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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Sunday, August 3, 2014

From Beating to Embracing the Homeless (Formerly: THE GALES SCHOOL SCAM)

 I began blogging on June 21st, 2008. Below is my 4th entry from July 11th of that year. It has to do with the then-disputed disposition of the historic Gales School by DC Government to a religious organization to be used as a homeless shelter and a July 10th, 2008 DC Council hearing to address the matter. To see video of the hearing (as I've become more tech savvy in the past 6 years) CLICK HERE and follow the instructions below:

INSTRUCTIONS:

1 -- Scroll down to the last hearing for July 10th, 2008 and click "View meeting".
2 -- Go to 34 minutes and 40 seconds in the video.
3 -- Watch the next 3 testifiers: a snobbish, NIMBYistic ANC commissioner (my reason for resurrecting this post from 6 years ago), myself and a local activist who supports the poor.

HERE it is again.

As it turns out, there is much tension between the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, the business community and well-to-do people on the one hand and the poor and homeless on the other hand. Both groups are vying for the attention of DC Government so as to have them create laws and policies that favor the respective group and its constituents. It's like CLASS WAR ON A LOCAL LEVEL.

This tension erupted recently as an ANC commissioner attacked a homeless man sleeping outdoors in his neighborhood. LEO DWYER has been charged with a misdemeanor and, due to a recent court decision, will be able to carry a gun in DC -- which could lead to greater violence against the homeless who are often attacked as they sleep (like DC's own Yoshio Nakada). Fortunately, the National Coalition for the Homeless is fighting to make attacks against the homeless simply because of their socio-economic status a hate crime.

As the links in the previous paragraphs indicate, low-income people are being priced out of DC (3,000/ month recently); well-to-do people are coming in (4,000/ month recently); violent attacks on the homeless are increasing in frequency as well as intensity; political attacks on the poor are also increasing in frequency as well as intensity and the world is watching via Al Jazeera. It therefore behooves the bourgeoisie to initiate efforts to get along with the dispossessed and to coexist peacefully. That is the thrust and purpose of this repost. There were many reasons for us not to want the Central Union Mission to move to the Gales School, not the least of them being the NIMBYistic underpinnings (NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard). Six years later, DC's homeless community has all the more reason to fear and lash out at the bourgeoisie -- not only in NW Washington, DC but across the city.

I'm one to offer solutions and pride myself in being a man of reason. So, to that end I offer a radical idea. Let's connect the 1,350-bed CCNV Shelter to its ANC 6C and foster meaningful relationships between the homeless and the housed. As a matter of fact, let's have LEO DWYER facilitate that process. We could also have him listen to homeless people tell their stories through the Faces of homelessness Speakers' Bureau. It makes sense to approach his entire DuPont Circle ANC 2B and to get their take on his actions as well as the way forward. This is especially true since DuPont Circle is frequented by dozens of homeless people and is the area where the quasi-bourgeoisie attack took place.

So, in addition to posting this blog on my fan page, I'll send it to various ANC's, public officials and media outlets. We can pre-empt the developing CLASS WAR by fostering relationships between the haves and the have-nots -- especially since Mayor Vince Gray's ostensible efforts to make DC a place for people of all economic strata has failed. (I thought Obama did poorly at addressing homelessness; but, at least he signed legislation to address it -- even if it's taken over five years to fully implement.)

Feel free to assist me in this matter by posting THIS LINK on your various websites and pages and by e-mailing it to as many interested parties as possible. TEXT me at 240-305-5255 to arrange a meeting around the aforementioned effort to facilitate meaningful relationships between the bourgeoisie and the homeless/ dispossessed "The BROletariat". Not beginning this process will only expedite the CLASS WAR. You can also e-mail me at ericsheptock@yahoo.com with the heading "Violence vs. Homeless"

LET'S TAKE ACTION NOW!!!!!

The original July 10th, 2008 entry begins here:

This is the testimony that I read at the July 10th hearing in which the disposition of the Gales School by DC Government was considered. The Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Ave., NW was part of a recent land swap in which the DC Government acquired 4 Petworth properties from the Central Union Mission in exchange for the Gales School. It looks as if the deal will go through and be OK'ed by the council. Following my testimony are some thoughts on the hearing.

THE GALES SCHOOL SCAM

I am against the transfer of the Gales School at 65 Mass. Ave. to the Central Union Mission for several reasons. first and foremost is the fact that this deal is predicated on a lack of good principle on the part of DC Government and several residents. In short, the underpriviledged have been forced out of the Petworth community by Councilman Graham and his cohorts, as if this rejection will somehow end their homelessness. That's not to speak of the fact that these same homeless people are, in effect, being dumped on another community.

Being the homeless homeless activist that I am, I'm well aware of the fact that WIN (the Washington Inter-faith Network) is working closely with the mayor on the issue of affordable housing. On April 7th of this year, they held a meeting at Emory UMC. During that meeting, the mayor committed to creating at least 350 units of permanent supportive housing and 150 downtown shelter beds and bringing them on-line BEFORE the closure of Franklin School Shelter at 13th and K streets, NW., which is slated to close on or by October 1st of this year. (It seems quite unrealistic to think that this goal will be met in less than 3 months.)

The language of the legislation which is being considered today strongly suggests that the mayor is trying to pass Gales School off as a replacement for Franklin School and a fulfillment of his promise of downtown shelter. It is neither. It is a replacement for the Central Union Mission. And it is not located in the same "downtown" as Franklin. We were speaking of the downtown that revolves around the Wilson bldg., not the Capitol. At the very least, the mayor needs to clarify that he is not considering the Gales School to be a fulfillment of his promise to WIN.


If the Gales School were to be converted into a men's shelter, it would put an undue burden on homeless services in the area such as SOME and the Father McKenna Center. It would also take the clientele from other services that are near the present location of the Central Union Mission at 14th and R streets, NW, thus creating a need to move those services and to do the "homeless shuffle". The closure of Franklin School would cause even more homeless people to be dumped on this part of town, possibly the NY Ave. shelter.


The Gales School formerly served about 170 people. Franklin holds 300 men. CUM has 170. That adds up to 640 people. Gales will house 150 when it reopens. If and when Franklin and CUM close and Gales reopens, we will have suffered a net loss of almost 500 shelter beds.


Furthermore, the District wants to give this property away only due to it being a piece of trash. It has no roof. It is being held up by temporary external braces. This historic building should've been history long ago. It is severely handicapped, or shall I say "physically challenged"? That says a lot about how you feel about its future occupants.


The building was slated to become a women's shelter some time ago. Considering the impact that this shelter will have on the surrounding community (especially other homeless services), this would be the better usage. That is only true as long as Franklin is kept open insomuch as it would enable Franklin residents to walk to services that are further west such as Miriam's Kitchen or Martha's Table. The list of reasons goes on. However, I'll stop there for now.


I would strongly urge the council to create emergency legislation reversing the planned closure of the Franklin School shelter and to redo the math so as to make sure that DC doesn't further decrease its ability to help the homeles community. Finally, was the completed renovation of Gales School in 2010 timed to occur 2 years after Franklin closes in hopes that the homeless would just leave town for lack of a place to stay?


*****[END OF TESTIMONY] *****

As is often the case, I came up with more things to talk about after I'd already had my turn to testify. I heard people stating misconceptions and stereotypes about the homeless. However it was a certain woman of color who sat to my left and testified immediately before me whom I was most anxious to tell off. She seemed quite unsympathetic to the plight of the homeless. She made no secret of the fact that she considers them to be an eyesore and to bring down the value of the neighborhood. She also indicated that she thought that crime would skyrocket and that the homeless were to be feared even to the extent that parents could not allow their children to play outdoors for fear of the homeless. It was only at the coaching of Councilman Jim Graham that she reluctantly showed some token sympathy for the homeless. I can be seen on TV just eyeing her up and down as she spoke. It took a lot to bite my tongue.

Councilmen Jim Graham and Kwame had arrived early and heard my testimony from beginning to end. Carol Schwartz, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans were all late arrivals who walked in just as I finished, with there having been 3 testimonies before mine. Kwame Brown, who'd been chairing the hearing due to Schwartz's tardiness, left as I finished. A friend of mine named Oscar sat to my right and testified after me. He was awesome. I couldn't help but laugh throughout his testimony, as he laid it on the DC Government. Oscar and Jack Evans then began a rather lively debate about Franklin School Shelter. Though I live there, I couldn't get a word in edgewise and Schwartz denied me the opportunity to weigh in. I won't waste your time by elaborating on the erroneous ideas that were stated. (This blog is already becoming quite the lengthy article.) However, the things that I wanted to say to the councilmembers after having had my turn to speak were as follows:

1 -- Councilman Graham mentioned that the homeless were not asked if they wanted to move from the present location of Central Union Mission at 14th and R, NW to Petworth. That much is true. However, his statement is biased in favor of keeping the homeless out of Petworth. Fact of the matter is that they weren't contacted about whether or not they wanted to move to Gales School either. They tend to just get pushed around. Clarence Carter of DHS once asked me what right I have to decide where my shelter is located.

2 -- The ultimate goal is to house the homeless. (That point was made numerous times by numerous people throughout the hearing.) However, moving the homeless from one shelter to another is not even a lateral move. It is a downward move. It forces the homeless to make entirely new connections. They must find new soup kitchens and get connected to new homeless services. If they are not being housed, it is better to keep them in familiar surroundings.

3 -- The homeless walk to most of the places where they go. If a shelter is too far from the services used by the homeless, they won't go to that shelter. There would be a need to relocate services also.

4 -- The homeless get attached to certain churches that feed them as well as certain do-gooders that go out to the parks to feed and spend time with them and bring clothing and other goods. These do-gooders would need to be retrained on the new places where they can find these homeless people that they've come to know and love.

After the hearing I was able to speak with Mr. Graham for a minute. He asserted that the Franklin School situation was in no way related to the Gales School. I begged to differ with him. He got an uneasy look on his face and began to back away, being quite reluctant to stay and reason with me.

Prior to the hearing beginning, I spoke with David Treadwell, the executive director of Central Union Mission. He made the point that CUM was not "pushed" out of Petworth by gentrification but rather was "pulled" out by the more alluring downtown location of the Gales School, since the homeless tend to go to downtown when they arrive in a new city.

It was pointed out during the hearing that the Gales School might not be inhabitable until 2011. However, the present location of the Central Union Mission is slated to close in October of 2009. Carol Schwartz and Jim Graham mentioned the possibilities of postponing the closure of the present facility and/or expediting the renovation of gales School. Much uncertainty still exists pertaining to this matter.

Though various homeless advocates mounted one heck of a fight, I got the feeling that Gales School will become a men's shelter anyway. I have much more to tell you on this matter. I'll stop there for now. Nonetheless, I believe that the DC Government will learn through the school of hard knocks. They'll see just how unprepared they were to make these changes when they follow through on their plans.

End of repost

Note: The newly-renovated Gales School was reopened in November 2013 as the Central Union Mission.

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