As the Occupy movement continues to spread across the nation and around the world, local governments and police have begun using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other weapons in attempts to forcibly evict protester encampments. Concerns over violations of health and safety codes are being used as the justification for these police raids and forcible evictions. We have seen this in Oakland,...
As the Occupy movement continues to spread across the nation and around the world, local governments and police have begun using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other weapons in attempts to forcibly evict protester encampments. Concerns over violations of health and safety codes are being used as the justification for these police raids and forcible evictions. We have seen this in Oakland, Denver, Portland, and believe it will spread to other cities as government agencies attempt to remove the encampments.
In Oakland, over 90 people were arrested and many more injured when police fired tear gas and pellet bags at non-violent protesters exercising their right to free speech and assembly in public, common space. Local government and media had reported on rat infestations, food handling issues, and other sanitation problems. While these issues may have existed, we as public health professionals and members of the public health community refuse to accept violent police coercion and control as a justifiable means of addressing health concerns.
We know that:
* Many of the health issues being raised - such as rats and sanitation - existed before the encampments. Unmet housing needs have forced people to live in encampments all over the United States. Whether the encampments are voluntary or involuntary, public health plays a role in mitigating these issues and conditions.
* Police violence, incarceration, tear gas, and intimidation do not improve health and safety of the population. Rather, they cause harm and injury with lasting health effects.
* The role of public health is to ensure and improve the health and well-being of the public. We are accountable to communities most affected by systemic injustices that cause ill health, and we refuse to allow this perversion of public health as a mechanism for enforcing violence and harm.
* Being part of an empowered community, taking action for justice, having hope in the future -- all of these make all of us healthier.
People began camping as part of the Occupy movement in protest of the severe racial, economic and health inequities that exist in our society, and to demand accountability from our government and the corporations that have generated and benefited from this inequity. The vision of the 99% movement is a U.S. and a world with a more equitable distribution of health, with access to healthy food, quality education, dignified work that pays fairly, and well-being for all. These are the goals of public health as well. Our responsibility is to the people and we cannot support tactics that promote public harm.
The encampments are places where people are gaining direct experience in providing for one another and improving health and well-being. Communities are practicing consensus-based decision making, and supporting one another to challenge racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic and homophobic behavior and beliefs in order to make Occupy spaces places where more and more people can meaningfully participate. Everyone who is hungry eats, there are forums for education and resource sharing, some camps have medical care, exercise classes, children’s spaces, and libraries.
With more public support, these camps can continue to provide more services, forums, resources, and assistance for people as we develop community-based solutions. With support from local health agencies, these camps could address health and sanitation concerns without injuring or intimidating protesters. And finally, with support, these camps and the movement they stand for, can create systemic changes that will improve the public health.
We resist the manipulative use of public health concerns to justify violent raids and forcible evictions of Occupy encampments. We pledge our support of the Occupy movement and commit to participating in the ways we can, by:
* supporting the work at our local encampments
* working directly with our local health departments
* engaging other health workers
* educating ourselves and others about the root causes of this crisis
* mobilizing our peers and others to support transformational social change.
If you support this pledge, please add your name to this petition and share it with others in your community.
For concrete ways that public health workers can support Occupy Movements, please download and share the flyer at www.occupypublichealth.org