G.A. Minutes 9-18-18
It feels like a typical evening in autumn here at Peoples Plaza; except that all the tree leaves and other growing things are still green. Hopefully, they’ll stay that way for a while longer. Tonight the temperature is only in the low 60s but a strong northeast wind and an earlier sunset make it feel much colder. Warm clothes and a seat close to the fire, while not required, are a very good idea.
The Plaza is completely empty when the Fire Magician and the Food Bringing Occupier roll up on the sidewalk outside of the Plaza. The Occupiers both groan and slowly start the process of hauling the fire circle supplies up the stairs and onto the site. A veteran street woman, who we have known since the days of our first fires at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, walks up and asks if we’d like help. This woman goes by the street name of Fox and is more than likely a senior citizen however, she is quite physically fit and limber. The Occupiers say, “Sure, that would be great”. So Ms Fox then calls out to a couple of guys on the street, “Hey, get off your asses and come over and help us”. The guys comply and soon all the basics are in place. When they have finished helping, the street folks all walk off. Another Occupier arrives; he finds very little left to do.
As the fire roars up, the partner of the Stylish Native Woman drops in. He’s cheerful and reasonably coherent this evening. He wants to know the difference between birth records and genetics. Years ago he explained to us that he had been adopted at a very young age; although he is now close to forty years of age he still knows nothing concerning the origins of his birth, birth parents, conditions for adoption or related information. It’s possible that The Partner’s severe and unmedicated mental illness has been a barrier to his discovery of these facts.
An Occupier explains to The Partner that finding out his birth circumstances would require much time, effort and searching through old court records in order to gain the knowledge he desires; or he could hire someone to do it for him. However, there is no guarantee that the records he needs could ever be found. If The Partner just wants to know what his ethnic origins are then he would need to give a saliva sample to a reputable genetic laboratory and wait to receive the results. Unfortunately, a genetic test for one’s ethnic origins is unable to supply any information about who the actual people who gave him his genetic makeup where. She tells him that going both routes at the same time would probably produce the best results but would cost a lot of money. The Partner replies, “Yeah, money is usually the problem; the little bit that I get in disability each month seems to disappear really fast”.
A couple of young guys who occasionally roll with the peeps from the Anonymous crew arrive; they’re laughing and talking about video games or something. As we listen and try to figure out what they’re talking about, a street officer from the Duluth Police Department comes up the stairs. We exchange polite greetings then the officer says, “It looks like you’ve got a pretty good thing going on here, the only problem is that fire. You’re gonna have to put that out; it’s illegal to have a fire in a city park”. An Occupier politely explains, “Actually, this fire is completely legal. It conforms to the requirements of the particular City ordinance related to fires in city parks, to the MN Statute related to fires in city parks and to the International Fire Codes related to recreational fires. I have copies of all the paperwork if you’d like to look at them”
Another Occupier opines, “Officer, it would be wise to listen to her; she’s been studying this stuff for years”. The Occupier who keeps the records reaches into the bin and takes out the file folder that she always brings along to the fire circles and hands a copy of the City ordinance to the cop. The Occupier explains that the particular section that addresses our particular fire situation is outlined in yellow but of course the cop doesn’t listen to her and reads the first line of the ordinance, he says, “Hey, wait a minute, it says right here,’fires are not allowed in city parks’!” The record keeping Occupier replies, “Yes, that’s true but look at the next line that has been yellowed over, it says, “exemptions” (one of the exemptions describes our type of fire to a t). The officer does so then exclaims, “Well, I think this ordinance is open to interpretation!” The Occupier doesn’t think it is open but decides not to waste her time arguing; she answers, “Well here’s a copy of the MN Statute” and hands it to him. “ a MN Statue always trumps a City Ordinance The cop does the same thing with this legal paper too; he grumbles, “… it is unlawful to have an open fire without obtaining written permission from the commissioner…” Trying really hard not to roll her eyes, the Occupier suggests, “Try scrolling down a few lines to where the sentences are covered in yellow, where it says ‘exemptions’.
Another Occupier comments, “We’ve been holding these fire circles in downtown Duluth for six years now; we kinda know what we’re talking about”. The officer retorts, “Six years!?! I have never seen you here before!” The record keeping Occupier thinks to herself, “Then you must be the most unobservant policeperson who ever lived” but she offers to show the cop a copy of the International Fire Codes and keeps her thoughts to herself. It appears the police dude has had enough paperwork; he responds, “I guess I’ll have to research these laws myself; I normally work the Lincoln Park beat so don’t get around here much. Have a good evening”. He walks to his squad car and drives off. An Occupier scoffs, “Oh yeah, I’m sure he’s gonna go straight home after work and start researching legislative codes. Cops just love doing that type of shit”. We all laugh.
Once the cop leaves, more people join the circle. They include an Occupier, the chronically homeless man who watched us from afar for many months before joining us a few weeks ago and his girlfriend, an Anon, the very tattooed occasional Anon and the Stylish Native Woman.
The lentil and vegetable soup heating up on the small grill is ready to eat; almost everyone takes a bowl. The Occupier who is a college student inquires, “Did anyone see that people protested at the Enbridge office in Superior today and then blocked traffic on a bridge?” We all say, “No kidding!?! We did not know that, tell us more”. The student Occupier states, “It was just a tiny little blurb at the end of the 6pm newscast on one of the commercial TV stations. I saw it as I was going out the door to come here. I’ll do some research and try to have more information next week”.
The city official pops his head into the circle and reports, “I was just riding by on the bus on my way down to Carmody’s for another one of my fundraisers when I saw a cop over here. I immediately got off the bus and came over to see if everything was o.k. An Occupier tells him, “It was just the usual ying-yang that cops who don’t know us try to lay on us. Once he figured out that we weren’t intimidated by him, he left. The official man looks relieved, “Oh, that’s good. I’ll just be on my way then”. The city official is always watching our backs.
The veteran young homeless guy minus dreadlocks and Chicago Man stop in. Chicago Man announces he will be moving into an apartment of his own in just a few more days. He enthuses, “I’ve been on the waiting list for over a year, I complied with all their guidelines, saved my own money for a deposit and now I’m finally getting an apartment. I’m kinda tired because I’ve been packing for days but I’M SO EXCITED!!!” We are all happy for him.
The short haired young homeless guy reports, “It looks like I’ll be going off to rehab again. I pissed off my p.o. and she wants to send me off to a treatment program that lasts for a year. I guess that’s what I’ll do then; I sure don’t want to go back to prison”.
He’s about to tell us more but…KABOOM!!! We hear a very loud explosion and all the sparks, flames and burning wood come flying out of the fire pit. We Are Stunned. One of the younger Anons sheepishly says, “Oh, I’m sorry”. One of the homeless ones sighs, “I tried to tell him that you can’t throw a used up lighter into the fire but everything just happened too fast”. An Occupier adds, “I’m just glad that no one was hurt”. Everyone picks up the hot wood and embers and puts them back in the fire pit; the Fire Magician sweeps up the ashes. “Same as it ever was”. We all sit watching the fire start up again and waiting for our heart rates to go down…..then we’re back in business.
Apparently, we are the hottest action going on the street now. Many, many street folks join us; the food supplies are running low but we still have organic pb+j sandwiches and lentil soup. That’ll work. Among the new arrivals to the circle are the DD and/or TBI guy who lives at the Wet House and the big, brown, yelling guy who made so much noise last week. There are so many people tonight that Wet House Man is unable to dominate the conversation; he just sits and laughs. The big brown guy is not currently yelling but he sure is hungry; he chows down on everything he can find.
We had noticed a few weeks ago that the Stylish Woman was using a small walking stick; we know that she is up in age and walking is sometimes difficult for her. When she goes to the table to refill her coffee cup someone compliments her on the beauty of her stick. She replies, “It was gifted to me by the brother of a very dear, old friend of mine. My dear friend crafted this stick himself and when he died recently, his brother told me that my friend had wanted me to have it”.
An Occupier asks, “Does anyone remember that book by Rachael Carson called Silent Spring?” All of the Occupiers and most of the Anons are familiar with the book. The Occupier remarks, “I believe Silent Spring came out in 1971. Among other things, Ms Carson asked us to notice that most of the environment in the US was then devoid of song birds. She hypothesized that this was because of the extensive use of pesticides, especially DDT. Also, the water in many rivers and bays was spontaneously bursting into flames, because there were oil spills all over the place and nobody, including the government thought oil spills were any big deal. That was before we had the EPA or OSHA or any of that stuff. I believe that Silent Spring made a major contribution towards the preservation of our Mother Earth”. An Anon observes, “Yabut, all that environmental regulation has been pretty much kicked to the curb over the years by the stinking servants of the 1%”. The Occupier responds, “Yeah, I know”.
An Occupier asks the Occupier who lives in Superior, “Say, I hear that there was another explosion at the Husky Oil Refinery last Saturday?” The Superior Occupier explains, “As you know, I live pretty close to the refinery. I was kinda distracted with doing something at the time but I do remember that I thought I heard one loud “Boom!” After a while I went outside to look and the sky was covered with smoke. Of course, the Husky Company is saying it was just a small propane tank that fell over; small tank my ass! I’ve been inside that refinery; that tank was huge”.
The reporting Occupier reports, “Before I forget, I want to remind everybody that the Homeless Persons Bill of Rights Coalition is holding a free dinner and brainstorming session at AICHO on Thursday of this week, 5p-8p. We’re starting Phase ll of the HPB of R which will attempt to tackle the issues of p;aces where homeless folks will be able to legally camp, the right to eat and share food freely in public spaces, the right to use and move freely in public spaces, the right to twenty four hour access to hygiene facilities, the right to equal treatment by City staff and the right to speak with an advocate or street outreach worker when questioned by police. I hope you all will attend and invite as many homeless and street folks as you can. We need all the ideas and advice that we can get”.
A very large middle-aged white woman and her much younger and smaller white boyfriend have been sitting in our circle and next to the table for a while. They haven’t spoken much but have been listening to the conversation. The big, brown, previously yelling guy comes over from the east ledge and goes to the table to get more food. The large woman looks at him and then down at the floor; she takes her purse and a bag and moves them in front of herself and close to her feet. She states, “I always like to keep track of my bags”. The big brown dude tells her, “You moved your bags because you thought I was gonna steal them! I don’t steal! Not all black people steal!” The white woman sputters something unintelligible; the black guy responds, “You know what you were really thinking, you stupid, fat, ugly white BITCH!!!” He takes his food and walks back to the east ledge.
The large woman is speechless; an Occupier opines, “He does have a point you know. Black people experience suspicion and racism on a daily basis. It could very well have been a coincidence that you moved your stuff when you did but he’s been given so much crap all his life; it’s understandable that he went ballistic”.
A young man with a very impressive, large and well organized backpack sits down. He tells us his name and also the fact that he is a Water Protector from a Native American band living on their ancestral lands near the Canadian border. The young man has spent the last several years visiting and helping out at various resistance camps all over the United States. He’s finally on his way back home and ended up stuck on the streets of Duluth until morning. The traveling man and one of the Water Protector/Anons have many friends and acquaintances in common; they settle down for a chat.
The Occupiers have only one dilemma, the fire is dying but we could throw a couple more logs on it and sit and watch it burn for another hour or so OR we could just watch it burn out now. It’s a little after 9pm; the consensus is to let it burn out now. So that’s what we do.
Once the fire is seriously waning, we begin to pack up. The Water Protector from the Canadian border will spend the night in the apartment of some of the Anons. While all this is going on, the big, brown dude comes over and takes a seat next to the Food Bringing Occupier, he sighs, “You know, I’m really sorry; I shouldn’t have used the words that I did. I mean, just look at me. I know I got white in me”. He removes the hood of his hoodie and shakes out his beautiful, long, thick and wavy black hair. He reports, “This all looks red in the sun. I gotta go back to the ledge; that’s my girlfriend lying over there on the bench, she’s so drunk she can’t even stand up. I havta go take care of her”. Off he goes.
So, everyone is ready to head off to their various abodes. We expect to be back at Peoples Plaza next Tuesday.