Sunday, October 26, 2014

Worker Wednesdays in 2015: MEANLY FORCE DC Mayor to Employ the homeless

Of late I've thought a lot about and said a lot about the need to be mean and forceful in order to get government and others to do what poor people need done in order to afford to live. And while I have talked for my full eight years of homeless advocacy about what able-bodied homeless people need in order to find meaningful employment (with the last five years being well-documented on-line), I recently decided that homeless employment is ALL that I'll focus on. At the October 21st meeting of DC's Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) I announced that decision and explained that there are many people speaking up for other sub-populations of the homeless community.

I also said that we should get the homeless working before they reach retirement age. That statement actually drew a little laughter, speaking of which, there were several times during that meeting that well-paid people broke out into laughter. Some of the homeless and formerly homeless people were actually offended by the light-hearted spirit of those whom we sometimes refer to as “poverty pimps”. Just days earlier I was taken aback by a photo of a Mike Brown protest in which the Blacks looked worried or angry while the Caucasian sympathizers were all smiles. Thanks for the sympathy ; but, mourn with those who mourn. Don't be happy-go-lucky around the mournful. (Read Proverbs.)

This morning I went to my second breakfast of the day at Asbury United Methodist Church at the corner of 11th and K Streets in Northwest DC. They feed on the fourth Sunday of each month beginning around 9:30 AM and closing down between 10:30 and 11. The crowd was especially large today. All of the nearly 200 seats were filled with about 50 people (myself included) standing around the wall. I'd never seen it that full in the several years that I've attended fourth-Sunday breakfast there. I also noticed that, like I stated at my regular church a few blocks away just over a month ago, there were considerably more Hispanics in attendance. (Yo amo a los Hispanicos y puedo hablar poquito espanol.)

While there, I spoke to a couple of the women who volunteer there each month about both concerns. One was a good friend named Carlotta James whose youthful appearance belies her nearly 60 years of age and whose husband Jesse James also volunteers there. The other was a woman in her 70's named Sandra who does the introduction and instructs the often loud group on rules and procedures. Sandra commands a lot of respect and doesn't care if you think of her as a “mean old lady”. I like her style. When I mentioned the number of people in the room and the threat of a visit from the fire marshal, Sandra (who doesn't answer to “Sandy”) said, “That's what we need. I want them to come”. I guess she wants to bring attention to the burgeoning homeless population in any which way she can. I told her about the increased number of Hispanics and the need to instruct people in Spanish to which she said that she used to know some Spanish due to having been married to a Panamanian and that she had, of late, considered brushing up on it for the stated reason. My final point to her, with Carlotta having returned to work at this point, was that I am sometimes accused of being too mean to government officials as I press them for solutions to homelessness. Sandra said quite matter-of-factly that “Sometimes you need to be that way in order to get things done”. Needless to say – though I'll say it anyway – I love Sandra. (I also love Carlotta.) Sandra is wise enough to know that meanness is often necessary. That's probably the understatement of the millennium.

It's not hard to make the case for why advocates for the poor need to be mean. The late but still-renowned homeless advocate Mitch Snyder is on record as having said, in so many words, that advocates for the poor have to be mean and aggressive in order to force the powers that be to notice and address the issue of poverty; because, government would rather do the bidding of the wealthy and the well-to-do. After all, capitalism is a tyrannical system that permeates the world. But it's not as monolithic as one might think. We just need to be organized and have a lot of fight.

Former one-term mayor Adrian Fenty was in his second year when he implemented Permanent Supportive Housing in 2008. That program was initially funded with federal money and by the end of 2010 had housed about 2,000 mentally- and/or physically-disabled homeless people. It took 15 months of prodding him before he announced the effort on April 1st, 2008 with the first people being housed in early September of that year.

Current one-term mayor Vince Gray is in his fourth year, having lost the Democratic primary on April 1st, 2014. In March of this year, after 38 months of prodding and the abduction of an 8-year old girl from the family shelter, Mayor Gray announced a plan to house 500 families in 100 days beginning on April 1st. The plan was partially successful. On October 14th, 2014 he issued a plan to replace the 288-room DC General Family Shelter (of which 40 units are condemned) with six apartment buildings that would contain a total of 300 temporary units for homeless families. This plan is set to be fully implemented by November 2015, ten months after he leaves office, making it unenforceable and tenuous.

Adrian Fenty used what I refer to as “the facade of caring” to justify the closure of the DC Village Family Shelter in October 2007 and the Franklin School Shelter in September 2008 as he told the general public that either facility was “unfit for human habitation” and led them to believe that the housing programs which he implemented in connection with each shelter closure would provide ample housing. Both programs have had funding problems and the current mayor has not fully invested in either. Fenty also failed to tell the general public that, while there were 6,044 homeless people eight months before Franklin closed, there were 6,539 homeless people in January 2010. Even with so many people being housed, the government couldn't keep pace with the increase in homelessness. With Franklin being closed, we now have more homeless people than we had when it was open. We counted 7,748 this past January, up from 6,859 last year. (That's an increase of 889 or 12.9% in one year.)

Mayor Gray used starkly different tactics. He painted a picture for the general public of homeless parents whose average age range is 18 to 24 years old as being a bunch of lazy, shiftless moochers who just want to game the system. He got others in his administration to sing the same song. His deputy mayor of health and human services Beatriz “BB” Otero made the grave error of sending a memo with a message to that effect out to many homeless advocates. I still have it saved on the laptop from which I'm presently blogging and I periodically remind people of her words.

All of this brings to mind two patterns that should be of utter importance to all DC-based homeless advocates. It took about two and a half times as long to get Gray to make a robust effort to house homeless families as it took to get his predecessor to make a robust effort to house disabled homeless singles. At this rate, the next mayor can be expected to make a robust effort to help another sub-population of the homeless beginning in his (hopefully) or her 95th month, which puts us at November 2022 or later. With the last two mayors having done just one term, this means we might never get there.

The second pattern has to do with exactly what sub-populations we're talking about and what seemingly-humane reasons mayor can conjure up for ignoring or under-serving them. Local homeless service providers have a bit of a fixation on the “vulnerability index”. The “V.I.” affords service providers with a tool for determining which homeless people get housed first and which ones can be allowed to linger in shelter or on the streets. DC's last two mayors have applied the underlying principles of the V.I. In their own ways. Fenty knew that he couldn't, with a straight face, refuse to help the mentally- or physically-disabled homeless adults; as they are fully vulnerable. Gray knew that, while 20-ish homeless parents without mental or physical issues are not vulnerable, their small children are. Gray pushed harder and longer against the tide of advocacy on their behalf but eventually caved. Able-bodied homeless singles (those without dependent spouses or children) are clearly the least vulnerable – yea even totally invulnerable. The next mayor might go so far as to utterly refuse to help able-bodied homeless singles all the way through his or her first term and, if re-elected, well into the second term. Have I told you that the last two mayors each did only one term???
 
Rents have steadily risen in Washington, DC over the past 10 to 15 years. I moved here in 2005. Currently the average rent sits at $1,500 per month which requires that one make about $30 per hour if working full time. Some years ago, DC Government signed dozens of affordability covenants with landlords across the city. All of them are expiring simultaneously. Rents are jumping from $1,000 to $1,600 per month all at once. People who are halfway through their year-long leases are being given two-months' notice of the 60% increase. There is bound to be a wave of evictions in April, as landlords may not evict during inclement weather. Furthermore, the cost of DC Government maintaining the housing of the formerly-homeless people in their housing programs could soon increase by 60% or result in 38% of those people returning to homelessness. (With rents jumping to eight-fifths or 160% of what they used to be, the same pot of government money will house only five-eighths or 62.5% of what it used to house.) I predict that DC will have at least 11,000 homeless people by January 2016 and 15,000 by 2020 if nothing changes. DC Government should aim to house at least 3,000 homeless people total for each of the next five years with most of them being connected to living-wage jobs and eventually weaned off of the system.

I should add that the average life expectancy for a homeless person was recently raised from 50 to 52 years. In any instance, I have less than seven years of life left. (If I don't quit smoking AGAIN, my time might be considerably shorter than that.) But whenever I meet my maker, this particular blog post can be used to state my position on how the homeless advocates should proceed. Never let it be said that anyone attributed an idea to me that I didn't support during my life -- the way they do with MLK, Jr., Mitch Snyder and Jesus Christ. I don't support anyone being nice to a capitalistic government that primarily does the bidding of the wealthy at the expense of the poor. I support meanness and revolution that forces the wealthy and their governments to adequately and comprehensively assist and employ the poor. I also would like to return to work – but not without a major victory on the homeless advocacy front. Let's see what comes first: me obtaining a living-wage job and affordable housing or death. (I'll be 52 in 2021 if I see it.)

All things considered, we need to reverse the pattern whereby it has taken longer to procure a robust effort by the mayor to assist the homeless. We need to see if we can get a major announcement by April 1st, 2016 from the mayor-elect to employ at least 2,000 homeless singles and house at least 1,000 others each year and have the plan implemented within six months thereafter. We should have future prevention built into the plan. But that will require relentless prodding no matter who wins.

The famously mean David Catania seems to be better-suited for satisfying this goal than Muriel Bowser. I love his mean streak. A sweet mayor won't be able to combat the pervasive business interests that are gentrifying Washington, DC at an ever-increasing rate. It is with this in mind that I plan to type up a plan for connecting homeless singles to employment and presenting that plan to the 14 offices of the mayor and the DC Council beginning in early 2015 or even on Wednesday, November 5th. I'll try to do it at the same time on “Worker Wednesday” each week. I'll announce it on-line. Hopefully many will join me. Though none go with me, I still will prod the mayor.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Job Discrimination Against the Homeless: Shirley Contracting and DC's First-Source Law

CORRECTION: I continue to gather more facts about the large Shirley Contracting (Clark Construction Group) project near the CCNV Shelter. The project will net Shirley $1.3 billion, not the $2.8 billion I was previously told. That doesn't change my argument that they should be made to do more to hire DC residents, such as establish an employment trailer in Washington, DC as opposed to prospective employees needing to travel all the way to Lorton, VA for an interview. Here are a couple of links about the 2.2 million square-foot project known as "Capitol Crossings": ARTICLE and WEBSITE

It's been said by social justice advocates and activists that, “There are 20 years that don't make a day; and then, there's that day that makes 20 years”. I think I just had my day that makes 20 years on October 3rd, 2014. I attended a hearing at Washington, DC's City Hall (The John A. Wilson Building). It was about the 41% cut to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) that went into effect on October 1st, 2014. I didn't plan to testify, only to observe. However, as I heard various homeless or poor mothers and one single woman from the non-profit community testify, the gears began turning and I gave into tempation.

A woman on the previous four-person panel set things off when she shifted from talking about the increased hardships that she and her child will endure as a result of the near-half reduction in public benefits to talking about how she doesn't believe that city officials really want to end homelessness or poverty. She even talked about how the system that creates or deepens people's poverty then blames those people for their poverty and was one of at least two mothers who talked about how more poor people will commit crimes of survival as their public benefits are cut. They went on to mention the prison-industrial complex and how that, as people commit crimes of survival, prisons are being built and expanded and police are at the ready to arrest the poor and throw them in jail where money can be made off of them.

I shared the testimony table with three mothers. Naila (nah – EE – lah) is still relatively new to advocacy. Other long-term advocates and I have been offering our support to get her started. She sat to my right. Naila was the first person on our panel to speak. She told of homeless parents being intimidated by staff for speaking out about shelter conditions and of how the homeless families at the Quality Inn, courtesy of DC Government, had received notices of eviction with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. I fleshed out what the woman on the previous panel said by giving some very specific examples of systemic failures that add up to poor people being gentrified out of the city or that make their lives harder. After all, I've dealt with DC Government for eight years and some change. I know about their major SNAFU's since June 2006 first-hand and have heard about others that occurred prior to my becoming a homeless advocate. A woman who shares my mother's name and put herself through professional schooling while homeless sat to my left. A woman who suffers from Dyslexia but has three gifted children sat to the right of Naila who broke into tears as she heard the mother of three speak. I held and comforted her.

Councilman Jim Graham was so impressed with the testimonies of our panel that he strongly advised us to organize for power. Immediately after our panel was finished, the four of us stood, exchanged hugs (which is uncommon at a hearing) and walked into the hall to exchange contact info and plan when we would meet to organize. (That will happen on Monday, October 6th at 1 PM at the MLK, Jr. Library in Room A-9.) I was impressed by the fluidity of our collective testimonies even though we hadn't collaborated on them. I was also impressed by the critique of the capitalist system that took place during the hearing. It was reminiscent of the hearing a day earlier before the same councilman concerning the future of the CCNV Shelter. During that hearing a man who is new to advocacy talked mainly about the hurtful effects of the capitalist system and the fact that much of what city officials claim to do out of concern for homeless people is just a facade. While myself and other advocates have known these things for years, it is unusual for a person who is testifying to exit the topic of the hearing and give a general critique of the system; and, it is almost unheard of to have several people's testimonies so unintentionally and coincidentally build the case for an indictment against the same.

During my testimony I mentioned the fact that there weren't many homeless families present at a hearing that directly affects them; because, they don't have enough money to ride the transit system – that the problem we were there to discuss was self-compounding insomuch as the decreased funds decrease the ability of the poor to attend events where they should be speaking out about their plight. I also said that,though it's rather pie-in-the-sky, maybe we should approach the transit authority about assisting homeless families by giving them free rides or reduced fares, especially when attending such a meeting. Councilman Graham would later say that he can help with transportation. I also mentioned the fact that,with homeless families at the Quality Inn having been told to leave with nowhere to go and no one to talk to about their plight, we were returning to the atrocities of the winter of 2010-11.

During that winter, homeless mothers were turned away from an over-crowded shelter with their infants and toddlers in tow and given tokens to ride the bus all night. (The buses stop between 2 and 5 AM.) One particular boy who was born onFebruary 10th spent his first month of life homeless as his mother slept with him in her storage unit, the Greyhound station and the stairwell of an unsecured apartment building. I too mentioned the insufficient political will to end homelessness, as I had the day before. At both hearings I mentioned Shirley Contracting which has begun a large 10-year building project right across the road from the shelter and only made a token effort to hire homeless people. I'm left to wonder if they've made any more of an effort to hire other Washingtonians.

I left the hearing at about 1:20 PM to go to an interview with an American University student who wanted to know about the phenomenon whereby homeless people are made to feelinvisible. Along with one other man, I told her about how the general public often tries not to notice a homeless person. I told her of how homeless parents often sleep in the bushes of various parks for fear that if they apply for shelter, the shelter is full and they are honest about not having anywhere to sleep indoors, then theirchildren will be taken away. This causes homeless parents to want to become “invisible”. I also told her about FEMA camps that are being erected in various cities, ostensibly in preparation for a disaster, and are being used as homeless shelters where a homeless person must go and is not allowed to leave without an escort in a van.

Then it was on to the radio station where I was one of three people on an hour-long show that centered around the book by my good friend, former Cleveland resident and current American University professor Dan Kerr called “DerelictParadise”. His book addresses poverty pimping from an academic standpoint. It shows the connection between the cheap labor afforded by day labor halls, the race to the bottom in terms of wages and the increase in homelessness since 1945. Dan, a Caucasian, beat me to the punch by being the first to mention that “urban renewal” is actually”negro removal”. (I really WAS getting ready to say that in my next comment when he said it. Great minds think alike.) It was here at WPFW 89.3 FM during the show with Garland Nixon from 6 to 7PM on October 3rd, 2014 that I mentioned the indictment of Shirley Contracting for the third time in two days (all three times having been taped and made available in the public domain.) The indictment is as follows:

In late August or early September 2014 Shirley Contracting which is a subsidiary of Clark Construction began work on a 10-year project near the 200 block of E Street NW in Washington, DC. There is a shelter building which holds up to 1,350 of the city's 8,000+ homeless people which is located diagonally across the road on the southeast corner of the same intersection. It contains three separate shelters, a clinic, a drug program and a kitchen that feeds 5,000 poor people per day and is collectively known as the Federal City Shelter. The CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) is one of those shelters in the building with 950 of the beds. There are probably 300 people in that building who are fully capable of doing construction labor. There may be upwards of 100 who have skills in the construction trades.

Washington, DC has what are called “First Source Laws” which mandate that employers make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 51% of their employees are DC residents. After they make a good-faith effort to hire DC residents, they are allowed to hire people from outside of DC. The following amounts to what I suspect was a token effort to hire DC residents and one which uses homeless people in ways that the homeless might not be aware.

I was told by a man who, along with his co-workers, comes from the Academy of Sciences during his lunch break to help homeless people write resumes and apply on-line for jobs that Shirley Contracting had indeed contacted the shelter administration to inform them that the company was hiring. This friend had been led to believe that the company wanted to hire a large number of people from the shelter. The shelter administration did not make it their business to convey this information to all residents, though I have no complaint about the man who told me.

I went to the company's website, sent them a message expressing my desire to discuss them hiring homeless people, made a flier with their contact info along with what I'd been told and posted those fliers at the shelter. On or around September 10th I called Shirley Contracting. I was put through to a certain Carrie Carr-Maina (703-550-1127) and explained my understanding of the matter. She seemed rather friendly, for what that's worth to you. (She works in HR.) She said that, while she doesn't know who from her company contacted the shelter, she thinks that they might have simply told the shelter that Shirley is hiring but doubts that they stated a desire to hire any homeless people. She emphasized that anyone may apply. She explained that the application can be done on-line or in person at the office in Lorton Virginia which is beyond where the transit system goes and considerably difficult to get to – especially if you are a homeless person of limited means. (It stands to reason that the interview would be in Lorton even if one were to apply on-line.) Ms. Carr-Maina suggested getting a van and bringing 10 people out to apply in Lorton. She also told me that Shirley Contracting would be participating in a job fair at the Washington Convention Center on September 24th.

On September 23rd I called Carrie Carr-Maina to confirm that she would be at the job fair the next day. She said she would but then asked me if I'd seen her e-mail. I hadn't. She then proceeded to tell me that I was publishing bad information about Shirley Contracting that included the idea that the companywould transport homeless people to Lorton for the interview. I asked her when she sent it and she said the 15th. I thought that a mentally ill homeless advocate whom I know may have made his own version of my flier and sent it out in the name of SHARC, the advocate group that I chaired beginning at the group's inception in April 2011. When I went back and read the e-mail, it had a faxed copy of my flier and a company flier along with a message from Carrie about the large amount of human resources that were wasted dealing with people who were calling in based on bad information. My flier said nothing about the company having offered to ride homeless people to the office in Lorton.

During this conversation I asked her about the claim by a certain homeless man that Shirley Conracting was hiring through the Local 657 labor union for construction and general labor. She said, “No”. She also told me that many other Shirley jobs were coming to a close and that those workers would be transferred to the site near the shelter, leaving very few jobs for the homeless to obtain.

I received a text from a different number (702-358-0411) on September 23rd which said that the job fair was at the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City. The number belongs to what appears to be an identity protection firm in Las Vegas named “Level 3 VoIP”. I'm left to wonder why anybody from Las Vegas is contacting me, with me having no connections there. I didn't actually see the text until the morning of the 24th. I'd hung fliers directing people to the Washington Convention days earlier. I now had to write what I thought was the proper address on the fliers by hand. But it was too late. Some people had already made their way to the Convention Center.

I wrote this entire experience off as water under the bridge and decided that I would still do all that I could to connect homeless people to the jobs across the street from the shelter. I printed the company flier that Carrie had sent me, which had very scant information about the company's job offerings. Then I went to the hearing about the shelter's future on October 2nd. During my testimony, I mentioned the irony of it being so hard for homeless people to get the job across the street. I highlighted that there was an affordable housing issue on one side of the road and a living-wage issue on the other side of the road. What I would hear another man testify about moments later would cause the plot to thicken.

The last man to testify was new to advocacy. He made an indictment of the system as a whole and talked about how DC is being given to the wealthy and the well-to-do. Then he mentioned his experience dealing with Shirley Contracting. He'd initially been told that the job fair was in Crystal City. He claims that it actually took place in Pentagon City. At that moment I realized that I wasn't the only one to be given the run-around by Shirley Contracting and that it wasn't a matter of my own carelessness. I made sure to mention my updated assessment at the October 3rd hearing and during my October 3rd broadcast.

I've brought this matter up during several of my in-person conversations (as opposed to radio broadcasts). My friends and associates agree with me that, if Shirley has a project which will net them $1.3 billion and which will last for 10 years, they should have to establish a DC office or a mere office trailer on the job site where Washingtonians can apply and interview. We also agree that Shirley just used the homeless. Irrespective of their homeless status, the 1,350 people at the Federal City Shelter are DC residents. Shirley could, in theory, call the shelter director to say that they are hiring and then put that down as having reached out to over 1,000 DC residents about prospective employment with the company. Not only would it bring them closer to reaching the bare minimum of DC residents so as to justify them looking outside of the city for employees, in accordance with the First Source Laws. It might also bring them closer to satisfying some federal law that mandates that they reach out to depressed communities and other disadvantaged groups – such as “Equal Opportunity Laws”.

We can't let this token effort pass as a satisfaction of either law. Let's strengthen either law so as to require Shirley Contracting to establish a DC-based employment office and to visit the shelter and talk directly to groups of prospective employees at the shelter across the road. Let's take it a step further by strictly defining the real employment opportunities that they must offer and the reasonable accommodations that they must make to enable homeless people to obtain employment at the site across the road. They should also have to help them make it through until their first check – namely with cash advances against their hours worked. They should have to do this last thing for at least two weeks and, at most, five or six weeks. I've picked a fight with Shirley. Who will join that fight?????


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

I Became Homeless By Helping A Rape Victim

I rarely blog about my personal situation; but, this is one such occasion. In the six years since I began blogging, I've written about how my birth parents fractured my skull when I was eight months old, how I spent five years as an only child in a foster home and how I was adopted by a Polish man and an Italian woman who bore seven children and adopted 30 including myself. One brother has passed away. I've also written about a disagreement that led to me not speaking to my mother from April 1998 until August 2009.

I haven't blogged in the past about a girlfriend who passed away on August 11th, 1994 after we'd been together for four years and who would've celebrated a birthday on September 19th if she were living. I guess you can say that I've had a rough life; but, I'm not one to cower in a corner with my head in my hands or to wallow in pity. That truth about me is the impetus for this post; because, my propensity for moving quickly toward solutions has not always been well-received.

When I do talk about how I became homeless, it's usually part of a larger conversation or speech and I tend to give scant details so as to move quickly back to the larger conversation. I often tell high school, college and university students, “I worked at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida from May 1988 to February 1994. [Gory job description which includes incinerating amputated body parts] I had a falling out with my boss and walked off of the job on Valentine's Day 1994 which was the day before my 25th birthday. I got my last check soon thereafter, went back to New Jersey, spent my money on a hotel and ended up at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission at 2009 Bacharach Boulevard.

I'll begin the story of how I became homeless by first taking you back to October 1988. I'd been working at Shands Hospital for five months when Lynn Carese Allen (October 26th, 1969 to present) began working there in the same month as her 19th birthday. (Prior to that, I'd been the youngest of 4,500 employees.) She worked for the hospital's contract security firm, Globe Security. We became very good friends. Lynn left a year later and returned in 1990. Shands had developed in-house security by that time and she began to work the information desk, as opposed to her former duty guarding the entrance to the emergency room – the post where I initially met her.

Lynn worked evenings from 3 to 11:30 PM. I worked the night shift for all of my six years there (and pulled many double shifts) starting at 10 or 11 PM and getting off at 6:30 or 7:30 AM – with my schedule having been subject to that slight change based on a number of circumstances. I would often clock in, see how much there was to do, work for 30 to 45 minutes and then go speak with Lynn for 30 to 45 minutes. I was so good at my job that I could do everything in five hours or so and take three hours of break per night. On my off nights, my relief could work the whole eight hours with a half hour lunch and still not get everything done. My supervisor knew how much break I took but didn't mind due to me finishing everything and being willing to work through my regular breaks and skip lunch on hectic nights. This gave me plenty of time to spend with Lynn.

She and I would talk about a wide range of things, rap together and just have an all-around good time on the clock. I would often walk her to her car. I was a tractor driver. The vehicle was a Taylor-Dunn tractor (essentially a forkless forklift) with trailers behind it. It was similar to the small trains used to load luggage on airplanes. In the 1990's Shands, along with other connected buildings, was part of the second largest continuous building in the country when you measure the floor space, surpassed only by the Pentagon. It might be number one at this point. Due to the building's sheer size, the tractor drivers would drive in new supplies and clean linen and drive out trash and dirty linen. We'd incinerate red-bag trash, compact white-bag trash, bail cardboard and put large trash in the dumpster. I often had to ask Lynn to call her fellow security personnel to open hospital Stores (the warehouse on the west end of the building near the loading dock) so that I could get a tractor off of charge and put the one with a low battery on charge. That gave me a way out if one of her superiors might ever accuse her of goofing off.

In the summer of 1993 I noticed awkward behavior on Lynn's part. She was out of work for a couple of weeks. Another woman named Maxine Mingo who also worked at the information desk and was 51 in 1993 was both a good friend of mine and a mother figure to Lynn. Maxine told me that Lynn was in a hospital – not Shands – and didn't want visitors. I wouldn't see Lynn until she returned to work and she refused to talk about why she was hospitalized. I took it in stride until addition strange behavior began to occur a few months later.

This was around the time that Michael Jackson was being dragged through the courts for possible child molestation and the Menendez brothers were on trial for killing their parents. When I went to visit with Lynn on various occasions, she would often have a newspaper on the lower inside level of the information desk. I would often reach over and grab it. But when there was an article about either of these stories, she would place the paper on the upper level of the desk and have it turned to the page where the story was. It had the intended effect. We talked about both stories and I explained that I thought Michael was guilty and that the Menendez brothers had indeed been abused by their father – sexually and otherwise. She smiled broadly both times. I would realize some time later that it had been a test to see if I would be sensitive to her feelings about what she'd been through.

Lynn drove a brick red Nissan Lynx that was always breaking down. I've been present on numerous occasions when she would call her brother who would not answer his phone and ask for a ride home. She would then give a sigh of disgust before dialing her step father Jasper Peacock who would always answer immediately. I vaguely recall having asked Lynn why she didn't just call Jasper to begin with. I don't recall having ever gotten an answer. On one extremely awkward occasion in late '93 or early '94 I heard her speaking very seductively to Jasper. She repeatedly called his name in a higher-than-usual, seductive manner. (I'd never actually met Lynn off of the job and didn't know before this point that Jasper was her step father.) When she got off of the phone, I asked her, “Who was that, your boyfriend?”. She said nothing. I asked at least two more times. Finally, she snapped at me as she said, “That's my father!” That's when it all came together.

I realized that she'd been throwing hints for several months – some intentionally and some unintentionally – as to what she was going through. I could've kicked myself for having not realized it sooner. I made attempts to get her to open up and tell me in no uncertain terms what was going on. I went out to the hospital during my off time to check on her. She lived in Micanopy, Florida which is about 16 miles south of Gainesville. Since the city bus didn't go that far, I began walking. I got about halfway there and someone who knew the family picked me up and drove me to the house. Lynn's mother was raking and burning leaves. I had an uneventful conversation with her for about five minutes and went back to Gainesville. I visited the Gainesville police who told me that they couldn't help if she wouldn't open up. I went to a domestic violence assistance center on Waldo Road in Gainesville. They said the same. I called the Marion County sheriff's office where Micanopy and Ocala are located. Same.

I continued to try to get my friend of over five years to tell me enough so that I could help her. Eventually my supervisor named William Maxwell approached me and said that he was receiving complaints of me harassing Lynn. I explained the matter to him. He seemed to understand and wasn't upset. I, on the other hand, was highly insulted that anyone could even form their lips to imply that I was harassing or otherwise violating a woman. I ended up abandoning that job. I got my last check and went back to New Jersey. When the money ran out, I became homeless.

Shortly after becoming homeless, I began to ask myself why bad things happen to good people. I resumed a thought process that I'd begun about five years earlier whereby I'd begun to reflect on the friction that existed between my mother and I during my childhood. I'd determined that my propensity for objective, difficult rationale that often revolves around grim realities and absolute truths was at odds with her sensitivities that caused her to sometimes want to believe something even if it didn't make sense. I also reflected on at least one thing that I'd said to Lynn that may have sent up the red flag in her mind and caused her to change her mind about confiding in me – even before I figured out what she'd been going through or the drama that followed. In any instance, I left that period of deep thought having accepted that I have an affinity for rationale and not one for being sensitive or emotional. I decided to cease and desist from earlier efforts to seem sensitive and just be the rational man that I am. As a point of clarity, I should say that I do indeed feel. Here are my personal connotations of three words with similar definitions:

1 – Feeling: An individualized phenomenon whereby a person gets a sensation in their gut (and possibly other body parts) as a result of something they hear and/or otherwise sense (often through a non-contact experience). It can accompany an intense thought or desire.

2 – Sensitivity: A collective (often societal) way of thinking about an issue such as proper treatment of women by men including the idea that rape is wrong. (Some countries either actively or passively condone rape.) Sensitivity is generally not required to make sense, though it occasionally and coincidentally overlaps with rationale. Most often it is either considered apart from rationale or in direct conflict with it.

3 – Emotion: An individualized and situation-based way of thinking whereby a person is either extremely excited or upset about a recent occurrence. During upsetting incidents, emotion is often marked by a sense of uncertainty as to how to solve the problem and by extreme indecisiveness.

Once again, I do feel; but, I'm not sensitive or emotional.

Even to this day, as I reflect on the situation between Lynn and I, it only seems to make sense that I wanted to get her out of the bad situation that I believed her to have been in. Though the matter was never proven one way or the other, I firmly believe that I guessed right -- that her step father was repeatedly raping her. Over the years that followed I would run across writings and people who would say that a man often offends a woman (often his wife or girlfriend) by interrupting her emotional expression of an experience in order to present a solution. I remembered a showing of Oprah in the early 90's where she and a female psychologist advised wives to gently cover the husband's mouth and to say, “Don't solve it; just listen”. That idea didn't set well with me then and it still doesn't. In the late 90's I ran across a Jehovah's Witness publication that carried the same basic message.

I worked many low-wage jobs from 1994 until 2005. I been a farm hand for cabbage, tobacco, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, watermelon and onions. I've worked at many labor halls. I've landed several jobs by working well out of the labor hall. I've gotten out of homelessness several times and I've fallen back in. If I were to write a book (which my current blog posts add up to anyway), I could show that other people's dislike of my insensitive rationale has contributed to them “pushing me out” of multiple jobs and back into homelessness.

I found myself homeless and working at a labor hall in Gainesville, Florida in the summer of 2005. A fellow worker and I spoke about the Iraq War while we waited for assignments. With me having already believed that the war was based on lies, he told me about the Downing Street Memo and Bilderberg. I made it my business to come to Washington, DC and speak out against Bush 43 and the Iraq War. I arrived around 10:30 PM on July 31st and partook in my first protest on September 24th, 2005. In June 2006 I began advocating for the homeless.

These days, I post many of my thoughts on Facebook and in my blog, having learned to do in e-mail in November 2006, having begun a Facebook account and this blog in 2008. That said, there is a lot of on-line “talk” about Ray Rice hitting his fiancee who later married him and about Adrian Peterson abusing his 4-year old son. Both are personal for me – the former due to me having helped multiple female victims (not all mentioned here) and the latter due to me having been nearly killed by my birth parents. I've portrayed the Peterson child as a complete victim and Janay Rice as a partial victim. The sensitive camp (including men) has gotten upset with me for the latter. Come to think of it, I've bumped heads with more than one person over the years due to my tendency to assign blame in what I believe to be a fair and rational manner. I dare not assume that the woman is always completely innocent when she and a man have an argument that turns violent. I pay dearly for being fair. No good deed goes unpunished.

In the late 90's I was living in Orlando and spent much of that time at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a shelter which was located at 639 Central Blvd at that time. I've been told that it has relocated and is now directed by an acquaintance of mine that I met in DC, Donald Whitehead. Early one morning I was walking down Church Street toward an Asian store/restaurant named “Lucy's” where I would often buy breakfast.

I saw a woman on the ground, a man hitting her and others standing around and shouting. The man's friends pulled him off and the men began to walk away. I saw that the assailant was a man whom I'd spoken to on numerous occasions but whose name I'd never learned. I'd always known him to be easy-going. As the woman got up, I saw that it was someone affectionately known as Pocahontas, though I never learned whether it was her given name or a street name. She was known to be ghetto.

Pocahontas went back at the man. He knocked her down again and hit her a few times before his friends pulled him off. He and th friends told her to just go away as the men tried again to walk away. She got back up, broke a glass bottle that was lying on the sidewalk and charged at the man again. This time he knocked her down, put her leg in a figure-4 and hurt her so badly that she couldn't get up again and she let out several long screams. The ambulance was called.

The police also came. Before they got there, I told someone that I'd always known the man to be quite calm and friendly. I asked why they were “fighting” (if you want to call it that). This spectator explained that the man had given Pocahontas money with the expectation of getting sex. She had played him (all views on prostitution aside, for now). He verbally confronted her, intending only to give her a good tongue thrashing. She reacted and it went from there. When the police arrived, I began to tell them what I witnessed. Another man who I knew was lying told a story of the male fighter having initiated the attack and been fully to blame. This man emotionally interrupted me and sounded much more emotional than I could ever sound. The cops focused their attention on him and I went about my business knowing that justice would not be served based on his account. The male fighter had already left. I'm not sure if police ever caught up with him. I sensed that the liar felt that a man should never hit a woman and was lying to get the outcome he felt was right.

I see similar thinking emerging around the Ray Rice situation. Many people don't want to consider the possibility that Janay Rice antagonized her then-fiancee; because, they're so upset than a man (football player or otherwise) hit a woman for any reason at all. Rather than lying to the police, these people are reacting negatively to anyone who considers how Ray AND Janay could have done better.

But before I give my opinion of the Ray Rice situation, I'll say that a certain male Facebook friend whom I've met in real life several times was particularly upset by views that I expressed. After a lengthy exchange, it came out that he thought that I was only hard on women. I explained that I actually push many groups of people of either gender to think hard. He tried to find other ways to support his sensationalistic accusations. I logged off of Facebook and decided to explain the matter in a blog post.

With various groups that I associate with and conversations that I involve myself in, I have a personal rule of only speaking when I've identified a thought that:

1 – is highly rational
2 – further along in the thought process than what I've heard anyone mention
3 – difficult for people to wrap their heads around.

I often find ways to categorize my statements so that they apply broadly to many of the situations that those who hear me will encounter. This makes it likely that they'll be reminded of my words. That said:

I routinely go to my church's Bible study and talk about God being a hard god.

I have posted FB comments on multiple occasions in which I said that it is my pet peeve to see that people want a sweet god whom they can jerk around.

I routinely talk about how homeless people should learn to self-advocate and get over their apprehension.

I routinely talk about how housed people should forgo their stereotypes about homeless people and take steps to connect them to living-wage jobs – how that they should at least abstain from falsely accusing homeless people or hating them for their socioeconomic status.

I routinely tell Whites to bite their tongues and hear the concerns of Blacks, with the Black race having been oppressed and under-educated for many years.

I routinely tell Blacks to engage in critical thinking.

I usually speak calmly. I sometimes state the application and at other times the general concept. But I always make it a point to bring the most difficult thoughts to any conversation.

Now for the kicker. I've said that the Peterson child was a full victim and that Janay Rice was only a partial victim. I don't expect mature behavior from any 4-year old child. I do expect mature behavior from a woman or man. Rather than making allowances for a woman's emotion to get the better of her and cause her to initiate violence, we should expect rational behavior from both genders.

I also believe that Ted Robinson was right and should not have been suspended by the 49'ers when he said that Janay Rice should have come out with her version of events sooner and that her decision to marry Ray after the fact was pathetic. Neither statement “blamed” her for Ray Rice punching her. Both were advice as to what she should've done in the aftermath. I believe that this over-extended definition of victim blaming actually is an effort to muzzle a man's rationale. I won't be muzzled and don't give a damn who doesn't like it.

I should add that Ray Rice didn't need to cold-cock Janay like he did. Professional boxers are not allowed to hit non-boxers, even if the non-boxer throws the first punch. Ray Rice was getting hit by large men on the football field. What his wife did couldn't have actually hurt. So, while she clearly took shots at him, the magnitude of his response was unwarranted.

Please try to understand this very long blog for its rational content and don't get emotional or sensationalistic.

Any questions?????

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Friday, August 22, 2014

“A riot is the language of the unheard” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I watch events in Ferguson, MO play out in the media, I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., during an interview with Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” in which he said, “A riot is the language of the unheard. The U.S. Government has failed to hear that the economic plight of the American Negro has worsened over the past few years”.

It's crystal clear to the socially and politically conscious that governments in the U.S. are defending the interests of corporations, not defending or enriching the lives of all American citizens. On the contrary, poor people who want a better life often become capitalist cannon fodder. (Just think for a moment about the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.)

Once a group is socioeconomically deprived, American governments add insult to injury and compound their suffering. They treat poor people as if their poverty is the result of a character flaw, as opposed to a set of systemic flaws in American governance. They aim to punish people into developing “good character” and the affluence that supposedly follows. That only begins to explain what we see being played out in Ferguson, Missouri (with its current “misery”).

In the capitalist scheme of things, Ferguson is like that wayward child who needs to be spanked as an example for the other children. And many Americans are buying into that narrative by capitalizing on the crimes that Michael Brown was suspected of committing – theft of a $49 box of cigars and simple assault -- rather than the cop's lack of probable cause for stopping him in the first place. It has cost much more than $49 to police the Ferguson riots and neither the assaults by police nor the oppressed have been simple. We've jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the fact that it was the police who escalated the situation by bringing in K-9 units and conjuring up images of the civil rights marches of the 50's and 60's. So, people react to an unjustified execution by a police officer and more police are brought in with dogs and only serve to exacerbate and compound the original problem. Then the city police are replaced by county police, supposedly to ease tensions. Then county police are replaced with national guardsmen. Then the governor implements a curfew. And, throughout all of this, public officials seem to be clueless as to why tensions are only increasing. Or maybe they were trying to fill some for-profit prison.

In 2005 the people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina were accused of looting – even those who only took perishable necessities from inoperable businesses. Now the media ostracizes residents of Ferguson for looting. Our governments continue to guard businesses from needy people who, in many cases, are only trying to survive like the newly-homeless people after Hurricane Katrina. They invest more in prisons than they invest in education. My Marxist and Communist friends sometimes tell me that we shouldn't say that poor people are “stealing”, but that they're “taking what's rightfully theirs from the capitalists”. I would add that, if poverty breeds crime, then it stands to reason that decreasing poverty would, in turn, decrease crime and the justification for investing in more for-profit prisons where it costs much more to give inmates the necessities of life that they often receive through social services anyway.

Social media is rife with references to the looting of the world economy by Goldman Sachs and by Wall Street as a whole with the help of the U.S. Congress and Bush 43 – and rightly so. Let's not forget about how JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon legally gambled away two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000.00) in a single day and kept his job. Or how the Bush 43 and Obama administrations facilitated the gift of 1.3 TRILLION dollars ($1,300,000,000,000.00) to Wall Street, in essence throwing good money after bad by giving the poor stewards of our economy more of our tax dollars to waste.

That brings us to the crux of the issue and the gist of this post: How should we define “law”, “civil society” or “civil behavior”? For citizens? For police? For the military? For Congress? For any and all walks of life? The various decisions by cops, courts and legislators nationwide comprise a form of jurisprudence known as “legal realism” which basically means: “We make the rules up as we play the game and the “real law” is the abstract totality that emerges out of what police, judges and legislators decide over time. It focuses on how laws and rights are applied, NOT what's on the books”. To a lesser degree, we are also dealing with matters of “critical legal studies” – a school of thought that sees law as the expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group – such as the bourgeoisie or proletariat. (As people's reactions to an unjust system intensify, this latter consideration will move to the forefront and the “wealth protectors” will unabashedly slaughter the oppressed.) With that in mind, let's establish a few working definitions before we proceed (all from Wikipedia):

Jurisprudence: the study and theory of law. Scholars in jurisprudence, also known as legal theorists (including legal philosophers and social theorists of law), hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of law, of legal reasoning, legal systems and of legal institutions.

Jim Crow Laws: were a number of laws of the United States. These laws were enforced in different states between 1876 and 1965. "Jim Crow" laws provided a systematic legal basis for segregating and discriminating against African-Americans.

Legal Realism: is a theory of jurisprudence which argues that the real world practice of law is what determines what law is; the law has the force that it does because of what legislators, judges, and executives do with it. Similar approaches have been developed in many different ways in sociology of law.

Critical Legal Studies: is a younger theory of jurisprudence that has developed since the 1970s. It is primarily a negative thesis that holds that the law is largely contradictory, and can be best analyzed as an expression of the policy goals of the dominant social group

Inverted Totalitarianism: is a term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in 2003 to describe the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believes that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and uses the term "inverted totalitarianism" to illustrate similarities and differences between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.

Now let's juxtapose two recent, high profile police killings. The 400-lb. Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York City police officer on July 17th, 2014 for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (Al Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion.) On August 9th, 2014, the 6'4” Michael Brown was shot at least six times by a police officer who supposedly didn't even know yet that Mr. Brown fit the description of a man who was suspected of stealing cigars from a nearby convenience store. That raises some serious questions around probable cause for stopping Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson.

In both cases the men were large, one tall and the other heavy. Both men were Black. Both were killed by White cops. Both were suspected of committing “crimes” involving tobacco products. (Quite honestly, in my struggle to quit smoking cigarettes, being able to buy “singles” or “looseys” has proven helpful. With the government encouraging cessation, you would think they'd take that into consideration.) Eric Garner lost his life over a police operation known as “Broken Windows” which purportedly aimed to catch people committing petty crimes before they committed bigger ones. Ironically (or maybe not), it was the police who committed the bigger crime. Let's also factor in how four NYPD officers were acquitted for the 1999 murder of unarmed Amadou Diallo.

Taken together with the myriads of similar cases, a picture of “legal realism” begins to emerge. If you are Black, you'll be targeted by White police officers. If you are a large Black man, the police might fear you or want to prove that they can whoop you. In either instance, you'll end up dead. The government will imprison or kill you if they can't tax every bit of income that passes through your hands – every little bit. Whether you raise your hands in submission or attempt to show the police your identification, you can be killed for it and the police can be acquitted. Even after you're dead, cops might use your corpse for target practice. (Landing only 19 out of 41 shots from point-blank range is not good marksmanship, especially when you consider that most of those shots were fired after Amadou Diallo was on the ground dying or dead.) In a capitalist society, anyone who is both Black and poor has a target on their back. This is the “political realism” and the current “critical legal analysis” that Afro-Americans have to live with.

Blacks are the poorest race in the United States of America percentage-wise, though there are more poor Whites in terms of raw numbers. Homeless people are, of course, the poorest of the poor. The terms “Black” and “poor” are almost synonymous. If we are cursed with a Republican majority in both houses for Obama's last two years, then “Black” and “homeless” will soon be near-synonyms. These are our social and political realities.

I've been advocating for the homeless since June 2006. Though I've never encouraged negative behavior by any homeless person, I've met a few people who've implied things of that nature. In one instance, I saw a mentally-ill homeless man jumping up and down and spinning around in the library. I called the Department of Mental Health. I then described the incident to a lady friend, explaining that bystanders were expressing fear and uncertainty. She said, “You mean to tell me that you see how the homeless make OTHER people feel?! That's good, Eric”. In another instance, I arrived early to a meeting a couple of years ago. During some small talk, I said something about the bad behavior of a certain homeless person, though I don't recall what incident I was discussing. A man who was setting up for the meeting sarcastically said, “You actually see that homeless people can do wrong too?”

Though I've never stated any support for the wrongs committed by homeless people, I HAVE spoken out against the unprovoked wrongs committed against the homeless. All too often I'm called upon to speak to the issue of the “criminalization of homelessness” – the practice whereby many municipal governments in the United States of America outlaw the fulfilling of basic human needs like sleeping or being fed in certain public places, with the intent of making life more difficult for the homeless. I also talk about how, even though it was called torture when US. Soldiers were suspected of depriving their Iraqi captives of sleep, the police in this country often deprive an unsheltered homeless person of sleep by kicking them off of park benches and out of other public venues – even in the wee hours off the night. Some cops even wait in the alley around five or six o'clock in the morning in hopes of seeing a homeless person relieve themselves. In our system of inverted fascism, local governments go so far as to arrest and jail the good people who feed the homeless or give them money. I've spoken out against such laws and against the reduction of funding for social services even as the need for such services increases.

Some people have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that I support the homeless doing others wrong or being a public nuisance. I can't count the times that someone has pointed to a group of about 30 homeless people hanging out on a sidewalk near a 1,350-person shelter, chatting, smoking cigarettes (possibly drinking alcohol or smoking K2) and told me that I shouldn't fight for them because they don't want to help themselves. If I were to give up on them, I'd be doing them a grave disservice; as, the homeless are a disenfranchised group of people who often can't stand up for themselves without assistance – though we are 8,000 strong in a city of 650,000 people.

Louis Farrakhan would agree with me that Afro-Americans are the product of their environment, having been shaped by the social injustices of slavery, Jim Crow law, racial profiling and socioeconomic deprivation. He might even agree that a failure to afford quality education to Blacks contributes to generational poverty. Simply put, the disinvestment in quality education which is so characteristic of capitalists has come back to bite them in the ass. They like to treat people like mushrooms by “keeping them in the dark and feeding them a bunch of shit”. Well, now the mushrooms are “releasing” their spores.

That brings us right back to the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “A riot is the language of the unheard. The U.S. Government has failed to hear that the economic plight of the American Negro has worsened over the past few years”. Sadly, what was said so many years ago is still true today. That truth lends itself to the conclusion that government is either unable or unwilling to address the socioeconomic plight of Afro-Americans. Both may be true. Neither is acceptable.

During the aforementioned interview, Dr. king advised against resorting to violence. That, of course, was before he was gunned down. Gandhi also preached a message of non-violence and met the same fate. In both instances, people began rioting after their leader was killed. Though the British no longer control India, the situation of Afro-Americans is worse now than it was in the 60's. I'm forced to conclude that these messages of non-violence didn't work for Dr. King or Gandhi and failed to get through to their followers.

The mistreatment of Afro-Americans has only evolved but never dissipated. The fact that socioeconomic deprivation is more subtle than slavery or Jim Crow law makes it considerably more difficult for us to make the case for America having a grossly unjust system. America's “inverted totalitarianism” results in citizens losing interest in politics and leads to politicians being given full run of the house to do as they please while not having their constituents' best interest at heart. America's “inverted fascism” results in local police becoming the “wealth protectors” who harass the homeless and kill unarmed poor people who were poorly educated by the public school system – all in the name of capitalism and the bourgeoisie agenda.

It stands to reason that, if Black Americans were to become completely non-aggressive, then the fate of the poorest – the homeless – would become the fate of the entire race in this country. We'd be doomed to perpetual socioeconomic injustice. Yet public officials including Barack Obama insist on people calming down in order to have their demands met. So, even as these supposed leaders failed to see how they were escalating a volatile situation on August 10th, they also fail to see how counter-intuitive it would be for the oppressed whose demands have not been met during anyone's lifetime and who are reacting to mistreatment by government to now meet government's demand for calm so that government can tell Blacks what it will do for them. We calmed down 46 years ago, right after the 1968 riots, and we have nothing to show for it. Why make the same mistake again? While it can be argued that Blacks shouldn't approach the oppressor for redress of grievances anymore, the fact remains that, for the moment, that's our only option.

So, while I REFUSE to add to the calls for peace, I'll offer some advice. Blacks should learn how to “sublate”: to create our own new system within the old until we outgrow the latter. If and when that new system matures, we'll be able to completely throw off the old. It behooves the “peacekeepers” to encourage conversation about the new system that Afro-Americans want and how they might begin to create it in spite of government, rather than these “peacekeepers” wasting their time telling people not to fight back against their attackers. (How do you “keep” what you've never had, peace or otherwise?) After we've followed this new path long enough, we'll also eliminate the need for Blacks to depend on their oppressive governments anymore.

Those who've been paying attention know that, throughout this post I've pitted our capitalist government against Blacks. I've made no mention of other racial tensions. But in closing, I'll give a couple of lessons learned from the Occupy Movement to the non-Black Supporters out there:

During Occupy DC I heard Blacks asking Whites, “Where were you for the past 50 years that Blacks have been enduring so much social injustice? Why did you wait until you couldn't find a job or pay off your student loan before you decided to start a movement?” (The short answer is that many of the occupiers – Black and White – were only 20 to 25 years old and had only earned enough trust from their parents to leave home unattended less than 10 years prior.) We eventually got past those tensions and people of all races marched together. The lesson that can be learned here is that non-Black supporters may need to show patience and an ability to listen as Afro-Americans vent their anger and frustration.

During Occupy DC Afro-Americans also complained about how Whites were trying to lead them again. They mentioned how that, during slavery and Jim Crow, the White man told Blacks what to do. I often tell Blacks how that, when they clamor to get into predominantly White schools, they send a message to the White man that what Whites have created is awesome and we imply that Blacks can't do as well or better. In any instance, you get the picture. There's a big power differential at work here. The solution to this problem is simple:

Let the Blacks lead this movement.

The End.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Class War or a Viable Third Party???

In recent years I've taken to telling people about an impending CLASS WAR and encouraging them to side with the Proletariat/ BROletariat. I'm keenly aware of the increasing tensions between the haves and the have-nots and of the broken promise made by Washington, DC's mayor Vince Gray (2011-2015) to make our nation's capital into “One City” – a campaign slogan that plays off of the title of a Charles Dickens book called “A Tale of Two Cities”. In 2010 I ran across an article that referenced predictions by Gerald Celente, the renowned and fiercely accurate predictor of socio-economic trends and the director of Trends Research Institute. He predicted in 2008 that by the end of 2012 there would be, among other things, jobs marches, a reaction to the Wall Street bail-out, food riots and revolution in the UnitedStates – some of which happened.

Fast forward to August 4, 2014 (President Obama's 53rd birthday). That afternoon, after leaving a dual-purpose rally in support of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan who was in DC and against Boko Haram, I attended a protest against Washington Harbor for them having asked the police to (illegally) remove people selling prison art from a wide median near their business. (The police actually guarded our protest in Washington, DC's ritzy Georgetown neighborhood. LOL.) While there, I spoke to DC Council at-large candidate and good friend Eugene Puryear about these rising tensions, a recent attack on a homeless man by anANC commissioner and the impending, long overdue and much-needed CLASS WAR. He seemed to agree with all that I said and then proceeded to tell me about a recent piece written by venture capitalist and near-billionaire Nick Hanauer entitled “The Pitchforks Are Coming”. In it he explains that the income gap between the rich and the poor in this country is greater than it's ever been and that, if something isn't done by the wealthy to mitigate the negative effects of poverty and inequity, then the poor will rise up in CLASS WAR.

On August 5th, 2014 after eating at a place that serves homeless people, I spoke to another client named Robert. I began to tell him that, through 1968 the U.S. Government was a savior of sorts to Blacks – that the feds actually made laws against various Jim Crow practices and went so far as to send in the troops so that Black children could attend integrated schools. I went on to say that presidents became overtly evil starting in 1969. Richard Nixon was inaugurated on January 20, 1969. I was born 26 days later on February 15th. Robert asserted that God made man who made government and that all governments are dictatorial and inherently evil. I said that we have to give governments some latitude to be government – that we must empower them with enough authority to get their job done. He adamantly disagreed. With that he was gone, having offered no solution. No good.

Later that day I did a media interview about the criminalization of homelessness and told Erin Bell what I knew about the homeless people in various U.S. cities being arrested for sleeping in public places when they have nowhere else to sleep and for partaking in other necessary human activities on public land. (Let's remember that, when U.S. soldiers were accused of depriving their Iraqi captives of sleep, it was called torture.) I also told her of good people being arrested for feeding the homeless and of my multiple interviews with Al Jazeera Television where I talked about the aforementioned mistreatment of homeless people in this country. (Several years ago, dozens of United Nations member nations drew up a resolution accusing the United States government of human rights violations. The world is watching with much help from Al Jazeera.)

I also told Erin that I firmly believe that a new form of American fascism is arising. We generally associate fascism with federal governments. However, U.S. fascism is "asserting" (not to be confused with "creating" or "defining") itself in a much different way. With the supreme court having solidified corporate control of the U.S. Government firmly in place, it is the local governments which are now making the draconian laws that target poor people. (And you thought Budapest was bad?!) The federal government is merely turning a blind eye to the domestic mistreatment of poor people as the feds focus more on creating international havoc.

Immediately following that interview, I spoke with friend and fellow homeless advocate David Pirtle about the need for CLASS WAR. He is a bit of a pacifist and tried to dissuade me from touting such violent rhetoric. He made the point that Americans aren't ready for CLASS WAR, especially since the government gives the poor just enough for them to worry about losing if they were to rise up – e.g. food stamps and subsidized housing. (I know all too well about people not rising up lest they lose their meager public benefits.) I then offered the idea of creating a viable third party and said that, of the “many third parties” (go figure), none is viable enough to break the two-party dynamic of our nation. David pointed out how that a relatively miniscule Tea Party has gained control of the Republican party and pushed its agenda through. I'd say that it's something to think about; but, might be harder to do again in lieu of the fact that the Tea Party, both major parties and others are watching to make sure that third-party politics don't become the new normal. After all, the creation of a viable third party would make it such that people don't have to flip-flop back and forth between two parties that are screwing them over time and time again – which hearkens back to the creation of party primaries. They'd have to think more in-depth about what defines each party and its candidates for different positions rather than just thinking in terms of “opposites”. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats want that to happen.

The primaries were supposed to give us a larger field of candidates so that we don't need to choose between two crooks in November. We now start with 10 to 20 crooks per position and narrow it down to one. When presidential term limits became the law in 1951, it was supposed to ensure that no president would become a dictator. But a lame duck president is less inclined to please his constituents than one who can run indefinitely and has to think about the next election. Furthermore, with Bush 43 having basically told America to go f**k itself, if the Dems were to put forth such a froward president, it would become crystal clear to Americans that they can't find salvation in either major party. However, that doesn't answer the pressing question: “What are we going to do about it?”.

Even if you disagree with my CLASS WAR rhetoric and aren't sure what to do about dirty politics, I can help you to summarily dismiss any notion that changing the way we vote (as was done by the creation of primaries) will do a substantial amount of good. Consider the aforementioned challenges associated with creating a third party. Add to that the fact that this viable third party would be regulated by the same capitalist vanguard. This third party would serve to make our government more cohesive for a short while before being co-opted by the establishment and melded into the capitalist class. So, you can see why I wouldn't spend an inordinate amount of my time trying to create a viable third party, though it is still good as a temporary means to an end. Furthermore, I don't feel strongly about the need to vote. I would however emphasize the need to inundate our respective incumbents with our demands – uniting against the feds first and then fanning out to the states and locales. They are supposed to work for all of their constituents once they take office.

On August 2nd, 2014 I was in a park when I noticed a protest nearby. It turned out to be a protest against Israel albeit in the U.S. capital. While there, I spoke with Matt Glover about the need for CLASS WAR. He agreed and expressed his frustration with get others to see the light. He asked how we should organize such an uprising. I suggested that we use social media to encourage over 600,000 U.S. citizens per day to come to DC and protest the U.S. government – cycling through most or all of population annually. He added that some people might stay for more than one day. We imagined that, if people were to remain for 5 days at a time, there could be as many as 3,000,000 protesters in DC on any given day and we could shut down our infamously ineffective congress. We've established on-line contact and will collaborate on such an effort. (You can help by sharing the aforementioned idea with as many people as possible.)

While many of my REVOLUTIONARY friends are like Robert insomuch as they choose only to disparage the government and don't recognize it as having ever done any good whatsoever, I beg to differ. I'll avoid the slippery slope of discussing motives. However, on its face, some of what the U.S. government has done in days long gone has been good. In 1934, during the first of Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms (him having died in the first year of his fourth term), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created. (They actually used to help poor people purchase houses, as opposed to simply paying most of the person's rent.)

The Great Depression was five years old and would continue for another eleven years. State and local governments which are not allowed to run deficits were unable to foot the bill for social services any longer. The federal government decided to use its right to run a deficit by creating social services that would replace those at the state and local levels. Such was the logic for creating HUD. Now Congress speaks of wanting to decrease the deficit. To do this, they are decreasing social services funding. So, the logic of 1934 has been flipped on its head. The feds have gone from creating federal social services due to being able to run a deficit over to cutting back those social services in order to reduce the deficit. What's missing is a stated analysis of the effect this will have on the poor. Will we just lie down and die without a FIGHT?!

While the poor and dispossessed have many needs, it has been the need for housing or shelter that has brought out the most FIGHTERS over the years and this will probably remain true for many years hence. During the Reagan administration, hundreds of homeless people and many housed advocates put life, limb and personal freedom on the line to go up against the president and force him to turn a dilapidated, vacant federal building into a shelter with a thirty-year covenant stating that it would serve the homeless until at least July 7th, 2016. With the covenant about to expire, I initiated a process that has led to the DC Council creating a bill that will force the mayor to develop a plan for the shelter's 1,350 residents (one-sixth of DC's homeless population). These FIGHTERS also effected the creation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Services Act which was renewed in 2009 as the HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance, Rapid Transition to Housing) and signed into law by Obama on May 20th of that year. It was handed off to HUD to be implemented and is expected to be fully implemented later this month.

All of this lends itself to the fact that, during my life (almost to the day), there has been an awkward and strained relationship between the feds and the poor (the “fed-up's”). The poor were offered salvation from the federal government during the Great Depression. That would continue through the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. Fifteen or so years later, during the latter half of Reagan's first term, many homeless Vietnam veterans would find themselves FIGHTING against Reagan's Keynesian politics on the home front – albeit without the BIG GUNS. We had to actually FORCE the leader to lead properly – to care for the least of his constituents. Today we still find ourselves FIGHTING against the desire by Congress to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. We're still up against what is essentially a bait and switch – creating federal programs to replace state and local programs and then attempting to end those federal programs at a time and in a way that is most inopportune for the recipients of those services.

We now have a president who is half Black, though many people fail to acknowledge his Caucasian side. Some time ago, I spoke with friend and fellow advocate Linda Leaks about the fact that Obama has done close to nothing for Blacks. (It was noted that he is not the president of Blacks only.) We discussed how that he can't be expected to come out and say that he's going to do this or that for Blacks. She then said that he should say “poor” – that if he was uncomfortable saying he's doing something for Blacks, he should say that he's doing it for the poor. Good point.

I'll offer yet another possibility. As a homeless advocate, I deal with the poorest of the poor. I also know that the top reasons for homelessness I this country include lack of affordable housing or a living wage, domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and untreated mental illness. It stands to reason that an effort by the president to end homelessness would cause him to have to address many other social ills as well. I've said in the past that a president could pretty much govern the country simply by devoting himself to ending homelessness. But Obama has failed to confront those who call him a Socialist. He should've stood up to them and asked if they were implying that he should ignore the poor. But he didn't. His time to show strength and assert the need for a more Socialistic government that adequately assists its poor is running out. He might have to deal with a Republican majority in both houses during his last two years – 2015 being characterized by stress and futile assertions on Obama's part and 2016 hopefully being characterized by CLASS WAR.

I'm not saying that poor people should be expected to remain on social services indefinitely. However, the federal government has offered these services long enough for generations of poor people to become dependent on the and to lose whatever job skills and life skills they may have had at one time. It makes no sense to just pull the rug out from under these dependents. The government should take steps to connect people to living-wage jobs – the jobs that the government can't create. Social service recipients shouldn't be weaned off of their government assistance unless and until that government can effectively connect them to another form of sustainable sustenance via living-wage employment. (maybe they'll pull it off by 2114.)

This awkward and strained relationship between the feds and the “fed-up's” (poor), though it can be traced back as far as Nixon, really came to a head during Reagan. The Gipper really showed us one again that the words of Frederick Douglass remain true: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and I never will.” By caving to pressure rather than governing by conscience, he set himself and many other politicians up to be inundated with people's demands – to have positive laws and policies enacted by applying pressure from the bottom up with grass roots advocacy.

Now the efforts of homeless REVOLUTIONARIES in the 80's have come full circle. There is action being taken on the future of the CCNV Shelter as its covenant comes to a close. There is the HEARTH Act which as part of its renewal has new elements that require any city which receives HUD money to put in homelessness place a power structure that allows for quick decisions to be made concerning the homeless. Here in Washington, DC Kristy Greenwalt has been hired as the first ever director of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH). She previously served as the housing policy director for the USICH. She has about three weeks to bring DC into full compliance with the HEARTH Act. I trust that she'll pull it off.

It is worth noting that many of the concerns which the poor and the homeless have raised are met in her. She has to implement legislation that was created during Reagan, renewed by Obama, implemented over the course of five and a half years by HUD, under-funded by Congress and handed down to state and local governments. She also has to contend with the exponential increase in DC's homeless population and the fact that we are not in a state and therefore don't have that funding source. Add to that the fact that there has been a dismal response to homelessness by the feds since 1987 when the Mckinney-Vento Act was passed and that there have been many missed opportunities over the years to humanely end homelessness in the District. There is a heightened level of distrust and frustration among the homeless concerning government and the non-profits that advocate for the poor. Kristy Greenwalt will have to deal with all of this and more. But failure is not an option; for, just over the horizon in the spring of 2016 I see CLASS WAR!!!!!

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