State Sen. Will Espero attends (De)Occupy Honolulu meeting.
Image: H. Doug Matsuoka

On Sunday, June 3, Hawaii State Sen. Will Espero became the first legislator to participate in a (De)Occupy Honolulu “General Assembly,” weekly attention-getting meetings at Thomas Square.

Protester Billy Goodwin, a resident of the sidewalk encampment off Beretania Street and a Viet Nam veteran, told Espero that the city’s Ordinance 11-29, which allows for removal of personal effects from city property after items have been tagged with warning notices and 24 hours have passed, has essentially made homelessness a crime.

Said Goodwin,“I would say criminalizing poverty is a crime in itself.”

Sounding the national Occupy theme, resident protester Andrew Smith, an IT student, spoke of “dispar[ity]between the haves and the have-nots. We have this class warfare that’s going on … the people on the bottom are getting further and further disconnected from the economy and from society,” Smith said.

He was also concerned from a fiscal perspective. “The raids are an incredible waste of tax-payer money and doesn’t fix the problem,”Smith told the senator.

The ordinance’s ineffectuality, in both immediate and overall societal contexts, was also raised by Damion Rosburgh, a UH physics student and Occupy supporter,

“The police are doing sweeps on their camps, but all they’re doing is sweeping the problem under a rug. If it’s out of sight it’s out of mind, but just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and with this camp we’re making it [the] point [that] it is there, and you will see it.” Rosburgh concluded, “We need systematic change at a higher level and [to] stop putting Band-Aids on the problem.”

Sen. Espero seemed to hear the call for state action. “As a legislator, I’m finding things don’t happen as quick[ly] as we want them. It’s a matter of priorities, and we need to do a better job of prioritizing the homeless issue. We need to step it up,” he said.

Since then, the city has stepped things up, with a first-time seizure on June 28 of untagged tents (which the protestors subsequently replaced) at Thomas Square.

(De)Occupy Honolulu General Assembly meetings are held at Thomas Square on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30pm. See [deoccupyhonolulu.org].