I am really enjoying being here tonight with all of you -- but I feel a little like I'm preaching to the choir. I really doubt that anyone here would lift a knife to kill David Ballenger, as three teenagers did on August 9th, or as a 14-year old did against David Paul Ogden in March. I don't believe that anyone in this room would set a homeless immigrant on fire, as two children did in May 1997.
But children learn their behavior from somewhere. Where have Seattle's children learned that the lives of homeless people are worthless? Where have they learned to fear, hate, and ultimately attack human beings who just look like they're homeless?
In a City Council hearing on the Park Exclusion law last year, City Attorney Mark Sidran stood up and said, "I hear complaints that most of the tickets given out in the parks are to homeless people. Well, what you have to ask yourself is, who's responsible for most of the criminal behavior?"
The day before last Thanksgiving, Seattle experienced a terrifying tragedy when a passenger with a gun shot and killed a bus driver, then himself. The bus plummeted off the Aurora bridge. On the basis of a comment that the gunman had been seen at the Union Gospel Mission, the media began printing that this horror was committed by a homeless man. The man, it turned out, was not homeless. The corrections, however, weren't nearly as dramatic as the original rumor was.
When Seattle's own City Attorney portrays homeless people as criminals and annoyances that the rest of Seattle has to be protected from; when the media is quick to seize on sensationalist stories scapegoating the homeless, do we really have the right to be surprised when our children act on the images we've given them? When other people act on what they are told?
In City Council just this Monday a unanimous vote authorized spending public moneys urgently needed to keep human beings from death this winter, on the implementation of a computerized tracking system to make sure that the bureaucracy knows where everybody is and what services they're getting because the people in need and the wonderful, dedicated people who are helping them *cannot be trusted to know what is actually needed.*
I work with WHEEL, an organizing effort of homeless and formerly homeless women, and WHEEL has charged me with a message to you here tonight. Making human beings into numbers to be controlled and regimented is a violation, and whenever that violation occurs violence follows. If the government of Seattle dehumanizes people, they are responsible for the results. The results are hatred and death.
I don't really want anybody to feel sorry for homeless people. If I had a nickel for everybody I've heard feel sorry for homeless people, I could house *everybody*. I'd be just as glad if you got really hot to look out after yourselves. Because hatred and violence are wolves that grow when they're fed. If we allow an environment where *anybody* is in danger of hate violence, then ultimately *everybody* is in danger. If we allow a bureaucracy to tag and regiment the weakest portion of our population, it *will* grow from there.
"First they came for the homeless people, but I was not a homeless person, so I said nothing ..."
What can you do? With every bigotry, you can stand up against it in your own daily life. When ever you hear comments of hate and scapegoating against blacks, gays, women, homeless people or anyone, speak out for the truth.
Act in your daily life. Don't walk past homeless people as if they're invisible. Look at them, talk to them, include them in community activities. Find a way to include homeless and low-income people in your neighborhood -- wherever you live, there *are* homeless and low-income people in your neighborhood -- include them in your church committees, neighborhood councils, Block Watch.
Insist that your City government treat every citizen the same. If low-income people are going to get their benefits tracked, the Nordstroms and Paul Allen deserve the same care. Sports fans and concert-goers can get public facilities -- with an equal amount spent on keeping low-income people alive.
I am also currently working with a coalition of groups which has no formal name, so I am calling us "Sweepless in Seattle." We received a letter from the Mayor just today guaranteeing that there will be no homeless sweeps during WTO. But the Mayor himself has frequently said that he cannot do everything -- he needs public participation. I am asking everyone here to help our Mayor to insure that homeless people in Seattle will not be harassed during WTO -- or any other time.
Be an activist. That word gets a bad rep, but to me it just means taking action on a problem instead of only complaining about it. While we're talking about words, "responsibility" has been analyzed as "ability to respond". Take responsibility for your community. Let's make Seattle a self-managed city.