Monday, July 02, 2012

30 DAYS, so far.... Former Runnerup for Mayor Cameron Whitten on Hunger Strike*

[Edit: I am now offering a personal call to arms to anyone in the Portland area, homeless or not, to join us in our solidarity. If you yourself do not live in Portland, but know of those who do, spread this message and tell them to bring those who are down and out and disenfranchised to us. This is OUR public property. Our tax dollars support the agenda of city hall. Tell everyone you know who is homeless in the area of Portland to come to our relief camp, where we will have food, shelter, and companionship for those who truly need it. Tell your friends. Spread this around. Let us do our best to make these council men understand that thousands of people in Portland need homes, and that for every 20 empty houses there is one homeless individual. This problem could very easily be solved, and it is testament to human greed and stupidity that it has not been. TELL YOUR FRIENDS. THIS IS OUR PUBLIC PROPERTY, WE HAVE A VOICE.]


"Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light."- Dylan Thomas.

 Speaking with former candidate Cameron Whitten is a humbling experience. He is soft spoken, but lucid, and shows surprising insight for his age. Quick witted and fluent in answering all of my questions, his eyes are dark and piercing. He wears the look of a pugilist in his last few rounds with a formidable adversary. He is now on day 30 of a hunger strike to help raise support for lifting a ban on the use of tents for homeless in Portland to use in inhabiting the city.

"THIS STRIKE is to increase awareness towards the need for decent housing for the poor, the dispossessed, and the entire working class", Cameron says. He has indicated to me that his strike is not exclusively a product of the Occupy Wall Street movement: he views it as its own thing, outside of Occupy, although many activists from Occupy Wall Street inluding himself are present for the vigil.

"I'm really trying to bridge the gap here and find the common ground between the people and Occupy, on the one hand, and the governing institutions on the other. This strike is about utilizing my ability to petition our leaders directly."
 

Whitten, pictured above

Whitten is 21, certainly a young age to have already made a serious attempt at election for Mayor of Portland. He sports a black "Suicidal Tendencies" baseball cap, which makes me hope that it isn't a highly unsettling bit of foreshadowing. A high school honors graduate and registered student of Portland Community University, calm yet assertive, Cameron seems to be alert and on the top of his game. The mood is not just a bit solemn, for many of us know that Cameron has gone a month without food now and could be close to physical and emotional collapse. Even so, he is undaunted, stating simply: "I am doing this to work for a change in how our City Council handles the issues of housing for the poor, the disposessed, and the middle class, post recession."


Whitten has mentioned that although he remains a friend of the Occupy movement, there have been times in which internal schisms within the camps have surfaced regarding the use of protesting space for the homeless to camp and to live in.

"Some people within occupy have been intolerant towards homeless occupants of our public demonstration areas, and I think that in this way the behavior of these individuals has become reminiscent of our own political opposition", he confided. (He's told me he thinks the single biggest opposition against the movement itself, ironically, has come from within its own ranks. Schisms, mostly ego based, and paid disruptors are what he views as being the primary obstacles the Occupy Movement has had to overcome.)

He has been, and remains, however, an adamant supporter of OWS.

"Occupy was my entry point into politics. It was the deciding factor in my running for mayor. I personally have been attacked twice by two people, both incidents isolated and within an hour of each other. This was by people that no one in our camp had ever seen before or since. I've been harassed and unconstitutionally jailed by the police, and also beaten by them. They broke my laptop and they shoved me into a police horse. They beat the fuck out of me there in the streets with batons. They arrested me at a demonstration in 'The World's Smallest Park' here in Portland, just for being there." 

In spite of this, Whitten has persisted. He has spoken directly with all of the members of city council. He has made it clear that he will not go away until new implementations of housing projects are put into place by the city. This entails the construction of a transitional housing site to be run by a non-profit agency called "Right To Dream Too", a move which has been so far opposed by certain council members with zoning fines and restrictive politics. The issue remains an ongoing battle within city hall.

" 'Right To Dream' is a non profit, and they want to build a community shelter for those who need to stay, tax free. The tax payers wouldn't pay anything for this", said Whitten.

Councilman and Housing Commissioner Nick Fish, on the other hand, has seen it fit to establish a Mega-Shelter by spending 47 million of the taxpayers' dollars, housing only 130 people. The agenda seems clear: Monopolization over housing projects for the homeless and siphoning the money of the middle class. Beyond this, Fish has denied local families the right to sleep in church parking lots or other public areas in tents, effectively criminalizing homelessness.

As a representative of mortage and construction corporations, the goals of Nick Fish run directly contrary to the interests of thousands of disposessed, impoverished or needy individuals. One can infer, logically, that the interests of Fish are in criminalizing and locking up families who lack housing, taking tax dollars for building insufficient and shoddy transitional housing facilities, and securing the land for the financial interests he represents.

Fish justifies opposing the right of indigent people to live freely and secure from legal oppression by stating that he is "afraid the homeless will become dependent upon tents as temporary solutions to permanent problems", yet he took tax payers' money to build his own center and blocked the non-profit, economically efficient "Right To Dream Too" foundation.

"He's a carpetbagger, and a swine," one man told me. "Nothing more than a puppet. That bastard represents his corporate interests, his agenda."

Beyond securing the ability for "Right To Dream Too" to build its nonprofits, Whitten's general goal is to raise awareness on the issue of housing rights. Tonight, he plans to speak publicly to the crowd that will be attending a candle light vigil for the work that he has set in motion. Many more attendants are expected to arrive. He is undecided as to when he will choose to eat again. He's said that it will hinge upon how seriously the city council of Portland is taking this issue.

Whether or not Whitten meets the goal, one of the most positive things to come from the strike is its sense of generous solidarity and community, which consists primarily of the terminally impoverished and dispossessed. An older, gentle mystic I spoke with named Body who is staying for the entire vigil told me "I've had conversations about Christ Consciousness, love, housing rights for the poor and social justice. This closely aligns with REAL Christianity and its tenets, before it was corrupted. If there were a real Jesus, he never belonged to the greedy landrapers. I think he would be here."


Rusty with city hall occupants

And why not? The scene today has attracted everyone from Asian business men to flaming drag queen queers in pink spandex, blaring Beatles tunes through old boomboxes and gruffly barking their lyrics through megaphones. The general vibe, however, remains pensive and contemplative. This tribute to Whitten pertains to politics, but it is certainly not limited to politics. The people here care about one another: food and drinks are shared freely, and the genuinely needy receive the human compassion, basic provisions, and the love that they need. Perhaps more importantly, they find their strength in numbers.

Cameron remains strong, but the solemnity of the gathering is not diminished by his casual humor or smiles. They can tell he is suffering and has already gone through hell. He remains unswayed, offhandedly remarking that he looks "like a rock star on a year long coke bender."

"It's been a million buck week," he laughs. "I feel like a million dollars."

Leaflets passed through the crowd sum up the entire message of the demonstration with a single, profoundly simple aphorism: "Living is a basic human right."

Indeed. And when sleeping on the streets with adequate provisions is illegal, it is illegal to live and to be homeless. When and where was it decided that the pursuit of happiness, essential human liberty, or even the right to live was to be secured only for and by the private sector or corporate interests? And how long will this madness continue?


"Capitalism has made it this way, old fashioned fascism will take it away."

The myth of capitalism, the "get in quick, win big, and get out before you lose your ass" pyramid marketing scheme of our planetary work machine has left us all terminally crippled. It was a lie to begin with, it never served the most of us, and after years of ignoring its failure to work for us we are now finally paying the price: The immanent collapse of the American Empire.

This is not a new phenomenon historically, although it has reached a crescendo. Many now believe that it will herald the downfall of the society we have come to love for its depraved luxuries and complacent familiarity. The history of our nation is full of such examples of human greed and stupidity. It is the sort of hubris that makes me think it is through dumb luck that we have even survived as a nation for the comparitively brief time we've spent on top of the shit heap. As William Burroughs once posited, "America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil was there waiting."

How long? And how many more people are going to have to starve to death in the streets before we see the change we have been waiting for?

I, for one, certainly hope that it does not take a Cameron Whitten in every major metropolitan area starving to death publicly to end it, once and for all.


*On a personal note, after tonight, I am now officially homeless. So this may be my last piece for Modern Mythology, at least for a long time. I hope you have enjoyed it. Love yourself, love your life, love people. Do something beautiful, make the bastards pay. Good night, and good luck.





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