Black, Brown, Indigenous and poor people lead Tour of Stolen Land and Hoarded Wealth in Eastern Turtle Island
by Lisa Tiny Gray-Garcia
“We are stopping you because some of the residents feel like they were targeted because you didn’t go to their doors, so they called the police.” The Connecticut police officers flanked our rental van at a stoplight in the wealth-hoarding neighborhood known as West Hartford, Conn., filled with acre-long lawns and plantation-like mansions and more stolen land than the wealth-hoarders even know what to do with.
As the kkkops circled the van, all of us Black, Brown, unhoused, formerly unhoused and always criminalized youth and elders seized up in an admixture of terror and anger. Visions of Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin filled our traumatized brains. We tried to stay cool.
It was the last of an extremely hard, long and powerful Stolen Land Hoarded Resources Tour through Eastern Turtle Island. “You mean we should have knocked on more rich people’s doors?” we all said incredulously. This was a new one. The poor little rich people felt targeted. Wow, we’re sorry.
Originally launched last year on (Mama) Earth Day 2016 in the stolen village of Yelamu, Ohlone Land, aka the Pacific Heights and Nob Hill areas of San Francisco, two neighborhoods with a concentration of extreme wealth hoarders (millionaires and billionaires), each tour consists of a group of us Black, Brown Indigenous, disabled and homeless youth and adults from POOR Magazine, Sogorea Te Land Trust, Krip Hop Nation and Deecolonize Academy knocking on doors in “rich” neighborhoods to share the medicine of redistribution and community reparations with the residents who live there.
At every door we knock on, we present the Proposal for Healing Reparations and Redistribution, which includes beginning a dialogue on redistribution of stolen and hoarded wealth and/or attending a Decolonization-Degentrification Seminar at PeopleSkool, and/or manifesting redistribution and reparations to the launching of more Homefulness and Sogorea Te land trusts, two poor and Indigenous people’s models of self-determined solutions to land use, homelessness, poverty and gentrification made possible because of redistributed wealth and resources.
“Hello, we are representing Black, Brown, First Nations and homeless peoples on a Stolen Land Hoarded Resources Tour to share the medicine of redistribution and community reparations.” Aunti Frances Moore, Black Panther, founder of the Self-help Hunger Program of North Oakland and houseless poverty scholar with POOR Magazine and Homefulness, spoke into the security intercom on 745 Park Ave., the first tour stop of the first tour in Lenape Lands of Eastern Turtle Island aka Manhattan.
“I’m sorry you can’t come in. You need to step away from the front of the building,” was the response. Cloaked in old school butler gear, replete with white gloves, little hat and gold buttons, the gatekeepers of the extreme wealth-hoarders stopped us at every door to the billion dollar condominium high-rises that line the Upper East side of Manhattan aka stolen Lenape Territory.
One after the other, some of them literally ran from the front door and hid behind the grating or locked the internal locks or just boldly came out with attitude and told us, “No, you won’t be able to distribute your Proposal for Healing Reparations and Redistribution to my ‘residents’” and no we couldn’t come in the building. Our only highlights on this gut-wrenching first tour was our encountering the occasional door-person of color or domestic worker who would answer the door and smile at the concept and promise to distribute our material to their bosses, supervisors or residents.
“This kind of wealth hoarding was and is only possible because they stole our Indigenous peoples’ territory, in this case the Lenape people, to name one of the nations,” said Corrina Gould to one of the videographers who were filming our tour. Ohlone First Nations land liberator with the Sogorea Te Land Trust, Corrina joined us on the first leg of the tour in NYC.
“I can’t go on. It’s too much.” Aunti Frances stopped an hour and half in and began to break down. It was too much hate, disdain, disrespect and triggers for those of us who are already racially profiled, hated, walked by, silenced, whose bodies are already criminalized, whose struggles, already used and abused for profit, to be studied, incarcerated, tested and arrested but never compensated, never reparated. Whose ancestors’ bodies were used, chained, beaten and discarded so this project called America could be built. This was a journey into our internal and external oppression which we walked into eyes wide open and yet we had landed smack dab into the pit of our ancestral trauma.
And then, thanks to Creator, there are always Halal beef hot dogs.
As us broken, unhoused and criminalized peoples stood huddled together in front of Central Park, munching our comfort street food, trying to shake off the multiple triggers, we watched fellow poverty, migrant and colonized border scholars rush around walking the children, animals and elders of the neighborhood’s extreme wealth hoarders. One by one, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Columbian, Bangladeshi, Mexican and African women and men led leashes and strollers and walkers, so that the parents, adult children and pet owners didn’t have to.
Yet year after year our housing, our wages and our lives remain unimportant, unimportant except in terms of how much work, profit or rent we provide to the wealth-hoarders or land-stealers. This is why we tour.
Community reparations are real: Homefulness in Philadelphia!
As poor, unhoused, bordered, colonized and disabled people we have all dealt personally with the lie of hellfare (welfare) crumbs, not really affordable housing, houselessness, eviction and incarceration. Everything we teach is what we live, lived through, or barely survived.
It is why we conceived, launched and are slowly manifesting Homefulness in Deep East Huchuin (Oakland). It is also why we launched the tours. The concept of community reparations – not be confused with African people’s or Japanese people’s reparations – is rooted in interdependence, the very thing they teach out of humans in Amerikkklan.
And it is what we have taught some conscious young folks who then acted to redistribute their stolen, hoarded and/or inherited wealth to us poor folks to manifest a homeless people’s solution to homelessness. This is not a pipe dream or a good idea – we are currently doing it; and so, as poverty skolaz from the struggle, we are also dedicated to sharing this medicine, this idea and this manifestation with as many poor folks as we can.
In almost every city we visit, we have a young person read their own statement of reparations. It is why we tour.
“Making reparations as a white, class-privileged person was scary, but it was not hard. Once I was on the phone with Fidelity Mutual getting that $50,000 out of the bank, it was easy, and it never got hard. As they say, ‘The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.’ Every time I have given money away, I have turned around to have more money appear.” This is an excerpt from a statement read by Lizzie on Park Avenue during the Stolen Land Hoarded Resources Tour through Lenape Territory.
It continues: “POOR Magazine’s PeopleSkool has taught me to think long-term, to live as a spiritually whole person and recognize how capitalism destroys my humanity by making me forget all the poor, Indigenous people whose backs wealth is built on. As a person with privilege, it can definitely be easier to forget. But remembering is the commitment, the recognition that is reparations. When I remember whose land this is, when I remember whose backs this is built on, that is the more painful seeing and remembering that is my spiritual obligation. Reparations is the material manifestation of recognizing that I only earned this ease, this way of moving through the world, this option to forget, on the backs of others I may never meet.”
Trump and Ben Carson’s plan to destroy HUD
“They are proposing $6 billion in cuts to HUD’s budget. This will mean all of New York’s public housing will either be demolished or privatized,” said Louie from Picture the Homeless, which, like POOR Magazine, is a poor and homeless people-led organization that also co-sponsored the NYC tour and sat down with me and Leroy Moore in their Harlem offices the next day.
Louie went on to describe the exact same situation that already hit San Francisco in 2013 – reported on exclusively by POOR Magazine and the Bay View newspaper. This while thousands of dollars get funneled into the hands of non-profit and for-profit developers to manage our meager bits of truly affordable housing, that is increasingly hard to even obtain because the housing developers, both non-profit and for-profit, make the application and credit check process impossibly hard and rigorous.
Many of those whose long-time poor people housing is demolished take “pay-out,” a useless Section 8 voucher that most landlords won’t accept and that is also on the Trump-HUD chopping block. This is another reason we tour.
Shinnecock Territory aka The Hamptons
“Bring us back our stolen land. Bring us back our stolen land.” In Shinnecock Territory, we linked up with Ahna Red Fox and Cholena Smith from the Shinnecock Nation, the first peoples of that land, whose reservation sits on the shore alongside some of the most extreme wealth-hoarders in the U.S., whose homes are valued in the multi-millions and even billions and who not only hoard blood-stained dollars but way more homes, Indigenous land and possessions than they or their families could ever need. This is why we tour.
“Most of the members of our nation are living below the poverty line and yet our people were the first people of this land and most of the people who come here to live or vacation have no idea of our existence,” said Cholena Smith, a youth land liberator with the Shinnecock Nation who we had the blessing to meet when we arrived in this terrifying town of extreme wealth.
“Watch out! We are driving into get-out territory,” I warned my fellow poverty skolaz in our rented van as we rolled deeper and deeper into the winding roads of Upstate New York on our way to the Hamptons. We were already wary of what kind of police engagement would await us here. Would it be like Beverly Hills and try to stop us from touring within five seconds of our arrival or would we actually face arrest.
“In the last two years, we have experienced a terrifying spike in suicides among young people as well as a rise in serious substance use. This is one of the problems we deal with here. It is what my organization is working to heal,” Ahna Red Fox who works with Blossom Sustainable Development explained to fellow tour guide and poverty skola and POOR Magazine reporter Laure McElroy in an interview.
“Bring us back our stolen land! Bring us back our stolen land,” we shouted into the bullhorn in unison as we entered the Zoning and Building Department located in the Town Hall of Shinnecock.
“This is a calling in, not a calling out,” Laure added. We only stood there for three minutes repeating our song verse and our tour manifesto, which was a demand for land reclamation to the first peoples of this land. Within seconds several police officers materialized.
While they gathered downstairs, we proceeded to march upstairs, still singing until we arrived at the office of the head politricksters in charge. While we sang, the police ascended, a door opened and we were invited in to meet with two city managers of the town.
“You got our attention,” they said in unison. “Now tell us what you want.”
After we stated what our tour was about and that we were there to support the Shinnecock Nation in their rights to equity and land reclamation, Ahna took over, and we got the bureaucrats to listen to our demands for a real conversation on land use for first peoples of the Hamptons.
Our meeting lasted 30 minutes, and the Town Council representatives committed to a meeting and a reframing of the use of land for first peoples. We committed to staying involved to hold them to their commitments with ongoing involvement and media watch-dogging. This is another reason we were on tour.
The Zoning Department shake-down was my personal highlight of the entire trip as we Poor, Indigenous and unhoused folks at POOR Magazine have struggled for the last four years with the insane costs of building permits and politrickster-sanctioned hustles to get permits to build our landless peoples’ self-determined movement we call Homefulness. Suffice it to say, street hustlers don’t got nothing on the white collar hustlers, with their permits to build, their endless requirements for more paper and licenses and their crazy things like “an expeditor fee” to move up the “line” in the building permit process.
As poor folks who are always moved out of anything we take back, we made a decision to do it within the settler colonizer laws so it can’t and won’t be taken from us. Another hard lesson we have had to learn through this process is why it’s so hard for poor people to launch building projects and why corporations have it on lock. This is why we tour.
In addition to the Town Council, we challenged and demanded change, equity sharing curatorial leadership, land use and reparations when we were shown the blatant exclusion in spaces like the Chamber of Commerce and the “Whaling Exhibit” in the local museum, which included none of the original peoples who taught the settlers about whaling and then whose bodies were ultimately stolen and enslaved by the colonizers so they could capture their whaling knowledge.
Philadelphia, Lenape Territory, Mama Dee’s gentrified hood
Whenever I drive down the streets of North Philly, I realize clearly why my ghetto fabulous Afro-Boricua Mama Dee was the proud, angry, beautiful poverty skola-survivor she was. Poverty there isn’t like it is in California. Not to say poverty isn’t real in California, but the entrenched sorrow, scarcity and desperation is older, deep and terrifying.
This kind of gangsta struggle and survival is what helped give my mama her fighting spirit to stay alive through so much trauma and hate. This trauma is also what raised me and I tried to hold on to it no matter how hard it was.
Being one of the poorest areas in the nation, North Philadelphia is also one of the most beautiful, sad and real. North Philly, an African-Puerto Rican barrio, is also facing some of the most blatant gentrification in the U.S. on every other block. Entire blocks are boarded up and gated over.
One or two doors down, developers have put up signs for the future condominiums, luxury apartments and/or “art” spaces. Hipster cafes and mono-syllabic bars and gourmet restaurants line every other block. This is another reason we tour.
“The so-called progressives were involved in the stealing of an election here, so for the stolen land tour we also want to highlight a stolen election,” said Cheri Honkala, organizer, superbabymama with the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign from Philly.
Before we launched the Philadelphia Stolen Land Tour through the part of the stolen Lenape Territory called the Main Line, POOR Magazine and Edgardo, Pablo, Gaylen and Cheri from the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign sat down together to share poverty scholarship, solutions and struggles.
“They came up with this great-sounding idea called a ‘Land Bank.’ We found out later it wasn’t really what it was being represented as,” she concluded.
We went on to explain to PPHRC comrades the idea of Homefulness. They shared their recent acquisition of an abandoned building, which needs a build-out, and how they would love to make that possible and build their own version of Homefulness in North Philly.
The next day we gathered in the Main Line
I knew there was such a place as the Main Line because my mama used to talk about it. A place, she used to say, where the rich people live and where people like us go to be their servants. Her mama, my grandma, a Roma-Irish immigrant, worked as a domestic worker, washing the floors and only being allowed to enter from the servants’ quarters in the back. My abuelito, an Afro-Puerta Rican man, would work to sweep their streets, if he was lucky.
“Most of the people who are homeless in Philly are women and children. I was homeless with my children, so I know how hard it is to care for children when you are struggling to keep a home.” Gaylan from PPHRC spoke at the opening press conference on a street corner in a neighborhood called Bryn Mawr, which barely had sidewalks, cause I guess who needs sidewalks when you never have to walk?
“Who are you?” The white man dressed in dockers answered the door, looking our powerful group of Black, Brown youth, elder and disabled bodies up and down and gulping nervously. After the press conference, we had moved through the neighborhood, delicately pushing aside the wrought iron gates, walking up what seemed like block long driveways, knocking on huge glass, wooden doors and Harry Potter-like door knockers.
Unlike a lot of the previous tours, in Philly we encountered the user-friendly liberal haters. They would open the door, listen politely to us and then when we left their doors, call the police. By the time we got to the third block of this stolen Lenape Territory, they arrived.
“What are you doing here?” One police car pulled in front of us at an angle so we couldn’t walk any further; another one parked behind us. As has happened in almost every tour, they asked us what we were doing and what we were selling. We told them we were sharing the medicine of redistribution and community reparations, and they explained that someone called because we said they “stole their land,”
After several minutes, they “let us go,” explaining that only one of us would be allowed to approach each door and that we needed to make sure we weren’t soliciting for money, which we explained we never did.
Commitment to the Bank of Reparations and a Philly Homefulness!
“This prayer goes out to all of my ancestors who were stolen to build neighborhoods like these,” said QueennandiX Sheba, POOR Magazine poverty skola, teacher and welfareQUEEN, leading us in closing prayer at the Main Line.
As we huddled together back at the sidewalk-less corners in the Main Line to do a closing prayer for justice and open-heartedness of all the people we had just spoken to, we made a direct ask for community reparations to some of the conscious young folks with race, class and/or formal education privilege who had toured with us for two families who worked with PPHRC and were on the brink of losing their apartments due to a rise in rent in the gentrification-ridden North Philly. As well, one of our young folks involved in POOR Magazine’s Solidarity Family made a commitment to the Bank of Reparations and to helping to launch a Homefulness with PPHRC’s abandoned building, which needed to raise approximately $35,000 to do the build-out. This is why we tour.
PeopleSkool at every tour stop
“Sad, exhausting, mind blowing, crucial and very important, connecting dots, getting the word and education not only to the rich but to the people, our people is critical,” said Aunti Frances Moore.
In addition to the tours, we presented poverty scholarship and the Decolonization-DegentriFUKation Seminar at Wesleyan and Vassar Colleges, two prestigious institutions that have huge swaths of stolen Mohegan, Pequot, Lenape territory, to name a few of the nations colonized and stolen from, and entire degree programs built around the studying of poor people’s and Indigenous people’s struggles with never so much as sharing a slice of their privilege and access. This is another reason we tour.
In my activism from police brutality to budget cuts, I always felt that people in power could escape our activism by retreating to their wealthy neighborhoods. I and other activists spent countless hours at City Hall or police stations shouting at buildings.
“Poor Magazine with the Stolen Land Hoarded Resources Tour has taken our request to the front doors of the most wealthy and powerful from Beverley Hills in LA to Park Avenue in New York City, not to blame and shame but to offer medicine to heal what capitalism teaches us – for example, that we need to cumulate wealth, like many houses, condos, summer homes, cars and such for oneself and at the same time walk past a family on the street and not only do nothing but feel nothing,” said Leroy Moore, founder of Krip Hop Nation, columnist with POOR Magazine and Stolen Land Tour co-leader.
Stay tuned for the release of “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth, A PeoplesTextBook,” which will be released this summer. The next tour will be in the Bay Area. If you would like to join us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The next PeopleSkool Decolonization-Degentrification Seminar is in Black August. If you would like to redistribute or learn any more information about any of these projects or seminars, please email email@example.com.
Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit POOR at www.poormagazine.org.