Over inauguration weekend, the homeless residents of Franklin Square Park looked on as protesters demonstrated against war, nuclear weapons, homelessness and poverty for four days. There were nightly concerts and speakers, including former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
One of the event’s organizers from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, veteran John Penley, views the cost of an arms race as threatening poverty and housing programs. “It’s a massive amount of money if they set off another nuclear arms race and it’s not only going to affect the poor in America but the poor worldwide.”
According to Penley, when organizers stayed in Lincoln Square Park the night of Jan. 18, the U.S. Park Police told them they could not erect tents in the park, although they had an overnight permit. He said that Park Police told protesters that if they did not take down their tents, the Park Police would force the 40-50 homeless people sleeping there to leave the park.
“They said, ‘if they see you putting up tents they may start putting up tents and then we’d have a problem,” said Penley. The National Park Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bruce Wright, the event’s other main organizer, said that they sought to make the protest a safe place for homeless people to be during the inauguration.
In stark contrast, a group of protesters ran past the park breaking storefront windows on Jan. 20 and a setting a limousine ablaze.
Mick McIuan, a member of the band that performed on Jan. 19, Room Full of Strangers, sees war and homelessness as interconnected — both in terms of funding for services and the human cost.
“Homeless veterans would be a byproduct of unnecessary wars,” he said. ‘They’re deployed too long and there’s not enough care when they come home.”