[Hpn] WARNING: Wes Browning on Land, Power & Homeless Camps in Seattle WA
Tue, 30 Jan 2001 00:05:20 -0800 (PST)
By popular demand (Tom asked for it), here is my column before last on
the subject of power.
Adventures in Poetry (from Real Change, Jan 11, 2001)
by Wes Browning <email@example.com>
Real Change News
2129 2nd Ave. Seattle, WA 98121
Tel: 206.441.3247 Email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is going to be one of the most diffuse, scattered
columns I have ever written. I'm dealing with a
concept I don't understand, because I've never had
much concrete experience with it. I'm dealing with
the concept of power.
So, Tonto, you'd like to make some changes around
here, would you? Getting bored with all the picket
fences? Want to break out and grow tomatoes, yams,
and strawberries in the parking strip, do you, Tonto?
Want to raise goats? Want to be the one who wears
the mask instead of the one who has to talk to it?
Well, get in line, take an application form, and
get ready to fill it out, and we'll get back to
you in six months if we feel like it.
Sometimes when I get bored I like to multiply and
divide numbers to see how big or little things are.
Like the other day, when nothing was on the TV except
Jerry Springer and infomercials for the Psychic
Hotline, I got to wondering how big this country
I mean, everyone knows the U.S. is 3,615,211 or
so square miles, but what is that in square dog
feet? I still don't know, but I found out another
cool fact. I found out that if you divide that by
the number of people they say we have, and if you
know there are 640 acres in a square mile, you get
more than eight acres.
Not having grown up on a farm, I immediately converted
that answer to football fields, and got almost eight.
The U.S. is so big that if you divided it up equally
among all its adults and children, everyone would
get almost eight football fields worth.
That tells me two things. First, that this country
is a lot more crowded than it was in 1864. Back
then General Sherman thought there was so much spare
space that the freed slaves could all be given 38.72
football fields and a mule and nobody would hardly
have to move over to make room. (The trick was to
give them land covered with sand that nobody else
wanted, and then take it back when nothing grew
The other thing it tells me is that the problem
of homelessness is not that we've run out of places
to put people.
No, it comes down to the same thing it came down
to in 1864. Power.
People who have power saying that people who don't
have power shouldn't be allowed it; it would upset
the whole Natural Order of the Universe.
"You can't allow freed slaves to have land." "They
never had any land before, they wouldn't know what
to do with it." "How can people who only know how
to steal chickens raise them?" "It wouldn't look
right, have you seen the houses they live in? They're
positively eyesores!" "Next thing is, they'll be
wanting their children to be able to go to normal
Et cetera. Every possible excuse except the one
that gets to the point: "If you give them power,
it's less power for me."
Let's see how this works on a smaller scale.
At first glance you would think that if El Centro
de la Raza said that 100 or so homeless people could
pitch tents on their land until Jan 16, 2001, that'd
be the end of it, wouldn't it?
You'd be right, if El Centro de la Raza had the
right to say what happens on El Centro de la Raza
land. But in reality, nobody has the right to say
what happens on their own land, because power isn't
distributed that way.
Go ahead, try painting your house neon mauve, and
see what happens.
Or try growing bamboo in your front yard. Or kudzu.
That would be interesting, wouldn't it?
Interesting, but not within your power, Tonto. Your
Neighborhood Association has some interesting ideas
of its own, as does the Department of Construction
and Land Use. Their interesting ideas usually involve
something called Don't Rock the Boat.
Now if you'd just come in the middle of the night
and put up something appealing, like a monolith
reminiscent of the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick's
"2001, a Space Odyssey," that would be different.
That would be art, and this is a forward-looking,
artistically sensitive community, which cares about
not looking like a bunch of Philistines to the Rest
of the World.
What does the Rest of the World have to do with
it? Well, they have the power, not us. Didn't you
know that, Tonto?