Filed under: Action, Anarchist Movement, Housing, Southeast, The State
The following report comes from a group of anarchists in West Virginia who detail a campaign to fight homeless camp raids that ended in the reclamation of people’s stolen property.
Wheeling is known as the “Friendly City,” friendly that is if you own property. In recent weeks we have witnessed several police raids against homeless encampments. Using the police and inmate work crews, authorities have seized clothing, tents, personal items and even identification from the homeless, leaving their property in bright orange bags on the side of the road, like some sort of sick monument to middle-class sensibilities.
Needless to say, this pissed us off, and we decided to do something about it. After some group discussion, we assembled a list of demands for the city:
To the City of Wheeling, we make the following demands:
1. Fully investigate the recent incidents in which homeless persons were evicted from their camp and had property seized, and that any City official(s) guilty of malice or gross negligence be held accountable.
2. That the City compensate all victims of this eviction for (1) loss of property and (2) harassment from law enforcement.
3. That the City immediately use its resources to provide humane and adequate housing to all homeless persons living in Wheeling, either by using City property or acquiring housing through purchase or eminent domain.
One good thing about this city is the network of soup kitchens and homeless advocates. One of our friends told us, “You’ll never go hungry in Wheeling.” We tried reaching out to them, requesting support for our protest. We got some love from those on the front lines. The Catholic Workers, who run a cooperative shelter, gave us advice and support, as well as their blessing. One of our members walked into the soup kitchen out of the blue and asked to speak with the director. Once we explained our agenda, the director immediately stopped dinner and asked everybody to listen to what we had to say. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the patrons. They even shared some of their stories and struggles with us, even though we had just met.
Our protest received no support from the liberals, despite our continuous effort to build relationships with them. A friend who is involved with the local Democrats told us we caused a huge stink with demands to the city. We were disappointed but not at all surprised. After all, these are the same people who told Dr. King he was too radical.
After putting out the call through social media, word of mouth and fliers, we converged on city hall. About 15 of us braved the cold on February 6 in solidarity with the homeless. We received lots of honks, thumbs up and well wishes from the community. The mayor also showed up to drown us in bullshit and excuses. This has been the standard response of the owners and power brokers of this city: hide the fact they hold power over us, deny responsibility and then do nothing. They are nowhere near this defeatist when wooing moneyed interests to feast on our land and treasury.
Asides from this, the protest was mostly uneventful. At least it was until we realized the bright orange bags were within walking distance. House of Hagar informed us they had already taken some of the bags to sort through, clean up and return to their rightful owners. One of our allies also pointed out that the homeless were probably afraid to get their stuff and risk police retaliation. We decided we had had enough raising awareness for the time being. Now was the time for direct action. We drove right up to pile and loaded up the bags into several vehicles. After dropping them off, we got word a second pile was discovered. We snatched them up as well. In total, we liberated about 20 bags from the city.
Some things we learned from this action:
- Timing. We were eager to start the protest and only gave a few days notice. If we waited a bit longer, we may have drawn a bigger crowd. Also we had scheduled the protest during dinner at the soup kitchen. We feel kind of silly about that one.
- In our original demand, we pointed out the city had the ability to use eminent domain to end the homeless crisis. House of Hagar informed us the city had in fact used it in the past, but to kick out an entire neighborhood of homeowners to build a football field and to expand the interstate. We could have worded the demand better, as “eminent domain” still brings up bad memories in the mind of the community.
- We learned of a great number of homeless advocates and similar organizations that we can reach out to in the future. This is just the nature of organizing after all, building connections as one goes.
This fight is far from over, and we are in it for the long haul. We won’t stop until every person has a roof over their heads, and if we have to drag the ruling class of Wheeling kicking and screaming, then so be it.