What More Are You Willing To Fight for????? Affordable Housing? The Human Right to Housing?

This will be the main topic of discussion at the next Homeless advocacy meeting at the CCNV Shelter. But it is a good question for all homeless/housing advocates to address:

Now that the DC Council has restored funding for homeless shelters and certain other Human Services, will you be satisfied or fight for even greater improvements like the creation of affordable housing and the realization of housing as a Human Right?

Come answer this question with us.

The homeless have begun to organize around the proposed budget cuts to Human Services. We have been meeting weekly at the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter since late April. Meetings are:

1 PM to 3 PM

425 2nd street NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003
(2 blocks from Judiciary Square Metro and 3 blocks from Union station -- both on the Red Line; D6 or D3 buses.)

In the basement
(accessed from sidewalk on 2nd Street)

All concerned citizens who want to do something about homelessness (and other societal ills) are welcome, encouraged and urged to come.

I'm also beginning the conversation around having a
in mid-September 2011 or mid-March 2012 (tentatively).

(Being that I didn't put the word out sooner about Monday, May 30th being a holiday, I will be present at the meeting place, in case anyone shows up. However, I am not advertising it as a full meeting. The next full meeting will be on Monday, June 6th.)

We Did It!!!

We did it!!! We got the DC council to reject some of DC Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed budget cuts to Human Services -- cuts that would've wreaked havoc on the city's poor and homeless population. Homeless shelters will remain open year-round, as opposed to only sheltering the homeless during the 5 coldest months of the year. Plans to close city shelters from April 1st, 2012 through October 31st, 2012 have been scrapped.

Not all of the budget cuts were reversed though. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) was almost fully restored. IDA (Interim disability Assistance) was partially restored. Funds for the Housing Production trust Fund (which creates afordable housing) and childcare might be restored if the revenue forecast for June is accurate and the city has more cash on-hand than they projected they'd have during the making of this year's budget. What funds we DID recover are reason for celebration.

NOTE: The DC Council has to vote on the budget for a second time on June 7th and then it goes to Capitol Hill for a 30-day Congressional review, after which it might be finalized.

It is important to note that it was the direct actions of the masses of poor and homeless people as well as their supporters which made this victory possible. Various non-profits like Empower DC, LEDC (Latino Economic Development Corporation), Bread for the City and S.O.M.E. (So Others Might eat) used their organizing capacity to bring people together. The homeless took initiative and began to meet on a weekly basis at the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter. We held at least one march to and several rallies and "walk-arounds" at the Wilson Building (City Hall). (A walk-around consists of large groups of people visiting the offices of all 13 councilmembers and speaking to them and/or their staff about the concerns of the group.) On one occasion upwards of 200 people participated in a walk-around and exerted immense pressure on councilmembers as we spoke to them one at a time.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown had to be "forced" out of his office by public pressure. Someone in his office locked the door when the crowd assembled in the hall outside of his office. I, Eric Jonathan Sheptock, began to shout to the crowd that we'd been locked out when a woman who was nearby put a microphone near my mouth, making it possible for all to hear me. The crowd booed the chairman. A staffer defended her employer by saying that the "he" whom I was referring to was not the one who locked the door, but refused to say who did. Chairman Kwame Brown emerged from his office about 5 minutes later and addressed the crowd.

He has insisted in successive e-mails that he was not trying to shut-out the advocates. Even so, he has failed to adequately control those acting in his name and on his behalf. A competent authority would make certain that what things his/her employees do reflect the views and policies of their boss.

Granted that we had to deal with some political BS, when all was said and done, we left with more than we came with. Let's keep building momentum! Let's go from saving the shelters and other Human Services to DEMANDING that the city create affordable housing. Aw shucks, let's vie for complete systemic change. Let's stop the mayor and council from kowtowing to developers and make them hear OUR demands. After all, the squeaky bearing gets the grease. Let's be squeaky bearings.

Maybe I should say "Let's CONTINUE to be squeaky bearings". Let this victory stand as a testament to our power. Let's formalize our efforts and decide how we can be a thorn in the side of a mayor who almost wreaked havoc on DC's poor and a burr in the shoe of any councilmember who voted against our priorities. La lucha continua.

But let us move forward with some analysis of this moment. Whereas the advocacy community has almost always gotten at least some of what they asked for, it seemed at times during this fight that we wouldn't get ANY of what we were asking for. Furthermore, we have never seen such drastic reductions in services as what Mayor Vincent Gray's proposed budget would've ushered in. All of this points to the "crisis of capitalism". The capitalists can't resolve their financial issues in any humane manner and are willing to take the poorest, neediest people and throw them to the dogs.

Many of the homeless have begun to tell me that the Democrats are just like the Republicans (DINO: Democrat In Name Only) They have also said that Mayor Gray is just like his predecessor. Some say he's even worse. The homeless were even saying that the closure of shelters in April 2012 would drive up the crime rate or even spark the imminent revolution that is brewing. I'm left to wonder if there was at least a little concern amongst councilmembers that the city might go up in flames if the mayor's budget had passed.

As we continue to analyze this moment, let us not look only at the harm that some local politicians were willing to do to their poorest constituents, but also at the conditions that enabled us to prevail and how we can manipulate our power and resources so as to obtain future victories:

1 -- We organized and included those who are directly affected.
2 -- Large numbers of us inundated the councilmembers with our DEMANDS.
3 -- There was a lingering threat of civil unrest in a city which is willing to deny shelter to mothers with newborns.

I'll close out with a quick word of advice for all advocates and activists. I often hear people say that they don't want to participate in a rally, protest or other direct action because it's all for naught, as the politicians don't want to hear us and won't give us what we ask for. To that I say, "Don't worry about what the politicians don't want to hear or to do. MAKE them hear you and meet your demands. Stay on them UNTIL you get what you DEMAND. If you are always worried about what the politician wants, you'll never succeed at getting what YOU want. Reverse the polarity and MAKE THEM HEAR YOU!!!!!"

La lucha continua.

My next blog post at www.ericsheptock.com will address the

Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003


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