Scott Morrow, the controversial organizer voted out of Nickelsville earlier this month, today released the following letter in response to allegations against him. -CJ
Decades ago I began community organizing work with homeless people in Seattle. The choice wasn’t based on organizing ability but rather a love and enjoyment of homeless people and the homeless community of Seattle.
I’ve never found anything more rewarding than seeing and being part of a group fighting to win something worthwhile, something that they couldn’t attain unless they worked together. Over and over, the mutual goal in Seattle has been shelter and housing. It’s been about surviving and solving homelessness.
This winter – like last winter and the winter before – a group I’ve been working with has chosen to take a path I couldn’t follow. Conflict between me – their organizer – and the group was the result. This has raised a legitimate question that deserves discussion and answer – are self-managed encampments operated by imperfect humans worth it?
I would argue yes, and that in the world as it is, many such conflicts are inevitable. I would argue that such conflicts often have healthy outcomes, and that the alternatives to self-management are no better. I would acknowledge that I am not a great community organizer, and if I were, some of these conflicts would be avoided.
One of the main tenets in grassroots organizing is a profound belief in the inherent strength of individuals to form groups to determine their own future and run their own projects. Within the wacky yet successful democratic group model found at SHARE, WHEEL and Nickelsville is a need for the group – as they decide and act – to know and wrestle with the facts.
In our system, the facts – historical and immediate – often come to the group from the organizer: “That’s a barrable offense.” “If you do that, we’re breaking our agreement.” “The last three times we tried that it didn’t work.” The organizer presentations must be issue-based and structurally analytical. They cannot be personal.
Of course the facts are hard, painful, and resented at times. They still must be named and said. As our Mayor and Dorothy Day have reminded us “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” (Quote from Dostoevsky)
Better organizers and leaders than I have had their heads chopped off for raising up the facts.
Even so, democratic decision-making and action based on debate and the facts continues to be our best hope for changing the world – and our city – for the better.
What has happened in the last month at the encampment formerly known as Nickelsville Dearborn is pretty straightforward: The encampment faced big challenges in preserving its safety in terms of keeping out extremely unsavory and dangerous elements, and doing it fairly and equitably.
Rather than support Dearborn Campers’ efforts to deal with these issues, several outsiders have been dredging up falsehoods and red herrings to discredit me. When a grassroots organizer takes the first step of working with the group to sort out real alternatives existing in the real world, there is nothing more poisonous than using glib positive thinking to promote untenable alternatives.
Add into this numerous red herrings and falsehoods – such as the outrageous claim that I have ignored safety issues at the camp, that I’m pocketing the wealth donated to the community, that my manner of speech ‘shuts people down’ – mostly coming from a disgruntled and vengeful fired employee – and the result is a train wreck.
A month on, the specifics backing up any of these broad and baseless accusations have been few and far between. There isn’t much of substance to respond to. This is in spite of the ongoing trolling for grievances about me by the Executive Director of an organization that ‘just now’ would like to take over the Dearborn Encampment. If you’d like responses to these vague charges about ripping off the organization or ignoring safety issues, please call or email.
Dearborn campers had a choice: listen to and act on unpleasant facts that are real, and that are named and raised up by a sharp-tongued and over-worked organizer – or embark on a cruise of wishful thinking followed by awful real world consequence (also known as driving over the cliff).
It’s no surprise that sometimes democratic groups make the wrong choices. Sure, it’s positive that the decision made was reached democratically, but that doesn’t change the sad result.
Please remember how unusual it is, though, for direct democracy to make the wrong decision. For those keeping count, don’t forget about the thousands of times groups have been faced with hard facts and done the right thing. Don’t forget about the half dozen encampments around King County operating successfully today.
I wish I were a better organizer. I wish there weren’t such a need for organizers to work with communities in crisis. I wish more people were willing to do the work of community organizing.
Encampments I’ve worked with have done well in Seattle for decades now in spite of receiving little or no governmental funding and enormous challenges. And I’m not the only organizer out there doing this work – it’s just that attention isn’t paid until a crisis.
Due to several factors – one being the hard work of SHARE/WHEEL and Nickelsville over decades establishing the safety and value of organized encampments – there is now a a real hope of institutional support for encampments in Seattle. Such support would allow encampments to reach their full potential as another tool to survive and solve homelessness.
Times are changing. My love for this work and this community hasn’t, and I look forward to growing, improving and contributing – upon invitation – for a long time to come.