Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revolution: What Was Discussed At The U.S. Social Forum

While my previous post described how I got to the U.S. Social Forum and some of the interesting connections that I made, it didn't address what was discussed in Detroit. However, some very interesting things were said there. I'd be remiss if I were to fail to address some of the ideas that were set forth.

Bear in mind that there were over 1,200 workshops of which I only attended about 5. (Many of the workshops were 4 hours long.) Even so, I picked up on certain themes that were common to many of the groups and individuals that I encountered -- in the workshops, in the halls and at other venues like nearby restaurants. The most common theme was that of revolution. Some people spoke with great anticipation about the revolution that promises to arise (objectively) out of the increased social awareness that people across the country are developing. Some spoke of wanting a more subjective and deliberate effort to force our national government to care for its poorest, most vulnerable constituents, as opposed to kowtowing to Wall Street. It seemed as though Gerald Celente's scientific prediction of food riots, tax rebellions and revolution in this country by 2012 were becoming a reality right before my eyes. The process was germinating in Detroit, the city hardest-hit by the economic downturn.

In several workshops that I attended, people raised concerns about possibly losing their public benefits such as food stamps and SSI if they were to get involved in non-violent direct actions and go to jail -- even for a day. Coincidentally (or by some measure of divine intervention) my June article in the People's Tribune entitled "Risky Business" spoke to that very issue. It described a direct action that others and myself are planning in DC and how that the fear of going to jail and losing public benefits has made us like Pavlov's dog. Furthermore, representatives of the People's Tribune were present at the forum with thousands of free copies of the June 2010 issue. So, I kept reloading my backpack with dozens of issues and handing them out to anyone who I heard mention this concern as well as many others whom I entered into dialogue with.

I reminded people that their fear of losing public benefits puts them at the mercy of an oppressive, ineffective government and that their "hope" of receiving these crumbs from government is what the government uses to keep them at bay. I was remiss in my failure to mention the ever-increasing cuts to social services and how that, by making these cuts, the governments of this nation are removing the last reason that people have to avoid revolution.

However, I DID remind those at the forum of how they spoke extensively of doing vacant property takeovers in which they would occupy vacant properties -- in effect taking that property. I went on to say that it is counter-intuitive to, on the one hand, take vacant property while, on the other hand, they look for a hand-out from the government. If people are going to take over vacant property, why would they not take whatever else they need too? That's counter-intuitive.

I told people that, in addition to their fear of losing public benefits as a result of going to jail, their fear of going to jail in and of itself was holding them down. As has been said for quite some time in various circles that I've been in, no positive change has ever been brought about without there being those who were willing to take risks. Being a DC resident, I see all too often how people assemble to speak truth to power, how they protest according to the rules of the government whom they oppose and how they disperse when the authorities tell them to. This does nothing to challenge the status quo. I, therefore, advised people to change their thinking -- to go from avoiding jail to making an all-out effort to over-crowd the jails. That, if literal thousands of people were going to jail during a single demonstration, that would over-crowd the jail. It would also over-work the police and send a strong message to the powers that be that we will not conduct business as usual while we are disgruntled and dissatisfied. The point was made by a friend of mine that the whole point of doing civil disobedience is to make a statement by going to jail and that, if you aren't prepared to go to jail, then you aren't prepared to do civil disobedience.

This talk of revolution and people's unwillingness to involve themselves in direct action for fear of losing public benefits, when taken together show that people are ready for change at almost any cost. However, they are not willing to give up their sustenance. After all, it is the government's failure to adequately ensure that they receive their most basic needs which is at the core of their dissatisfaction with government. It therefore stands to reason that people will continue to obey the laws -- even the unjust laws -- so long as they have enough of what they need. But when their sustenance decreases too drastically and they don't even have the bare minimum of what they need to survive, they will have lost all reason to obey the government. In essence, the government has placed itself in a most precarious predicament insomuch as it must literally purchase respect and obedience from its constituents in the form of social services. The dog of capitalism has turned on its owner.

And, speaking of money, I had an awesome experience of perfect budgeting while attending the U.S. Social Forum. With me having been sponsored for the transportation and the room, I brought $300.00 with me for food and miscellaneous items. I spent at least $50.00 helping others, bought a couple of shirts for myself, purchased drinks for myself and a couple of ladies during the party on our last night there and still had enough money to buy food for myself and a couple of ladies during the trip home. As a matter of fact, after spending $16.99 at Roy Rogers during our second and last stop at a rest area on the way home, I had only $.51 left over. My money lasted through the final meal of the trip, whereas others ran out of funds sooner. Taken together with how I received my checks at the last minute, how that my June article directly addressed people's concerns and how that there were thousands of copies of the People's Tribune on hand so that folk could read my article, I'd have to chalk this one up to divine intervention. Is God behind this revolution?????

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Monday, June 28, 2010

My Trip To The U.S. Social Forum

I just spent 5 days in Detroit, Michigan at the U.S. Social Forum -- a gathering of about 17,000 activists and advocates for a wide range of social justice issues. While it proved to be quite the productive gathering (from where I stand anyway), getting there wasn't easy for me. The fact of the matter is that these things cost money -- something that I never have much of and, in spite of many people admiring my homeless advocacy, I get very little money for what I do. (I'm obviously not in it for the money, but because I care about the issue.) So, helping the homeless pro bono keeps me as dependent upon the kindness of strangers as those whom I help.

I got involved with the DC Metro Social Forum in March of 2007, just 3 months before the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta (which I didn't attend). However, I was heavily involved in the planning process for this year's U.S. Social Forum. During the run-up to June 22nd, 2010, members of the DC Metro Social Forum held fundraisers to help people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford the trip to get there. But, with the large number of people who needed help getting there and the relatively small amount of money that was raised, the funds could only pay for the chartered bus that we rode and people had to find some other way to pay for room and board.

As it turns out, one of my several friends in the League of Revolutionaries for a New America knew of a group that would sponsor me for the room and board. All I needed now was a way to pay for food and whatever else I might want or need to buy while in Detroit. Though members of the DC Metro Social Forum did some rather intense planning for 6 months around getting people to Detroit, it wasn't until the final month that I had any idea where this money would come from.

I had met a professor from Georgetown University while attending Social Justice Camp (a networking event for those involved in social justice issues in DC) this past January. She invited me to do some community organizing with her students. She told me that she wasn't sure whether or not she'd be able to pay me, but that I might get paid at the end of the school year if she had any of the grant money that she received to develop the course left over at the end of the school year.

So, on May 19th, I received an e-mail stating that I would receive $540.00 for my work with the students. Within days I had received and filled out the pertinent electronic forms. However, on June 8th, I still hadn't received the check in the mail. I sent an e-mail explaining that I needed the money by June 18th, so that I could use it to go to Detroit. As it turned out, the electronic forms that had been sent to me were the wrong ones. So, a Georgetown employee met me in person on the 9th and had me to fill out the right forms. And the waiting game began afresh and anew.

I checked for mail every day until the 18th. Nothing. On Saturday the 19th, my name appeared on the mail list at the CCNV shelter. But the man who was working in the mail room that day couldn't find my mail. I actually wasn't sure if it was a $100 check that I was expecting from elsewhere or the Georgetown check. After several minutes of searching, he told me to come back on Monday. So, I walked away in disgust and despair.

When I returned on Monday, the woman who was working in the mail room found both of my checks within a matter of seconds. I now had $790.00 on hand, out of which I owed $240.00 to people that I'd borrowed from. Or so I thought.

With my chartered bus scheduled to leave DC at 7 AM on June 22nd, Monday the 21st was my last chance to cash the check. So, with the Georgetown check having been drawn on the PNC Bank, I went to the branch near the White House. I arrived at 2:45, only to find out that that branch closes at 2. I was furious and began to curse up a storm. Then I went found out where a couple of other branches were.

The teller at the branch at 14th and K Streets refused to cash my check and wouldn't tell me why. (It might have been due to the photos on my 2 forms of I.D. having been taken in different lighting and thus looking slightly different. Also, one showed me wearing a cap. The other showed me with hair. And I had a bald head and no cap when I entered the bank. (The same cap that I wore in the picture was in my back pocket.) I walked out in disgust and despair and cursed up an even bigger storm. Then, I went to the branch at 15th and L Streets where the teller cashed it immediately. Everything worked out in the nick of time. It seemed as thought it might've been a matter of divine intervention. (Coincidentally, a couple of days later, I heard the song "On Time God" playing on someone's CD player in Hart Plaza in Downtown Detroit. This served to reaffirm the notion of divine intervention.) So, I went to Target to purchase some work boots, a couple of pairs of shorts and some things for my trip and boarded the bus for Detroit the following morning.

Including about 90 minutes combined at 2 rest areas, it took 10 and a half hours to get to Detroit. And when we arrived, the registration line proved to be longer and more hectic than any line that I've ever stood in -- including those at soup kitchens and shelters. But I learned the public transit system rather quickly and was able to get around the city with relative ease.

I had an easier time than most people did figuring out which of the more than 1,200 workshops I wanted to attend. Since I knew some of the people who were leading the workshops, I didn't need to use the book with the confusing charts to find workshops. I just called people on my cell phone to find out when and where their workshops would be.

I turned out to be privileged in yet another way. Several of the attendees whom I knew actually had less money on hand than I did and needed help buying food. I gladly helped. The van belonging to one of the groups in attendance broke down about 9 miles outside of Detroit and a couple of youths in that group went around asking for donations. I gave $5.00. Since we were there to fight for social justice issues which include homelessness and poverty, I made it a point to give money to some of the homeless people that I saw. All together, I gave out over $50.00 easily (not counting what I spent buying drinks for ladies during the party on my last night there). People had helped me and now I was just paying it forward gladly.

On one occasion, I saw a man walking through Cobo Hall (Detroit's convention center) who I could tell was homeless just by looking at him. I offered him a dollar. He declined. He explained that he was a homeless man from Sacramento, CA and that he had been sponsored to come to Detroit. He and I spoke about our similar work as homeless homeless advocates for about 40 minutes. Then several other homeless people from Sacramento came down the escalator accompanied by a man from San Jose who I'd only met in person for the first time earlier the same day. It turned out that all of them knew each other. (The man from San Jose was one of 5 people that I met in person during the Social Forum after corresponding for some time via e-mail, Facebook and telephone.) I ended up becoming friends with homeless people from California after what might've been my strangest encounter yet with another homeless person.

The U.S. Social Forum was a way of connecting different people who are involved in similar struggles as well as connecting different struggles that are all part of the same social movement. While not everyone found it to be as fulfilling as I did, I was able to make some important connections. I reconnected with a woman from PPEHRC (the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign) whom I'd met last November during the visit of the U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing. She promised to assist my colleagues and I in our planned direct action on July 10th. I also signed on to help build the U.S.-Canada branch of the International Alliance of Inhabitants which is based in Italy, thus establishing some international contacts. (The IAI is running a zero-evictions campaign as part of its efforts to make housing a human right worldwide.)

That said, I have my hands full, as if I wasn't doing enough already. Nonetheless, I'm consistent in my tendency to over-commit. But the Social Forum was intended to bring people together so that they can work together going forward. It was never intended to be the end-all, be-all of social justice. We have our work cut out for us. Our work has just begun.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Lesson In Direct Action

Direct action is activity undertaken by individuals, groups, or governments to achieve political, economic, or social goals outside of normal social/political channels. (Wikipedia)

England has begun to bring closure to the events of January 30th, 1972, also known as "Bloody Sunday". On that day 14 people were killed and 12 wounded by the British military during a non-violent protest. The Saville Inquiry (1998-2010) has concluded that what the soldiers did was "unjustified and unjustifiable". This country had its own "Bloody Sunday" on March 7th, 1965 as police beat 600 peaceful protesters during a march for voting rights for Blacks. Then, on May31st, of this year nine people were killed by Israeli soldiers as the civilians attempted to break through a blockade in order to deliver humanitarian aid to the residents of the Gaza Strip. The fact of the matter is that holding a non-violent demonstration doesn't guarantee that the police and military won't initiate violence.

In lieu of the violence that is perpetrated by the police and military of different nations against peaceful protesters and those delivering aid, one is left to wonder why anybody anywhere would take any such risk. It's definitely one of life's tougher choices; but, when faced with the option of performing a direct action that might result in violence on the part of the police or enduring long-term mistreatment and inequities, the choice should be clear. And history has shown us that, more times than not, people take their chances standing against the police and government.

While such incidents don't serve as the best segway into an announcement about an upcoming direct action, they do remind us of the grim realities surrounding direct action. And, as the most recent incident has taught us, even attempting to deliver the most basic human needs to an isolated, marginalized people can draw the ire of a national government. This truth hits close to home as "Take Back The Land DC" plans a direct action that will begin on July 10th. The "intentional community", as it is being called, is intended to bring attention to DC's housing crisis and to give voice to our demand for more affordable housing in the city. Furthermore, it too aims to assist an isolated, marginalized people -- America's homeless community.

As a previous blog post indicated, the poor and homeless often fail to stand up for themselves because they are receiving some degree of government benefits such as food stamps or SSI and don't want to lose that by going to jail. After all, that would add insult to injury. However, tolerating mistreatment and inequities in order to retain such meager benefits makes one as masochistic as Pavlov's dog. It is this apparent ambiquity that has caused our plans to be drawn out, revised and postponed. Nonetheless, we've settled on a set of plans and a date and have no intentions of changing our minds. However, in an effort to keep the local government from shutting us down before we get started or soon thereafter, we are being careful about what information we disclose. What's more is that we will precede our secretive direct action with a well-publicized block party:

WHAT: Block Party
DATE: July 10th, 2010
TIME: Noon to 5 PM
PLACE: 600 block of "S" street, NW, Washington, DC

NOTE: We are in dire need of at least $2,000 in order to make the block party and the direct action a success. We also need various used supplies and volunteers/participants. We encourage you to help in any way that you can.

For more information, contact:

Rosemary Ndubuizu: rndubuizu@onedconline.org or call (202) 368-9255
Eric Sheptock: ericsheptock@yahoo.com or call (240) 305-5255
ONE DC: www.onedconline.org or call (202) 232-2915

Even as the planning for this direct action enters its final phase, tens of thousands of people (myself included) are preparing to go to Detroit, Michigan for the U.S. Social Forum which will take place from June 22nd thru 26th, 2010. They will organize for change on many fronts -- women's rights, poverty issues, healthcare reform, homelessness/housing issues and many more. As it turns out, our direct action is one of many in a growing movement:

Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change. (Wikipedia)

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Need Your Help (An Update On Take Back The Land DC's Plans

I made some edits to a previous post by removing some sensitive info that might compromise our plans:

As you may know, members of Take Back The Land and ONE DC (organizing Neighborhood Equity) are working together to plan a direct action that will publicize and politicize the need for affordable housing and will hold the local politicians' feet to the fire so as to make them follow through on their December 2008 resolution which declared Washington, DC to be a human rights city. The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared housing to be a human right. Furthermore, many people are being made homeless by the present economic crisis, which makes it imperative that we act now to prevent any more people from becoming homeless and to rehouse those who are living on the streets and in the shelters of the richest nation on earth.

Since our attempts at getting the mayor to follow through on his promises to create a sufficient amount of affordable housing have failed, we see fit to organize a direct action that is sure to get his attention and to expose his broken promises. As it turns out, the DC Council has failed to put pressure on the mayor to do the right thing. We hope to get through to them too.

This just happens to be an election year. The mayor and 6 councilmembers are up for re-election. This creates the perfect enviroment for forcing our public officials to meet the most basic needs of their constituents.

It is with this in mind that we are planning our direct action. However, we have had a few bumps in the road. Take Back The Land, an organization which is heading a national campaign to make housing a "realized" human right through "liberations" of vacant houses and "defenses" of those who are in danger of eviction, designated May as a month of action during which people in various cities across the nation would take over vacant properties and put homeless people in the vacant houses. At ONE DC we determined that we didn't have enough lead time and would need to do our direct action in June. Then we received some legal advise which indicated that local laws, being what they are, made the planned direct action an unwise choice for some people to get involved in.

So, we've altered our plans slightly:

We will have a block party on July 10th, beginning at noon. It will be in the 600 block "S" Street, NW, a half block from the north (Howard U.) exit of the Shaw/Howard U. Metro station.

We will use the occasion to publicize the local housing crisis and to do a political teach-in. The event promises to draw hundreds of people. Our hope is that a few dozen of those people will become serious about addressing the housing issue and get involved in our on-going direct actions.

The scare came on April 17th, during our direct action training. Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights gave about 30 aspiring activists some legal advice. They did their best not to scare us out of moving forward with our plans, as they were honest about the risks involved. They said that most people who do direct actions only spend a single night in jail, so long as the direct action is their only "crime" [sic] that they committed. However, those with prior felonies, too many civil disobedience (moral obedience) charges and those who are on probation or parole could be kept longer. Undocumented people could be repatriated to their country of origin. Those receiving public benefits such as food stamps, SSI or welfare checks could lose them. As it turns out, this was too much of a risk for those living in the poor, Black neighborhood which ONE DC serves. This is why the plans were changed.

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