Greg Sullivan followed his conscience. He showed up last Saturday to picket a local head shop that was selling anti-homeless stickers. The stickers, which read “Welcome to Ocean Beach, Please Don’t Feed Our Bums” are spoofs of a sticker often seen in national parks that urges people to not feed bears.
The OBRag blog noticed these stickers being posted on street signs around the community and ran several stories, one of which pointed out that the stickers were the brainchild of a co-manager at a local retail store.
On Saturday, the local right-wing daily, The San Diego Union-Tribune, ran a story about the controversy. Moved as we were by the anti-homeless, dehumanizing nature of the message conveyed on the stickers, Greg showed up with a sign and stood in front of the store. We’ve never met Mr. Sullivan, but this simple act of protest has unmasked deep seated hatred towards the homeless in the community like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The invective that followed was unnerving and sad. (See the photos)
Children, encouraged by onlookers, pelted him with water balloons. He was cursed at, harassed, ridiculed and threatened. He managed to stay for a couple of hours. All because he felt that the homeless should be treated as human beings and not dehumanized.
Meanwhile, over at the blog, we were inundated with nasty and often threatening comments, to the point where we actually “turned off” our commenting feature on those stories. The invective continued over at the daily newspaper’s website, along with emails and telephone calls. Hundreds of stickers, we’re told, have been sold, as a means of protesting against the homeless. Now they’ve even come out with tee shirts. Here are few of the comments at the UT:
If you don’t like ambulance chasing scum attorneys like Gormlie (OB Rag Editor) who look for causes that benefit no one but his own ego and pull an entire community down let him know. You can certainly share your thoughts with him and his Fascist, coffee party minions at their blog www.obrag.org. It would be great to send a wakeup call to these guys that neither the bums nor their type of community service is appreciated and they best consider hopping a freight out of town.
You are a divider, a throw back, and a non-native invasive species.
Wonder if a sticker with Gormlie's name/address/phone number would be as amusing?
Give them a box of chicle and a one way ticket to Mexico
A little vigilantism could take care of the problem
Now we’ve called upon San Diegan to take a stand. What started out as an observation has turned into a matter of principle. We’ve called for a picket line outside the store (Wednesday 4pm, details protest) and asked people to sign a petition asking the store (which ironically started out as a head shop many years ago) to stop selling the stickers. During a televised encounter between writer Frank Gormlie and the owner of the store, he agreed to consider such a request if we could get enough signatures. (To sign the petition, go petition)
Ocean Beach California exists at the western end of Interstate 8. When you get here, you’ve reached the end of the road. For many years, this community has been a bohemian throw back, characterized by its laid back attitude as successive waves of wandering humans have settled here and started a new life. Many of those “beatniks”, “hippies” and, now, as the local merchants association characterizes them, “bums” have gone on to become productive members of the community. It’s a state of mind, a zip code, and, for local politicians, a reminder of what a community united can do to derail developers intent on establishing high rise condos and shiny marinas.
Part of the mix of humanity in Ocean Beach has always been a transient element. Forty years ago we called ourselves (yes, I was one of them) street people. Until recently the more favored term has been “homeless”. Now the local merchant’s association says they’re “bums”. Some of the merchants claim that a, new, more aggressive breed of “bums” have been assaulting merchants and visitors, going beyond panhandling towards threatening passers-by with trained dogs. The urban legend often continues with a parable about seeing these same individuals with credit cards and cell phones stocking up on intoxicants prior to their next rampage through the community. I’m sure this must have happened at least once, to somebody, somewhere. But now it’s become an everyday “true story”.
The problem here is that, while the beach continues to attract street people/homeless/bums, and San Diego’s overall homeless population has risen by 8% over the past year, trying to verify these horror stories simply isn’t possible. From my own frequent forays into the community I can see no discernable rise in panhandling, either of the aggressive or passive persuasion. Business on main street is up over last year, although not as much as anybody would like, but that’s true with small retailers nation-wide.
An analysis of the crime statistics for that community, courtesy of the San Diego Police Department, shows crime declining. In 2007, the number of crimes Ocean Beach stood at 57.68 per thousand residents; in 2009 the rate was 38.16, and the stats for this year show no indication of an increasing number of crimes.
I know that there's justifiable anger at seeing our economy, our way of life, our security trashed. And it's being used by people who have a real stake in maintaining our economic disaster to turn people against one another. By de-humanizing the homeless, people get distracted from real crimes-- like the way BP has ruined an eco-system and cost thousands of Gulf residents their livelihood. That’s what I think is really happening here.
If you happen to live in San Diego (or don't) we can use your support. Thanks for listening.