Utopian World Championship

How to Fight Back -- ORGANIZE!

By Chance Martin

Competition year: 2001
Place: 11
About Chance Martin

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Across the United States, there are few homeless men, women and children who don't have to live in fear of being criminalized for their poverty. Cities are legislating homelessness under the pretense of "revitalizing neighborhoods." Local governments are promoting a national trend of scapegoating homeless and poor people instead of providing permanent exits from homelessness and poverty, such as truly affordable housing, a living wage, quality health services, and access to education.

Our government, it seems, finds it far easier to offer homeless people temporary charity -- shelters, soup kitchens, etc. -- instead of justice.

We can only reverse this trend by actively involving and organizing in collaboration with homeless people in the fight to end the criminalization of homelessness and to create permanent solutions to poverty. An organizing model needs to be developed which effectively fights against police abuse, discrimination, violations of people’s privacy rights, and other systemic abuses. At the same time, proactive policy changes can prevent these attacks against homeless people from occurring.

We maintain that a just society requires little charity.

Organizing for change
The struggle to end these civil rights violations against homeless people (and the system that creates this unjustness) begins in the streets, camps, shelters, single room occupancy hotels, transitional housing units, and abandoned buildings. Those most affected by this institutionalized injustice need to play a leading role in identifying these problems and developing solutions. Organizing homeless people requires creating ways in which they can voice their concerns and hear their issues articulated and reflected in the work of ending homelessness.

Effective organizing models need to be developed which uniquely suit the communities they serve. The homeless population is often transient, living in crisis, and, -- because of their historical relationships with poverty institutions -- distrustful. Thus, when organizing with homeless people, the models we employ need to address these immediate needs and provide the necessary support to maintain our ongoing participation in creating long-term solutions.

In organizing to fight the civil rights abuses of homeless people, we must create many avenues and levels through which poor and homeless people can impact public policy, programs and legal strategy development. This organizing begins with extensive peer-based outreach, so that the input gathered directly from homeless people drives the work agenda. This outreach has four main purposes:

1) to educate poor and homeless people on their rights;
2) to record civil rights abuses, including police interaction with homeless people, through written and video documentation;
3) to provide information on opportunities to get involved with the work and create change; and
4) to gather ideas, insight and opinions on solutions to poverty and homelessness.


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