By: Comrades Carlo and Daniel
Recognizing that we have enemies, we must analyze our community and determine class friend from class foe. When it comes to Tent City, an encampment below I-83, the class lines are deliberately blurred. There are a few reasons why it may be difficult to determine friend from foe, namely the way folks come at you. Why does an enemy speak to you with a smile? When someone hands you food, water, and clothing, how can they be against you? These questions can’t be answered on a surface glance. We must take an in-depth approach, and discuss ways that liberalism and opportunism manifests.
Tent City receives a lot of donations. That’s a positive thing. The encampment is near social services. A hot meal distribution from Our Daily Bread is a block away. The camp is sandwiched between a bunch of churches and charitable organizations. It’s within marching distance of City Hall, where houseless people organized to stop Tent City from being shut down in early December. The encampment is known across the region, with some volunteers driving several hours just to drop off firewood under I-83. The attention it receives can be a positive factor in gaining real/material support, and organizing the people.
But this publicity gives cover to class parasites. For example the city’s bureaucrats in the camp, who have inflamed internal contradictions between camp residents. They are occupying those in the encampment, leeching off the external support the houseless receive from the surrounding communities. Such people come from outside the encampment and have taken up space for their own purpose of taking donations for themselves. The purposes of these parasitic forces are not in service of the people’s interest, namely getting a stable housing situation.
The primary parasitic element is the city government, which pursues its interests through collaboration with Christina Flowers and her associates. Though she may intend to help provide for houseless people, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Class interest and stand must be taken into account first and foremost. Through mishandling of the encampment’s resources, she has become a burden to the encampment. The complaints of the people in the encampments are simple — most stemming from inhumane treatment by volunteers– but the number of complaints has steadily grown.
The major complaint is harboring and employing men who sexually abuse the non-men in Tent City. At least one woman’s allegations were dismissed out of hand by Flowers, which helped force the woman back on the street out of her now more-dangerous hotel room. Her character and mental health were called into question. A few of the houseless residents of Tent City harassed her and threatened her so that she can’t even come around the encampment for food distributions any more. We see Flowers’ hostility as promoting the rape culture among the oppressed.
The disregard of the welfare of women in the encampment does not stop with that incident however, as women are routinely harassed right and left. They are bullied and humiliated, with the worst sufferers made to walk without sufficient clothing for the temperature and weather conditions. Flowers takes all in-kind donations, including coats, and locks them in a shed in the encampment. In this way, she and her associates exert control and demand compliance from the residents at Tent City, while women freeze to death on the street.
This ability to withhold donations clarifies a class distinction. There’s bourgeois charity and working class charity. Working class charity comes from our human impulse towards mutual aid, and it does not withhold or exert control. Bourgeois charity is meant to pacify and dominate the poor. Ultimately, charity of either type is not the extent or even the beginning of a revolution, as mere redistribution of goods under capitalism can not overthrow capitalism and will either be static or coopted by the State. This being said, mutual aid has a place in working class organizing.
There have been thousands of dollars donated from working people around Baltimore, along with bus passes. So much has simply disappeared. Christina Flowers has become the warden of tent city and has elevated certain individuals to assist her in this grift. It is even alleged she pays certain individuals to monitor her donation station. This has allowed some reactionary men of the camp, those with backwards attitudes around gay people, women, and social minorities, to take up power over them. The construction of the shed was a strike against the people, as it prevents the free access of resources for those who run afoul of Flowers.
Once when we entered the camp with some toilet paper to give out, Carlo was stopped with my Comrade. Flowers told us not to give out the toilet paper and instead lock it in the shed, where she would be able to decide who gets it, when. She claimed “the homeless couldn’t be trusted” — with toilet paper! However this claim ignores reality. The people of Tent City do not want to live in filth and are constantly sweeping, picking up trash, and generally doing their best to maintain a safe environment in spite of a pandemic. The moment Flowers and associates leave the camp, they take their keys to the toilet paper with them. It’s common knowledge that the toilet paper sleeps warmer and dryer than everyone in the camp. This paternalistic hoarding of resources is exactly why a lot of people in Tent City chose to leave the nearby shelters!
Why hasn’t Flowers been removed from tent city? This question leads us to the 2nd parasitic element. The police routinely hassle the unhoused, criminalizing their existence. The police parade up and down the encampment, reading out names on warrants, looking for suspects, questioning and interrogating. The pigs have no respect nor understanding of the daily lives and struggles of the unhoused, and their harassment comes at all hours of the day. They routinely park their cruisers to the side of the encampment, with the lights flashing into the camp at all hours. Besides the sirens, the lights serve to threaten the unhoused into meek acceptance that their existence in Tent City is temporary and tenuous.
So here comes Flowers to the rescue. Flowers utilizes the reputation of her charity and nonprofit, along with personal relationships with “Baltimore’s finest” as she calls them, in order to keep the police out of and from totally wrecking Tent City. By collaborating with the police, Flowers shows whose side she is really on. The people do not have the organization, arms nor power to keep the pigs at bay, and Flowers uses this to justify her presence in the camp. This relationship is politically convenient for the local capitalist state. Flowers helps give the city government an excuse to its shareholders and landlords for why homeless people haven’t been removed from “their” city. With Flowers as “frenemy,” the city has no obligation to shelter the residents there. And the police do not need to clear out a camp, attracting unwanted attention from activists and media. Meanwhile, the police side with her in disputes against the people, such as in allegations of rape against Flowers’ constituents.
The 3rd parasitic element are the agents of capital and small owners, who come around looking for cheap labor, looking for folks to work for the lowest wage, under the table, to use and discard the folks in Tent City. These people are often the least aware of their role in the continued exploitation of the houseless population. They say, “I’m a job creator, I’m helping people” and are so certain of their usefulness! The reality of the situation is that the unhoused population who agrees to this parasite’s terms are often no better off after completing the contract. If the parasites even follow through, because these agents/petite bourgeois types typically will rip you off, whether by paying a lower rate than agreed, or stiffing the worker entirely, using the same reasoning as Flowers that the police would side with them in any dispute. These agents of capital/small time capitalists often come from the construction/gentrification industries, offering no benefits, contracts, and the most bare-bones safety equipment.
This is not an exhaustive list of class enemies, and no means is perfect analysis. Neoliberal charities continue to go unchallenged, as both the state and the poorest people rely on them. The investigation of this encampment began late 2020, and as FTP-Baltimore spends more time there serving the Midtown Winter Distro, there will be updates to their social map of Tent City. The most important goal of the Midtown Winter Distro is establishing a democratic means to distribute the donations that come in, through developing a transparent organization from the people who actually live in the encampment.