Friday, September 18, 2015. A small group of people, less than ten, on the corner of Marion Square, furiously shouting, “When you criminalize the poor, this is class war!” among other poignant mantras about poverty. Signs held with solemn resolve. Wind violently blowing, (in the infamous wind tunnel known as King and Calhoun), hair whipping in faces. Cars blaring horns as they drive by. For a small group, they brought a lot of attention. As the saying goes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” And the fight was inextinguishable in these dogged protesters (no pun intended) from The People’s Solidarity Society (PSS).
September 18 was the day a ban against roadside panhandling in Charleston took effect. So, in direct opposition to this ban, The People’s Solidarity Society formed this protest, and even panhandled a little bit. The new ban prohibits anyone from passing an item to or from the occupant of a vehicle whilst in a traffic lane, in the road. So in laymen’s terms, both a panhandler on the side of the road and a driver could get arrested (up to 30 days) and a fine of $1,092 max if they break the ban. Jailed and fined for an act of charity towards the impoverished. And roadside panhandling is one of the most lucrative types of pandhandling due to the volume cars passing by, each vehicle a potential donor.
And cue the protest.
It began around 3 pm. No megaphone, no music, no amplification, simply the voices of people carried in the inexhaustible wind.
And cue the cops, around 4 pm. Four cops ultimately showed up. And they decided to write a $470 ticket to a single homeless man for a noise ordinance violation, as seen here.
A man named James was ticketed at the protest.
$470 for freedom of speech? Doesn’t sound free. To a homeless man with no money? Doesn’t sound remotely reasonable. It’s not a noise ordinance, it’s a speech ordinance. But they can’t call it that (yet). John White, a member of PSS, noted that many groups and organizations that have congregated at Marion Square in the past have been much louder. Break dancers, anti-gay Christians… even movies have been played on a gigantic screen in Marion Square, for Chrissakes. So it was not a noise ordinance, it was a speech ordinance. (A Gofundme campaign is in the works for the ticket).
Now you may be wondering: PSS, who are they? Aside from their names—John White, Muhiyyidin D'baha (of Black Lives Matter), Caity Fitch, Andrew Crawford, Charles Chandler, and Sarah Vilifane (of the Community Campus Movement)—I can give you some more information about who they are really are and what they are about…
Unity. Community. Communication. These are the tenets of the People’s Solidarity Society—because what sets them apart is exactly what allows for inclusion, integration, and incorporation of many communities. They are amorphous, focusing less on abstract, unresolvable philosophies (unresolvable as of 2015 A.D. and questioned since the dawn of man, I suppose); rather, they focus on basic human needs, equal rights, and humanitarian interests. And as such, a member of The People’s Solidarity Society could include anyone from a member of Black Lives Matter to a socially conscious anarchist to a libertarian to a leftist Christian. And it does.
Basically, it gets back to what We, the People, can and do agree on—serving We, the People. The masses. (Or yes, you’ve heard it, the 99%). The interests of the many. Or you know, just basic democracy. Getting back to that (wait, wasn’t that like, supposed to be square one, for America?).
But what means their tactics will work? Some more tenets: Unite… Mobilize, and Mobilize.
Ok so, they have a focus, which is integral to efficacy. Though somewhat amorphous as a society (in terms of who they include), they have a solid strategy which is to A. raise awareness (duh) and B. seize control of local elections. Because a few hundred voters exercising their voting power can be decisive in local elections. Because local elections are the Achilles’ heel of America (that is, if you look at the American government as some sort of opponent, which it’s not. But the whole idea is to get a vice-grip on that Achilles’ heel, and then make Achilles’ your friend and work for you, in some sort of twisted Stockholm Syndrome-y way. I never said it was the best analogy). Because if the masses started voting in the smallest but most numerous elections, America would no longer be an oligarchy. Power in numbers, folks. So they will collectively choose a local candidate who everyone feels best represents them and then… wait for it: Vote. With a capital V. They are thinking small, but thinking strategic, and in doing so, thinking big.
Solidarity. It’s in the name. That is why they include people of all color and creed, all (insert any conceivable variable here), because if the people start to work together to serve their own interest—and actually do it (mobilize, mobilize) – well, hell, it’s like we’d be some sort of a functional democracy or something. No, it would be a brilliant vision conceived of so famously, so long ago, finally realized.
Watch a video from the protest here.
People’s Solidarity Society. Check ‘em out.