June 22, 2024

Whole Community News

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Legalize Survival: Eric Jackson offered peace and dignity on the streets of Eugene

14 min read
Eric Jackson wrote: "As a community, we must approach the issue of homelessness with empathy, compassion, and respect for the rights of all individuals. By standing up for the legal rights and human dignity of homeless individuals, we are advocating for a more just and equitable community for all."

Jana Thrift: This is Jana, and I’m here with Julie, my co-host, and we are having a special Legalize Survival show for our dear friend Eric Jackson, and I have some of the other people that loved him very much as well here with us tonight.

But we really wanted on Legalize Survival to honor Eric, because he put a lot of love and work, real work, his life work into advocating for the unhoused in Eugene, and elsewhere…And we’re going to give everybody here an opportunity to have a word about how Eric touched their lives. I want to start with Zondie.

Zondie Zinke: Thanks so much, Jana. I wanted to say, a number of people since Eric died have commented to me, you know, ‘Thank you for supporting Jackson.’ And what they’re referring to is that for almost two years, and mostly during the pandemic (although I think starting before the pandemic), Eric lived in the side yard of property that my partner and I own (on stolen land).

[00:01:11] And the thing is, though, we really, weren’t supporting him so much as making use of a new regulation that he pressured into being, which was that private property owners (on stolen land) can have people camping in their yards.

[00:01:31] And it was under the pressure of Eric Jackson in this town that the city council passed that regulation to allow that. And actually at first, where he was, was in the planting strip in front of the property. And it’s so funny, he moved into the side yard because the city of Eugene, under pressure from Eric Jackson, changed the regulations of planting strips because with the 9th Circuit Court

[00:02:07] Sorry, I’m getting into this legal stuff, but it’s impossible to think of Jackson without, like, coming up with all the ways that actually the city council was scrambling to continue to be able to oppress houseless people and to try to make them invisible and have them sleep in far more dangerous places than where Eric was bringing people, which was out into the open.

[00:02:27] And so that was all a long way to say, they changed the regulation on the planting strips. The government used to just enforce moving people off planting strips, but it was determined too cruel by the 9th Circuit Court, since we don’t have adequate resources. So then they changed the regulation so that private property owners would be risk—

[00:02:46] You would think it would be, ‘So, okay!’ Property owners, who now had control over the planting strips, could do what we wanted and we were happy to have Eric camp in front of the property. But the government, they want the class divide and they don’t want property owners sharing resources or being allied at all with unhoused people. And so they began fining us $300 a day for Eric being in the planting strip.

[00:03:11] So then he moved into the side yard. And in that time, really what went on is Eric supported anywhere from 10 to 30 or 40 people a day with resources out of the side yard. So the idea that we were doing anything, me, I mean, it’s like, he was caring for people and cost me nothing, you know.

[00:03:34] I mean, like in a pathetic way, it really speaks to how he gave up the material things he had to be in positional solidarity with unhoused people and help them far more and really at cost to himself. But also I’m sure he feels nourished by all the connections he made, so hard call, but anyway, sorry, I’m just resisting the idea that—I mean, I can’t tell you how affected I am in my life and feel if anyone has people they truly look up to, Eric is that for me, when we take joy in the people we look up to and who are our heroes.

[00:04:08] And so I just feel far more nourished by him than anything we offered materially, which was stolen land.

[00:04:17] Richard Self: Eric was somebody who came here and made it his purpose to be homeless on purpose. This was a successful businessman that came from the East Coast to Eugene, Oregon, and said, ‘This is where I’m going to make my stand. This is where I’m going to stand up for those who are oppressed.’

[00:04:40] I wanted to share something that just was put into Double Sided Media. And I’ll share briefly some of it here.

[00:04:47] ‘A successful New Jersey businessman, Jackson left the East Coast and everything he had essentially known, to live on Eugene streets and advocate for the growing unhoused population through countless public demonstrations and by leading protest camps throughout the city.

[00:05:06] ‘In 2018, he stirred the pot by leading what was known as the Butterfly Camp, a protest camp that was situated around the city’s infamous Butterfly Lot, the now-razed parking lot at the center of the city’s tumultuous journey for a new city hall…

[00:05:24] ‘As a result of the protest camp, the city manager and council decided to open a winter survival site in downtown Eugene. However, local pushback from businesses led to the city abandoning that plan and set up a sister site near Highway 99 instead.

[00:05:41] ‘A few months later, in February of 2019, he protested both the city and county’s action toward the unhoused by camping in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. On Feb. 14, he was arrested for violating the plaza’s curfew.

[00:05:59] ‘Years later in 2021, he was convicted and with the aid of the Civil Liberties Defense Center filed an appeal citing the constitutionality of limiting the open hours of a free speech plaza. Unfortunately, the conviction was upheld and the Oregon Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

[00:06:17] ‘As the pandemic set in and the city’s houseless population increased along with an equally retaliatory city of Eugene and Eugene police, Jackson was instrumental in challenging the park bans and countless fines and citations being issued in mass.

[00:06:35] ‘Over time, his perseverance and determination to end the city’s horrendous treatment of the unhoused led to being cited and issued more than $10,000 in fines, but he was resilient and kept going until his sudden passing.

[00:06:53] ‘A few dozen community members gathered at Andreason’s Cremation in Springfield on Nov. 30 for a viewing and many spoke amongst each other, sharing memories. Some of them sat with him and spoke about the impacts he had on their lives.’

[00:07:09] Let’s see. The Civil Liberties Defense Council said in a statement, ‘…We mourn this untimely passing of this community leader, often known simply as Jackson and affectionately known to many as Pineapple.’

[00:07:24] John Q: Double Sided Media also shared tributes from Stop The Sweeps Eugene.

[00:07:30] Richard Self: And there is, of course, a lot more that’s in this article and a lot more that I can say, but you can see how he made quite the impact on people’s lives and on the structure of how the city goes.

[00:07:44] My favorite is him camping in front of the 5th Street Public Market, so he could have a argument with the owner of the 5th Street Public Market every morning, just to be an irritant to people who oppress other people because they have the wealth and the reasons and the means to do so.

[00:08:07] Julie Lambert: I thought it was fitting—one of the letters that Eric wrote—it really expresses what he wants, and I think it’s important for us to keep this in mind. So I’m going to abbreviate it, but this will be my contribution.

[00:08:21] He said: ‘The city of Eugene must prioritize the development of affordable housing and the provision of better services navigation systems. Local tax dollars should be allocated towards those efforts instead of criminalizing quality of life activities. Jailing homeless people based on Public Works reporting only exacerbates the problem and assures continued employment. As a community, we must approach the issue of homelessness with empathy, compassion, and respect for the rights of all individuals.

[00:08:51] By standing up for the legal rights and human dignity of homeless individuals, we are advocating for a more just and equitable community for all. I call upon the city of Eugene or the attorney general to take swift and decisive action to protect the legal rights and human dignity of homeless individuals.

[00:09:09] ‘We must eliminate staff that recklessly violate state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution without second guessing so that tax dollars are stopped being used to further this cycle of abuse.’

[00:09:22] And I think that pretty much sums it up for him.

[00:09:27] Zondie Zinke: I was at a meeting last night where people wanted to gather and talk and try to figure out how to carry on Eric’s legacy. And we acknowledged that he didn’t follow the protocols of horizontal organizing, right?

[00:09:43] At his viewing last Thursday, Kris McAlister told the story of how Kris went up to Eric and said, ‘Hi, I’m Kris McAlister,’ and Eric said, ‘Oh, you’re Kris. Okay, well, you’ve been doing a lot. And I think it’s all got to be done differently and let me tell you what needs to be done.’

[00:10:00] And Kris—when he shared that he was laughing—and he said that he said to Eric, ‘Okay, challenge accepted,’ knowing that they both had the same outcomes in mind.

[00:10:08] And I would say, oh, if anyone faulted him for anything, I feel like it may be that he was not horizontal, you know, following sort of leftist protocols for horizontal organizing. But on the other hand, if we look at him as an organizer, he was like, tremendously horizontal in that he was working with the people who were some of the most targeted and depressed and dehumanized. And so.

[00:10:35] The city knows well that people that went to Eric’s camps finally, or that stayed in camping with Eric, were the people that wouldn’t be served anywhere else.

[00:10:45] And if there were places that would serve somebody better than Eric’s camps could serve them, he would recommend that they go there. But there were people that, you know, when there’s so many services in town that wouldn’t at all serve the actual needs for people as they actually are, not some imagination for how people should be, right?

[00:11:05] And when I think on a personal level—and it’s like, I’ve been crying for days, but it’s crazy to feel like, I feel so loved by Eric, and I feel like people, like, I know his sons are these wonderful people, and you can read in them that they have a sense of self-worth that comes from the love of their dad, you know? And I think of Eric, and he loved people as they are, right? He didn’t have any agenda for you beyond how you were just in the present. And sorry, because I’m crying. But—

[00:11:48] Then it’s amazing. I would just—in thinking of what Julie shared and his words—I have some of his legal documents and he has kind of endless legal documents, but some in front of me.

[00:11:59] And this is from May 1. It’s a charge of disorderly conduct and probably people who tracked Eric know that he did not get disorderly conduct charges forever, until they were no longer allowed to cite him with trespassing because their citations were illegal.

[00:12:19] So then they just came up with disorderly conduct. And we know that Eric was one of the most self-possessed people out there who was never disorderly, except by ludicrous definitions, such as, here it is: ‘He unlawfully and recklessly (not recklessly) create a risk of public inconvenience (I mean, ridiculous), annoyance or alarm by obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic on a public way.’

[00:12:46] This is the best they could come up with for him for disorderly conduct. I mean, that’s there’s nothing. We know what he did. He sat cross-legged on the sidewalk in a tent. But anyway, the last phrasing of it is: ‘Contrary to the code and against the peace and dignity of the city of Eugene.’ And, like, those words! That Eric Jackson again did anything against ‘the peace and dignity’ of Eugene. He was the heart of dignity in Eugene and everything they did was the opposite.

[00:13:15] I’m happy to say that in at least the case of the disorderly conduct, it was dismissed on Oct. 2, 2023, this charge of disorderly conduct, you know, because there’s just no evidence. But they just would cite him with the things that were blatantly not even true and a total stretch to try to fit him into some legal infraction.

[00:13:37] Jana Thrift: One of the things that Eric did was vocally say that he remained on the streets to be living that experience and living that protest, and that was one of the things that I remember him saying is that he felt like his life was the protest, and that he lived it, fully.

[00:14:02] It’s really hard, you know, it’s hard to come up with words to express how you feel about such a great loss for us individually, as well as, as a whole. It’s a great loss.

[00:14:18] And I think that part of what really hurts for me is that I truly feel that people living on the streets, their health and their well-being is affected by living on the streets. And there’s a piece of me that thinks that his death exemplifies that.

[00:14:42] That it’s very possible that he would still be with us for the suffering that comes just naturally by going through all of that. It’s not easy and I think many lives are lost before they should be because of how hard that is. And how wrong it is for that to be the reality for people living on the streets.

[00:15:07] And it’s really upsetting to me and I’m going to give it to you, Zondie.

[00:15:12] Zondie Zinke: Yeah, I’m just following up to say that, so sadly, I think we can have no doubt that Eric would still be alive. I mean, he martyred himself because he would still be alive if he weren’t living and going through what he went through: being moved all the time, being harassed all the time, the stress of what he took on.

[00:15:38] And I’ll say this one, just, I saw him, like, a handful of hours before he died. And he and his son Max and I were kind of joking, but also not joking about how when he gets out—because we expected him to get out of the post-surgery recovery center he was at—that we’d have to have a restraining order from the cops because his hypertensive crisis couldn’t take exposure to the cops, and certainly not Capt. (Doug) Mozan, who personally harassed him to no end.

[00:16:11] So there’s that. I mean, in some ways we weren’t joking, but because we thought he was better and we were planning for his coming out, you know, we were serious by saying, you know, ‘You can’t be around cops anymore because you can’t take spikes in your blood pressure.’

[00:16:27] And then Whole Community News. I haven’t gotten to open it, but I saw just before coming on here, their headline of just a few days ago was that Eric Jackson had in his last testimony to council had said, ‘You have taken five or 10 years off my life.’ In reality, it seems like it was 10, 20, maybe 30 years off his life.

[00:16:52] And then the other thing I’ll note is that he traveled to California, not this past summer, but the summer before, and spent several months working with his son in a stable environment.

[00:17:06] And when he came back, he was physically, like—if you look at pictures of Eric Jackson in 2018, when he first came to town, he always looked kind of like a healthy person in part because he’s just so damn energetic, you know? And anyone who moves about that much, you just think, ‘Okay, their battery is plenty full,’ right?

[00:17:27] But his son commented on, like, ‘Oh, wow, my dad had really deteriorated.’ And I said, ‘Well, I think this past winter was really brutal on him because when he came back from California, and he had had that several months of a stable environment and no harassment by cops, no taking on all the stress of the people he helped, his street family that he helped endlessly and not the exposure to the elements and everything else, he looked really good.’

[00:18:00] And then, I’ll say the final thing. He said, ‘Yeah, I hadn’t taken my blood pressure medication.’ And I was just chiding him and, ‘Well, why not?’ And he was like, ‘You know how easy it is to get a prescription filled?’ You know, like, joking with me. ‘It’s not that easy when you’ve got to make it here, make it there, then you know, the day before your appointment to get the prescription renewed, you’ve just had all your belongings taken or you’ve had a camp clean-up,’ and this and that and traveling wet across town and all that.

[00:18:28] And so he just said, ‘There’s like a lot to do in every day, a lot to manage when you’re on the street. And you expect me to make sure I have all my pills filled and ready and handy and all that, you know?’

[00:18:40] And then, you know, I’m a housed person looking at like, ‘Oh, this robust person,’ who has now died. And I think of that from the point of view, it feels traumatizing to me. And I think of it from the point of view of the people who would go to him regularly and feel—I felt taken care of by him, and I didn’t have a material need. And there are people with material and trauma needs who were going to him for practical and trauma support and inspiration and a sense of dignity, right?

[00:19:17] And so it’s just like someone huge has been taken out, and that’s really, really hard.

[00:19:27] Richard Self: Yeah, Eric was a born leader out there where he was at. There would be people that would camp with him on purpose…I remember going with Martha Bryson down to West 11th, where he was camping at years ago before the planting strip was taken out from under him.

[00:19:47] And when we went down there, he was always in charge, even trying to break up fights between dogs. He was on it. He was that kind of guy. And we’re looking now at putting up a lot of what’s called respite centers for those who are unhoused that are discharged from the hospital. Eric and his camp was the first respite center.

[00:20:13] And not because he wanted it that way. It was because PeaceHealth in all their infinite wisdom decided that was a good place just to drop off somebody who was unhoused and just discharged from the hospital. And without any real training or anything else, Eric would deal with that. And that’s just the kind of guy he was.

[00:20:38] How he dealt with that on a daily basis, I don’t know. But I can tell you, that was, he was the first respite center and that’s just one of the things that he helped actually put a focus on. So now there are pallet shelters and there are other congregational shelters for those who are doing respite from being discharged from the hospital and being unhoused, and there’s going to be more, but that’s all because of Jackson—‘Pineapple’—and that’s part of his legacy.

[00:21:16] John Q: A special edition of Legalize Survival, as Eugene mourns the loss of a national leader on homelessness, Eric Jackson. You can hear Legalize Survival Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. Listen live to KEPW 97.3 FM, simulcast at KEPW.org.

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