Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher

The Mob.

17 Comments

I am searching for the “face of the divine” in the strangers circling me. I am searching to see them as more than the mob they have coalesced into. I am searching for the essence of our humanity, for the same kind of different we each share. And I am blind.

Fear does that.

It blinds me to seeing, as St. Benedict counselled, ‘the face of the divine’ in every stranger at the door.

My fear is not-ill placed.

I am at an open house for an apartment building the Foundation I work for is considering building. Some community members have already been clear they do not want this 28 unit apartment building for formerly homeless individuals in their community.

The challenge is, we are not there to talk about the people who will be housed. As I told one man, each person we house has the same right to live in community as you and I do.

But the people who have come to this open house do not want to talk about the merits of the development. Does it comply with zoning? Can we decrease the density? Can we change the facade?

They are there to tell us they do not want ‘those people’, or as one man called them the week before, ‘this litter’ in their community.

And my heart is heavy.

But I am not afraid. I believe in the power of our human capacity to connect, to ‘see’ beyond the labels and into the heart of what is the right thing to do.

And then suddenly, fear awakens.

Where the room is filled with small circles of people standing by the renderings we have on display of what the building will look like, talking to my co-workers at the various stations, it suddenly becomes a full blown mob.

All it takes is one woman yelling into the centre of the room “Gather round people. We gotta talk. I’m not liking what I’m hearing.”

And the crowd circles around her. Their murmuring becomes a roar. They turn to face me and start chanting in response to a man’s calling out, “Do we want them here?”

“No! No! No!” And as a mob they raise one arm into the air, fists clenched and keep shouting and glaring at me and pumping their fists into the air.

They are between me and the exit. My back is up against the wall.

“What’s it going to take for you to hear us Louise? We Don’t Want You Here?” the woman who incited the mob yells out.

I take a breath.

“We hear you,” I tell her. A co-worker has come to stand beside me. I turn to her. “What should we do?” she asks. “I think we need to pack up and leave,” I reply.

I turn back to the crowd. “We hear you and so we are going to pack up our display and leave.”

Their anger rises. “No! No! No!” they scream as one voice.

The woman calls out again. “Tell us what we have to do to get you to hear us! We don’t want you!”

I breathe again. Fear grows with each breath as the mob circles closer around me.

“We hear you. We are leaving so you can meet and talk about your next steps.”

The woman screams. “No! Tell us what to do.”

I keep breathing, willing the tears, the shaking in my body to not rise up and take over. “We cannot tell you what to do. Good night and thank you for coming.”

And my co-worker and I turn our backs on the crowd and begin to pack up our information.

With no foci, the mob energy deflates. Someone turns on the lights at the far side of the room and the crowd moves as a wave to take seats where a microphone was already set up for a town hall meeting.

A woman approaches as I am pulling the panels of the display pieces together. “I really came here tonight to learn more about the project,” she tells me.

“I appreciate that,” I reply. “What would you like to know?”

And we talk for ten minutes about the project as the mob settles into chairs on the other side of the room and begin to discuss how to block our bringing those people into their community.

“Why can’t you tell us who will live here?” she asks.

“We have,” I reply. “They are individuals with a history of long term homelessness who need housing and supports in order to end their homelessness. We cannot be more specific than that.”

And therein lies the challenge.

The community wants certainty. They want names of those will live there, histories. To give them what they want would violate the human rights of those we serve. The people we serve deserve better than that.

It is not the ‘who’ the community really wants to know. They want to know the crime that already scares them will end. They want to know their future is secure.

We can tell them our experience in our over 20 buildings in the city does not show increased crime around our buildings. We can show them the evidence from crime data and maps, findings of property values.

They cannot hear us because ultimately, it is not about the merits of the development nor the evidence in other communities. It is about their fear of the world around them today and their fear of what their world will look like in the future.

And I cannot change their fear.

I faced a mob the other night. I was scared. I felt unsafe. Upset. Exposed.

I am writing about it because I am still shaken, still struggling to see ‘the divine’ in the ugly face of the mob. Yet I know, it is the path to finding our humanity beyond our fear of one another.

And so I continue to seek the divine in every face and in that journey, my fear abates.

 

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Author: Louise Gallagher

I believe we each have the capacity to be the change we want to see in the world, to make a world of difference. I believe we are creative beings on the journey of our lifetimes. It's up to each of us to Live It Up and SHINE!

17 thoughts on “The Mob.

  1. Oh my … the mob

    Issues and places were different, but Adrenalin is Adrenalin.

    My only experience with a mob – about 18 yrs ago, with board colleagues in an administration building, when a placard carrying mob outside protesting on behalf of union members on strike – scared the poop out of us as they slammed those things against doors and windows. They likely wanted to make noise, to get attention rather than actually wanting to break in or break bones. Still, it was frightening.

    By the time, about 15 minutes, it took for RCMP cruisers to arrive – we felt we’d been through an ordeal – in part fear for our own safety, in part fear somebody was going to injure themselves if they came through plate glass windows, and partly for those involved who might have severe consequences from simply speaking out, and loudly, about an issue they didn’t fully understand.

    To your issue, I think I understand it a bit … not the homelessness part so much, but the NIMBY part – having seen it play out several times.

    Can/does information cool or soothe that anger, that fear, that distrust? Probably not.

    But one-on-one explanation, ‘humanizing it’, and relentless transparency always always always defeats mob-think. I don’t know that is certain in every case, but I think it is.

    Keep talking, keep telling.

    Keep safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mark for sharing your experience and your wisdom.

      Yes — one-on-one is the best course. We had agreed to a Town Hall meeting the week before — I advise against them in this work but in this case, as the community insisted, we agreed. We had already held 2 Open House’s, have attempted to be transparent, transparent, transparent — at the first Open House, a man asked me a question, I began to answer and his response was before I even ended my sentence — That’s a lie.

      And so it went. And so it goes.

      A very delicate balance of working to fulfill on Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, and to engage community in the Plan that was created with extensive community input — while not succumbing to NIMBY.

      thank you my friend. I really, really appreciate your wise counsel and words.

      L

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  2. Wow, that would be scary. People sadly want to help, but they all have that…”Not in my backyard” mentality. I hope you can accomplish what you need to and make them understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mary for understanding – it was scary. As to being able to make them understand… that’s a whole other matter! 🙂 Hugs

      Hope you have a wonderful day of capturing the beauty all around you.

      Like

  3. How scary, Louise! You handled it very well by saying ‘No’ and packing your stuff up. People are afraid of change and they’re afraid of homeless crisis. If they had ever been homeless themselves, they would NEVER take this position of resistance. Keep up the good work.

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  4. My beautiful Louise,
    Your blog was the first thing I read this this morning as it is most mornings. I love your heart. A few years ago, I was told they didn’t want my daughter in a regular classroom because she had special needs. Their fear was like a blast from hell to my heart. Rejection of someone they know nothing about. Rejection of someone who I love with all my heart and based on their FEAR they made a choice to reject. What I know for sure, that even as I stepped into completely unchartered waters for myself, my mind and heart knew what was best for my Katie. Hers were the eyes I looked into, to move me forward. Love will find away. I promise ❤️🌸

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  5. These are such difficult issues, Louise, because they speak to such different strands of thinking within a person or a group. There is the practical issue that it has been proven that housing people who have been homeless saves money within our public administrations, while allowing these formerly homeless citizens to be better served by the ‘system’. There is the fear and resentment of those who are afraid for their safety and their property values if ‘homeless’ people are housed in their neighbourhood, either because they have created a tent city or are being moved into a building with security and services and thus may affect local property values and safety. And I think, deep down for all of us, there is a fear that – depending on how things go for us – we too could be the person who is homeless. It is hard to see our shared humanity, I think, unless we face that fear.
    Over the past spring, I volunteered at a transitional home aimed at getting formerly homeless people into permanent housing. In the course of doing so, I was able to talk with some of those family members, and I learned that people living on the street feel that they are not seen or heard. I hadn’t realized that before. I suspect that for those who walk by, eyes averted, (as I often used to do) there is a fear that they will be asked for money. During the spring, I started saying hello and smiling at those I saw on the street. If they had a sign saying “need money for food”, I would check to see if they knew about local places that served meals. I explained that I didn’t have money, but volunteered where I did as my way of being a part of my community. Mostly, the people did not ask me for money – they smiled back, or said thank you, or seemed happy to have a good conversation – because, I think, they felt seen.
    There are so many stories to be shared, of the people who are homeless and the people who are afraid of them, and somehow, we don’t seem to have a place for them to come together to share their stories with each other. It is hard to allow one’s self to feel sadness or grief or a sense of having made bad choices; anger means one doesn’t have to go there, and this is true on both ‘sides’ of the question.
    Blanket rejection doesn’t allow sensible, emotionally-competent discussion of the circumstances that each group needs to feel safe, despite the examples across the country of how this can be done well, for both. And sadly, one of the things that sometimes happens when people come together, is that these deep-seated feelings build and build, and make it even harder to hear or see the humanity of others.
    I am grateful that my experience of volunteering allowed me to get to know the stories of some of the people who had been homeless, and of teaching me many things I didn’t know before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Hope for your beautiful, affirming and inspiring words. You are so right — it is fear of the unknown, of ‘the stranger who is homeless’ whom we carry labels and judgements about that creates such anxiety and fear — and blocks us from having the conversations we need to have to create safe and accepting spaces where everyone can thrive.

      Hugs

      Like

  6. People in a mob a braver then when they are on their own, this is a well known fact, so it is right to fear the mob

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fear is a barrier to all good!
    Nothing more to add, Louise. Others have replied very well… Have you in my thoughts.. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fear is a barrier to all good! — so true Carolyn! While you may have ‘nothing more to add’ your presence adds great light. Thank you for shining so brightly. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. My dear friend…I am so sorry that you had to experience this. I had a similar experience a few years ago…being attacked verbally by an angry crowd of about 100. I did not sleep that night…or for many. When I remember the pain of it it can still hurt me. For I, like you, was doing something I believed in. In hindsight, they were too. A year or so after…I was at a meeting where the crowd turned on one of the most vocal men who had come after me that time. I was happy in the respect that I did not find joy that he should experience exactly what I had at his hands. No…quite the opposite…it made me cry…and I felt bad for him because I KNEW EXACTLY HOW HE FELT!! It is sad that we, as humans, can’t express our ideas in civil manners…that anger…and fear should allow us to treat each other so….inhumanely!!

    I feel for you my friend. I have been in a similar situation…and it to this day can get to me…if I let it!
    Much love, Louise. Take good care of yourself…and don’t stop believing in your project. ♡♡♡

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