Dignity Village relocation: one supporter's personal views

There have been a number of rather pointed and angry comments from community "radicals" and activists rushing to judgment of Dignity Village (and/or me personally and/or certain village "leaders") for "buckling" or "caving in" to police and to city hall. I thought I'd pass along this summary of my personal thoughts on this issue, in interests of maintaining healthy relations all around and honoring the village's integrity, collective wisdom, and hard work towards reaching their long term goals.

Last Monday's press conference by DV reversed and earlier vote to accept the Sunderland site and make the best of it. Monday's Press Release announcing the Village re-vote to resist the move was carefully framed (although not clearly portrayed in most of the media coverage) in terms of: 1) a very forceful and articulate last ditch appeal to City Hall and the Governor to allow the Village to remain at 17th & Savier another 60 days, rather than forcing them to move to Sunderland near the airport, 2) a call for community support in this resistance to moving, and 3) a clear articulation of the major problems with the Sunderland site in light of a list of reasonable siting criteria (location, access to services, phones, groceries, etc.). I think this was particularly helpful to imprint indelibly for the record at city hall (and for larger community) the key criteria that will need to be addressed in order to successfully re-site the Village within 60 days. There was also an important meta-message: "don't fuck with us like this again!!", which I don't feel was lost on the city.

The village's ultimate de facto decision on Wednesday (under pressure of media hounds and an eminent police sweep) to move to Sunderland seemed to sorely disappoint a handful of activists who apparently came expecting a nasty showdown with police with protests, lock-downs, arrests, etc. These critics of the village's decision seem largely oblivious to their own relatively comfortable, privileged housed status in comparison to someone living in the Village or on the street who is routinely criminalized day-in and day-out for months or years. Going to jail "for the cause" may present very different kinds of issues to different people, primarily depending on their socio-economic status.

Ironically, at the heart of this issue are the very same "class issues" that were eloquently articulated by JP Cupp at our last Wednesday press conference (announcing the re-vote to resist moving to Sunderland). Dignity Village residents are all formerly homeless and most are working very hard to creatively reintegrate into society on their OWN terms (not the Man's), to extricate themselves from the criminal justice system, and to rebuild their lives from the ground up with the support of each other and DV friends in the larger community. Most may understandably feel they've seen enough of the inside of jails already.

Many Villager residents are already on parole or probation, or are seeking to reestablish contact with their children, or are working for the first time in a long time, or are on the verge of being housed as a result of their hard work towards that goal. For those on parole/probation, arrest (even for a minor violation) would mean going to jail for months or years. For others, arrest means huge (to them) fines (which if not paid means bench warrants), and/or abandoning their struggle to extricate themselves from the criminal justice system, it means loosing jobs and/or a shot at becoming housed soon, and/or forfeiting any hopes of reestablishing family relationships that mean so much to them. Well meaning progressive activists encouraging homeless people to seek arrest should consider these implications.

For the Village collectively, a nasty showdown with police ending in arrest of villagers and core supporters would also have been a major derailment of any forward movement towards important strategic objectives that the Village's self-governance process has set as priorities, such as incorporation as their own non-profit to achieve self-sufficiency from street roots, major grant writing to purchase private land, building up the cooperative micro-enterprises to become profitable, all of which are critical if the Village ever hopes to be buying their own land anytime soon, as well as steadily gaining ground on other intermediate fronts needed to reach these longer term goals.

During the previous week, often the loudest voices for a confrontation with police on Wednesday would speak of "ringing the villagers with hundreds and hundreds of new supporters" from various activist groups, large union memberships, and university students. In this scenario, it would have been mostly these supporters who would have gone to jail, not the 80 homeless people in the village. But THESE MASSIVE NUMBERS DID NOT MATERIALIZE LAST THURSDAY.. At most, there were 30-40 supporters there advocating a showdown and seeking arrest at any one time. (there were more supporters there too, but simply offering support, not necessarily seeking arrest). The villagers were there and had voted the day before for a "resistance" strategy. If anyone "bailed" it certainly wasn't the Villagers, it was the larger "activist" community who failed to even showing up in the first place in sufficient numbers to realistically protect villagers from mass arrest. Interestingly, I haven't heard any Villagers making this accusation, and I'm not offering this observation in the spirit of blame or accusation. I don't believe that finger-pointing and blame-framing by anyone is appropriate at this point. It didn't even occur to me until I started writing this to try to clarify my own thinking and share it with whoever else is interested.

I personally never perceived the village's decision to openly resist the move as any kind of "pledge" on the part of all villagers to deliberately incite police action against themselves, to go to jail in mass, to loose jobs or gain access to their children, etc. or to abandon their continuing constructive engagement with the city to insist that the village be allowed to continue movement towards its next stage of development, nor was it a vote in favor of wanting to spend the winter being chased from one site to the next with 24-hour eviction notices with police enforcement to follow.

With one weeks hindsight, I feel that the Village's controversial and agonizing "flip-flop" decisions (go, stay and "make a stand", go) -- although a bit messy and confusing to people more accustomed to tidy linear modes of decision making -- certainly produced a number of positive results. Bringing the situation "to the brink" of a police showdown, and then reluctantly relocate to Sunderland "under protest" was brilliant strategy in that it accomplished several very important short-term objectives: 1) gained much broader community support that has continued to pour in since the move, including financial support and suggestions about possible sites, 2) succeeded in keeping the unrelenting pressure on the city to assist with finding a much better and closer-in site soon, and 3) forced the city to act in much better faith in the future when dealing with the village, especially related to its next relocation. 4) sent a forceful message to City Hall and the broader community about it's siting requirements, 5) avoided needlessly re-criminalizing most vulnerable villagers, 6) kept most of the village together at Sunderland to continue working steadily towards short and longer term goals, including incorporation, fund raising and finding a permanent site.

Another interesting and potentially positive outcome is the Homeless Liberation Front's current stand-off with police at the "Field of Dreams" site near Naito and Harrison. While this has no official connection with Dignity Village, I do personally support this effort as a means of continuing to raising consciousness about the use of public land for a range of public purposes, including accommodating the needs of homeless Portland residents. If public land is OK for giveaways to private developers and "Bark Parks" for residents with pets, and if the public sector has any responsibility to help address homeless issues (which I think it clearly does, both legally and morally), then why not allow homeless camping on public land? I applaud those who have made personal decisions to risk arrest in this effort.

I need to be clear that these are my personal views (for what they're worth), and I'm not necessarily speaking "for the village" in any representative capacity whatsoever. The DV community will be collectively sorting all this our over the next week or so before any consensus is reached about what we learned from this and how we want to define our relationship with the city in the future. I plan to continue to stand by the village and its culture of self-governance, as an ally and friend, even when I'm not personally "comfortable" with its decisions for some reason.

I hope critics and naysayers about the way things came down last Wednesday will participate constructively and bring their voice to this sorting out process, but also do so in a way that is respectful of villagers and their long-term personal and collective goals for self-determination and self-sufficiency. The Village's self-governance ROCKS as far as I'm concerned, and I feel it deserves to be respected, even when it is experienced as messy and inconsistent by some supporters and observers. When all is said and done, bottom line, the village's self-governance process will be the final voice on all this...as always.

Viva Dignity!
John Hubbird