Editor’s note: This was the talk Julianna gave at the third-anniversary celebration of OccupySF in September, 2014.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — I never thought it could happen to me. I came from a hardworking but also privileged family; and I was taught that if I got my education, and did what I was supposed to do, this would never happen to me. Until I came to San Francisco, and it DID happen to me.
Becoming homeless was one of the best things that ever happened to me because the experience opened my eyes and taught me so much about humanity and compassion, the world we live in, and the way our society values and treats people.
Human beings are the only species on Earth who have to constantly justify their right to exist. Our society only values individuals for their labor and ability to produce. If you are unable to contribute to the labor force, we deny you your basic needs for survival – food, shelter, clothing, health care, and education. Those who have feel entitled and judge those who don’t as unworthy and undeserving.
We live in a world of abundance – producing more than many times the amount of food necessary to feed the Earth’s population, yet people still go hungry. Houses sit empty while men, women, children, veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities wander the streets. How is it that there is so much suffering? How is it that people have to go without shelter, safety, and security?
Homelessness is a dangerous and tragic symptom of a sick and failing system. The way homeless people are being treated and criminalized in America is a HUMAN rights issue. From the inhumane sit/lie law used to target people seeking a place to rest during the day, to San Francisco’s Penal Code 647E which prohibits illegal structures and lodging, and is used to confiscate people’s blankets and sleeping bags – the criminalization of the poor and the homeless has become rampant in the US. They’ve made it illegal to distribute food and water under the guise of public health and safety, and often require permits that many nonprofits cannot afford. The homeless are targeted and attacked by DPW using water cannons and chemicals to torture them. These are just some examples of human rights violations happening right here in San Francisco used to harass and persecute homeless.
The way our society treats those who have the least is a clear indication of what is to come. They first bully the weak, the vulnerable and those who challenge their ways. First they came for the homeless, and they will be coming for you next. Let us stand together and fight for human rights, and for a society based on sharing, where no one will be homeless because all will have as a human right everything they need.
Julianna Cheng lived in the OccupySF encampment at the Federal Reserve bank, where she was arrested for the crimes of sleeping, ‘lodging’ and protesting. She is currently housed and lives with her 22 month-old daughter in San Francisco, where she continues her activist work..