Guy Oron is young and fairly new to the organizing scene, but once he saw the need for grassroots organizing in Seattle, he eagerly stepped in. He grew up all over (New Mexico, Israel and Seattle), which has perhaps contributed to his intentional participation in diverse initiatives and movements. He has recently begun attending and documenting sweeps of unsanctioned encampments. Oron is a rising sophomore at the University of Washington.
Oron spoke with Bri Little about what led to his interest in advocacy and what he's observed from monitoring sweeps.
Bri Little: How did you get into political organizing and what groups are you involved with at and outside of UW?
Guy Oron: I got involved in political organizing in different stages. As a kid growing up, I was involved in Middle East Peace Camp, which is a grassroots camp that teaches culture, acceptance and diversity of people from different backgrounds. From that, I was on the fringes of political movements ... like some of my family members were more involved. I would say I really got involved junior year of high school when I started volunteering for Pramila Jayapal’s campaign for Congress. I started going to community events. During that year I got involved with Stop the Sweeps organizing with some people I knew. Over this past summer and going into UW, I [became] active in Nikkita Oliver’s campaign and different community groups just based on people I met inviting me or letting me know what’s going on. Then I’d show up to things. That’s how I’ve been since. At UW I’m affiliated with Queer People of Color Alliance. I helped organize Viva la Joteria Conference, which is a Latinx Queer POC group that did a healing conference this year.
BL: When did you start tracking sweeps?
GO: I found out about sweeps when they [swept] the Jungle. I saw it on the news, then I read about this organizing collective called Stop the Sweeps, I think. They interrupted a press conference. I was doing my senior project and I thought, “I should do it on community organizing,” so I reached out to them.
This was during the same time as Block the Bunker, so for me this was really one of those politicizing moments when I started paying attention to all the bad things that were happening. So that’s how I got involved. I wasn’t that committed to organizing work but I kept in touch, and I went to Camp Second Chance and helped with some of their building of tents and tiny houses.
BL: What have you noticed about how the process goes?
GO: I’ll draw from my experience at Ravenna Woods, which [the city] has swept, like, three times in the last five months.
I was down there [in February], and they were kind of surprised, because we mobilized 10-plus people to go out and document things. I saw the navigation workers. … It seemed like they weren’t doing much. I think they do work, but the shelter system isn’t adequate or designed for most people, so there are some people it serves well, but most people it doesn’t. So most people end up living in their own unsanctioned houses instead of coming into these fairly restricted spaces. What I’ve seen is the police … when they’re being watched, they’re not doing too much, not making too big of a deal.
But when no one’s overseeing them, I’d imagine they act more aggressively. The other thing I saw was someone from Finance and Administrative Services — the ones who organize the sweeps and carry them out — who went through the camp not respecting people’s spaces and looking through all the tents.
That was really disrespectful.
They don’t really see where these people are living as legitimate or as their personal space. We saw that also during the lawsuit [against the city] ... that now they’re legally not allowed to enter someone’s space unless someone invites them to [do so]. But I’m sure there’s some blurred lines, and there’s a lot of pressure to just get these things done, which is unfortunate.
The pressure is really coming from the top. One of the managers of the sweeps used to be unhoused himself.
On the one hand you can have these experiences and relationships with people who are living outside, but then [you’re] forced to turn your back on them.
Guy Oron co-authored the article “Seattle spent over $10 million on homeless sweeps in 2017” for the South Seattle Emerald.
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