The Unexpected Miracle, The Miracle in Peril

Last night, a desperate call was put into the Mayor’s Kenney’s office.

“There is something important happening at the camp. Something no one expected, and something the Mayor needs to understand. The unhoused activists, they are starting to blossom and thrive. There is something about what they are doing there that is helping them in ways no one predicted…”

The Occupy ICE PHL encampment began as a non-violent civil disobedience action intended to protest ICE. It’s first incarnation was set up outside the ICE administrative building in Philadelphia, and was staffed mostly by the more traditional activist groups. After the camp was forcibly dismantled by the police, it resettled outside City Hall where it worked to pressure Mayor Kenney to end the city’s participation in the PARS system.

It was at this new location that the demographics of the camp began to shift. The camp began to welcome anyone willing to respect the community and also worked to feed anyone who came to the camp. This began to attract a number of the unhoused from around the city. As the camp progressed through its next 3 weeks of sustained protest, many of the more traditional protesters began to be pulled away due to duties to work, families, school, etc. As a result, the unhoused community members who had been drawn to the camp began to step up into the leadership roles to maintain the movement. It was after this change that the miracle began to manifest.

Lives began to change while in the camp. A number of reports began to emerge of how many of the unhoused, who had been initially showing signs of mental illness, behavioral outbursts, and substance abuse, started to improve. People who started off as being disruptive started taking up roles to support the community, substance use reduced, and some people began to come out of their shells in beautiful ways.

“See that guy over there?” the activist manning the kitchen pointed, “When he first came to the camp he did not speak. He just sat there for a few days. And then one morning he picked up the guitar and sang us a song he composed on his own as gift for the camp.”

People are inherently social creatures. We all need to be part of something bigger. When we can’t be contributing members to the larger society, we feel a unique stress known as “Role Strain,” which can take a traumatic toll on a person’s psyche and self-esteem. The impact of the role strain can often result in depression, aggressive behaviors, substance abuse, and in severe cases, the stress can trigger psychosis. It has been well established that homelessness can actually cause or aggravate mental illness. Most of the explanations given for this focus on the stresses that occur when you face the threat of death every day due to lack of food, shelter, medical care, and the threat of violence. But what we are seeing at the camp is that there is another factor that most analysis has missed. The unhoused are also severely stressed due to the role strain of not being able to be a contributing part of society.

The miracle that occurred at the camp happened because the unhoused were not just given food and a safer place to sleep, but a chance to give back as well. By welcoming them into the leadership and giving them a chance to participate in a cause, they were no longer just charity recipients but full partners in a larger community. This is important because it reveals an important unseen social need that gets lost as people focus on only filling the more apparent physical needs.

At the time of the writing of this article the city has started to move in to dismantle the camp. The city claimed that they were going to send in housing and mental health workers to help the unhoused as part of this action. The reason for last night’s desperate call was an attempt to try to get Mayor Kenney to see that those services are not enough. Just taking care of the physical needs will not be enough, and looking at the individual component of the mental health still neglects what we have seen about this need for the larger social connection. Taking away that camp without a plan to provide some other way for the unhoused to contribute to a larger cause is stealing from these activists an important source of psychological sustenance that we are now learning to be just as important as any other physical need.

 

Occupy ICE Philadelphia – Week 1 7/2/18-7/8/18

On Monday, July 2nd, 2018, Occupy ICE PHL began their first week of non-violent civil disobedience. Joining in a mass action that has sprung up from New York to Portland, the brave activists set up a camp outside the ICE building in Philadelphia in opposition to ICE and its human rights violating policies. The camp was set up on Monday, and was met with threats from DHS, ICE, and Philly PD.

36534433_2031170423591552_8885604603127660544_n
(Image courtesy of Philly Socialists)

The next day, support started to come in from all over the state in the form of people joining in, material resources, and donated funds. On Tuesday, the non-violent activists remained despite intimidation, and the camp was raided, with DHS, ICE, and Philly PD damaging personal property, injuring activists, and arresting about 2 dozen. All those arrested were released that day, and the encampment showed it would persist.

Wednesday was July 4th, and the non-violent activists at the Occupy ICE PHL camp truly embodied the spirit behind Independence Day. We have all been told that this day was the commemoration of our nation’s birth, born out of the spirit of protest, dedicated to opposing tyranny, with the goal of building a nation where all people are equal and free. Occupy ICE PHL came together in belief in those ideals and the recognition that we are still far from realizing them. They joined together on this day in fellowship to continue to push forward the changes to make the unmet ideals of this day a reality.

On Thursday, Occupy ICE PHL met their hardest day to date in their non-violent civil disobedience action. They announced a press conference for 3:00 pm. As the time for the press conference approached, Philly PD started to try to find reasons to give warnings based on where supplies were placed and activists were standing. Legal observers on site worked to help the activists respond. When the Occupy ICE PHL was within their legal rights, those rights were reinforced, and when the cited issues were justified, the activists complied quickly. At approximately 1:15 pm, DHS, ICE, and Philly PD moved in to the camp to break it up, destroying property, and violently arresting activists. Occupy ICE PHL still persisted, the arrested activists were quickly released, and the press conference happened as planned.

On Friday, Occupy ICE PHL moved their non-violent disobedience action to City Hall itself, where it currently stands. Despite some agitators trying to test the activists, they were able to grow the camp without incident. Support continues to come in for those who wish to participate, and a children’s area has even been established to support parents who come down to participate in the non-violent civil disobedience.

But as this camp grows, help is still very much needed.

How you can help:

1) Show up to City Hall and join the occupation. The more people present at this non-violent civil disobedience action, the safer everyone is. If you have any sway with the larger protest groups that worked the #womensmarch, #marchforourlives, #endfamilyseparation, #sciencemarch, etc., please get them to use their platforms to get more people to grow this camp and make more noise. If you can pull thousands in and fill the area, that will make the impact we need.

2) Bring supplies to help the occupiers. Their needs list can be found in the event description here: https://www.facebook.com/events/215509789282139/

3) If you can’t bring the physical goods, Occupy ICE PHL is also accepting donations via Venmo at the ID of @bird-poet

4) When you go, bring your phones and prepare to take videos. Philly We Rise has been trying to put together a civilian journalism corps, and they can help you coordinate your efforts to document the occupation. https://www.facebook.com/phillywerise/ If you do this, please respect any requests for anonymity among the activists. If the police move in while you are there, and you record acts of police brutality, rather than post it on social media, please go to the legal observer present among the activists, or get the video to the Up Against the Law legal collective https://www.facebook.com/UpAgainstTheLaw

5) Call Mayor Kenny (215-686-2181) and hold him to his pledges to make Philadelphia a sanctuary city. Specifically request for him to end the city’s cooperation with the PARS system and not renew the city’s contract with ICE when it expires next month on 8/31/18. He claims to oppose ICE. He claims that he supports the protesters. But right now these are just words, and we need him to follow them up with real solid action.

#ShutDownBerks
#OccupyICEPHL
#OccupyICE
#EndPARS
#AbolishICE