About the image: Human beings harvest your food. Image by Seattle DSA graphic design team.
Under capitalism, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the rich send the cops to keep the poor in their place. This week, we have stories about how, despite vast and clearly-visible inequality, the landlords and CEOs like Jeff Bezos can keep stacking their paper while the cops declare open season on anyone who doesn’t look like they make six figures. The only antidote? Solidarity, the force that allows even poor migrant farmworkers to band together and push back against the business owners who seek to exploit and dehumanize their employees for profit. Good news, though– there’s gonna be a Pearl Jam show soon! Welcome to the Hellhole.
As Always, ACAB
The Seattle PI reported this week that Seattle cops wandered through the Ballard Commons in December and issued $500 tickets to anyone who looked homeless.
This is hard to believe by itself– what possible social good would result from issuing a hefty ticket that would ruin anyone’s day, let alone someone who’s housing-insecure and probably hasn’t had $500 in one place in a long time?
Here’s what makes this especially noteworthy– the tickets were basically fake. They were issued under a code that makes them impossible to enforce, so even if you had the $500, the city wouldn’t be able to collect it, and in fact, doesn’t care to.
Based on whether you believe the cops didn’t know the tickets they were issuing were bogus, or they did know, this is either gross incompetence (in both senses of the word “gross”), or it’s straight-up police intimidation. According to the PI, “Seattle Police Department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb didn’t respond to requests for comment about the tickets.”
A cop has two main choices if they want to compel you to do what they want– they can either threaten to beat or shoot you, or they can threaten to fine or arrest you. If they end up not doing either of those things, it doesn’t make the process any less terrifying, and that goes double if you’re a member of the population that’s a common target for abuse– the houseless. How many people who are barely staying warm right now also have to worry that they owe the city $500?
Eddie Can’t Fix It
Don’t worry, though: Pearl Jam is coming to house us all! They plan to play a benefit show to benefit the unhoused, donating at least $1 million, and Jenny is just overjoyed:
“We must have everyone in the fight to solve homelessness including our local government, caring philanthropists, community organizations, individuals, and artists.”
Everyone but her, of course– remember how Durkan proxy Tim Burgess pushed back against the council suggestion to cut the mayoral budget to fund social services? Remember when the budget also cut funding from dozens of community organizations that had been helping the less-fortunate out for years (check the first story)? Who even remembers that stuff? Jenny’s got box seats!
This is peak neoliberal behavior– means-test actual, working programs to death, and then jump for joy whenever someone else steps up to try to fix the problem. It’s hard to believe that this needs saying, but Pearl Jam is not going to save us. That’s our mayor’s job and she’s not doing it.
We’d hoped we hadn’t heard the last of the former residents of Camp Zapata, the more than 60 men who’d been fired from Sumas, Wash. blueberry-grower Sarbanand Farms for stopping work upon the death of one of their compadres. H-2A visa agricultural workers, like these men, depend on their employers for food and shelter, so, upon protesting the terrible conditions and relentless schedule last summer that likely contributed to the death of Honesto Silva Ibarra, the workers were relieved of their jobs, meals, housing and visas. Left with nothing, the men set up camp at a sympathetic neighbor’s property, whereupon the community (and many comrades!) assisted the men with food and supplies until trips home to Mexico could be arranged.
Columbia Legal Services and Schroeter, Goldmark and Bender filed litigation this week, hoping to pursue a class action lawsuit against Sarbanand and its parent company Munger Brothers for its abuse of more than 600 men who’ve picked at the farm. Allegations include a threat that workers couldn’t take time off, and that the only time they couldn’t pick was on their “death bed[s].” Additionally, meals were inadequate, small and apportioned with “X”s drawn on workers’ hands. Before you take too much solace in the lawsuit, remember that this is just one farm in the world’s largest blueberry producer; just one fruit in a vast network of foodstuffs whose ease of access and affordability depend upon the malnourishment, mistreatment and dehumanization of the poor and powerless.
Surprise! The Amazon Go store is shitty and classist
Much fanfare was made when the Amazon Go store made its public debut this week. The store, which is right next to Bezos’ balls, allows those with an Amazon account to walk right in and take items off the shelf. Customers are then automatically charged via their existing Amazon account. Hellhole has a few issues with Amazon’s shiny new version of shopping utopia, which is open to the “public” but definitely not accessible to everyone:
- If the automation in the store resulted in increased benefits for soon-to-be out of work grocery store workers in the form of higher pay and more time off that would be great, but we all know that won’t be the case. Amazon says they don’t have plans to replicate the store elsewhere, but we’re not so sure. Grocery store cashiers, the second most-common job in America, could suffer if this model becomes widespread without any accompanying assistance, re-training or re-education efforts.
- It requires having a smartphone, enough data to download a special app and of course, an Amazon account. These things are not givens for all people, and so there the store is only accessible to people who can afford to bear all those additional financial burdens. It’s also, obviously, cashless, which is inherently classist.
- While it’s not the first membership-only style set up, Amazon’s “bold” visions of “disruption” in multiple industries are worrying. Costco, for example, is also membership-only, but Costco also isn’t trying to take over the world with stores devoid of human interaction. It’s not difficult to imagine a world in the near future where other grocers roll-out a similar initiative, creating a maze of prohibitive apps and subscription programs. If you thought food deserts were bad, this new world of exclusive grocery stores could be even worse.
- Here’s a final kicker: Of course the store doesn’t accept food stamps. Many retailers accept EBT cards, from Target to Safeway to 7 Eleven (Whole Foods also accepts food stamps, but probably not for much longer). Even farmers’ markets accept them. It’s just one more trick Amazon is pulling to make clear who is welcome in their store and who is not.
- Never forget that Jeff Bezos, the world’s only centi-billionaire, is making a killing off all this. Forbes reported that Amazon stock climbed 2.5 percent after the public opening of the Go store. Bezos’ net worth is now $113.5 billion.
Class enemy of the week: Housing as a commodity
After ordering the eviction of 170 people who have built a community for themselves at the Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac, landlord Jong Soo Park defended himself by saying: “I feel badly but I cannot give charity. I’m a businessman.”
Park may feel bad, but that doesn’t make the reality facing the park’s residents, who are mostly hispanic and low income, any easier to stomach.
In an intimate look at a community fighting for survival, The Seattle Times reports many residents have become activists, fighting to save their homes after Park announced he wanted to build a hotel in the area to take advantage of the economic boom. The resident pay $500 for their lots and they say they have nowhere else to go. Some fear losing their jobs to long commutes if they have move, and many fear becoming homeless. And on top of material insecurity, they fear losing their small, powerful and loving community. “We know everyone here and we are very close and you don’t find that anywhere else,” one young resident said.
While it’s easy to villainize Park—and make no mistake, we’re not letting him off the hook—it’s important to keep in mind that capitalism, the engine powering all of this, is really to blame. Park, and countless other landlords like him, are behaving exactly the way this barbaric system demands—and then rewards. We’re trying to change the world as it exists now, where building a hotel is the preferred option over providing housing for human beings. For that reason, we need to keep our eye on the prize. Housing is a human right, and it should never be treated like a commodity that can be bought and sold at market rate.
We support efforts of Firs residents, and you can follow this Facebook page to keep up or help out with their efforts. We’ll leave you with this short documentary produced by two Tyee High School students and a Chinook Middle school student living at the Firs. It offers a powerful statement on how closing the park would affect the lives and futures of around 90 young residents.
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Hellhole is written by members of the Seattle DSA communications team. Unless expressly stated, Dispatches do not necessarily reflect the views of Seattle DSA as an organization or its leadership.