some people’s belongings, and greatly slow down the sweep. The Relief Enterprise manager lamented the fact that they had scheduled themselves to take 30 minutes on this sweep, and instead they spent around 3 hours at that median. We see this as a win, a way to impose higher costs to the sweeps and discourage the city and the contractors from carrying them out–as well as buying time for people who may be further down the list of targets for the day.

We also learned that this sweep will be a recurring, bi-weekly event. We’ll be preparing our defenses against the next siege.

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Network resisting the sweeps of homeless encampments & supporting those displaced.

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