Shaking down the poor: The infiltration of a landless people’s movement

by Tony Robles

Homefulness is a poor people-led, landless peoples’ and indigenous peoples’ revolution that has taken root in Oakland. Homefulness can also be called humbleness. It is a sweat-equity model of housing that honors the land that was stolen from our ancestors.

By poor people-defined sweat equity, we refer to a housing model that is not predicated upon one’s wealth but upon one’s art, music, poetry, practical skills and, of course, humility. The idea of Homefulness was conceived by Lisa Gray-Garcia aka Tiny and her mother Dee, a mother and daughter who lived on the streets of Oakland, houseless and in their car, harassed by cops and eventually incarcerated for the sole act of being poor.

The POOR family stands proudly surveying their hard work in 2012, the early days at Homefulness when the garden was the focus. No one had moved in yet, so they came as often as they could, busting up the concrete and asphalt to uncover the rich earth underneath that was soon producing delicious, nutritious edibles. The food was shared with folks in the neighborhood, who were soon participating in Community Newsroom, reporting on their lives and community. Homefulness is a very special place. Instead of anyone trying to destroy it, we should all be replicating it where we are. – Photo: Poor News Network
The POOR family stands proudly surveying their hard work in 2012, the early days at Homefulness when the garden was the focus. No one had moved in yet, so they came as often as they could, busting up the concrete and asphalt to uncover the rich earth underneath that was soon producing delicious, nutritious edibles. The food was shared with folks in the neighborhood, who were soon participating in Community Newsroom, reporting on their lives and community. Homefulness is a very special place. Instead of anyone trying to destroy it, why not replicate it where we are? – Photo: Poor News Network

The reality of Homefulness was carried out by years of multi-rationed work, sweat, art, education and organizing by POOR Magazine and its allies.

POOR Magazine asked permission and consultation from Ohlone First Nation peoples and ancestors as well as many other indigenous nations to bless the land in multiple ceremonies that included folks with deep roots in BlackArthur – a place where the history of African descended elders, youth and families runs deep. There were years of revolutionary community building circles, including peoples from all four corners of Mama Earth and BlackArthur neighbors convened to determine what Homefulness would look like – what it would be.

Meeting after meeting determined the vision of a real poor people-led community garden, Street Newsroom – our media making circle and healthy community feed held every Thursday on 82nd and MacArthur – and the home school at Homefulness called “Deecolonize Academy.” We came correct to the community by asking permission of the ancestors and neighbors before working to make the vision a reality.

As history has shown us with poor people led revolutions and movements of the past, there are those who – either out of envy or jealousy or other motives – will try to undermine a humble revolution. Homefulness has garnered national attention as a template for housing and has roused the curiosity of revolutionaries in other countries.

Homefulness has garnered national attention as a template for housing and has roused the curiosity of revolutionaries in other countries.

We opened our doors at Homefulness to a collaboration with a community member we thought shared our humble vision. This person moved into Homefulness – into a large one-bedroom unit with a bathroom, kitchen and large attic loft. She agreed to collaborate with POOR Magazine as a teacher in Deecolonize Academy.

What started as a good working relationship soon turned into a campaign – complete with bullying – to smear POOR Magazine and Homefulness through rumors and falsehoods spread on social media and by word of mouth. Many vitriol-laced accusations launched by this person towards POOR went so far as to target our revolutionary donors, asserting that POOR does not do the true community work – while asserting that she, of course, does – and does not truly represent the community.

The ironic part about this attack on POOR Magazine is that this person has lived on the Homefulness property for six months without paying her share of utility and maintenance costs as per her residence agreement that she signed. Nor has she performed any of the sweat equity duties that her residence was contingent upon – taking out the refuse, helping with Street Newsroom, cleaning the land etc.

She has lived, essentially, free at Homefulness while at the same time attacking us. We haven’t received so much as a thank you. It begs the question, if Homefulness is such a bad place, then why do you stay?

The personal attacks against POOR Magazine co-founder Tiny ensued, increasing in regularity – including attacks on her character, history and background. These attacks are childish and mean spirited – tinged with language that one might hear on “World Star Hip Hop.”

Other so-called revolutionaries and community people piled on, inserting themselves into the dispute although they never helped in the process of making Homefulness a reality. They didn’t break the concrete, push the wheelbarrow, dig the soil etc. Yet, they joined the attack on Tiny and the integrity of POOR Magazine and Homefulness.

They didn’t break the concrete, push the wheelbarrow, dig the soil etc. Yet, they joined the attack on Tiny and the integrity of POOR Magazine and Homefulness.

Much talk and gossip has taken place, proving that the tongue can be a devastating weapon, because it plants seeds meant – not to feed – but to destroy and cause turmoil. Advocates and so-called community activists have ganged up on Homefulness. This ganging up and bullying has turned into a frenzy of ridiculous proportions – a swarming of the overly politically correct who tend to be self-righteous and outright obnoxious, steeped in much theory but lacking when it comes to interpersonal and practical matters.

These folks get a little taste of consciousness and then move about as if they own the whole movement – alienating those, and, at worst, bullying those who move in a humble way if they don’t tow their line – in order to feed their lisping egos that require much feeding. Ironically, many of these folks come to POOR Magazine, oftentimes at the last minute, asking us to provide media coverage to their actions and events and otherwise. What better way to silence a revolution.

In spite of this person’s refusal to leave Homefulness and the fact that she has broken the extensive and revolutionary “People’s Agreement” outlining the stipulations of her residence at Homefulness, we, as a poor people-led organization, will continue to do the work that we do, that is, making media – reporting and supporting those in struggle, making revolutionary access available for silenced voices, providing revolutionary advocacy for fellow folks in struggle trying to survive, creating cultural art and street based education. We will continue to live the revolution by any means necessary.

At Homefulness, we, as a poor people-led organization, will continue to do the work that we do, that is, making media – reporting and supporting those in struggle, making revolutionary access available for silenced voices, providing revolutionary advocacy for fellow folks in struggle trying to survive, creating cultural art and street based education. We will continue to live the revolution by any means necessary.

We can’t control rumors and lies that are craftily posted on social media and disseminated by other means. This manipulation is rooted in envy, jealousy and distortion of the truth. It has no place in our humble revolution known as Homefulness.

Tony Robles is co-editor of POOR Magazine and board president of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation (www.manilatown.org). He is following in the footsteps of his uncle, Al Robles, Manilatown elder, poet, historian and major figure who fought in the anti-eviction struggle for the International Hotel and was instrumental in the subsequent rebuilding of the hotel 30 years later. Al Robles was a board member of POOR Magazine until his death in 2009, and POOR honors him as an elder ancestor through our work and our Al Robles Living Library Project. Tony can be reached via http://www.poormagazine.org/contact.