Is Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin really the Grinch who stole Christmas? If not, she sure is giving the Grinch a run for his bragging rights. Last month, the City of Fresno destroyed more homeless encampments (see: http://fresnoalliance.com/wordpress/?p=4061 ) and on Dec. 15 returned to not only take what little the homeless had left but also actually took stacks of firewood—the only thing they had left to keep themselves warm. That happened 10 days before Christmas!
I was intrigued when I heard City Council member Sal Quintero (on the same day and about at the same time when the attack described above took place) say that he was going to vote for an ordinance banning the homeless from sleeping on sidewalks because he agreed with the tough love message it sends to those who are down and out. District 3 City Council member Oliver Baines yelled at homeless advocates at that meeting because he said the ordinance was actually targeting Occupy Fresno, but that is another story.
Some friends and I started dissecting the “tough love” approach the city has implemented on the homeless, and we came to the conclusion that it explains a lot. One of my friends put it this way: “Actually, I think the right-wing logic goes something like this: To help the poor, the best thing to do is punish them until they are not poor because punishment builds the character they need to be not poor, or in this case homeless. In addition, to give the poor assistance compromises their motivation to change their situation because it creates dependence on other people rather than promoting independence. So if I’m following this logic correctly, destroying the property of the homeless, over and over again, and chasing them all over the streets is the right’s way of trying to help them.”
I think my friend nailed it. The policy makers at the City of Fresno, whether they are articulating it this way or not, believe they are being cruel to be kind. Another friend added: “It’s known as ‘prosperity theology,’ a relatively recent phenomenon in American Christianity. In short, riches are the result of piety; lack of riches stems from lack of faith; so to offer assistance to the poor is to ‘reward’ their lack of faith. Helping them equates to opposing God’s will. While the civil servants in question might not be adherents, they work in an institution led by those who are. Those at the top set the tone or culture of our city government.”
How else can you explain the heartless and cruel policy of taking poor people’s shelters, waking them up in the middle of the night and chasing them off of public sidewalks, and then stealing the last stick of wood they have to keep themselves warm? It makes me ashamed to live in Fresno.
But, what are you going to do about it? That is what I want to know. How about if the progressive community came together and started thinking strategically about how to have more power and influence in Fresno? That is exactly what is going to take place on Jan. 8 at 2 p.m. in a meeting that will take place at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 2672 E. Alluvial Ave. in Clovis. If you want to help build a more effective, powerful and unified movement for social, economic and environmental justice, come to this meeting.
Single issue groups, like the homeless advocates, can fight these injustices one at a time—sometimes we will win and sometimes we will lose. But if we unite with other progressives in this community and figure out a way to build unity and achieve political power, we can stop being on the defensive and reacting to one crisis after another. Join me on Jan. 8, and let’s see if we can move beyond single issue politics in Fresno.
Mike Rhodes is the editor of the Community Alliance newspaper. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.