"Everything that is most eccentric in man, the gipsy in
him, can surely be summed up in these two syllables:
This evening, the gardens are marshalling their ranks of
great dusky plants that look like nomadic encampments in
the heart of cities."
-Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant
Dignity Village, which grew from the "Out of the Doorways" campaign sponsored by Street Roots newspaper, is a homeless community taking direct action in the struggle for living space. The first tent of what was then known as Camp Dignity went up on December 16th, 2000. Since then the city has forced the community to move five times, and during each of these moves a parade of shopping carts increased the public and media awareness of their actions and intentions.
Eventually the community occupied land owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation under a freeway bridge, and thus Dignity Village was born. With rules against drugs, alcohol and violence, in addition to the village providing its own security, the community grew to its largest size. After residing there for months the villagers were served an eviction notice by the city, supposedly acting on a complaint. Under threat of arrest, and in the face of hostility by the Mayor and city council, Dignity Village was forced to move a sixth time to a city-sanctioned parcel known as Sunderland Yard, a remote site located by an airport and prison. This fenced-in asphalt lot used for fall leaf composting is a necessarily transitory location.
A small number of villagers established their own additional campsite on the so-called Field of Dreams near the Willamette River. During this land occupation the Homeless Liberation Front issued a set of demands, which included "ending the fascist war on the poor, converting all new luxury condos into affordable housing, banning evictions, eliminating park curfews, acknowledging the freedom to sleep anywhere, and freeing political prisoners Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier." Unfortunately, these campers were issued citations and forced to move by the police.
During the most recent eviction the city council revealed its fright at the idea of more widespread land occupations by the homeless. They want Dignity Village to be a one-off effort ending in failure, and are putting it entirely upon the villagers to find possible locations for future residence. And all this to the benefit of the city council and the overcrowded, bureaucratic shelter system. The callous tyranny of Portland's political elite, and its business peers, is exposed as they continually make villagers move with an underlying official sadism and disregard. Meanwhile, they masturbate over their plans for gentrification of downtown, North and Northeast Portland. They dream of well-scrubbed, white consumers and commuters bustling about in a set made for working and shopping, with an ever-expanding police presence. Rising property values only show the general decline in human values that has accompanied the overall crisis of modern times.
Until we are able to live on the Earth without restraint, and as long as the land is owned for profit, there will always be outsiders and those excluded, those who cannot pay the ever-increasing price of survival. Dignity Village, and similar villages in Seattle and Los Angeles, provide glimpses of how the poor and propertyless can take direct action to further their common interests, and create some semblance of a true community. This contrasts with the isolated housing system where landlords and property tax must be paid on time, where neurotic neighbors never speak to each other, and where people become more out of touch with their imaginations and the elements but more in touch with the worlds of consumerism and television. This says nothing about grotesque city planning which gives precedence to commercial space, office buildings and congested streets rather than a diverse, self-created living environment which might include tree houses, cob buildings, ecologically friendly design, etc. Which is why social revolution is more needed now than ever, to let us be free people on free land.
We encourage people to visit Dignity Village and support its long-term vision. It's a threat by example, which deserves to spread! The current site is at NE 33rd and Sunderland. For more information see http://www.outofthedoorways.org and http://streetroots.org, or write to Street Roots newspaper at 1231 SW Morrison, Portland, Oregon 97205.