Friday, September 26, 2008

War and Poverty: Out of sight, out of mind

This morning, I rolled out of bed and grabbed a bus downtown. I was determined to be bear witness to what many in our country have never seen, and seldom ever hear of... The last 50 homeless men were kicked out of Franklin Shelter at 13th and K Streets NW. Out of sight, out of mind.

I got to the front of the shelter at 6:55 a.m. There were a couple of the men standing out front with some young white folks, mostly students, some anarchists. One man, I had seen the evening before when we chanted and protested in the nearby intersection, was on the lower steps of the shelter loudly expressing himself. I thought of the Biblical figure of John, the voice crying out in the wilderness. Alone but full of truth.

"They don't care, they go about their business, they don't care about people like us," he shouted. "And for (Adrian) Fenty? He doesn't give a damn! Those in power, they are baby killers."

I was speechless, but I nodded in agreement. Those in power are baby killers. One of the white students thought the man's anger was being directed at him, and tried to reassure him that we were all there in support and solidarity. Part of the man's diatribe seemed a bit confused, but it was clearly full of disappointment and pain. "I know, I know you are here to support," he mumbles, and then a few minutes later he wanders off when he sees a few police approach the front steps and the main doorway. "I don't want to deal with them, they aren't civilized."

According to the law, and what the men from Franklin Shelter have in writing, is that the shelter was to be closed on October 1st. But over the last several days men have been pushed out and the beds have been disappearing. Many are being bused over to 801 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, but some are going straight back out to the streets. And hypothermia season is approaching quickly.

When I arrived there were already a small handful of police monitoring us and the shelter. By 7:05 about 30 more police arrive in squad cars, they seem unsure what to do, there's just a small group os us there. I overhear a shelter security guard talking into a walking talkie about a couple trucks coming to "move stuff." The crowd of police on 13th Street seem to be talking to each other and into cell phones. Terry, a shelter resident and I comment to a couple students watching, that's taxpayer money at work. After several more minutes and deciding that none of us were a direct threat, half of these police on 13th Street leave.

About then I see that Jane Zara, a fellow WPC board member and attorney arrives. She is interviewing a couple of the residents, and overhear something being mentioned about a last-minute legal maneuver.

Terry tells another attorney and some others standing by, "The men in Franklin are being dehumanized. We are not thought of as humans by the mayor or the city council." A little later I remark to Terry and some students he engages in a little DC history lesson, that the mayor first wants to move the homeless east of the river and then eventually out of the city entirely. Out of the sight of the corporations and upwardly selfish yuppies.

Baby killers. Out of sight, out of mind.

Meanwhile, as I type this I see on The National Priorities "Cost of War" Website, that the cost of the Iraq War has spiraled past $557.3 billion dollars. The number jumps another $10,000 every 4 seconds! And what does this grand sum of money earn us? Over a million dead Iraqis! And 4,173 Americans murdered by the Bush Administration.

But you know, we can't afford to provide basic shelter for 300 men in downtown DC. Fenty is closing Franklin Shelter, within earshot of the White House, ahead of schedule. He is acting in a preemptive manner. A preemptive strike, sending men to their death. Sound familiar?

By 7:45 a.m. the moving trucks arrive, they remove 6 large folded dining tables, lots of chairs, a TV, a microwave. Some of the young white guys have digital cameras and continue documenting this shame. Someone mentions that a nearby upscale bar on K Street was celebrating last night that the shelter was closing. Supposedly the men's lockers are going to be moved to 801.

Out of sight, out of mind. About 8:10 a.m. I wander off, thoroughly disgusted by my city and country. But then again, I am also responsible -- why didn't I act sooner? What could I have done?

As I use the pull down menu on The National Priorities Website, I check out a trade-off for the Iraq War. At the current total cost of the criminal and immoral war and occupation, we in the U.S. could have instead have had -- this is what it tells me:

For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided: 5,103,740 Affordable Housing Units.
Want to do something about this outrage? Come to Mayor Fenty's Office at the Wilson Building (1350 Penn Ave. NW) at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

VETERANS FOR PEACE END ARCHIVES OCCUPATION ON HIGH NOTE


"We may be back again soon," Vets add

Washington -- Five military veterans, all members of Veterans For Peace, are breaking camp from their perch on the National Archives building this morning, taking with them their 22x8-ft. banner demanding “DEFEND OUR CONSTITUTION. ARREST BUSH AND CHENEY: WAR CRIMINALS!” that has overlooked their 24-hour action on a narrow ledge 35 feet above Constitution Ave.

Tarak Kauff, 67, former Army Airborne, who provided ground support throughout, said in a phone interview, "We're always told to 'write your Congressman,' and we have. Only this time we brought a letter they couldn't miss. We've made our point writ large that Bush and Cheney are war criminals and must be arrested and prosecuted. Impeach them if we can, but we're not holding our breath for Congress to act. The kingpins of this criminal administration will be brought to justice, along with many of their lieutenants."

Elliott Adams, VFP president, by phone from his spot on the ledge overlooking the entrance to the Archives Building, said "This turned out excellent. We're very happy with the response we've gotten to arrest Bush and Cheney for war crimes. We considered staying longer this time but we are not prepared for longer than this...although we may be back again, soon."

VFP members participating in the Archives action are: Elliott Adams: 61, NY, VFP President and former Army paratrooper in Viet Nam; Ellen Barfield: 52, MD, former U.S. Army Sgt., full-time peace and justice advocate; Kim Carlyle: 61, NC, mountain homesteader, former Army Spec 5; Diane Wilson: 59, TX, shrimp boat captain, former Army medic; Doug Zachary: 58, TX, VFP staff, former USMC LCpl discharged as a conscientious objector; and Tarak Kauff (ground support) 67, NY, painting contractor, former U.S. Army Airborne.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gays and Lesbians Opposed to Violence (GLOV) Reforms

As appeared in Metro Weekly...

Stirred to Action
Viciousness of recent anti-gay attacks spurs community reaction
by Will O'Bryan
Published on September 18, 2008

Perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to motivating a community, a picture -- far more than flow charts of crime statistics or bullet points in a report -- may actually be invaluable. Add to that picture a compelling online essay, and you have the start of a community movement.

With a number of publicized attacks against local gay people in recent months, from Nathaniel Salerno's attack on a Metro train in December to Michael Roike and Chris Burrell being beaten to the ground near the 14th and P Streets NW intersection in August, the viciousness Todd Metrokin suffered in Adams Morgan in July -- written about on The New Gay blog by his friend Chris Farris in late August -- may have been a tipping point.

''There are the anecdotal stories you hear from your friends,'' says Pete Perry, a local gay man and longtime peace activist. ''Then I read about the attack in Adams Morgan and in front of Playbill [Café at 14th and P Streets].''

What Perry read, along with those photos of Metrokin's injuries showing stitches running throughout his ear and a boot print on his face below swollen eyes, was the catalyst for him to turn the energy he'd been dedicating to opposing war and torture to his more immediate community. He got to work with David Mariner, acting executive director of The Center, the metro area's GLBT community center, to organize a meeting to address hate crimes.

At the same time, Mark Hayes, another local gay man, was finding himself similarly fed up. While Perry is a Washington native, Hayes came to the District about five years ago, having lived in Boston and Raleigh, N.C. His experiences here, he says, indicate a level of entrenched homophobia he's not experienced elsewhere.

''D.C. is very different,'' says Hayes, recalling that he and three friends were recently taunted with shouts of ''faggot'' by a passing Lincoln Navigator with Maryland plates as they neared Nellie's, a gay sports bar, walking along 12th Street NW. ''Even though North Carolina has a reputation for not being as gay friendly, the big gay bar in Raleigh is right downtown. I'm not terrified, but I don't have the level of safety that I felt in Boston.''

Hayes says he believes D.C. has a ''major problem with homophobia. I think it starts in schools and goes on up.''

Hayes, reacting independently for the most part, had been in touch, he says, with both Farris and another local man, Shea Van Horn. When they learned of Perry's meeting at The Center, they combined their efforts with his.

That meeting, Monday evening, Sept. 8, brought 13 people together to discuss a grassroots response to the attacks. Among the small group, some already knew each other, if only recently. Farris and Van Horn were there, along with Zack Rosen, who is also associated with The New Gay, and Hayes. Metrokin was there, too, his injuries appearing healed, at least superficially. Perry sat near the head of the conference table, while Mariner conducted the meeting.

Two guests, Tom Donegan and Tracey Conaty, were invited by Mariner to share their perspectives, having been in a similar set of circumstances nearly two decades ago as key organizers of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), a grassroots organization that existed through the 1990s, also a response to violent crimes in the GLBT community.

For about an hour and a half, the group took nascent steps, discussing each attendee's motivation for being there, perceptions of crime, thoughts on what the group should be doing, etc. There were calls to hold rallies or marches following a Take Back The Night model, or buy billboards showing same-sex affection, and to figure out exactly how the Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit fits into the mix.

There was also a call for outreach to other corners of the local GLBT community. It was an understandable call, in that those gathered Sept. 8 were nearly all white men. In and of itself, that might not mean much -- even if not representational of the District's GLBT community -- but some of the comments posted to Farris' New Gay essay, ''Where is our anger?'' exposed a mix of, at best, racial tension.

''If you think yuppie white boys in striped shirts are doing the beatings you are mistaken,'' read one anonymous post.

Followed by, ''If your racist sensibilities were offended, rest assured that 'suburban' doesn't necessarily mean white or yuppie around here.''

And, ''It is not race baiting to describe identified suspects and assailants, like the six black guys who, in fact, attacked three white gays in Adams Morgan. 

Grow a pair.''

While most comments expressed shock, anger or concern for Metrokin, or asked what the community might do to respond, there was enough friction to demand attention. Monday evening, Mariner volunteered to begin outreach efforts.

Sterling Washington, part of the leadership of the D.C. Coalition of Black GLBT Men and Women, is a target of that outreach. Reading the responses to Farris' essay, Washington does not seem particularly troubled and adds that either he or D.C. Coalition President Brian Watson, who also works for Transgender Health Empowerment (THE), will definitely be attending this new group's next meeting.

''The whole racial breakdown of it is very much an oversimplification,'' says Washington, an African American, also mentioning a Sept. 7 attack near Eighth and N Streets NW that has left one gay black man on life support. The attack has initially been listed as a hate crime, though it remains under investigation.

''If you can objectify people, it's easier to mug them. I think a lot of that goes back to what's not being taught in schools about acceptance and tolerance. You would think in a city like this, that wouldn't be an issue. It makes you think the perpetrators grew up in homes where homophobia is acceptable.''

Washington also suggested that self-defense pepper spray, particular varieties of which are legal in the District if registered with the MPD, might be in order.

Along with the D.C. Coalition, groups mentioned at the Monday meeting to be included in outreach efforts are THE, Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters, Asian Queers United for Action, the D.C. Trans Coalition, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the Latino GLBT History Project and the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League.

While folks at the meeting were not overly critical of the job the GLLU has done, the MPD in general took minor criticism for slow response times, and strong criticism for behavior that could be characterized as condescending at best.

How much more the police might be able to do has also been countered by the question of how much more the community might -- or might not -- want them to do.

On one hand, considering the GLLU's role as the MPD liaison to and advocate for the GLBT community -- though ultimately answerable to the police chief/mayor's office -- the GLLU's supervisor, Officer Joe Morquecho, cited an interesting statistic at a town-hall meeting in April, pointing to the GLLU being assigned 555 calls in 2006. Of those, he said, 75 percent were domestic-disturbance calls, creating a community-driven drain on GLLU resources.

Adds Lt. Brett Parson, former head of the GLLU and now responsible for all MPD liaison units: ''I think you've got people wishing they could get the same personalized

service [from MPD] that they get with the GLLU, and that's just impossible. The GLLU can't investigate every crime that occurs. They're good, but not that good. They

can only assist. If I were the victim of a crime, I'd want to go where I'm comfortable, but the GLLU are liaisons.''

Of increased police presence to deter attacks, says Hayes, ''Fundamentally, unless we're going to turn into a police state, they can't be on every block every day.''

Conaty strikes a similar chord, saying that, while she sees no relation between the end of the initial GLOV group and the start of the GLLU in 2000, the community cannot depend solely on the GLLU.

''We'd advocated for [the GLLU],'' Conaty's says of GLOV's efforts in the '90s. ''There was a sense of personal pride that it happened, but never a sense that it was a panacea that would solve all of our problems.

''The GLLU will operate best when there's a community watchdog group it has to work with. It's the same with all institutions. That's why we have community groups. The GLLU has a responsibility, but so does our community to be visible and to advocate.''

Whatever direction this new effort takes, while already co-opting the GLOV moniker, it's evident, at least for now, that there is a mood in the District that recent attacks on gay people have reached a point that has motivated corners of the community to greater action.

Perry, who with Farris met last week with Morqeucho, emphasizes that this new group will likely work closely with the GLLU, a move Parson says he strongly supports.

Beyond that, Perry offered a statement, the essence of which has been repeated by those involved in the new effort: ''I don't want to be afraid any longer. I don't want the GLBT community to say, 'We're afraid. We have to change our patterns.'''

Similarly, says Hayes, ''We are here in D.C. We are here like everyone else. We shouldn't feel guilty for living here. If a guy and girl walk down the street in Shaw holding hands, gay people should, too. We're not going to feel safe doing that unless we start doing that. Even if it's antagonistic, I think it's necessary.''

The next GLOV-GLBT Anti-Violence Group meeting is Monday, Sept. 22, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at 1101 New York Ave. NW. For more information, visit The Center online at www.thedccenter.org.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Speaking of Elitists...


From The Plank...

Last night Mitt Romney got on stage at the Republican Convention and railed "Eastern elites" that have been running Washington. For a true change, he said, "look for the sun in the West, 'cause it's about to rise and shine from Arizona and Alaksa!"

Yes, something from Arizona was certainly shining at the convention, but it wasn't the sun. It was Cindy McCain's citrine dress from Monday night. And her three-carat diamond earrings. Oh, and don't forget the Chanel J12 white ceraminc watch.

Cindy's dress, designed by Oscar de la Renta, cost $3,000, and the watch, another $4,500. Her four strand pearl necklace cost between $11,000 and $25,000, and her shoes set her back $600. But the real whoppers were the earrings, priced at $280,000, putting the total cost of the outfit beteween $299,100 and $313,000.

An average citizen living in the Mat-Su Valley (where Palin's hometown of Wasilla is located) would have to work for over 10 years to buy Cindy's outfit. And lets just say the cost of the ensemble is significantly more than the average cost of a single-family, three bedroom home in Wasilla--let alone seven of them.

--Amanda Silverman

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Organizers' Meeting for GLBT Anti-Violence Working Group

There has recently been an upswing in anti-gay hate crimes in the Adams Morgan and 14th Street areas of DC. A small group of us have decided to start organizing a Working Group...

We will meet 7:30 PM Monday, at the DC Center, 1111 14th Street NW, Suite 350.

Here is a tentative agenda, but I would like to have additions by Sunday night.

1. Introductions (5 mins)
-- assign roles

2. Review of recent hate crimes -- Is there truly a sharp increase this year? (10 mins)
-- do we have hard numbers?

3. How do we record and monitor MPD's response? (15 mins)
-- should we invite GLUU to the community meeting, or C. Dyer from Fenty's administration?
-- what do we know about the previous group that used to do this?

4. Organizing a community meeting -- where? when? (15 mins)
-- establish a list of tasks and assign them in prep for this meeting

5. Community education -- where do these hate crimes come from? (10 mins)
-- bullying, violence, starting with children
-- Pete will have a mock-up of a brochure, will want input

6. Future of Working Group (10 mins)
-- what can we do to address the roots of violence?
-- how can the GLBT community work in proactive ways on issues of racism, gentrification, etc (all related to violence and pitting one group against another)?

7. Next Organizers' meeting? (5 mins)
-- assign roles

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Amy Goodman and Two Democracy Now! Producers Unlawfully Arrested At the RNC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
www.democracynow.org


September 1, 2008

Contact:
Denis Moynihan 917-549-5000
Mike Burke 646-552-5107, mike@democracynow.org

ST. PAUL, MN—Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was unlawfully arrested in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Police violently manhandled Goodman, yanking her arm, as they arrested her. Video of her arrest can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ

Goodman was arrested while attempting to free two Democracy Now! producers who were being unlawfully detained. They are Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Kouddous and Salazar were arrested while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. Goodman's crime appears to have been defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were being arrested on suspicion of rioting. They are currently being held at the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul.

Democracy Now! is calling on all journalists and concerned citizens to call the office of Mayor Chris Coleman and the Ramsey County Jail and demand the immediate release of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar. These calls can be directed to: Chris Rider from Mayor Coleman's office at 651-266-8535 and the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 (press extension 0).

Democracy Now! stands by Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and condemns this action by Twin Cities law enforcement as a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amendment rights of these journalists.

During the demonstration in which they were arrested law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force. Several dozen others were also arrested during this action.

Amy Goodman is one of the most well-known and well-respected journalists in the United States. She has received journalism's top honors for her reporting and has a distinguished reputation of bravery and courage. The arrest of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar is a transparent attempt to intimidate journalists from the nation's leading independent news outlet.

Democracy Now! is a nationally syndicated public TV and radio program that airs on over 700 radio and TV stations across the US and the globe.

Video of Amy Goodman's Arrest

Monday, September 01, 2008

Update from RNC re protests, cop raids

by Sonia Silbert, Co-Coordinator, Washington Peace Center

We woke up Sat morning to the news that three houses had been raided early in the morning. Two were houses of lead local organizers and one was a house of Food Not Bombs folks - they were all awaken to cops raiding their houses with guns drawn and were all detained while the cops went through the houses. Everyone in the houses was released except for 3 or 4 main local organizers - they were arrested and are being held without bail for "conspiracy to riot", "conspiracy to commit property destruction" and (my favorite) "conspiracy to plan civil disobedience".

Friday night at the convergence space there were two activist parents with their 5 year-old son with them during the raid. He was understandably frightened out of his wits at the sight of all these cops with guns handcuffing his dad and all their friends. Unfortunately, he and his parents were staying at one of the houses that was raided Sat morning, so woke up to the sight, once again, of cops, guns, and parents being handcuffed.

Throughout the day, houses of local organizers continued to be raided by the cops - six houses in all. The cops in the raids were all accompanied by building inspectors who tried to find code violations that would shut down the homes. They got as far as to start boarding up one privately-owned home that they claimed had code violations. Apparently the only person who could talk to them about this plan was the house owner - unfortunately, she was in jail, being held without bail. Activists mobilized quickly to respond to these raids and get neighbors around to witness the cops raid and search. The house that was being boarded up got unboarded and reopened due to community pressure as well as many calls to the City Council members by local allies.

Also throughout the day, individual activists were targeted on the street. 2 more local lead organizers with the RNC Welcoming Committee were snatched walking down the street, arrested and are being held without bail through Tuesday or Wednesday. 6 local organizers are being held in all - 5 were members of the Welcoming Committee and were leads of the actions being planned. Stories continued to flood in of people being pulled over in bikes and cars, being searched, detained and released.

I was helping make props Sat afternoon when my friend Alexis called me from the street - she said she had just turned the corner and saw a bunch of cops who had pulled over a white van and had guns drawn and were making activists in the car walk backwards away from the guns. I gave her the legal hotline number and Sam and I ran down the street to where she was. There were 4 or 5 cop cars with lights flashing surrounding 5 activists kneeling on the sidewalk handcuffed. We got all their names (including an old ally from New Orleans who I haven't seen in years - funny where you run into people) and called them into the legal hotline and gave them some water and whatever support we could. They said they had been driving and were being followed by an unmarked truck for about 30 min until they were finally surrounded and pulled over at gun point. One of them was separated from the rest and they hadn't seen him since - it turned out he was in a car being questioned by the cops. Their car was searched and all of them were searched and IDed and released after about 30-45 minutes. There was no explanation given - it's just pure fear tactics. Everyone is feeling insecure traveling around and making sure we all stay in groups and be smart - especially locals who were lead organizers in this.

The amazing thing is that the infrastructure that the Welcoming Committee and others have put so long into organizing is functioning amazingly well, despite the leads being in jail. Within 10 minutes of our calling in the above incident there were legal observers on the ground, taking pictures and statements. After lots of pressure on the City Council and negotiations, the convergence center was reopened yesterday afternoon and meals continue to be served there. There are still computers and free wireless and they have found more programs and informational handouts for all.

The legal collective has been amazing and very responsive, the communication system is up and running - we all receive text messages of any updates - and the medics are everywhere. At the spokescouncil last night I was amazed at all the affinity groups who stood up with plans prepared, knowing where they were doing actions and with who. Perhaps the saddest thing about all the lead organizers being in jail is not that we need them right now to ensure the success of their actions - their hard work has prepped us for that - but they can't see that all their incredible efforts are paying off.

On a slightly different note, I caught the end of the Vets for Peace/Iraq Vets Against the War banquet last night during their national conferences, and they are planning great things over the next few days and year. People should check out IVAW's great action at the DNC last week, and stay tuned for actions this week.

The latest update is that Bush and Cheney are not coming to the conventions tomorrow - they want to prep for a photo-op in a disaster zone or McCain doesn't want them around or they're afraid of the protests - and we are all thinking of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as Gustav approaches. It's hard to be prepped for one emergency situation while thinking that a major disaster might be about to hit. We'll see what happens over the next day and where our energies are directed. For now, I'm glad that I'm safe and I'm thinking of my friends at the other end of the Mississippi from us and wishing them safety and health as well.

For my story from Friday night's raid at the convergence center, scroll down.