Saturday, November 9, 2019

Mitch Snyder

Mitch Snyder (1943-1990) is known mostly for his work advocating for the rights of homeless people and specifically as a leader of the Community For Creative Non-Violence (CCNV). CCNV began in the early 1970s as an anti-war group and evolved into an organization that provides food, clothing, shelter, and educational programs for the poor and homeless. Towards his goal of improving the lives of homeless people, Snyder employed non-violent confrontational protest tactics aimed at shocking the public and drawing media attention to this cause. These protest tactics included building occupation, construction of a tent city in Lafayette Park, vandalism, and hunger strikes. During his time in prison, Snyder converted to Christianity and fully embrace a radical Catholic form of social protest. Snyder served two years in federal prison, 1970-1972, for violating the Dyer Act. While in prison at the Danbury Correctional facility in Danbury Connecticut, he met the radical anti-war Catholic Priest Daniel Berrigan and like Berrigan, Snyder became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and the treatment of prisoners in federal correctional facilities. His protest methods included prisoner work strikes and hunger strikes. The political and spiritual conversion he experienced in prison shaped his life. Upon being released in 1973 Snyder came home to rejoin his family. Less than one year later he left his family again and joined the Community for Creative Non Violence (CCNV) in Washington, D. C. CCNV was at that time operating a medical clinic, a pretrial house, a soup kitchen, a thrift store and a halfway house. CCNV came out of a discussion group about the Vietnam War at George Washington University. CCNV was also very active in non-violent direct action in opposition to the Vietnam War. Snyder became the driving force of CCNV but worked with many deeply committed people including his life and professional partner, Carol Fennelly; Mary Ellen Hombs, with whom he co authored Homelessness in America: A Forced March to Nowhere; and Ed and Kathleen Guinan. Snyder dedicated himself to awakening the national conscience and challenging the political system. Starting in the late 1970s, he had begun organizing demonstrations designed to call attention to the unmet needs of homeless men and women in the streets of the nation's capital, often leeping on steam-heat exhaust grates located near federal buildings. Headline-grabbing protests that Snyder sparked — as a leader of a onetime anti-Vietnam War organization, the Community for Creative Nonviolence — included a December 1978 takeover of the National Visitors Center, near Union Station, by homeless people. The action forced t he city to provide more shelter space. In November 1981 — three months after the New York settlement — Snyder led a group of about 150 activists and homeless people in building and occupying a tent camp they called â€Å"Reaganville† in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. In naming the camp after President Reagan, the activists were trying to evoke the Great Depression, when the jobless and homeless built camps they called â€Å"Hoovervilles,† after President Herbert Hoover. The next year, Philadelphia enacted an ordinance that also guaranteed the right to shelter, and in 1984 Washington finally acted. Partly in response to Snyder's and other protests, Washington voters in 1984 passed the nation's first referendum measure guaranteeing â€Å"adequate overnight shelter† to homeless people — a statutory equivalent of the New York legal agreement. He and CCNV pushed and prodded the District of Columbia, the local churches and temples and mosques, as well as the federal government to open space at night for homeless people, and worked to staff the space that was made available. Through demonstrations, public funerals for people who had frozen to death on DC streets, breaking into public buildings, and fasting, CCNV forced the creation of shelters in Washington and made homelessness a national and international issue. In the 1980s Snyder, Fennelly, and other CCNV activists entered and occupied an abandoned federal building at 425 2nd Street N. W. now Mitch Snyder Place) and housed hundreds overnight while demanding that the government renovate the building. Under intense pressure, the Reagan administration agreed to lease the Federal property to CCNV for $1 a year. Later the Federal government transferred the property to DC. It remains the largest shelter in Washington to this day. Snyder fasted twice to force the Reagan adminis tration to renovate the building. The first fast ended on the eve of Reagan's second election when Reagan promised to execute necessary repairs. Reagan failed to follow through on this promise, and litigation ensued. An Oscar-nominated documentary, Promises to Keep, narrated by Martin Sheen, follows that story and tells why a second fast was conducted. Sheen also played Mitch Snyder in the made-for-TV movie, Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story. Angered that Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown planned an expensive renovation of that historic church, and maintaining that the money involved should be given instead to the poor, Snyder stood in the middle of the congregation throughout the Sunday Mass for many weeks as a protest, while other congregants knelt or sat during the service as was customary.

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