G.A. Minutes 8-5-14
Well, we were rained out last Tuesday and we attended the FDL Pow Wow on Saturday so again we haven’t been to CJM for an entire week. Tonight is the annual National Night Out throughout the city. We stop at the Chum Center to share in their yearly feed and then we head over to the Memorial.
It’s a warm evening, even though it’s after 7pm the temps are still in the 70s. A slight east wind gives needed comfort.
A Native man on crutches approaches as we are setting things up. He politely asks what we are doing. We just say we’re going to sit around and talk for a while.
We generally don’t identify ourselves as Occupiers when meeting new people of the street. Most have never heard of Occupy so we don’t like to lay a lot of political analysis on their heads upon our first time meeting them. Life on the street is basically about day to day survival. Folks don’t discuss deep issues until they feel comfortable.
The man sees our sage bundle burning, sits down and requests to smudge. He tells us he is a Dakota warrior.
It’s common for people who don’t know us to assume we are a group of Christians holding a prayer session or something. The man begins to speak about his deep faith in Jesus. He and the Occupier who likes to talk about the Bible get into a conversation.
Many more people arrive; most are familiar faces. We go to our truck and get more chairs.
Groups of 2 or 3 begin conversations. A regular street man who is generally angry and aggressive is debating the use of the N word with the drummer from Senegal. The Native man on crutches, the Occupier and another young Native man are debating the differences and similarities between Christianity and traditional Anishinaabe belief. A woman who has acquired extensive sunburn and an Occupier converse about natural healing. The many people on the back ledge are making a lot of noise about something.
An Occupier whispers, “I think we should light the fire. People need to focus”. We start up the fire, everyone in the circle turns toward it and a group conversation begins.
The Native man with crutches and the man from Senegal remark upon the sacredness of the Memorial space. An Occupier reminds everyone about the 2 commemoration ceremonies to be held this week concerning the World War ll nuclear bombing of Japan. One will be held on Wednesday at Enger Tower and the other on Saturday at the Veteran’s Memorial on the Lakewalk.
The Native man on crutches begins to cry. “I really miss my younger brother” he says. We ask about his brother and he tells us his brother was drunk driving and was killed in a car accident. Everyone offers words of comfort, except the angry aggressive man who says that men should not cry. Everybody else in the circle disagrees with this and a conversation begins concerning all the reasons it’s o.k. for a man to cry.
More street people arrive; we have run out of chairs. Some remain standing and others go back with the rowdy folks on the back ledge.
An Occupier reports she attended the mayor’s town hall meeting yesterday. The town hall was set up in place of the August and September last Tuesday of the month open office hours. She says the mayor came all prepared to defend himself regarding his perceived lack of action on homeless and equity issues, however the meeting was sparsely attended. The audience consisted of herself, 2 local environmental organizers, the City Human Rights Officer, a well-meaning middle class community organizer and about 10 or 15 of the mayor’s friends and supporters.
The Occupier continues, “They talked a lot about new bike trails and eventually he admitted the City has plans to ‘revitalize’ East 1st Street. He said the plan was to build moderate income apartment buildings for young professionals. When I asked him what he planned to do with all the people who already live here, he didn’t seem to be aware that any people did already live here. His aides coached him about the Skinner Apartments and others and then he assured me that none of the current residents will be displaced. I guess he thought I was gonna believe him”. We all laugh.
“When he said the heart of the plan consisted of purchasing the old Kozy and various other decrepit properties owned by Dr. R, (the owner of our previous homeless camp) getting various types of tax credits and turning everything into apartments for up and coming youth I thought, if you think Dr. R will comply with government regulations or sell you his buildings for the low price they’re actually worth, you are seriously nuts! There were lots of cameras there so I didn’t say it. I can’t afford to be sued for slander”. We laugh some more.
We can see the street folks are in a talkative mood tonight and it is National Night Out so we decide to just let things roll.
A conversation about legalizing marijuana gets going. Everyone supports the idea however, one Occupier has reservations concerning the potential for addiction and driving under the influence. It seems he’s had bad experiences within his family.
The sunburned woman tells a story about her ex-husband kidnapping, beating and molesting her 3 children. Her children are safe now but much traumatized. She is also traumatized. We offer our condolences.
An Occupier gives a questioning look to another Occupier and she responds by whispering, “Just wait until the big clock chimes one more time and then we’ll pack up”. We know we are cutting it close time wise but we also know that the people seldom get these types of safe circles in which to express themselves.
The big clock chimes 9:30 pm. We begin packing up. One Occupier agrees to drive the badly sunburned woman to her home. Another will bring a drunken older woman from the back ledge to her daughter’s home a few blocks away. We had initially resolved not to drive the street people places so as not to create expectations. As time goes on, we find we are breaking that resolution more and more.
On Saturday some of us will be attending the annual Bayfront Blues Festival. We plan to be back on Tuesday.