By Leslie Amsterdam and Rebecca Kemble
A little after 8:00 this morning two large dump trucks and several pickups pulling trailers rolled onto the Lake View Hill County Park lawn to haul away the collective and personal possessions of members of the Occupy Madison community. For many, these are all of their worldly goods.
The Occupy Madison community and their belongings were trucked out to Token Creek County Park, where there is no running water or public transportation, nor are there any neighbors in close proximity.
The group has been camping out at Lake View Hill since Saturday, November 10 after they were evicted by the City of Madison from their prior location in an empty parking lot on the 800 block of E. Washington Ave. While some in the neighborhood have been supportive of the community, others have felt threatened by their presence.
In a form letter sent out today to citizens concerned about the County’s treatment of the campers, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called Token Creek County Park, “a more appropriate and legal location.”
Several dozen Dane County Sheriff Deputies formed a security perimeter around the entire park blocking access to the press and anyone not already present at the location. They then escorted the campers across the lawn to a nearby church while Parks employees wrapped up their belongings in large tarps and loaded them onto the dump trucks. The campers were instructed that if they wanted to retrieve their things, they had to go to Token Creek to get them. Otherwise, they would have to make special arrangements to pick them up.
All of their personal and communal items were “inventoried” by Dane County Parks employees. Even people’s handbags were rifled through. In order to retrieve the confiscated items, they had to show identification and sign the inventory list. County workers did not quite know how to handle property that was held in common. In one case a concerned member of the public signed an inventory sheet in order to release the food items back to the care of the community.
In this video, campers complain about the infringement of their privacy and call the inventorying an act of illegal search and siezure:
Franjo describes the actions of the County as akin to a prison raid:
After most of the items were inventoried and reclaimed by the displaced community, they were trucked over to a nearby campsite. Just as this operation was wrapping up, Dane County corporate counsel Marcia MacKenzie showed up to answer any legal questions the group might have. She didn’t end up answering many:
In his letter to concerned citizens, County Exec Parisi explained, “This action was taken following over a week of intensive outreach and offers of help to those in the encampment seeking housing, shelter, drug and alcohol treatment and mental health treatment. It also follows several written and verbal warnings to the campers that their presence in the park after 10:00 p.m., camping, and starting fires are all illegal activities that must stop immediately.”
Later in the letter Parisi blames the community for rejecting the help offered, and said that the county will “continue to show patience and compassion” with them.
Members of the Occupy Madison community have been frustrated by similar statements made by county officials to the press over the past week. They say that the “help” offered to them came in the form of short-term hotel vouchers, space created in shelters that feel unsafe to them, and other kinds of outreach that have strings attached. They want Dane County and the City of Madison to listen to their concerns and take them seriously rather than saying that’s the best they can do.
In this video, people challenge Marcia MacKenzie about county claims that they are providing services:
Members of Occupy Madison have organized themselves into a community that, for the most part, takes care of itself under incredibly stressful conditions. They have worked to look after each other and build strong relationships with friends in the community. They have an active, democratic decision making process around issues affecting the community. They understand that the problems they face cannot be adequately addressed by a couple nights in a cheap hotel or an occasional visit from a public health nurse.
Occupy Madison is holding out for something better. They want government officials to understand that they themselves are actually part of the solution rather than being a problem. They are not looking for a handout – mostly they just want to be heard, treated with dignity, and left alone to make decisions about how to take care of themselves and each other.
This simple request challenges the paternalistic social service model that is on offer by the County and City. The total disconnect between the very simple request of Occupy Madison for a small, safe public space in which to pitch their tents and warm themselves and the heavy-handed response by the County is a poignant illustration of this point.
Members of the Occupy Madison community do not reject help. Indeed, over the past two weeks as their struggle to find a stable location has been publicized, many, many members of the public have stepped up to provide them with food, clothing and other items they need to maintain a basic level of survival.
As of mid-afternoon the group had not come to a final decision about what their next move would be. While many were relieved to be in a location where they could have a fire and not be worried about Dane County Sheriff Deputies rousing them in the middle of the night to issue them citations, they realize that remaining in a park far away from public transportation, running water and other services was not a good option.
Tonight the Dane County Homeless Issues Committee meets to discuss, among other items, “Update on Occupy Madison camping situation and community response.” Some members of the committee are advocates for the group and will, no doubt, speak up for them.