City Councilor Konnie Lukes, in Worcester Magazine:
It was clearly a publicity stunt geared to embarrass police and the city. I’ll leave it to [the police department's] judgment as to how they handle it.
We were made aware that there would be a peaceful protest focusing on poverty and the panhandling ordinance. Based on the communication that we received from Saint Francis & Therese Catholic Worker, we know that the protesters are well aware of the ordinance and we gave them latitude to peacefully conduct their protest.
Our approach to panhandling has been stated publicly. Our focus has been on education and gaining voluntary compliance. If enforcement action is necessary, we will take it . . . But we will not make arrests for the sake of making arrests.
Today, between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM there were 21 calls for service throughout the city. None of these calls were regarding panhandling. During this time period, we directed our limited resources where they were most needed. We used discretion to monitor the protest, and our decisions were made in the best interest of the entire community.
As much as I’d like to quibble with these words, I’m not going to do that, because the upshot of the city’s actions is so interesting.
This isn’t a case where some people violated the letter of the law but not the spirit.
They violated* the part of the anti-panhandling ordinances which claims to be about traffic safety. And in fact, this was a worst-case scenario for begging on a median. Besides these three men, there were as many as a dozen reporters, photographers, and activists out there with them, scooting by each other and stepping on and off the curb.
By not enforcing this “traffic safety” law, the city’s actions say, “this isn’t really about traffic safety.” Their actions say, “if you were a scruffy bum, you would be endangering yourself and others, but if you are well-groomed and media-savvy, then we can all admit this is nothing to worry about.”
* Brendan tried to explain the difference between laws and regulations on the last 508, and I’m still confused. In this case, the ordinance says that begging on a median only becomes a problem if a policeman tells you to stop. But the city has been handing out flyers claiming that the soliciting is always a violation. It may be a long time before we find out what’s really prohibited.
ME CONDEMN THE PUBLICITY STUNT GEARED TO EMBARRASS POLICE AND THE CITY!! BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE ORDINANCES. #WORCPOLI
— SEKUL (ə, BIZARRO) (@BIZARROLUKES) February 14, 2013
AF Zamarro writes in with this grand metaphor:
The best analogy for these protests is that of a tired old comedy. You have the over-the-hill actor in Scott Shaffer-Duffy, who takes his role so very seriously and hams up every dramatic opportunity in the threadbare script. Chief Gemme is the exhausted stage manager, who knows that the audience isn’t really paying attention and that he needs to humor the old actor to keep the doors open. And the audience – the audience is tired, and sometimes entertained, but they are never really drawn into the plot any longer. Many audience members are waiting, hoping for an updated script, for the managers, actors, and creative staff to realize that the paradigm has changed and that we need productions that keep with the times.
The reason Chief Gemme didn’t send out squads of goons to cuff Shaffer-Duffy and his tired band of thespians is that he knows the script. He knows that Scott is trying to make a scene, trying to make a statement. But he also knows that no one cares. The audience knows the script, too.
There was a time when acts like this mattered, but that time is past. It’s not the machine that needs work. The machine has become so fat and bloated, largely due to folks like Scott making it so self-conscious of showing up any possible error or weakness that it accounts for all of them, or tries to, and the machine has become the problem by trying to fix everything.
What we need to do is build up people, but folks like Scott aren’t good at building up cultures, just tearing them down. He’s a deconstructionist, and that’s the script he goes by. It’s time for a new script.
I guess he didn’t like it.
In an act of civil disobedience against Worcester’s new anti-panhandling ordinances, three Worcester residents today begged for money on the median in Lincoln Square, directly across from police headquarters. The event was held on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which Christians mark with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Gordon Davis, a blind anti-discrimination advocate, held a bucket reading BLIND and represented the disabled. Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, a Catholic Worker who has housed the homeless in Worcester for decades, was dressed as St. Francis, himself a beggar. Robert Peters, a long-time Buddhist meditator, dressed in the robes he wears as a lay Buddhist.
At least four people called the police to complain. According to the supporters demonstrating legally on the nearby sidewalk, the only police response was one officer giving the thumbs-up when he drove by.
In a statement, Chief Gemme said that “Today, between 1 and 2 p.m. there were 21 calls for service throughout the city. None of these calls were regarding panhandling.” (I’m not sure what the difference is between a call for service and these calls. Maybe there were 21 911 issues?)
None of the beggars was arrested, cited, or warned. “This is a victory for Worcester,” said Schaeffer-Duffy.
Facebook is a great thing to “give up” for Lent. It’s not the worst thing I can do with my time, but the line between “connecting with friends” and “spending an hour clicking aimlessly” is easily crossed.
Back when I was a big TV watcher, giving up TV for Lent always seemed like a good idea, but not a very practical one. Even if the time I spent with my family in front of the tube was not “quality time,” it was still a social activity and a shared experience.
Both TV watching and Facebook are strange in that from one angle they’re very solitary, and from another communal. At its worst, watching TV let strangers program my brain as I sat staring; Facebook, at its worst, is an exercise in narcissism.
So since I always feel like “I should spend less time on Facebook,” and since I have no lack of other ways of catching up with folks, I’m giving up Facebook again this year, and replacing some of that newly-freed time with morning and evening prayer. I’ll be on the road a lot of Lent, so I’m putting off deciding what to give up on Fridays in lieu of meat—I’ll try various dietary experiments and see how they go.
We don’t post a lot of Catholic hierarchy news here, but this is outside the norm.
A profoundly conservative figure whose papacy was overshadowed by sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, the pope, 85, said that after examining his conscience “before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his position as head of the world’s Roman Catholics.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
As someone who grew up under the leadership of John Paul II, Pope Benedict’s papacy will always be a mediocre one to me, lacking JPII’s charisma and vision, and marked by his failure to respond to the child sex abuse crisis with anything commensurate to the enormity of that crime.
More reactions via Andrew Sullivan.
Catholic Worker news
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, is up for sainthood. This has catalyzed an effort among many Catholic Workers to define who she was as clearly as possible, for the benefit of the public at large.
Here’s another thoughtful article along those lines, from the Houston Catholic Worker community: What the New York Times Did Not Say About the Sainthood of Dorothy Day
After she became a Catholic, Dorothy’s whole life was permeated by her Catholic faith. All that she said and did was an expression of that faith. The New York Times said a lot about Dorothy Day, but a reader could easily have missed the profundity of her faith. For example, the article quoted “some Catholics” as saying that “promoting Day’s sainthood cause is politically useful for Dolan and other bishops, at a time when the hierarchy is often described by liberal Catholics as caring more about reproductive issues than poverty.” They neglected to mention the possibility that Cardinal Dolan might be working on the cause for her canonization for his eternal salvation.
Note that there are plenty of parishes in this country, including some right here in Worcester, where Dorothy’s name is sometimes included in the litany of saints already.
Here’s a nice video from PBS on the movement, including action video from St. Joseph’s House in New York City, the community that introduced me to the Catholic Worker.
Worcester park news
Here’s a video interviewing some of the people behind the creation of the Winslow Street park.
On a related note, here’s a good 2013 article on Saint Francis.
You can watch 508 Fridays at 7pm on WCCA TV13.
On Ash Wednesday, February 13, from 1-2 pm, the Saints Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker community will sponsor a protest at Lincoln Square in Worcester calling for the repeal of anti-panhandling regulations passed last week. Signs will be held and the attached leaflet will be distributed.
Robert Peters, a long-time practitioner of Buddhist mediation, will wear a monk’s attire and hold a beggar’s bowl.
Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, a one-time novice with the Capuchin-Franciscans, will wear a Franciscan habit and also carry a beggar’s bowl.
Robert will be on the sidewalk, while Scott will defy the anti-panhandling ordinance by begging on the median strip. Both of them hope to highlight the sacred place begging and giving to beggars has in all the world’s major religions.
The members of the Catholic Worker community have sent the attached letter to Worcester’s police chief, mayor, and all the city councilors describing their reasons for holding this protest. Any funds collected will be given directly to those who who continue to feel the need to appeal for help on the streets of Worcester. For more information, call Claire Schaeffer-Duffy 508 753-3588.
Flyer for this event:
Lift the Restrictions on Panhandling!
As providers of shelter for the homeless, we know that these are very hard economic times. Jobs are in short supply and most of those that are available don’t pay a living wage. Government aid is shrinking. The city of Worcester is refusing to shelter anyone who cannot prove two years’ residency. At our hospitality house for the homeless, we get calls daily from people who literally have no where to go for help. At the same time, all the world’s major religious traditions teach that giving to those in need is a holy act. Jesus said in the Gospel of Saint Luke, “Give to everyone who begs from you.” In Judaism, Tzedakah, (giving to the poor) is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due. In the Koran it says, “Give something (even if it is very little) to the beggar or send him away with nice words; because he may be an angel who visits you to see how you use the blessings and bounties that Allah granted you.” Giving (dana) is one of the essential preliminary steps of Buddhist practice.
Saint Francis of Assisi believed that, when one’s needs could not be met by work, begging promoted humility, greater awareness of God’s providence, and an opportunity for others to do good. Hindu holy men and Buddhist monks live exclusively on what they beg. The anti-panhandling regulations in Worcester make the lives of the very poor even more desperate.
Worcester’s chief of police says that panhandlers will be given information on alternatives. We know from experience that those alternatives are in very short supply these days. The anti-panhandling regulations also prohibit little league teams and firefighters from fund-raising at intersections. Politicians claim these regulations are for safety, but no one can point to a single injury related to panhandling. We believe the regulations are another attempt by the city to compel the poor to get out of town or at least out of sight.
Given that Jesus said in Matthew 25 that whatever we do or fail to do for those in need, we do or fail to do for Him, we feel compelled to challenge the anti-panhandling regulations. As a community that subsists entirely on private donations, we are beggars too. If the city wants to arrest someone, let them arrest us.
The members of the Saints Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker
52 Mason Street, Worcester, MA 01610
A letter to local leaders:
The Members of the Worcester City Council
Police Chief Gemme
February 5, 2013
Dear City Leaders,
Peace! As people who have offered shelter to the poor for more than 30 years, we can say from experience that these are some of the hardest economic times. Jobs are scarce, wages are at historic lows, while debt is at a historic high. The gap between the rich and poor is the widest it has been in our lifetimes. At the same time, government is cutting spending. The safety net for the poor is coming apart. The city of Worcester is trying to limit the number of homeless it serves by requiring those seeking shelter to prove two years of residency in Worcester. Here at Saints Francis and Thérèse Catholic Worker, we get as many as a dozen calls a day from women and men who say they have no where to turn for help. God forgive us, but with our space limitations we turn most of them away. Our greatest fear is that some of these people will freeze to death on the street, or take their lives in despair.
In this economic context, it has not surprised us to see more people begging on street corners. We always try to offer what we can mindful of the instructions in the Gospel of Saint Luke to give to everyone who begs from us. We have never met an “aggressive” panhandler. Quite the contrary, people have been more appreciative than the size of our gifts have warranted.
But now the city has passed a complex ordinance prohibiting desperately poor people from asking for help in most locations where they currently make their appeals. After giving them a warning, the police will begin issuing citations for $50 or a requirement for community service. Instead of expanding assistance, the city is placing another barrier to poor people’s ability to survive.
Therefore, on Ash Wednesday, February 13, the first day of the Christian season of Lent, a time when we are called to rededicate ourselves to the works of mercy, we will assemble at Lincoln Square to call for a lifting of the panhandling restriction. From 12 P.M. at least one member of our group will stand on the median strip to appeal for funds for the poor. We recognize that this is a direct violation of the anti-panhandling ordinance. If the city means to arrest anyone, it would be far better to arrest one of us who will be unafraid to challenge this ordinance in court than those impoverished individuals who have been beaten down too much already.
Like each of you in government and public service, we love this city and want to see it become better. Not having beggars on street corners is a goal we too support, but one that ought to be accomplished through economic and educational opportunities, not threats. As government moves farther away from meeting the needs of the poor, all of us are going to have to do more for those in need or face the gaunt expressions of those who have never enjoyed the American dream.
Last time they voted to “advertise” the anti-soliciting ordinances. This week was the final step of the process. Economou, Eddy, Germain, Lukes, Palmieri, Rushton, Russell, Toomey, and Petty voted yes. O’Brien and Rivera voted no.
The City Manager reiterated his confidence that the city’s lawyers did a good job drafting this and the city won’t lose a lawsuit over it. He also said that outreach workers have talked to frequent solicitors and they know about the ordinances and penalties.
The Council asked for a report in 30 days about how enforcement is going.
The Telegram & Gazette, in an article today, outlined the time-and-place restrictions in this plan, those being the parts that have generated the most controversy yet have not been discussed in public by the Council or mentioned (until today) in traditional media. Since they Council didn’t debate the specifics of the plan, just asked some questions about implementation and reporting, they didn’t use this final opportunity to answer the concerns. Maybe I’m naive, but this still amazes me.
Update: Here’s a photo of a handout on the ordinance. It doesn’t mention the many time and place restrictions. Odd.