February 21, 2003

In solidarity with the Poor

Erik Olson of the Invest-In Project, has joined the most dispossessed in San Diego by sleeping twelve straight nights and eating only one meal a day from February 1st to February 12th. He decided to sleep at the foot of the new ballpark downtown to protest a skewed San Diego and U.S. social structure : America has not honored its own creeds, refused to ratify core human rights treaties, and violated Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By Emmanuelle Le Texier

Could you explain why you decided to start this action?

Erik Olson (left) sits in front of his UNICEF sign, in downtown San Diego.

It seems that everywhere we turn in our society profits are placed before people. To give just one of many examples, here in San Diego, “America’s Finest City,” we have more than 1 out 5 children (22%) living in poverty, yet we care more about building a ballpark than relieving their hunger pains, than providing them with a quality education, than providing them with a safe and affordable home. This is true despite the fact that California, by itself, has the fifth largest economy in the world. In other words, we have a few people making enormous amounts of money while the masses, who do all the work, are being denied their human rights to adequate standard of living, housing, education, health, etc. Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that we are entitled to social order where all our human rights can be realized. America’s defective social structure is in direct violation of this Article. We have to change this!

Is it a tough experience to sleep outside every night?

Yes and No. Physically, yes because my body is not used to the cold and harshness of sleeping on concrete. I don’t really sleep well. I sleep in spurts. Spiritually though it has been very fulfilling, healing.

What is the philosophy that is driving your action?

Having grown up in a poor, Mexican-American (Chicano) family, I have come to understand that true compassion is not about giving charity to the poor but about seeking to restructure the unjust society that produces the need for charity. And, I’ve found that the only way to truly restructure something is with Nonviolence (Soul Force). We live in a world that is too often filled with violence and darkness. But, how do you get rid of the darkness - with more darkness? No, with light and Nonviolence. I’ve been deeply influenced by the ideas and work of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez, who I consider the great Nonviolent Freedom Fighters.

Is it the first time you are trying to raise consciousness about these issues in San Diego?

No, I’ve been in San Diego on and off since 1995 and have always done this kind of work. I am a Community Organizer.

Can you tell us about the reactions of San Diegans when they meet you?

Many think I am homeless and treat me just as they would any other homeless person. Most just ignore you, a few say hello, and even fewer offer some kind of help. Those who realize what I am doing, have mostly been very supportive, curious, and eager to learn more about the Invest-In Project.

Is this project part of a broader ideal of resolving poverty issues in San Diego? Are there other means to solve it?

Yes, the Invest-In Project is definitely about broader issues, but it is not relegated to just San Diego because the forces that impact our communities are not simply local in nature. They come from a much higher level. Thus, the project seeks to deal with these issues in a way that addressed these forces locally, nationally, and internationally. It also seeks to address what I call the Four Great Evils -Economic Exploitation, Militarism (War), Discrimination, and Environmental Degradation - simultaneously because all these issues are interconnected.

You have a website, right?

Yes. It is www.investinproject.org.

Are you going to organize other actions of the same kind in the future?

Yes, I hope to intensify the Invest-In Project’s efforts to meet growing challenges that we face in our society.

How can people contribute to your activities or be part of them?

At the website, on the “Join the Invest-In Project” page, it lists all kinds of ways to get involved. If people don’t have a website they can write me and I can send them something in the mail or we can meet and talk about how we can work together. My address is: Invest-In Project, P.O. Box 620435, San Diego, CA 92162-0435. More than anything though, people just have to get involved and care more about people and how they are treated not about how they can acquire material things. In America, we are possessed by our possessions.

At the foot of the new ballpark downtown San Diego, Erik Olson of the Invest-In Project has quoted UNICEF : “(America and San Diego can no longer be )… judged by its military or economic strength, nor by the splendor of its capital cities and public buildings, but by the well-being of its people; by their levels of health, nutrition and education; by their opportunities to earn a fair reward for their labors; by their ability to participate in the decisions that affect their lives…“

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