Hales, PBA, Pigs: Fuck the Poor

by Mike Klepfer

On July 22, Mayor Charlie Hales announced that the long-standing houseless vigil in front of City Hall would be moved. The vigil, which began as a protest against the city’s camping ban, which is routinely used to target houseless people, has seen the most impoverished people in the city occupy the sidewalk in front of the building since late 2011. The next morning, the city went forward with the plan, sending unhoused people across the street to the federally-controlled Terry Shrunk plaza, and to the sidewalks around Chapman and Lownsdale Squares, as inmates from the county jail power-washed the sidewalks.

Not everything went the way the city wanted. After changing the zoning designation of City Hall to a “high pedestrian traffic area,” Hales initially believed the change would bar people around the clock from sleeping on the sidewalk. After some cursory research, however, it was determined that this wasn’t the case; now houseless people at the vigil are being rousted every morning at 7, and told to move. Hales has said he wants to replace people in dire need with food carts and bioswales. Yes, really. Food carts and bioswales. That’s literally what he wanted.

To further appease the greedy fucks who populate the Portland Business Alliance, Hales directed the Portland Police Bureau, the same guys who, you know, routinely kick the shit out of and Taser poor and mentally-ill people, to fan out around the city to evict temporary houseless encampments that week. Houseless people around the city were confronted by police, told to leave their spots, had their possessions taken and in some cases destroyed.

Here’s a little background: The PBA believes the presence of houseless people anywhere near their storefronts and hotels depresses shoe sales and other important commerce, so in an all-out campaign to prevent that from ever happening, they use the considerable power at their disposal to constantly lobby and create mass panic about the terror campaign being wrought by the poor against tourism and shopping. Last fall, the PBA lobbied hard in Salem to get some legislation passed that would allow Portland to reinstate the “sit-lie” ordinance, a rule deemed unconstitutional in Oregon in 2009, that barred people from sitting or lying on the city’s sidewalk, another law that police could use to harass houseless people. It didn’t go through. But Hales really wants to fuck with houseless people at the behest of the PBA, and he’s got the best police force in the country to do that, so actually looking at houseless people on his way into work every morning for months probably gave his feeble politician brain an idea.

After a few incidents where houseless people were accused of violence against housed people, the PBA got an assist from local press, spinning the incidents into a violent epidemic perpetrated by “gutter punks,” “road warriors” and other people from the hazy taxonomy of the houseless. Blithely ignored were the often uncounted and therefore innumerable incidents of routine violence directed at houseless people from above, or instances where people in extreme poverty victimize one another. A disruptive division occurred, “good homeless” versus “bad homeless,” and while PBA representatives and city officials fumbled around in an effort to sketch a portrait of the kind of houseless person who is the enemy (“aggressive panhandlers”), they were essentially able to oppress the whole class with all the power they could muster. Hales said the homeless sweep was about “lawlessness,” and the actions taken were against the unlawful existence of an impoverished class.

Amidst this week’s cynical campaign against poor people, fliers appeared throughout the city threatening to “expose” people who receive government disability assistance and some wannabe-vigilante jerkoffs are warning that they’ll conduct anti-homeless patrols in Buckman, as the St. Francis diocese and Red and Black were warned in a couple cryptic emails they received. Even fascist neighbors want a piece, it seems.

Victimizing the poor is also a tried-and-true government tactic during a down economy; if you want an extreme example, look at Greece. It’s a disgusting and cowardly tactic employed by people with no answers and no ideas, and it exposes the true values of those calling the shots. Instead of dealing with the underlying issues of systemic poverty and the oppression that it brings in this extremely class-stratified society, it is better to simply remove poor people from sight, denying them a chance to gain even a foothold toward a stable material existence, or even sniff any hope of a stable, healthful life. When you prevent houseless people from sleeping, they can’t sleep. When you don’t let them shelter themselves, as prevented by the camping ban, they die. The actions of the city and PBA just underscore their essential position within the status quo. They only conceive of a self-interest perceived in their role within the wider economy and, as such, are not only unwilling, but incapable of, granting meaningful social change. As guarantors of the status quo, they also have access to a surly militia, called cops, who are employed to terrorize expendable, surplus humans who serve no function to the rich, and in Portland the cops are really good at it.

In Portland, houseless people have shown amazing courage, tenacity and solidarity in their emergence as an active political class, going back to watershed moments like winning land for Dignity Village through an occupation in 2001. Right 2 Dream Too is a mutual-aid project by houseless people for houseless people, providing a safe spot to sleep for nearly 100 people each night, sheltered away from cops and other shitheads who would target them. The city, of course, scared of the grassroots power of a good example, has responded by levying fines against R2D2, accusing it of operating a “recreational campground.” The matter is still being decided in court, but R2D2 has been disciplined, creative, and tenacious in demanding their basic rights to survival.

Because of the houseless sweeps, people are responding to the city’s criminalization of poverty, with each push begging a bigger push back. Anarchists in Southeast have reached out to the houseless community, after people near St. Francis Park were harassed, and in light of the threatening e-mails. People are providing legal rights training to houseless people, distributing distress whistles, and encouraging houseless people harassed by police to keep a log of incidents at the Red and Black. Organizational meetings where houseless people are working to devise a long-term response are being held at the cafe.

Regardless of any act of solidarity by those more privileged, the fact is that people will get what they need to survive, and they will often resort to acts previously thought impossible when they are deprived of what they need to live. Clearly, an alternative is needed to the power structures that would casually deny people their basic needs, and if those people in power stay their course, they may learn that their hold on power wasn’t as solid as they thought.

What if Portland weren’t a place where attempting to paper over poverty with imagistic kitsch was acceptable? What if every time a hack politician or gated-community-ensconced, suburbanite store owner sics the cops on the poor, a hundred homes were occupied by people who need them? A place where every time a bank tries to evict those people with the aid of the county sheriff, the community shows up and tells them to go fuck themselves? What if houseless people in Portland continued to unify, and housed people had enough courage to fight with them? No one would be unhoused ever again.



7 thoughts on “Hales, PBA, Pigs: Fuck the Poor

  1. Listening to Portland, OR mayor Charlie Hales claim that police raids on homeless people are meant to punish “lawlessness” – hearing him respond to questions about expanding Dignity Village with quips like “it’s hard to find land”, it’s difficult to quell the revulsion one feels in their stomach. Listening to Hales being asked if he would support a ‘Homeless Bill of Rights‘ only to hear him reply “Haven’t seen it”, it’s easy to recall Marc Lamont when he said, “Prison is the only public housing government has ever invested in.”

    This callousness of Charlie Hales hasn’t gone unnoticed by housing advocates, nor by other members of city government. This week, both city commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz issued statements calling into question Hales’ policies targeting those most economically victimized in our community. Hales cited the Portland Business Alliance championed ‘Camping Ban’ that forbids sleeping on the sidewalk during daytime, yet Hales has chosen to aggressively enforce this draconian ordinance only on blocks surrounding city hall where a round-the-clock vigil has taken place in defiance of the regressive ban.

    In the discourse of reasoned political critique, it is tabboo to assign vulgar insult to elected officials. Outside of these diplomatic confines, the question must be asked: When is it okay to say, ‘Fuck Charlie Hales’?


    Posted by Hart Noecker | August 15, 2013, 7:43 pm

    Posted by David Knapp | August 15, 2013, 10:30 pm
  3. The mayor and city council of Olympia is following suit, except their ‘camping’ ban (euphemism for a ban on the poor sleeping) is more complete and does not contemplate hours it will be tolerated. Thus, Olympia’s officials have criminalized an entire class by definition. They respond to criticism, pointing out how ‘generous’ they’ve been to the homeless in the past, conflating charity with civil rights. More recently, they have also criminalized feeding the poor/homeless on municipal (free) parking lots. Olympia and many cities across the nation are conducting their own ‘war on poverty’, just not the way LBJ intended when he used the phrase.

    Still, many people (not only business owners) are afraid of the poor/homeless. The 2nd to last paragraph of the article sheds light on why their fear may be reasonable/justified. In the movie, “Empire Of The Sun”, in one of the last scenes, the English boy protagonist pounds on the chest of his mentor responsible for their survival (often through bribery and intrigue) in a Shanghai POW camp run by the Japanese in WWII China. After their release by the victorious Americans, the older man has just shot a young Japanese male who had befriended the English boy, bridging the gap between captor and captive in so doing. The jaded, cynical man responsible for the gratuitous murder shouts down his disciple by demanding, “Didn’t you learn anything from what I taught you?” “Yes,” the boy replies, “You taught me people will do ANYTHING for a potato!”


    Posted by pinbalwyz | December 29, 2013, 3:57 am
    • Hey Amicus, one of the editors here. As to your first paragraph, yes, that does seem to be a parallel, and is equally disgusting.

      As to your second, I don’t even know where to begin. Fear of the poor, as such, is never justified, and only symptomatic of a social disorder mainly caused by the rationalization of a way of life where some people are given everything, and exponentially more are left without basic material sustenance. The paragraph you mention can either be read as a statement of fact, or a threat; it is both.

      While I know that here, in the US, there exists a popular mania where people imagine a future created by scarcity unleashing some sort of apocalyptic hellscape where each person fights each, I also know we leave in a world in which literally half the food produced is thrown away, where more houses lie empty than there are houseless bodies, and our basic material survival is predicated on maintaining the machinery that causes this, systems which depend our shared belief in scarcity in order to make us afraid to revolt. Doing away with these systems of production and distribution, their attendant political and legal structures, and their coercive protectors will go a long way to breaking the spell to which it appears you, and many others, fall under, one in which everyday life can be analogous to a POW camp.

      Lastly, I don’t get how you seem somewhat sympathetic to anarchists on one hand, and then expend a Hurculean effort trying to document who we are and expose us on the other. It’s very strange, sad, and, in an atmosphere of heightened political repression, dangerous for anyone you’ve been working so diligently to implicate. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you don’t live in Portland.

      Posted by bolobaau | December 30, 2013, 10:32 am
      • Typically, people are paradoxical, though that’s not really a contradiction. You’re correct in many respects, but not all. Discussing specifics with those articulate enough to do so coherently has proven to be like searching for something solid in a sponge cake. There are so many voids as to make the whole amorphous. Were public transportation affordable, I’d spend a lot of time visiting Portland because it’s interesting, has a large working class components along with many cultural amenities and great diversity. Unfortunately, limited means restricts me to covering local events and sometimes Seattle.

        Yes, I’m torn by having mixed feelings about anarchists who I believe need to be both exposed and sometimes admired. It’s difficult to make generalities because it’s such a big umbrella prone to casual labeling and puffery. In short, what I’m saying, is you have little idea of my underlying motives or constructive thoughts. The death of privacy is nearly complete, state surveillance is virtually 100%, speech itself is dangerous today in the U.S. and likely to incur indirect retaliation, or public lynchings (Snowden). Personal experience dictates this conclusion with no need for statistical charts. If I were to be utterly candid about my personal history with the state, capitalism, class prejudice, etc. you might be surprised. Anarchists are far too quick to apply labels…the hallmark of lazy thinking. But then, I’d be putting myself at needless risk if I were to do so. It’s not like these forums go unnoticed. Suffice it to say the real engines of social change isn’t where the cameras are pointing. There were no cameras when Snowden or Daniel Ellsberg, et ux, collected evidence of government deceit to publish. That came later. Some people engage in acts of resistance/compassion that are never recognized. Not all those who hid Jews from the Nazis were later recognized or even survived. And you can be confident they didn’t go around bragging about their virtue. The metaphor is self evident.

        There remains an abiding belief that corruption in government must be exposed in any meaningful democracy. What isn’t heard often is the need for similar exposure of corruption in the people, something about which Ben Franklin worried when he made his famous reply, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

        Those anarchists who make constructive efforts for positive change have nothing to fear from the investigative photojournalists or citizen bloggers. The press will see/notice nothing about them worth publishing. The life style/violent anarchists will experience something entirely different as they try to upstage one another. If anything, a persistent photojournalist can be thought of as the canary in the mine shaft. If the canary starts to exhibit symptoms, everyone is at risk. That any privacy exists at all in public venues/forums/spaces for anarchists is a convenient self serving fiction.

        As to the more immediate needs and plight of the poor, homeless, and oppressed, a ‘poverty task force’ appointed by Shelton’s City Council has recommended dumpster diving be made a crime in the municipality. In general, an excellent case can be made for arguing capitalism has become a cancer threatening to destroy the very planet and civilization upon which we depend. But, that doesn’t necessarily translate to dismissing the notion of ‘rights’, private property, or embracing street violence. Many people are afraid of the poor, not so much because they’re often unsightly in their poverty, but because they’re desperate and perceived as potentially violent. “People will do anything for a potato!” I know for a fact if you’re driven enough by hunger, you WILL steal a loaf of bread. Thus, out of enlightened self interest if nothing else, I deplore cutting food stamps, social security, unemployment benefits, and other social safety nets that help maintain a society we can survive in.

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s an obvious fact that if taxes (e.g. social security) are raised on the wealthy, no one dies. If social security, health care, and other base line underpinnings preventing starvation, exposure, disease, and violence are cut, people necessarily DO die! Therefore, an increase in the minimum wage (as a band-aid) to $15/hr is long overdue. But, so is the passage of a Washington State law (though likely to be abused) making participation in violent protests a crime: Criminal Mischief, due to take effect shortly this 2014. Apparently, it looks to be the equivalent of Russia’s law against ‘hooliganism’.


        Posted by pinbalwyz | January 1, 2014, 6:24 am
  4. BTW, only 9% of private (i.e. not the public sector) company jobs offer pensions to workers today. The few that do (e.g. Boeing) want their unions to agree to abandon defined benefit pensions. Recently, 6 officials (one of whom is already retired and collecting HIS defined benefits pension) having secured their own defined benefits pensions were telling the rank and file workers they should vote against their own interests by allowing Boeing negate said pensions (in a previous still in effect contract). Today, food stamps have been cut, unemployment benefits eliminated, pensions largely eliminated, and the race to the bottom is nearly complete. Corporations (such as Boeing–a convicted felon, btw!) have become the tail wagging the dog as they literally blackmail workers, unions, and State government alike. In years past, we were beset with corrupt politicians as the bane of democracy. Today, public officials having been purchased to the nth degree, we are left to the tender mercies of our new masters: Corporations and corrupt union bosses.

    This new corporate arrogance doesn’t only reveal itself in sports stadium kickbacks and ‘negotiations’ (blackmail) with corrupt union officials and State governments. The public may view that as largely academic to their own circumstances, having already lost what they once had or perhaps never knew. Corporations in the U.S. today literally make their own ‘laws’ (policies) without bothering to get their government lackeys to approve them. An example can be easily found in how banks, credit unions, brokers, and other financial institutions manage your money/account. e.g. NO law exists prohibiting contributing MORE than $6,500/yr into an IRA or Roth IRA account so long as the saver pays a penalty to the IRS of 6% APR on the contributions in excess of that amount. There are reasons why this strategy (e.g. consumer bankruptcy) is sometimes advantageous. Yet these financial institutions have gratuitously set themselves up extra-judicially as ‘gate keepers’ prohibiting the saver from managing their own contribution amounts. Ironically, a saver could potentially have a dozen IRA accounts and contribute (with no institutional objection) $6,500/yr to each, making 11 out of the 12 vulnerable to the 6% APR IRS penalty until the contributions became eligible under its rules OR were withdrawn from the IRA. In a world where private companies no longer offer pensions to their workers, having an IRA/Roth IRA may become the difference between living on the streets or with a roof over your head in your old age (or sooner). The point is, corporations are now beginning to openly dictate to the public, extra-judicially, as though they were government overseers. It is now abundantly clear that capitalism, corporate interests, and corruption in government are joined at the hip at the public’s expense. They have literally become an occupying force, and therefore the enemy. The great challenge today is to take back the commons and a government once conceived as of the people, by the people, and for the people.


    Posted by pinbalwyz | January 2, 2014, 2:59 am


  1. Pingback: The homeless to jail pipeline – from South Carolina to Santa Clara, the criminalization continues | Moorbey'z Blog - September 3, 2013

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