From poverty tows to Palestine: The violence of settler colonial evictions across Mama Earth

Poverty tows are parking violations, which are unethical detriments to houseless folks who rely on the shelter of their vehicles. Between this and the lack of adequate housing options, means of survival are limited. Shelters on Merlin Street, under the I-80 overpass in San Francisco, were cleared – swept away – on May 17, 2021. – Photo: POOR Magazine

by Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia

“If they tow my van, I will die. I have nowhere else to go,” reported POOR Magazine’s RoofLESS radio reporter Charles M., 68, a lifelong San Francisco resident. Charles is houseless, landless, disabled and lives in his van.

San Francisco, like Oakland and so many other cities across the U.S., has increased its towing, “sweeping,” cleaning and removal project of houseless peoples, our sleeping bags, belongings, tents, vans, RVs and cars throughout the pandemic.

As all of us who have struggled with homelessness know, once they take everything from us, we run an increased risk of death by exposure, poLice terror and illness.

“They are increasing the tows of houseless people’s RVs and vans,” said Sam Lew, an organizer, advocate and badass with End Poverty Tows Coalition. Lew spoke with Po Peoples Radio last week on May 11.

From Frisco to Kashmir

“Where will I go?” asked Zooni Begam, 108, as she squatted on the ground outside her house, which was located in the village of Zilsidora, Jabbad, and is hidden in the vast jungle of central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

Kashmiri elder Zooni Begam, 108, faces colonial eviction. She’s shown here outside her home in Zilsidora, Budgam on Dec. 4, 2020. – Photo: Athar Parvaiz

Begam added, “I was born here. My parents also lived here. We have been living here for ages. How can the government make us homeless all of a sudden?”

Huma Dar, a fierce Kashmiri warrior for truth, introduced the story of Zooni to a panel entitled “Degentrifying Academia” sponsored by POOR Magazine, Indigenous Peoples Organizing for Change, Krip Hop Nation and the Ethnic Studies Library at UC Berkeley in April.

The goals of the panel, lovingly moderated by Dr. Fuifui Niumetolo, were launched by myself and Leroy Moore before the pandemic to connect the land struggles of Indigenous, houseless Black, Brown and Disabled peoples across Mama Earth so we could achieve collective land liberation from the colonial terror of evictions and removal that continue today.

Huma added this is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t even mention the genocidal ethnic cleansing of 1947-1950 when up to a million Muslims – out of a total population of about 4 million at that time – were massacred or forcibly exiled out of the state by the Indian Army and the army of the draconian Hindu colonizing ruler, Hari Singh.

Old and young alike showed solidarity in the streets of San Francisco for justice in Palestine at 16th & Valencia on May 15, 2021. – Photo: POOR Magazine

Nor do they mention the more than 6,700 mass and unmarked graves unearthed in Kashmir, which India refuses to do DNA testing on to return the victims to their families.

100-year-old Black Elder resident of San Francisco evicted from her home of over 40 years

“I can’t believe you are doing me like this, Peter [Owens],” said Iris Canada to the new “owner” of her home of over 40 years who evicted her. Iris was a 100-year-old Black elder who died after recording that message, because as POOR Magazine and this poverty skola has said and barely survived: Eviction is elder and child abuse.

REST IN POWER: Pictured here is Iris Canada, a 100-year-old Black elder resident of San Francisco. Canada was evicted from her home of over 40 years and died one month later in March 2017. The chronic stress of the eviction exacerbated her health conditions and caused a fatal stroke. – Photo: POOR Magazine

Iris was one of the few remaining Black residents of what us gentriFUKed peoples of San Francisco call the FillNoMore, aka Fillmore district, which in the ‘70s was decimated by the moves of Urban Renewal, re-named by all who were victims of it “Negro Removal,” led by head gentriFUKer aka devil-oper – I like to rename the colonial terms to express their true impact – Justin Herman. It continues to this day.

Since the well-documented “dot-com” boom of the ‘90s, working class, low-income, Black, Brown, poor white, disabled and Indigenous residents of San Francisco and Oakland have suffered the ongoing terror and abuse of eviction.

Countless fights led by organizers and advocates have ensued and trusts have sometimes been brokered, enabling the elders to stay housed. But by and large, it has resulted in the slow bleed of removal of working class and poor people from the Bay Area, which many times results in our permanent displacement and death.

Like Luis Gongora Pat, a Mayan Indigenous father and worker, evicted and then killed by poLice for being houseless in the gentriFUKED Mission.

“The disease of capitalism and private land ownership necessitates that we no longer exist in order for them to justify the destruction of our sacred sites, like the West Berkeley Shellmound.”

Like Ron Likkers, an Indigenous elder who was evicted and then died two weeks later.

Like Gerry Ambrose, a domestic laborer, who died from the violence and trauma and poverty caused by eviction of her and her whole family from their home of 43 years in San Francisco.

Like Desiree Quintero, a houseless woman killed from the violence of sweeps in Santa Cruz. 

Like Steven Taylor, a houseless resident of San Leandro murdered by poLice for having a mental health crisis in public.

Like Mario Gonzalez, who made the mistake of “tweeking” and possibly being houseless in Klanameda.

An altar for Mario Gonzalez was created and sponsored by the Oakland Brown Berets and Tele-Jaguar at a ceremony for him held at the location of his murder. Gonzalez was murdered by the Alameda Police Department on April 19, 2021. Body cam footage released days later on April 27 showed officers fatally pinning Gonzalez to the ground. – Photo: POOR Magazine

Once we are ancestors, we are also not seen and our sacred burial lands are continually desecrated. As in the struggle for the West Berkeley Shellmound, our bodies and relatives are viewed as something to study and profit off of or just warehouse, displace and dispose.

Anthro-wrongology and arkkkeology

Land liberator, warrior and prayer bringer of the Ohlone-Lisjan Nation and POOR Magazine Elephant Council leader and co-founder of Sogorea Te Land Trust Corrina Gould said: “The ongoing occupation of our territories means that our ancestors and in turn, us, their living descendants, have to continually resist erasure and being categorized as less than human.”

Corrina Gould, Leroy Moore, Tracey Bell Borden, Aunti Frances Moore and Tiny look for support from Akkkademia on their Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tour May 5, 2021. – Photo: Brooke Anderson 

Gould added, “The disease of capitalism and private land ownership necessitates that we no longer exist in order for them to justify the destruction of our sacred sites, like the West Berkeley Shellmound and the hoarding of thousands of our ancestors at institutions like UC Berkeley.”

We witness the warehousing of Ohlone/Lisjan ancestors at UC Berkeley and “storing” of the bones of children of the MOVE Africa Family by Princeton University and University of Pennsylvania.

POOR Magazine launched our 2021 Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tours into Akkkademia on May 5. We did this because Akkkademia (I renamed this more appropriately) plays a huge role in the perpetuation of land-stealing, resource hoarding and warehousing of Indigenous, Black and Brown ancestors and culture.

This is witnessed by the warehousing of Ohlone/Lisjan ancestors at UC Berkeley and “storing” of the bones of children of the MOVE Africa Family by Princeton University and University of Pennsylvania – one of the many reasons this poverty skola renames these departments and perpetrators, anthro-wrongOLOGY and arkkkeaology.

“Entire blocks of communities in Philly were stolen by Temple University,” said Galen Tyler, another powerful poverty skola and truth-teller with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and #PoorPeoplesArmy out of Philadelphia. Tyler presented at the Degentrifying Academia panel, connecting the dots of gentriFUKation and land grabs for what I call the Dorm Industrial Complex, which is exactly what’s threatening People’s Park and 1921 Walnut St. in Berkeley.

From West Papua to West Huchuin (Oakland)

Benny Wenda, the independence leader from West Papua, said this: “While our demonstrations were entirely peaceful, the Indonesian police were determined to use brute force to crush them. Such mass arrests and brutality are becoming increasingly common in West Papua and it is estimated that in the last two months, nearly 3,000 West Papuan people have been arrested by the Indonesian authorities.”

West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, chairperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and founder of the Free West Papua Campaign, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2003 he was granted political asylum by the British government following his escape from custody while on trial in West Papua on politically motivated charges. 

There is gold to extract so the West Papuan indigenous peoples are seen merely as an obstacle stopping this violent extraction from Mama Earth, whether it means the death of the Kashmiri Forest Dwellers, West Papuan indigenous peoples or West Oakland RV dwellers.

West Oakland sweeps of houseless peoples

EFAM (Essential Food and Medicine) said, “CalTrans is backing out on agreements made with residents and moving forward with evictions during the current pandemic.” EFAM is a group that has helped to build a powerFUL clinic and other beautiful services with a houseless community in West Oakland.

This community is called Cob on Wood, who have faced the endless violence, called “sweeps,” due to the fact that the politricksters don’t want to see houseless people. The nearby “land-Lord” (Fred Crave) and Killtrans (my name for that agency) wants to profit off the land that houseless people peacefully have parked their RVs and cars at for years.

My argument is that the goal of revolutionaries should not be “ownership” at all.

All across the bay and the United Snakes, these evictions, tows and sweeps – equating humans with trash – have continued throughout a pandemic and caused people to die of exposure, not COVID-19.

It’s controversial to connect these dots. A lot of organizers who can “feel” and organize and throw down for global struggles of Indigenous peoples have no interest in seeing the connections to houseless, disabled elders’ struggles with sweeps, evictions and gentriFUKing.

In addition, revolutionaries and even land liberators often call out for reparations and land-back for Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples but cannot see the connections to houseless peoples or even the notion of Mama Earth itself not being a commodity.

Formerly houseless landless, youth, adults and elders from Homefulness

Formerly houseless and landless youth, adults and elders who are creating Homefulness, a poor people’s answer to homelessness, stop work long enough for a group picture. – Photo: POOR Magazine

I humbly propose in this story, as a formerly houseless daughter of a disabled, Indigenous trauma survivor, and later houseless mama of my Sun, and co-founder, visionary of Homefulness, a houseless, landless peoples solution to homelessness, to not only expand and connect the dots of settler terrorism to include landless poor peoples who are being swept, evicted, towed and destroyed every day in every colonial city across Amerikkka and, further, that as land liberators working for true liberation, to please re-consider the narrative of land use itself. My argument is that the goal of revolutionaries should not be “ownership” at all.

#UnSellMamaEarth & #UnSettleMamaEarth

Because no matter who does the “owning,” the colonial lies (I mean laws) about Mama Earth’s use are a set-up from the get-up to evict, remove and displace anyone and every poor and Indigenous person, over time. That as I have stated before, even the notion of land-trust is rooted in their removing platform.

Sign of the times: DeGentrifuk Akkkademia and UnSell Mama Earth. Always! – Photo: POOR Magazine

Land trusts come with an expiration date. Embedded with the eventual profiting off of and why we houseless, Indigenous, disabled peoples at Homefulness are working really hard to spiritually and legally UnSell Mama Earth and my newest goal and associated “hashtag” is to UnSettleMamaEarth – so please help us get that into the hashtag lexicon.

Showing up and out for Palestine. Signs from the May 15 San Francisco protest read: “NO MORE SETTLER TERROR FROM FRISCO TO PALESTINE” and “KOLONIAL TERROR IS CONNECTED FROM KLANA MEDA TO PALESTINE.” – Photo: POOR Magazine

That the messiness of our connectedness is our liberation. That us houseless peoples from all four corners of Mama Earth have so much in common with houseless, landless First Nations Turtle Islanders, West Papuans, Kashmiris, Palestinians and beyond and that what really needs to happen is we co-organize these fights against the extraction terror of what corprape and politricksters have been doing for 528 years and before to all of us. Not some of us.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is the author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights, and co-author of “Poverty Scholarship: Poor People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth,” on poorpress.net. To reach Tiny, go to her website, www.lisatinygraygarcia.com.