Public Comment

Governing in Bad Faith

Steve Martinot
Saturday November 30, 2019 - 11:30:00 AM

It did not appear in the evening news, nor in the Chronicle, but last Sunday (11/24), some citizens of Oakland and Berkeley made a vain attempt to keep the city of Oakland honest. They failed miserably – at the hands of Oakland’s absolute refusal of honesty, as well as of civic virtue.

These citizens were a subgroup of the community of residents known as the unhoused, or as they say, those living curbside. They had previously taken the city at its word, that it was sincerely interested in resolving the problem of shelter for the homeless with winter coming on. But since the city’s word proved to be empty, and devoid of humane effort or intent, they decided to avail themselves of higher law (i.e. the US Constitution), and by that means, bestow honesty and virtue where it had been refused.

The Facts: in a highly organized manner, about 30 people took it upon themselves to set up tents as shelters on the civic center lawn in front of City Hall, an area that is public land, on a brisk but sunny Sunday morning, and prepare themselves for the coming rains. They had an information table, and a food table, offering both to the public, out of their own generosity and community-mindedness. But at 1:30 that night, the city sent the police in to destroy this effort at morality and true democratic spirit at around 1:30 am, that same night, seizing property and eliminating for them the ability to survive the elements.

What do you call a political entity that commits a crime rather than accept a gift? The gift? Keeping the city true to its word. 


A partial list of the crimes committed by the city. 

1- Oakland violated the Martin vs. Boise decision by the Ninth Circuit Court which states that refusal to allow homeless people to sleep on public land is a violation of the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution unless the city can provide shelter for those people. 

2- The police confiscated the tents, the possession needed to defend against the elements, the radios and phones, the medicines and talismans of the campers, without due process, and thus violated the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution. 

3- The police violated their oaths of office which says they swear to uphold and defend the US Constitution (against all enemies, internal and external). 

4- The city administrators and councilmembers who ordered and permitted this raid on the encampment violated their oaths of office which says they swear to uphold and defend the US Constitution (against the same enemies, viz. those who substitute tyranny for democracy). 

5- Arbitrary and gratuitous assaults on harmless, peaceful, oppressed people, victims of economic and cultural impoverishment by the society at large, who are simply attempting to survive, is a gross violation of the right of self-defense of all people subject to unprovoked aggression. 


The statement of purpose of the encampment 


We are a group of Oaklanders who are homeless, 

or who are housed, or who are on the verge of 

becoming homeless. 

Over the past two years, we have been survivors 

of and/or witnesses to the cruel and inhumane 

treatment of The City government to Oakland's 


In the past two years these government offices 

have spent more than $30 million dollars towards 

"solving" homelessness. But during those two 

years homelessness doubled in Oakland, and 

dozens of unhoused residents who used the city's 

programs are back on the streets. 


1. An immediate end to evictions of curbside communities, demolitions of homes and towing of vehicles people live in or store belongings in. 

2. An immediate end to the destruction of curbside residents‘ personal property and survival gear. 

3. The City Council directed the Mayor and her Administration two years ago to identify and make available at least two parcels of public land in each district to be used for sanctuaries, villages or other community-led emergency approaches to support and shelter curbside communities. This never happened, and must happen immediately. 

4. No more fundraising for or building any more Tuff Sheds. These programs are a waste of money and not effective to meet the scale of the homeless state of emergency or the actual needs of curbside residents. 

5. An end to market rate and above market rate development. The City must turn its attention to the neglected, deeply affordable housing development goals in the next year. 

6. Immediately upgrade all curbside communities with adequate portapotties, trash services, clean drinking water, solar power and improvements to self-built homes. 

7. Due to his anti-homeless tendencies, his abuse of power, his complete disregard of the humanity and rights of curbside residents, his mismanagement of millions of dollars to go towards solutions to homelessness — we call for an immediate dismissal of Assistant to the Administrator Joe De Vries. Due to his deep anti-homeless biases and arbitrary decision making that impact the lives and well-being of Oakland's unhoused, he cannot lead the approaches to solve this crisis. 

8. The immediate implementation of City Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas' recommendations to align all The City's approaches to homelessness with a human rights lens. 


A politics of encampment – what it does and means  

In a very organized and orderly manner, the people of this community set up a number of tents on the lawn in front of city hall, in the very place where Occupy Oakland took root back in 2011. It carefully and conscientiously applied the classical US tradition of civil disobedience, fostered by such philosophers of the 19th century as Thoreau, Emerson, and Thomas Jefferson. 

Their food table was supplied with food they had cooked themselves, as part of their community of self-caring and communal survival. They offered a pasta dish, a large potato salad, and various breads, chips, and dips. 

The various Berkeley communities of the homeless were represented, helping in solidarity and participation to set up the camp, as a humanitarian effort against a city in bad faith. What the encampment means, above all else, is that this is the only real form of survival these people, who live curbside, have. Only their own community takes their survival and health as a concern. Only their own community is left to them in a social environment that politically scorns them and leaves them on the street to die. 

When the homeless explain that the actual attempts to provide shelter by the city (whether Oakland or Berkeley) are designed to separate the people from each other, and to thus dissolve the community that they need for survival, they are also pointing out another more important and critical meaning. It is to destroy. 

In none of the efforts to resolve the condition of the homeless, or to provide them with shelter, has either city ever involved the homeless themselves in articulating and formulating the policies that might then alleviate their situation. Democracy means that those who will be affected by a policy should be the ones to articulate and decide the policy that will affect them. 

It is the refusal of this principle that points to the most egregious form of bad faith on the city’s part – both cities. All positions of overlordship or elitism, when manifest in this society, are in bad faith. The proof of their bad faith is that their rhetorical efforts cover social programs that only make the condition of the homeless worse. 


And the solution to the problem of the homeless? 

There are dozens of solutions, spoken every day, and unheard only because of a refusal to hear. 

· Open buildings that have been vacant for years for occupancy. There are hundreds. 

· Protect tenants that are falling beneath the inflation juggernaut. 

· End rent gouging. 

· Use public land for public good, that is, to take care of keeping people alive – instead of that cynical guarantee that "all" have equal use. 

· Foster dialogue between the homeless and the neighborhoods so that they can figure out how each can help and be of service to the other. 

When a person’s life is at stake, a refusal to help them is a crime – against them and against humanity.