November 6, 2011.
I have been asked to write about Occupy Bangor from a homeless person’s perspective. Sonny asked me to. Sonny is a deeply charismatic lady who is one of our core members, insofar as the “99 percent” can be considered to have members. She tells me she’s not a lawyer. She went to law school, but she does legal research, as I understand, at a university, where she also teaches. I may have the details wrong. We’ve only spoken a few times.
Sonny at one of our group meetings told us she badly needed people to write press releases, and shoot and edit video, and we should get the word out. The next day, I volunteered. She was in camp that morning.
I have my BA in the philosophy of science. If you don’t know, that means I studied logic and thinkers who examine the scientific method and problems of knowledge. You can’t really teach philosophy with test-taking, so philosophy students do a lot of writing, even at the graduate level. I think I have a good eye for video, too, and studied it at the university. So I volunteered the next morning.
“No, we don’t need you for that,” she told me. “We’re all set. But you can write about us, and your experience of us, from a homeless person’s point of view. We could use that!” Sonny has a nice smile.
So that’s how this happened. She encouraged me to write something on paper if I didn’t want to spend my one hour daily of library computer time on it. [Then I type it online, catch as catch can for computer time.] This notebook was 75 c., half price from a post-back-to-school clearance sale at Shaw’s, which is good because my income is zero. I do get food stamps from the state of Maine, I should say. That’s $200 a month for anything grocery, which is the max for a single person. On my own I can’t cook, of course, so it’s mostly ready food I get, but things are different because of the fringe benefits of the Occupy Bangor camp. It’s a political protest, with some potential protection for the right to free speech, and consequently the police haven’t talked to us about our iron-pit-contained camp fire. Or not yet. On my own I’d never get away with a fire, not even a little one.
I want to say I’m not against police at all. I wouldn’t want that job. Also in my experience Bangor police are pretty reasonable, if you let them be. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for police to do the job.
I only had one run-in with the Bangor police so far. I was sleeping in a semi-enclosed porch of some big health institute. Older building. The porch was the kind of space where you’d put a bike so it wouldn’t get rained on. I had two of those thick U-HAUL furniture blankets, which someone had discarded, and a pair of Carhartt overalls given me by the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter.
The cop found me because he was directed there by the building superintendent (or something) and I guess the building superintendent knew about me because I slept in one day, left the space at 7AM, and was spotted by some lady parallel parking in readiness for a day of work there.
In general, the first words out of my mouth when a cop with a flashlight wakes me up are, “Yes, sir! You’re the boss.” I also stick my hands out from under the blanket or sleeping bag, empty, fingers apart. It’s a reflex by now. That may sound like overkill, but these guys don’t know if you’re maybe drunk, or high, or if you might have a weapon. This, plus the fact that I have no record, as they find out when they run my ID, has kept me out of real trouble.
I don’t recall exactly what I said when the cop woke me up, but it was along these lines. He was nice enough. He told me I was tresspassing and, once he’d run my ID, that I’d have to go. I set about packing up my blankets and putting on my coats and such, and asked him if he could tell me where I should go.
“Well, I have sympathy for you, because the shelters are all full,” he said.
“I know that,” I replied. It was bitter cold that night, so people all made sure to get a bed if they could. “I wonder if you can tell me where I can go. Can I sleep in that park just down the block?”
“You can’t sleep there,” the cop replied. “That’s city property. Like I say, I have sympathy for you. But you can’t stay here. You’re tresspassing. You can’t stay on private property.”
I said, “Yes, sir. I understand. I don’t mean any harm.” — This is another thing I’ve taken to telling people. — “But now look. I’m not trying to be wise here. I can’t stay on city property. I can’t stay on private property. Can you tell me where I can go?”
“Like I said, I have sympathy for you. But the shelters are all full.”
[I’m out of time. More later.]