Everybody’s wondering where the poor folks, addicted folks, and mentally ill folks will go once Sunny Acres shuts down, something owner Dan DeVaul says is happening July 31. If you see Patrick Howe’s story this week, you get the sense maybe they’re not going anywhere and that this whole thing is a either simply a cry of anguish or a publicity stunt. But let’s pretend, for the moment, that all the residents at Sunny Acres truly will have to depart on Aug. 1. Where, exactly, would they all go?
I think I’ve got an answer, a suggestion. But before I offer it, I’d like to tell you about a woman.
Concepcion Picciotto has an exceedingly modest home. There’s no television or couch—not even a bathroom. Still, it has nice views and it’s in a great neighborhood—right in the middle of things. Since 1981 she has lived in a self-described peace camp that is really just a makeshift tent, in Lafayette Square, directly across from the White House. She’s known as “The President’s Neighbor” and her nearly three-decade protest against nuclear arms has been noted by millions of passing tourists and plenty of journalists; Michael Moore featured her in Fahrenheit 911.
Now, remember that the White House has gotten pretty strict with security in recent decades. You can’t drive in front of the place anymore and, if you stop for too long in front of the gate, somebody comes along and shoos you away.
So how come Connie and other protesters have been able to stay and essentially camp rent-free on government land? It’s simple. She’s protesting—and that’s an act that is iron-clad protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. At various times, the Park Service has tried to move her and others along, but each time some lawyer—there are plenty in Washington—has taken the cause. And they’ve won. It’s an easy case to make.
Why don’t you just go ahead and read this twice.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Make no law. It doesn’t get a lot simpler than that. No. Law.
What this means is that if the folks at Sunny Acres truly do have to take leave of Dan DeVaul’s hospitality, and they decide not to head to the road or to the scrub of the creeks or into the expensive care of local hospitals, they have another good option. They could set up a camp right outside the snazzy county government center, make up some signs, and stage a protest. And they could do this for as long as they want. I’m not saying the county wouldn’t harass them in various ways—I’d guarantee they would, invoking this ordinance or that one in efforts to move them along. Ultimately, though, people have a right to protest, to vigil, and these folks have plenty to protest about.
What would they really need? Tents? They’ve already got them. Signs? There’s plenty of scrap wood around DeVaul’s place. I’d loan them a bucket of paint. They’d also need a slogan. Here are some suggestions:
How about: “I’ll bet Sunny Acres looks pretty good to ya’ now!”
Or: “Can we please have 100 copies of the 10-year report to end homelessness? We need mattresses.”
Or: “Got a spare bedroom, Art Trindade?”
Whatever. These folks may not have a lot of money, but they’ve got plenty of things to say. I look forward to seeing what they come up with. By the way, this protest thing wasn’t my idea. It’s happened before.
Last year, two dozen homeless folks slept outside Portland’s city hall to protest in general the city’s treatment of homeless people and in particular a series of sweeps meant to hustle them away from their bridge encampments. I haven’t been up that way for a while, but I know they kept the protest up for at least six months.
Six months isn’t bad. Things might be looking a little better in the country in six months. And the front of the county government center is a nice place to stay—it’s super shiny and modern like it just dropped in from L.A. with stained concrete and nice bathrooms that are open to the public. It’s also really close to everything. The board of supervisors chamber is really close, so the folks could keep up on local politics and maybe earn more of a voice than they seem to have.
But why should this protest be limited to just the folks leaving Sunny Acres? The creek beds and homeless shelters, and plenty of the RVs that are parked on city streets, are full of protesters. Why not come on down to the county government center? We’re having a protest. Bring your tents and coolers.
Tell ’em Shredder sent you.
Shredder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.