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Homelessness: Then and Now

How did government handle the unemployed and homeless throughout the country in 1913-1914? In the Los Angeles Plaza where 1,000 homeless and unemployed held a demonstration. The police, with clubs and revolvers drawn, broke up the demonstration, killing one worker, clubbing many others and arresting 75 others. The newspaper said the demonstration was peaceful until the police arrived. In San Francisco, CA, where the homeless and unemployed were led by the International Workers of the World (IWW) and with Lucy Parsons, widow of the Haymarket martyr Albert R. Parsons, was arrested at the head of the demonstration. The protestors and police clashed with the police and Mrs. Parsons was arrested. But not before voicing demands for work and food for the homeless and unemployed. Then an IWW contingent left San Francisco to go to Sacramento, CA. They proceeded to camp on the Southern Pacific Railroad sand lots. General Charles T. Kelly and W.A. Thorn and several other leaders were arrested on charges of vagrancy, but the IWW army refused to leave and further arrests were made. The District Attorney Wackhorst appealed to Governor Johnson to call out the Militia, but Governor denied the request, saying the police and sheriff’s department were quite capable to handle the situation. The Sacramento Bee newspaper kept up a steady assault on the homeless army and labeled them a gang of thugs, deadbeats, bummers and vagrants, and called for vigilante tactics to drive them out. On March 9, 1914, members of the fire department, county sheriff, and deputies recruited from Sacramento and citizens given pick handles and ordered to attack the unemployed homeless. What followed was described by an angry reporter who witnessed the events on what came to be known as Bloody Monday. With drawn pick handles, the homeless were charged and when the unarmed men refused to budge they were beat unmercifully, driven over or thrown over fences and their campsites and belongings were set on fire. Some were thrown on the ground while holding American flags, but these men were dislodged by firemen who turned on hoses with powerful streams of water. For two weeks the army of protestors stayed near Sacramento, suffering intensely, but determined to stay until their leaders were released. Even the Sacramento Bee newspaper begrudgingly said the men could not be beaten into submission. All leaders were released except General Kelly, who was sentenced to six months in jail. We today must take a lesson from the past, and that is we don’t start using the 1900 playbook on how to handle the homeless, and the Have Littles because if wage and life inequality is not eliminated, such as the 40-hour work week, $15 to $18 an hour minimum wage, and single-payer healthcare, then we might see another army of homeless and unemployed. Ramon Labanino, one of the Cuban Five, wrote. “The system of justice in the U.S. enables a powerful minority to control a vast majority who are poor and dispossessed—a person who is poor—black, Latino, Native American, white—faces the enormous savagery of what is called American Justice.” less Treatment: Then and Now

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