Bishop Curry referred to us as a “mustard seed movement,” and we are indeed just that—a movement growing from small seeds of love and care for our neighbors, years of survival projects and jail outreach, and a tiny coalition of people from our own organization, tribal members and drummers, health care professionals, people with a wide range of political opinions and backgrounds, and people coming out of homelessness and addiction. Just like Jesus’ little group of poor and struggling people two thousand years ago, we are motivated by love for one another and a conviction that we are called to stand on the side of our neighbors who are increasingly targeted in our community. The leaders who have grown out of our efforts are simply incredible.
I wanted to reflect on some of the highlights, for me, of this event and its aftermath.
1. A group of elders and drummers from Queets and the Quinault nation joined us, to lead us in prayer on this their land, to pray for people experiencing homelessness, and to open our vigil and prayers for our dead on the street. They also gifted the bishops with necklaces and tea. I was so deeply honored to have them with us, so deeply honored to hear from the wisdom of traditions that belong to this land. We were joined by April, who jumpstarted this movement with a powerful vigil for people who were homeless, including her own family, on the streets of Aberdeen. During his remarks, Bishop Curry reflected on her courage, in the face of opposition and harassment, and compared her to Rosa Parks. We are honored to stand with her.
2. After our rally and the bishop’s words, we set up tents in front of city hall and camped out until the morning. We were joined by a young woman who has been part of our movement building for a long time and who is currently homeless. I cried as I listened to her explain why she was joining us and risking arrest: to stand up for her community and her friends and to be part of a larger movement for change.
3. At the head of the group, leading the tour, was one of the young men who had helped us start our cold weather shelter in Westport several years ago. He is now in recovery and becoming a dynamic and powerful leader for change. I spend so much of my time walking through hell with people, and witnessing so much struggle, and it makes my heart sing when people’s struggle for life bears fruit. Chris shared his powerful story recently in the local press and I could not be more proud of him.
4. In the city council meeting following the event, we issued a statement calling on the city to 1) repeal the sidewalk ordinances targeting homeless people, 2) to declare a state of emergency, 3) to prioritize affordable housing in any revitalization plans, and 4) to work to have shelter open by this winter. Two young women from our group delivered the message, asking the city to join us in making this a better place for all of us. While we have received considerable backlash in the local community, we have been able to stay on message and continue to press for change.
5. I have heard from many young people in jail and prison, who were keeping up with this event and who were heartened by the willingness of a few people to take a stand for them and their loved ones on the street. “Do they understand that this is just the beginning of a demand for housing and the rights of oppressed people in our community?” they asked. They sent warm words of encouragement to us, as they struggled on the inside for survival.
6. While conflict is difficult, especially in small communities, this event has forced conversation about the fact that 1 in 16 people in Aberdeen are homeless. Some of this has solidified a terrifying narrative, calling for the city to forcibly remove homeless people or even calling for their death. One poster on facebook said; “Do I realize they are human? Yes. Do I care anymore? Hell no… Bring a bus, ship them out, and for the record, no, nobody should be expected to give them a damn dime or be responsible for rehoming them.” These increasing calls for violence and hate are disturbing in this current crisis, and have in the past led to acts of violence. I have buried more people than I can count, deaths due to poor health care, due to drugs being easier to obtain than food or housing, due to attention violence, due to actual violence. I issued and will continue to issue a call to choose love for one another, to choose the way of love and care for our neighbors. We are in a struggle for life or death, love or hate, in this community. I have been heartened by the number of people who are speaking out in support of their loved ones and their friends on the street and I pray that we are enough to stem the very real threat of further violence and address the very real violence of poor health care, no housing, police violence, and attention violence our people experience on a daily basis.
A mustard seed movement does not grow in a day. We have started and begun a continuation of the Jesus movement and we will continue to fight for each other. Thank you, Bishop Curry, for your encouragement on the steps of Aberdeen city hall. Forward together, not one step back.