Sunday, October 30, 2011

The (Housing) Movement Has Come To Washington, DC

It's been quite some time since my last blog post, as I've been pounding the pavement in my capacity as an organizer for Stop the Machine-Create a New World (www.october2011.org). I've also been spending a considerable amount of time at the other tent city located in McPherson Square on K street NW. The movement has come to Washington, DC and it's picking up steam.

And the movement has no shortage of reasons for which to be outraged and rise up. Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently stated that the government should stop bailing people out and helping them to maintain their housing. He literally said, in no uncertain terms, that" we need more foreclosures; because, government intervention is bad for the housing market". He evidently fails to realize that housing is made for people, not people for housing. He has lost his humanity and seeks only to do what is good for the market, irrespective of people's basic human needs. To make matters worse, he has a position of influence, even if he's not the front man for the system.

Then, there is the fact that Congress is considering cutting much of the funding for social services. As a homeless advocate, I'm keenly aware that they might cut $5.7 billion in HUD funding which would cause as many as 600,000 families (2,000,000 individuals) to lose their housing vouchers and become homeless. This decision will be finalized by November 23rd, if not sooner.

Meanwhile, a couple of senators have proposed a bill that would allow any foreigner who is able to purchase a house worth $500,000 or more to be granted a visa -- a free pass into the country (while poor, "undocumented" people are repatriated to countries that mistreat them and/or lack sufficient resources). The senators' logic includes the understanding that many Americans can't afford to buy the houses that are on the market and the admission that there are many vacant residences across the country.

This is the sum total of the aforementioned decisions by our elected officials and other power brokers: Those in power in the wealthiest [sic], most powerful country on the world are willing to allow those on Main Street to become homeless while they bail out corporations which are "too big to fail". They are willing to invite the wealthy of other countries to live in the houses that no American can afford while returning poor immigrants to their home countries. All of this speaks volumes to the fact that our government works for the wealthy, not the impoverished masses.

So, on October 1st dozens of young people calling themselves "Occupy DC" began to sleep in Franklin and McPherson Parks which are a block apart in downtown Washington, DC before consolidating into the latter. They were an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, an action that grew out of anger over the virtual money chute that runs from the U.S. Capitol to Wall Street. Then the occupation of Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington, DC by "Stop the Machine-Create a New World" began on October 6th, inspired by the Arab Spring.

On Thursday, October 6th Stop the Machine led a march through the streets of the capital which culminated at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where some people ascended the front steps and began to demand job-creation so vehemently that several police ran inside and away from the crowd. This just goes to show that they don't share the analysis of myself and other members of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA) on societal conditions or our realization that the job market is shrinking due to an increase in labor-replacing technology.

The rallying cry of Occupy DC has been "We are the 99%! You (while pointing at bystanders) are the 99%!" This group has made a point of raising class consciousness -- differentiating between the wealthiest 1% of Americans who hold at least 40% of the nation's wealth and the other 99% of us.

These two actions which are separated by six city blocks (.6 miles) and a world of differences have created a teachable moment in movement building. McPherson Park is occupied by hundreds of 20-something people while the Freedom Plaza crowd has an average age of about 50. While both actions are placing emphasis on the creation of a "horizontal, leaderless movement", everyone knows who the organizers of Stop the Machine are. There are no clear leaders of Occupy DC, which presents us with a new set of challenges. There has been disagreement over the level of civil disobedience which people would be asked to engage in. The older, staid protesters have proven to be more comfortable with being arrested than the young people who are just beginning their lives as adults and have a stake in the system.

The horizontal, leaderless aspect of the local movement has already created issues insomuch as some homeless people claimed that were told that they weren't welcome in a park that was frequented by the homeless community before October 2011. It turns out that they'd been turned away by a couple of people who didn't represent the group as a whole and the group stated its acceptance of the homeless during one of its general assemblies soon thereafter.

During the planning of actions, the majority might agree on an action only to have it shot down or drastically altered by a few people in the action-planning committee, greatly diminishing the horizontal aspect of the group. Right before a joint action involving people from both locations (Freedom Plaza and McPherson), the vocal few raised their voices, stating their disagreement with the planned tactics until they got their way while over 200 people waited for the planners to announce the final plans.

Both groups are continually carrying out actions at the offices of various war profiteers, banks and Capitol Hill Offices. We have made our demand for a new system known. We've caused the National Air and Sace Museum which has U.S. drones (unmanned aircraft which kill civilians) and other war machines on display to close early. We've done the same at branches of Wells Fargo and the Bank of America. We've disrupted business at the Hart Senate Office Building and we've held impromptu marches in the streets, holding up traffic.

But, we're also having discussion groups where we talk about the problems being experienced in our society and what the new society which we are fighting for will look like. These discussions include topics such as how to take the money out of politics so that politicians will act on the behalf of all of their constituents rather than just the wealthy and the corporations which contribute to their re-election campaigns as well as how to make housing, healthcare and education beyond high school into human rights that are recognized and enforced by our governments. There have even been discussions about complete systemic change, replete with a new form of government which has a new paradigm -- putting people over profit and funding human need, not corporate greed.

Though the movement is about much more than the homeless issue, it seems that homelessness is front and center as the key issue. The reason is that the occupiers are living in tents in various parks and other public places. They are essentially doing what many of the homeless do year-round. In some cases, they are literally taking lessons from the homeless on outdoor living. That said, the realities associated with homelessness have become clear to the occupiers (and continue to become clearer, as cold weather sets in), which has begun to translate into a greater emphasis on the human right to housing.

The media has, in the past, portrayed members of the Occupy Wall Street Movement as lacking goals and organization. I had the opportunity to respond to those allegations during an interview with WPGC Radio a couple of weeks ago. I explained that we are against corporatism, cronyism, militarism and capitalism as a whole along with all of its tenets. I then pointed them to the website at www.october2011.org where they can read about the 15 systemic issues which we have begun to address.

Then, as I discussed the negative media coverage with a lady friend who is a media consultant, she said, "Though the media doesn't always portray us favorably or convey our message effectively, the aggregate effect of the continued coverage will be that the general public gets the right message". I think she's right. Let's hope that the media coverage will move more people to join us.

Of late, the media has given more face time to issues such as income inequality and other working class concerns. They've begun to cast the Occupy Wall Street Movement in a positive light. They have actually begun to use terms like "lower class" and "working class" again, at the risk of being seen as Marxist. (I haven't seen such terminology used in the media in about 30 years. Politicians seem to only want to discuss the middle class.) As a matter of fact, a recent article contained the results of a survey which indicated that an ever-increasing number of Americans agree with the goals of the OWS Movement which has spread to at least 1,039 cities in at least 87 countries. This is proving to be a teachable moment.

And, speaking of media, that seems to be what present-day politicians and power brokers are most afraid of, if only social media. During a demonstration at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday, October 24th, 2011, some protesters were near the back door when Michael Chertoff, former head of the Dept. of Homeland Security under Bush 43, came out. They followed him through the alley assuring him that they were non-violent and asking to speak with him. Oh, did I say that they had iPods and video cameras? Mr. Chertoff literally ran from them! It is safe to assume that he was afraid of how he'd be ostracized by the masses if we had video of him making any inappropriate remarks. Maybe he has political aspirations and wants to ensure that we won't see his true colors until AFTER he is elected. Then again, it may already be too late.


Eric Jonathan Sheptock
Chairman of SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change)
Cell phone: (240) 305-5255
425 2nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2003
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