How About Sending Social Services to Occupy Encampments Instead of Police?

December 5, 2011

by Michael Lerner and Joshua Holland

Call Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, or whoever is your mayor and suggest that they support the Occupy movement by providing encouragement to social workers, teachers, clergy and others to go down to the Occupy encampments and volunteer time and energy to help those who badly need this support!!

Cutbacks for Everyone Except the Police

Cities are cutting back on vitally needed social services, while at the same time, buying expensive military gear for their police departments.

From AlterNet by Joshua Holland, “What If They Sent in Social Services to Help Occupations Instead of Riot Cops to Bust Heads?”:

Occupations across the country have struggled to feed and shelter the least fortunate among us, and then faced often violent police crackdowns at great taxpayer expense. Pause for a moment and imagine what might result if mayors sent in social workers to help people rather than riot police to bust some heads?

In a society that tends to avert its gaze from the homeless, the hungry, the addicted and the mentally ill, the Occupy movement’s compassion has become an albatross around its neck. “We don’t exclude the people at the margins,” one protester at Occupy Oakland told me. “We invite them in and feed them.”

Around the country, occupations are struggling to provide a semblance of social services that cash-strapped cities are failing to provide. “We were a magnet for the angry poor, the homeless, the angry poor drunks,” a member of Occupy Philly told Salon. “And as the number of people here to absorb that part of it got smaller, it just became overwhelming.” Another activist added: “We see somebody sleeping, we throw a blanket over them…but there are people here who really need help.”

Kip Silverman, an organizer with Occupy Portland, told AlterNet that the majority of those at the recently evicted camp were “homeless or disenfranchised people. We have folks that have just recently lost jobs, lost their homes, and the Occupy encampment is all they have right now.”

Silverman added that the city might be contributing to the problem. “I have heard from three individual sources that some of the city institutions that help the homeless and disenfranchised are actually sending some people our way because we have services that we’re providing that apparently others cannot or will not,” he said.

With the influx of the homeless come various problems, and cities have used them to justify sometimes violent crackdowns on the occupations. In Oakland, a homeless man with a history of mental illness attacked several protesters in an incident that officials touted as being indicative of the “violence” surrounding the occupation.

In Burlington, Vermont, a homeless veteran killed himself in the camp, prompting city officials to cordon off the park where the occupation had been established. As USA Today noted, “authorities cited the potential hazard of police not being able to see what is occurring inside the tents as the reason for the tents’ removal.”

Veterans’ suicides are a national disgrace that we rarely talk about. A vet attempts to commit suicide once every 80 minutes, on average; 1,868 of them tried to end their lives in 2009 alone, and most of them, one presumes, weren’t in tents.

An overdose at Occupy Vancouver, one of the 47,000 drug-related deaths each year in Canada, prompted that city to deliver an eviction notice.

Around the country, cities are cutting back on vitally needed social services. At the same time, with the help of federal homeland security grants, they’re spending money on high-tech military gear for their police departments.

As Stephen Grant, author of Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, told Democracy Now! “there’s been a longstanding shift in North America and Europe towards paramilitarized policing, using helicopter-style systems, using infrared sensing, using really, really heavy militarized weaponry.”

That’s been longstanding, fueled by the war on drugs and other sort of explicit campaigns. But more recently, there’s been a big push since the end of the Cold War by the big defense and security and IT companies to sell things like video surveillance systems, things like geographic mapping systems, and even more recently, drone systems, that have been used in the assassination raids in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and elsewhere, as sort of a domestic policing technology. It’s basically a really big, booming market, particularly in a world where surveillance and security is being integrated into buildings, into cities, into transport systems, on the back of the war on terror.

 

Volunteers Scared to Help

And this leads us to yet another obvious point: there are millions of retirees or unemployed professionals who could volunteer their skills to help reduce the burden on the public sector. It would not be very costly to organize their talents to serve the needs of those who have been hurting most in this economic crisis (even at the moment while Wall Street is booming with peak earnings). Unions who fear that this effort will undermine their desire to get more funds out of the cities’ budgets must be challenged by the ethos of community service so that they put the general good over their own mistaken notions of the workers’ best interests. The truth is that the cities simply do not have the funds, and people are hurting, and those who can help should be mobilized to help in all the ways that they can. If we had a decent President, he or she would have already done this along with a campaign to create paid jobs through a Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration such as existed and created millions of jobs during the New Deal. We need a NEW New Deal, and we need it now, and yet that New Deal should not be counterposed to organizing volunteer professionals (including those who are currently employed during the day) to pitch in to help. The 1% can be more effectively challenged when the rest of us are also using our talents in the service of the common good, though in no way should we allow the !% to get off without paying near confiscatory levels of taxes on incomes above $1 million a year or wealth above $20 million.

We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives believe that this is the moment to call for a fundamentally different orientation to government and to social values. We call for “The Caring Society–Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.”  in that simple way we can communicate what it is that the 99% really wants!!!! You don’t have to believe in God or be part of a religion to be a “spiritual progressive.” You just have to agree that we need a New Bottom Line so that productivity, rationality and efficiency are no longer measured only by how much money or power gets accumulated, but also by how much any institution, social practice, corporation, government policy, educational system or even personal behavior tends to increase the amount of  love, caring, kindness, generosity, ethical and eoclogical sensitivity in our world and to enhance our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of all that is! JOIN US. Φ

Michael Lerner is a contributing editor for Tikkun.com

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One Response to “ How About Sending Social Services to Occupy Encampments Instead of Police? ”

  1. Goozle Zone on September 21, 2012 at 3:50 am

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