By Niki Jones, Homeward Street Journal
Nowadays find Michael, full grey beard and red suspenders, having Art and Revolution theatre rehearsal in Southside Park, distributing the Homeward Street Journal at the Sunday farmer’s market, working a community garden, or if you’re lucky and his ukulele is in working condition, find him sharing his growing talent throughout the central city. Michael is an activist. A musician, an actor, a son, a brother, a friend. He has had a long journey to here, one he is still very much on.
Born in Maryland, Michael Hanson grew up on “three quarters of the northern hemisphere.” His earliest memories, watching Lassie, occurred here on the West Coast in Salinas, California. From nine to 16 years old, his mother’s marriage to an army staff sergeant took them to Germany. Michael says, “My daddy was a Texan and a Southern Baptist, and lived up to those stereotypes.”
He grew up with two sisters, but more recently found that his family is larger than he thought. “I have a baby brother I just found out about a few months ago… and I have another sister that I thought was a cousin… it’s great with all of five of us, to see what kind of different lifestyles we had.”
It was 1997 when Michael, working at Franklin Templeton Investments, decided to help the company open their office in Rancho Cordova. “I was tired of Florida,” he says. So back across the continent he came, to Sacramento County. He worked as an account associate until, in 2008, after 13 years with the company, Michael lost his job. His next steps were unclear. This became the case for many that year. It was a tumultuous time in the nation as criminal banking practices worldwide crippled local economies everywhere, including Sacramento. “I had stock options and all that, I guess a normal person would be looking for work.”
In October of 2011, as every major city in America saw an Occupation, Sacramento did too. Michael was noticing. “It was something I always wanted to do.” He began giving contributions to the cause. By 2012, he was out of money. “I knew the money would run out eventually and when I ran out of money, I joined the Occupation.”
Michael participated in the foreclosure working group, de-escalation and non-violent communication training and many other actions and activities throughout the Occupation. “I never thought I’d be a musician or actor and it wasn’t until Occupy that I saw those opportunities. I didn’t really do anything before I was homeless, worked, ate, slept, watched movies, and it was being homeless that expanded my boundaries.”
The community involvement helped him see the world differently. “Understanding systemic racism was a really big thing that happened during Occupy,” he says.
He also was encouraged to begin playing his ukulele by a fellow supporter. “I was very amateur, never really played publicly… well it took me a while, three songs I would play in public. So I had to start learning, playing by ear, and doing research when things got more complicated.” He says he’s gone through about a ukulele a year. Though the occupation itself ended, the organising, arts, and social justice issue advocacy carry on for Michael with Occupy, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee and other groups.
Through his work with SHOC, Michael very recently began selling Homeward Street Journal, “It’s going to be like my ukulele playing, it’s going to take a bit of practice to ‘play’ the papers.” He feels like being his self will be the most effective way. He’s also used his computer skills to help the paper by building a database.
“I built a database that makes it easier to do the monetary reports related to the paper, how much money brought in, how many papers, how many distributors are actually getting papers… all that good ol’ accountant stuff.” He is also working on SHOC’s garden project. About SHOC and the Homeward he says: “It gives me something to do, especially the garden with the physical labour. It’s been something different for me.”
About city officials and their policies on homelessness he says, “Their brain is wired different and no amount of slaps to the head will make a difference. Or pies to the face for that matter, though they are entertaining… I’ve heard suggestions that city council go be homeless for a week.” Would it help? “I have my doubts. It’s always a possibility of course.”