Sears Lane, Burlington VT

“Enjoy your homes.”

Those were the last words of a comrade at the latest city council meeting that covered the fate of Sears Lane, before they stormed out into the gathering chill that so often accompanies a Vermont winter.

And the fate of Sears Lane is no longer on the table. Joan Shannon, NIMBY-in-chief, ensured that her “fellow” humans would be turned out into the cold. This week, the 30-day grace period for the Sears Lane residents – who defected to local hotel rooms to escape the inclement weather and the uncertainty of their future – has run out.

All right in time for Thanksgiving. As I write this, I am watching snow fall from the sky from the comfort of my living room. I am remembering what one of the Sears Lane residents told me yesterday as he sat on the floor of the Hungerfort while I prepared lunch for Food Not Bombs.

“I am getting desperate.”

This is under a microscope. A small, sustained ecosystem of the larger picture that Sears Lane represents. Hearing the story of one man or an angry supporter is not enough to cover the gravity of what’s happening in this community, why it is important that we must consider the ramifications of our city’s actions. Or, in this case, its inactions.

So let’s zoom out. 

(Without actually getting “Zoomed-out” — I don’t know about you but digitally viewing the apathetic faces of politicians listening to people plead like beggars in front of nobles for even just a crumb of mercy was sickening. If I have to hear Max say “Please wrap up” like some AI derivative of a rapper one more time, I might actually scream.)

The fact that we have to defend people — real human beings who have no house or apartment to even be evicted from — from being kicked out of tents and handmade structures speaks to a much more insidious nature of our society. And this is coming after two years of watching corporations eviscerate the working class for the sake of record profits during one of the most dangerous health crises in over a century.

Disease, hunger, death, houselessness. Under capitalism, where inequality — and precarity — is in its very bones, we are each closer to these things than to living a comfortable life as a millionaire or billionaire. In addition, these things will continue to happen and will get worse if something is not done to undermine this corrupt system.

Sears Lane is a reflection of this. 

Whether intentionally or not, it is a middle finger to those who wanted the houseless to die on the streets, be it from the bitter cold of Vermont — which, as I continue to watch the snow fall, is here now, lest we forget — or from lack of food, from police violence, perhaps even from COVID.

Yes, there was agreement from the politicians to “allow” Sears Lane to simply exist a few years back. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that those who are in power give a flying fuck when their pockets are being lined by wealthy second-home owners and lucrative developers who are trying to outbuild each other.

Someone told me that once you become an oppressor, you lose a part of your humanity. I also think that the longer you are an oppressor — be it a politician, a business executive, a billionaire, a white person — the more of your humanity you lose over time.

It’s not a linear loss; it falls away in chunks. Like parts of an ice shelf during global warming: it might start as a little slice here and there, but then one day you might have a whole piece the size of Greenland slide away. This exponential loss of humanity becomes irreversible — unless something radical stops it from progressing further.

The key word is radical here. We can’t just wave our hands and enact policies. As comrade Iryna E. said, revolution is the answer. Reformation can only do so much.

Let’s zoom back in: Politicians and lawmakers here in Burlington have a chance to keep a Sears-Lane-sized chunk of their humanity by not violently removing residents from public land. At this time of year especially, it is important to remember that what we call “public land” is in fact stolen land, which belongs to the residents of Turtle Island. (In Vermont specifically, it is the land of the Abenaki people.)

But admitting that would be too much for our city councilors to comprehend, so I won’t even continue by waxing poetic on the need for public services like trash pickup or the benefits of providing mental health care to residents on this “public land” either.

All we are asking is for the bare minimum. 

Capitalists, colonialists, oppressors — all the same wolf in different sheep’s costumes — are good at doing absolutely nothing until it suits them. Go back to doing what you’re good at. Don’t quit your day jobs.

Or maybe do.

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