Shopping Cart Brigade protests - a useful "symbolic" tactic?

Tom Boland (
Thu, 17 Jun 1999 20:56:56 -0700 (PDT)

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I invite folks to brainstorm on the creative use of shopping carts in protests.

For a related article, see below:
FWD  Los Angeles Times - Saturday, June 12, 1999


     By Caitlin Liu, Times Staff Writer

Behold the shopping cart, the humble receptacle of convenience for
your average supermarket customer.

But for a homeless person like Margaret Laverne Mitchell, the woman
killed by an LAPD officer during a confrontation as she pushed her cart,
the wiry, modern-day beast of burden is really a system of life support.

Pushing shopping carts for several miles across Los Angeles on Friday
as their rallying symbol, a group of homeless people and advocates called
on the government to adopt a national plan to take better care of the
homeless in their midst.

"Homeless people, like Margaret Mitchell, are victims of a policy we
call status cleansing," said Ted Hayes, a homeless advocate and president
of Justiceville/Homeless, USA, which organized the shopping cart brigade.

Police say that officers had stopped to question Mitchell about
whether the shopping cart she was pushing had been stolen. They contend
that the officer fired when she tried to attack him with a screwdriver.

Rather than blaming the officer, Hayes said, society should
investigate the selective enforcement of laws against homeless people and
the social service agencies failing them.

Criminalizing the actions of the homeless--such as taking shopping
carts--is not a solution to a social crisis, participants said. They
called on city, state and federal officials to find out why Mitchell, who
was mentally ill, could not get help and had to live out of a shopping
cart in the first place.

Shortly before noon, the fleet of 17 shopping carts moved out. From
the steps of the federal courthouse, about 20 people--eight of whom were
really homeless--either pushed or tagged along in a procession that
snaked across town to the corner of 4th Street and La Brea Avenue, where
Mitchell was killed.

Some carts were loaded with blankets and aluminum cans to symbolize a
homeless person's struggle, but others contained genuine personal
belongings. Many carried American flags as a reminder that homeless
people have inalienable civil rights. The vehicles had been collected
from the Hancock Park neighborhood where Mitchell once hung out,
organizers said.

As the protesters rolled by--sometimes in single file, sometimes in
groups of two or three when the sidewalk was wide enough--drivers and
pedestrians paused to watch.

"Look! Look! What's happening?" Cecilia Castro said in Spanish from
her jewelry sales and repair stand on Broadway, to her husband Juan, who
was huddled over his work table.

Juan put aside a small blowtorch, turned and lifted his safety

The couple concluded that a movie was being filmed and went back to


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