Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Jesus Strategy

Bill Kirlin-Hackett over at the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness has floated the idea that if the City persists in their aggressive campsite clearance policy, which seems more than likely, then the churches should embrace Tent Cities on their property to offer safety and support to those who are displaced. Call it a sanctuary strategy. I like it, so long as the strategy extends into an organizing campaign for a more humane and accountable City policy. I do wonder, however, how many churches and temples would sign on. Some of the most powerful and connected religious leaders in the City seem to be sitting this one out. Which brings us to our newest poll: What Would Jesus Do?

So, imagine. Jesus comes to Seattle. He's drinking too much coffee and feeling a little damp. He sees the City chasing homeless people around the greenbelts and throwing away their survival gear. He swings into action. What's he do? Drive the demons from Marilyn Littlejohn? Join the United Way Board? Or does he organize and offer sanctuary? This is a capable, multi-tasking sort of Jesus, so you can choose more than one answer. As always, vote at top right.

Of the 826 visitors that week, a full 25 weighed in on this critical issue. 18 said Jesus would organize a sanctuary strategy. 12 said he would exorcise Marilyn Littlejohn. This is a pretty high number, given that most people don't know Littlejohn, but if you did, you'd understand. Just 4 thought that JC would come onto the United Way Board. I don't know that he'd much appreciate the company. He'd probably rather be with the poor.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Deconstructing Patricia

I had the rare treat of following Seattle Human Services head Patricia McInturff on KUOW's The Conversation today. Given that my cold is going bronchial and I'm running on about 3 hours sleep, I did OK. I said "you know" too much, but hit my basic talking points. The city lies. What they say and what they do are very different. The "there is shelter available" line is a lie. These phantom "outreach workers" she keeps talking about seem to only exist in some parallel universe that few of us have seen. And to consistently describe those who struggle to survive outside as diseased, drug addicted, waste-producing, vermin attracting, criminals is to stoke the engines of ignorance and hate. Even when you call it compassion.

If you listen closely, you can hear the moment I decide to ignore Ross Reynolds' very interesting question to spend my dwindling time undermining the City's credibility.

Few realize that, in the absence of an approved policy, the City is continuing to aggressively clear sites just as before, with little to no notice or accountability. Real Change vendors have come in the last two days in a row with reports of returning to camp to find all of their survival gear and other belongings gone. No notice. No retrieval of belongings. and certainly no "outreach workers" or "shelter referrals."

So let's look at all that unused shelter capacity of which she spoke so assuredly. According to her latest newsletter there's 75 severe weather beds at City Hall and 25 for women at the Frye. Our analysis of those numbers shows City Hall Overflow with an average of 9 beds being open, and the women's beds being, on average, at capacity. During very severe weather, she says, there's a no-turnaway policy. What this actually means is that they start packing people into the rec room at the Union Hotel as well. Cool.

Between 2:30 and 5:30 am the Morning of January 5th, more than 2,600 people were counted surviving outside. 140 were counted in the overflow beds, which seems to have pretty much chewed up all that "capacity" she keeps talking about. The notion that they're checking to see if beds exist before clearing a camp, which she actually said, is ludicrous. I mean, how would that work? They clear the camps during the day. No one knows what few beds will be available where until they show up looking for shelter that night.

Let's see. What else.

She did this really cool thing with the phrase "personal property," which to most people sounds like the property that a person has. Not so. It's ID. Perhaps photos. Eyeglasses. Prescriptions. When you get right down to it, the list is really quite small.

An Encampment Workgroup Memo that turned up in one of our myriad public disclosure requests is quite clear on this point. "Any sleeping equipment (sleeping bags, cardboard, tents) found in the ROW may be disposed of immediately." This is obfuscated in the final with some lawyerly language about disposing of any "soft goods" that "may be contaminated with unknown substances."

This remains my favorite phrase in the document.

Interestingly, she did not say that the City now handles reports of encampments on a case-by-case basis, as she told the City Council last month and recently re-iterated in a communication to Nick Licata. This is probably because she got the December 11 email from Customer Service Bureau Director Darby DuComb.
"I am worried that we are getting confused.

TC want us to respond to all clean ups requested by anyone from within the City or from external customers. We are NOT reviewing them on a case-by-case basis, we are responding as usual."
Thanks for clearing that up Darby. TC is of course Tim Ceis.

What else. She seemed positively shocked to hear that advocates discovered language in the proposal that would deputize anyone the city chooses with the power to hand out camping citations.

Let me help. It's on page 11 of 14 in the Rules document, in the Notices of Exclusion Section, under paragraph 6.3.1, related to "Delegation." The authorizing official may also delegate to others the authority to enforce on City Property these and any other applicable written or posted rules, and to issue notices of exclusion for violations.
Seems pretty clear to me. But I'm not a liar.

But the Big Lie is that the Mayor discovered that there were various departments with policies at odds with each other, and in his wisdom, directed his staff to seek consistency and compassion.

The internal documents clearly show that the Mayor's office had directed all City departments to aggressively clear encampments, and that the absence of a policy to guide this meant the gloves were completely off. It wasn't until their secret policy was uncovered that they bothered to consult City legal at all.

But here's the thing. The gloves are still off. Nothing has changed. This is their pathetic attempt to bring the law in line with existing practice, not, as would be perhaps more typical, the other way around. The painting up top, by the way, is by Rose Greenway, and is called The Liar comes bearing illusions, which we bear willingly.

But all in all, this was a good press day. In addition to a good airing of the issue on KUOW, The Stranger's Erica Barnett gets all weepy over Monday's hearing, and the Seattle PI's Editorial Board made some people I know positively giddy today with their take no prisoners 48 Hours to Scatter.

The urge to clean up parks and other areas serving as de-facto squats is an understandable one. No one likes to be faced with the misery of others. Hygiene and public safety issues with the living conditions of the homeless are certainly credible. But there's got to be a better way to address those concerns without making already-suffering human being feel like refuse. ...

City leaders should come up with a plan that focuses on making life for the homeless more, not less tolerable while building more shelters and housing for them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Marching Up the Hill of Principle

One of the many people I’ve been privileged to know over the time I’ve done this work is Lisa Peattie, a retired MIT Urban Planning professor who, more than fifteen years ago, was my friend and Board President at Boston Jobs with Peace. Lisa is an avid student of social movements, and has written extensively on the subject of airport expansion protests. These usually involve massive land transfers that benefit a small group of elites at the expense on large numbers of those who are poor and low-income. In looking at the dynamic, broad-based and militant coalitions that these fights often engendered, she arrived at a brilliant insight.

While the technical details of land use certainly played a role in these protests, that’s not what made them work. Dweeby zoning talk doesn’t build movements. Technical details offer a hundred points of potential difference. By beginning with airport land-use protests, and then broadening to social movements in general, Lisa saw that all successful protest movements are grounded in what she called “the march up the moral hill of principle.” Organize from the universal principles that you feel in your gut. The details are relevant, but they’re not where one begins.

So when confronted with Mayor Nickels’ twenty or so pages of administrative rules and procedures that detail just how the City of Seattle will harass desperate people the fuck out of town, one thing was obvious: if we engage on the terrain that the City has created, they’ve already won. This fight in Seattle over homeless encampments isn’t about whether 48 hours is enough notice to destroy someone’s only belongings, or which belongings must be destroyed and which saved. This fight is about the criminalization of survival. It’s about elite interests waging class war on the most vulnerable people you can imagine, and then dressing that up to look like some sickly and perverse form of compassion.

Now that’s a fight worth having.

So when we kicked off our own speak-out an hour before the City’s public hearing, the intention was to steal the Mayor’s thunder and to re-frame the issue. We weren’t there to debate the details of a poor people’s holocaust. We were there to talk about morality, class, and our human responsibility to one another. As Rachael Myers prepped emcee David Bloom, she said, “We’ll begin with our moral triumvirate, and then move to an open mike.”

And so, here we are. The Moral Triumvirate. Sally Kinney of the Puget Sound Jewish Coalition on Homelessness, myself, and Reverend Rich “in whose church I have slept” Lang, talking about our “stewardship of each other’s right to live,” Seattle’s long, apocalyptic slide toward radical inequality, and calling out Mayor Greg Nickels as a modern day Pharaoh whose head is screwed so far up … well, you’ll have to watch.

Sally Kinney: An Inhumane and Immoral Policy

Timothy Harris: Waging the Fight of our Lives

Rich Lang: Taking on the Pharaoh

Monday, January 28, 2008

Some Kind of Hearing

Tonight was the "public hearing" on the Mayor's draft anti-homeless encampment. It was unlike any other that I've attended. For one, there wasn't a single elected official in attendance. You'd think that since it's his policy that he's so proud of, Greg might want to hear what people have to say in person. But you'd be wrong about that. Sitting up front was the head of each affected department, plus a smattering of other top level Mayoral staff. Outside of the brief and highly selective presentation of the policy "outlines" that began the hearing, they were silent throughout.

The room, which was calculated by its largeness to make the audience feel small and insignificant, felt full, even though about a third of the 180 or so seats remained empty on this night of icy roads and impending snow. Last I saw, 64 people had signed up to testify. When I left at 8 pm, they were up to around the 45th speaker, and the hearing had been extended beyond it's 7:30 pm scheduled end.

Only one person had spoken in favor of the Mayor's policy, and it was nutbar guerrilla columnist Craig Thompson, spinning his tales of criminality, murder, and the infiltration of the heroin trade into Seattle's homeless encampments, and how we need to destroy people's camps in order to save them from this certain menace.

Other testimony was much more moving. Widely respected poor people's lobbyist and social work professor Nancy Amidei spoke of an east coast conference she'd just attended where everyone she told of the Mayor's policy was appalled, with many offering resources and advice. Nancy said there was nothing to do with this plan but to toss it out and start over. Stan Burris, with the most riveting (and coherent) speech I've seen him deliver in thirteen years. Real Change vendor John Bailey with his moving assertion that homeless campers bleed red, just as do those on the other side of the table. Wes Browning, with his straightforward list of obvious questions and his equally obvious disgust. SKCCH ED Alison Eisinger, who stated the coalition's starting point for negotiation: a real plan to meet the survival needs of the unserved. Doug McKeehan, the very first speaker, whose speech was barely audible over the malfunctioning PA, but whose choking outrage came across loud and clear.

There were too many remarkable moments to list.

Speaker after speaker after speaker spoke of the moral bankruptcy of the city's criminalization of survival, and derided the cynical ease with which this plan was put forth. Never have I seen such a one-sided response to any public policy.

My own speech seemed to be a big hit, although if looks could kill, Patricia McInturff's piercing death ray would have left me in ashes. Here's what I said.
When I got to work this morning there was a letter on this issue from the Mayor waiting for me. It didn't really have anything to say, and didn't address any of our concerns, but it was striking in that it began and ended by speaking of his commitment to ending homelessness.

Well, so far, so good. We all want to end homelessness.

But the words and the reality are at odds. The Mayor’s commitment to the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness is used as cover, as a fig leaf, for a policy that can only be described as deeply immoral.

We are not ending homelessness. And the number of homeless people in Seattle does not “appear to be diminishing,” as the Mayor’s letter also states. This year’s one night count found a 15% increase in those who are trying to survive outside of our overcrowded and inadequate shelter system. That goes up to 18% if you limit the comparison to areas counted both this year and last.

We are not ending homelessness. The best efforts of our Ten Year plan have fallen well short of stated goals. The Mayor’s letter says 1,000 units have been produced since 2005. The goal for production and upgrade with services is 950 units annually. We’re not even halfway to being on track.

We are not ending homelessness because the city has drawn a line in the sand on adding emergency shelter capacity. The glib formula that Housing, Not Shelter is the answer to homelessness ignores the enormity of the growing desperation on our streets.

We are not ending Homelessness when City housing policy, as generous and progressive as it is, is trumped by pro-development policies that turn our City into a playground for the affluent at the expense of the average and low-income people who can no longer afford to live here.

And we are definitely not ending homelessness when we define those who struggle to survive outside as criminals. When we routinely speak of their encampments as places of filth, and depositories of human waste. When we speak of homeless encampments as somehow linked to the drug trade. When we engage the media with alarmist rhetoric about weapons, murder, and rape.

This is nothing less than the lowest form of stigmatizing hate speech, and has no place in a City Committed to Ending Homelessness.

To eliminate the possibility for survival without offering real alternatives is immoral. To define the blankets, tents, and bedrolls upon which these campers depend as garbage, as a variety of hazardous waste, is immoral. To systematically harass those who have nothing, and to engage the broader community as allies in this campaign of harassment, and then pretend that all of this comes from a place of compassion? That's immoral.
The rather inelegant wrap-up can be attributed to my going on a few sentences past the point when the chair loudly thanked me for my testimony. It's amazing sometimes how fast three minutes can go.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Face In The Crowd

Andy Griffith's 1957 film debut A Face in the Crowd deals with the rise and fall of Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a charismatic Arkansas Hobo who's televised folksy wisdom becomes a front for proto-fascist corporate interests. Griffith's huge personality burns up the screen from beginning to end in this remarkably prescient Elia Kazan film on political demagoguery and the power of mass media. In this clip, Griffith whore's for some early Viagra product and reveals himself as a cynical manipulator.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Frankenstein, with Commentary by Four Year-old

For some reason I don't entirely understand, I decided it might be fun to find the Edgar Winter Band playing Frankenstein, a song that, for me at the age of thirteen, represented the height of musicianship and coolness all rolled into one. My four year-old daughter was on the couch with me to share the moment. Here's what she had to say.
"I think they’re being silly.

Why are they going wah wah wah Waaaaah?

I don’t think it sounds good.

Who is that guy? He’s cool. Stop laughing at me

I think they’re making all the children laugh by making music. I think they’re dancing to the big girls and kids, and daddies and mommies. I think they’re doing that.

Let’s pretend they’re up on the stage and we’re the crowd. Let’s pretend that.

Why is that man’s mouth open?

Daddy. They are cool.

What are they doing? Why is he shaking his head?

He’s breaking his instruments! That’s funny!

This is scary.

Why are they breaking down the radio? Why is he doing the radio all day? Why is he doing that?

When is this going to end?"

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Numbers Game

Yesterday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer brings excellent news for those who are concerned with homelessness in Seattle. Apparently, our City's 150 shelter beds are more or less adequate to the need, and last Tuesday, one shelter even had 18 open beds available. Here's the lead:
More than 150 homeless people stayed in Seattle shelters Tuesday night and even more are expected later this week, a spokesman for the city's human services department said.
Nowhere does the article state that these are the emergency overflow shelter beds that are opened during extreme weather conditions to supplement the 2,368 or so regular beds that are more or less always filled past capacity.

This has the odor of City of Seattle pre-emptive message management on the eve of the one-night count. Which begs the question, is the PI being intentionally misleading here, dumb, sloppy, or some pathetically craven combination of all three?

Nor does the PI refer to the fact that, on average, these overflow shelters operate at capacity. Real Change's analysis of the numbers provided by the City shows a handful of open beds on some nights, and that on others extra people are shoehorned in. This basically involves a space on the floor with a blanket.

75 men's beds have 9 open spots on average. 25 women's beds are, on average, exactly at capacity. Bottom line: claims of unused shelter capacity are exaggerated at best.

Meanwhile, last night's count, organized by the fabulous (as opposed to confabulating) Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, found 2,631 people surviving outside. 140 were counted within the City's "overflow" system.

Here's one way to think about shelter availability. According to the P-I, the odds of winning the Washington State Lottery's Mega Millions game are 1 in 43. The odds of winning at Lotto are 1 in 27. The odds of finding an open shelter bed, should everyone staying outside make the attempt, are no better than 1 in 292.

No wonder people don't bother.

Last night's one-night count of homeless people in King County brought out an astonishing 925 volunteers to scour the streets, buses, and back lots of King County last night in search of the unserved. This is a 25% increase over last year's record 735 volunteers.

This morning's one night count press release described a landscape of dire and growing need, and a community of highly motivated volunteers who are united in pushing back on recent anti-homeless City policy.
Many counters cited changes recently proposed to City of Seattle regulations regarding the removal of homeless people and their belongings from city property as their motivation for joining this year's effort. Count organizers urge concerned community members to attend a public hearing (download flier here) on the new rules, scheduled for this Monday, January 28, at 6:00 PM at the Rainier Room in Seattle Center.

Volunteers returned from the Count full of stories and observations.

"I didn't see people where I expected to, in parks and places like that. I found them in loading docks."

"We counted someone on the premises of a building, and the building security guard said 'oh yeah, I let them sleep here. I just tell them they have to get out in the morning, even though I know that building management doesn't want them around.'"

"One guy had his electric blanket plugged in at a construction site. That was pretty smart."

"I didn't think I'd see many people, but when I finished I counted 32 people spread out through the area."

Experienced counters observed continued changes in the local landscape, including construction and gentrification, that may make it harder for people to find shelter in more densely populated neighborhoods. The number of people observed across the county living in cars, vans, and campers continues to increase, according to these counters.
One-hundred-twenty five teams of counters spread out through the county in the pre-dawn hours to find 2,631 people surviving outside of an at-capacity emergency and "severe weather overflow" shelter system. Yet, according to the P-I, City efforts are adequate to the need.

In other news, I am hereby forced to rescind my earlier judgment that the PI's John Iwasaki is a "hack." He merely wrote one poorly researched article that was vaguely hackish. Iwasaki completely redeems himself with this morning's one-night count reporting here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who's More Accountable? Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Or This Jumbo Jar of Pickles?

At the risk of redundancy, I've boiled down Real Change's objection to the Mayor's campsite clearance policy to the fewest words possible, which I offer here in the interest of concision and clarity.
The Mayor’s office plans to soon extend Seattle’s parks exclusion ordinance to all public land throughout the City. This is the criminalization of basic human survival. The 2007 One Night Count clearly documents that at least 1,600 people struggle to survive outside of Seattle’s over-extended emergency shelter system.

The Mayor’s policy largely ignores the concerns raised by homeless people and their advocates and broadly extends the City’s coercive power. By enacting a major policy shift through an interdepartmental rules change process, the Mayor and his direct representatives have acted without the accountability that an authentic public process might provide. If approved, the Mayor’s policy would:
  • Extend the existing Parks exclusion ordinance to all public land, and create tools to coerce enforcement by owners of private property as well.
  • Define sleeping on these properties overnight as a criminal act.
  • Enact a uniform policy for all public property through which exclusion citations may be issued on the basis of mere suspicion. Violation of an exclusion citation is punishable with criminal penalties.
  • Delegate citation issuance authority to any chosen representative of the City.
Broad exceptions exist to legitimate the destruction of campsites and private property without advance notice. Stated commitments to human services outreach and provision of shelter alternatives remain unacceptably weak and unenforceable.
Please spread the word (download flier here) that the Real Change Organizing Project will hold a rally and press conference on January 28 outside of Seattle Center's Rainier Room from 5-6 pm, the secret sign-up period for those who wish to testify at the 6 pm "hearing," which is really just a comment period tacked onto an interdepartmental briefing.

Which brings us to this week's poll: Who behaves more accountably toward poor people in Seattle? Our developer-friendly Mayor Greg "Big Guy" Nickels, or this Jumbo Jar of Vlasic pickles? As always, vote at top right. See the results of last week's poll here.

Of last week's 1,060 unique visitors, 37 took a moment to weigh in on the very important question of the Mayor's accountability to the poor. By more than a 5-1 margin, the Jar of Vlasic Pickles is more responsive to the concerns of homeless people than Mayor Greg Nickels.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Mayor's Plan: Sad, Wrong, and Immoral

How is one to respond when the most beautiful, affluent, and liberal city in America outlaws basic human survival? What are we to feel? What words could measure up to the sadness of this moment?

The Mayor’s staff has described their draft policy on homeless encampments as “consistent and compassionate.” Consistent, perhaps. But compassion requires action based upon understanding and empathy.

This is not that.

Seattle has joined the ranks of cities across America whose growing affluence will no longer tolerate the sight of extreme poverty. As urban living attracts those who can pay the price, the visible poor have come under attack in communities from LA to Boston.

Within a few blocks of Pike Place Market, construction cranes mark four developments that will house 505 new condos with an average value of $2 million each. This represents about one-tenth of new downtown condo development.

As the move-in dates approach, repression of visible poverty has dramatically escalated.

Until sometime last year, the City of Seattle mostly left homeless encampments alone until complaints forced action. This was as it should be. Last year’s one night homeless count — held in the dead middle of a cold January night — revealed about 1,600 people surviving on the streets. They slept in doorways and in cars. They rode the night buses. They walked to keep warm. They huddled underneath blankets and inside sleeping bags.

They made do without shelter because the shelters were full.

And then, for reasons that have yet to be made public, City policy shifted. Since at least May, by order of the Mayor’s office, homeless encampments have been systematically destroyed with minimal notification and no regard for the wellbeing or the belongings of the campers.

Once this policy came to light — after Real Change surfaced documentation through a series of Public Disclosure Requests — a blind-sided City Council asked the Mayor’s Office for an explanation. What they received were lies about vacancies in the shelter system, false assurances that most clearances would halt, and empty promises about an open process to create policy.

As we reported last week, the campaign to aggressively clear campsites never slowed. And now we have the policy, formulated behind closed doors and offered for a two-week public comment period and one public hearing that will almost surely be ignored.

The draft policy, which criminalizes overnight sleeping on any public land, is far worse than any of us anticipated.

The Parks Exclusion Ordinance, passed originally to keep City Parks family-friendly, will be extended to every scrap of public property in the City. The power to issue exclusion citations on the basis of mere suspicion is broadly delegated. Exclusion order violations will bring criminal penalties.

Desperately poor people who need services will leave the city. And this is the exact intent.

The policy’s tight language leaves no ambiguity as to what activities are now illegal, but where City responsibilities are concerned — in matters of notification, outreach, storage of possessions, and provision of alternatives — the wording becomes extraordinarily open ended and filled with exceptions.

“Suspicion” of illegal activity nullifies a requirement for 48-hours notice. A judgment by a clean-up crewmember that belongings “may be contaminated by unknown substances” is enough to warrant their summary destruction. The talk of additional shelter for those who are evicted is so vague as to be unenforceable. Outreach is discussed, but no resources are committed and no responsibility assigned.

This policy is no more than the legal justification of an existing immoral practice.

Even more sadly, the Committee to End Homelessness in King County has steadfastly refused to take a position on this, the most significant shift in city policy toward the homeless in memory.

Given that the Mayor is on the CEHKC Governing Board, this is less than surprising, but that doesn’t make it right. Those who claim political and moral leadership for “ending homelessness” in King County are complicit in their silence.

It is unacceptable to allow the work of ending homelessness to be confused with the systematic practice of eradicating the evidence. By harassing homeless campers out of the city, we only deepen their misery and decrease the odds that they will ever find the services they need.
This week, Seattle will hold the Annual One Night Homeless Count. More than 700 volunteers will fan out through the city in the middle of the night to assess whether we’re winning or losing the war.

By turning the fight against homelessness into an attack upon the homeless themselves, the Mayor has undermined the integrity of the longest-running, most sophisticated homeless count effort in the nation.

This is profoundly sad. And sadder still if he gets away with it.

The City’s draft proposal on homeless encampment removal and information about the hearing and public comment process may be found at The Public Hearing is January 28, 6:00 pm, in the Seattle Center’s Rainier Room. Sign-up for testimony is between 5 and 6 pm.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Martin Luther King Jr's Riverside speech, also known as "Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence," remains utterly prophetic and relevant to the challenges that we face. Delivered on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before his assassination, this speech linked "the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism" to call for broad spiritual renewal and uncompromising honesty and reparation regarding the American empire. Honesty comes at a cost. His access to LBJ and much of his philanthropic support vanished with his shift to a deeper, more universal, radicalism, and much of the media turned on him as well.

The last section, where he speaks of the "revolution of values" that must take place from a "a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society," remains especially prescient. I carry this on my iPod and listen to it a few times a year. Each time, I find myself floored by his prophetic courage
It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations.

We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: "Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us." Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word" (unquote).

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message -- of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On the Cutting Room Floor

This morning's Seattle Times picked up yesterday's Los Angeles Times story by Northwest Regional reporter Stuart Glascock that describes the proliferation of anti-panhandling ordinances in Tacoma, Auburn, and soon, Federal Way. The story focuses on how Tacoma and Auburn have already used their laws to shut down Real Change vendors in those cities, and our plans to push back against this erosion of the First Amendment.

But an interesting thing happened on the way to the front page of the Seattle Times. Outside of some minor editing and re-arrangement for local emphasis, two paragraphs from the LA Times story were deleted. The omission of the second paragraph is especially revealing.
In addition to Real Change, papers in New York; Oakland; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento; San Diego and Washington are among the 37 members of the North American Street Newspaper Assn.

Strict anti-panhandling laws are part of a broader tendency to criminalize homelessness, said Tulin Ozdeger, civil rights program director for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty in Washington. "If cities are using laws to restrict homeless people from employing themselves, it really shows a discriminatory approach to people who are homeless," Ozdeger said.
These paragraphs are missing from the web version as well. Given that the Seattle Times is a staunch supporter of the Mayor's plan to criminalize homelessness with sweeping new anti-camping rules, one can see why they might not want to go there.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Watching the Detectives

Continuing along with my "Help, I'm stuck in the 80s" theme of late, I bring you this clip of Elvis Costello doing perhaps the most perfect pop song ever. Watching the Detectives. I reordered the hard to find Deep Dead Blue last week, a CD of Elvis and Bill Frisell playing together live in 1995. Years ago this one went missing in a Real Change break-in and I've missed it since. It's been my sound track recently, and so comes this morning's moment of Elvis appreciation.

Watching the Detectives
Nice girls, not one with a defect
Cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct
Red dogs under illegal legs
She looks so good that he gets down and begs

(CHORUS) She is watching the detectives
"Ooh, he's so cute"
She is watching the detectives
When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot
They beat him up until the teardrops start
But he can't be wounded 'cause he's got no heart

Long shot at that jumping sign
Invisible shivers running down my spine
Cut to baby taking off her clothes
Close-up of the sign that says "We never close"
He snatches at you and you match his cigarette
She pulls the eyes out with a face like a magnet
I don't know how much more of this I can take
She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake


You think you're alone until you realize you're in it
Now fear is here to stay, love is here for a visit
They call it instant justice when it's past the legal limit
Someone's scratching at the window, I wonder who is it?
The detectives come to check if you belong to the parents
Who are ready to hear the worst about their daughter's disappearance
Though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay
It only took my little fingers to blow you away

Just like watching the detectives
Don't get cute
It's just like watching the detectives
I get so angry when the teardrops start
But he can't be wounded 'cause he's got no heart

Watching the detectives
It's just like watching the detectives
Watching the detectives
Watching the detectives

— Elvis Costello

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Huckleberry Finn Option?

The Seattle Times weighed in with yet another hard-hearted and one-sided editorial last Wednesday loving the Mayor's campsite clearance policy and characterizing those homeless who are camped outside in the rain and cold as exercising the "Huckleberry Finn option."

What cold and dark planet do these people live on?

To illustrate, at left is Huck Finn. What a scamp! He probably just conned some kid into painting a fence for him. All day, he's romping through the woods, shooting small animals, constructing rafts, lying lazily in the sun, and avoiding work. At right is Grimes Poznikov, a once wildly popular San Fransisco street performer who was recently discovered living in a garbage dump during the homeless sweeps in that city.

One morning this week at Poznikov's campsite, the former Automatic Human Jukebox crawled out from under his piano when he heard his name called by a Chronicle reporter. He seemed dazed by the sunlight and oblivious to the stink of urine and trash around him. He was dressed in women's clothing.

Pointing to a missing front tooth, which he said police knocked out during one of his many contacts with them, Poznikov said he can't play the trumpet anymore. He hawked the instrument at a pawn shop in 1996. Instead, at age 56, he now plays chaotic chords on a waterlogged piano with broken strings for other homeless campers and resident rats. Of course, he said, he misses the crowds at Fisherman's Wharf. "Well, it's sad," he said, turning his head away to hide his watery green eyes. After a long pause, he added, "But what can you do?" To his homeless neighbors, he's part crazy and part genius, he's a little bit generous and a little bit confrontational.

He recently fished a turkey out of a trash can and gave it to a neighbor for Thanksgiving, and he gives piano concerts at midnight. But he also drinks, says he smokes some pot and calls passers-by "Nazis."

Who wouldn't want to be this guy? Free food. Nothin' but the stars over his head. Livin' in the great outdoors. Sweet!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Seattle's Unsightly Poor

Yesterday’s P-I featured the latest bad news for homeless people in Seattle. Lately, it’s been hard to keep up. Apparently, the Seattle Convention and Visitor’s Bureau rolled out the red carpet for a visitor’s delegation of mucky-mucks to experience the wonder that is our city. They were brought in to rate Seattle as a convention destination.

For the most part, they liked what they saw. Great cultural attractions. Beautiful surroundings. Lots of nice restaurants, bars, and theaters. Awesome shopping. Etcetera.

But there were a few troubling black marks. Three of them, to be precise. For one, they whined about the weather. Too cloudy. And then there was the cost of air travel. Cleveland, for example, is much more centrally located.

Not much you can do about any of that.

But then there were those pesky homeless people. Such a downer. All that pathetic misery, staring at you, making you feel guilty about your four dollar latté. Now that, quickly said some, is something we can change. If we just made those homeless people go away, we’d be happier.

The story occasioned a fire storm of comments, calling for a get tough policy on visible homelessness.

But here’s the thing. Seattle rains money. Business is booming. Here’s what SCVB’s own ultra-slick promotional material has to say:
“Momentum is a word that often describes positive progress in regard to business, sports and our personal lives. There is no doubt that 2006 was a year of great momentum for Seattle and the region.

In 2006, Seattle and King County experienced a record 9.1 million overnight visitors who generated more than $4.3 billion in revenues and we expect this positive trend to continue through 2007. Seattle’s hotel occupancy, rate and RevPAR growth performed in the upper five percent of all major cities this past year. We welcomed the Hotel 1000 and the Pan Pacific Seattle to our hospitality community and their levels of service, product and technological innovation have been well-received by travelers from around the world.

The Washington State Convention & Trade Center hosted nearly 50 major conventions, which brought almost 150,000 delegates from around the world to our city and region. These conventions alone accounted for nearly 330,000 room nights and an economic impact of $252 million. In conjunction with hotel-booked meetings and a vibrant business travel market, many restaurants and retailers realized the financial benefit that meetings and conventions provide.

Leisure travel to Seattle and the region continues to grow into a year-around business rather than the seasonal market of the past. This is a result of the extensive offerings in the arts, culture, festivals, and sports and recreational events that the area provides. Add to this an array of eclectic restaurants, award-winning Washington State wines and abundant shopping opportunities, and Seattle is an undeniable draw throughout the year.

A record 200 sailings from Seattle to Alaska occurred this past year, delivering nearly 400,000 passengers to our city. Recent data projects that between 30 and 35 percent of these Alaska-bound passengers also booked a Seattle area hotel stay prior to or after their cruise. This positive trend will also carry into 2007 and beyond.

Air travel volume also added to the momentum. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport experienced a record 30 million passengers. Airlines increased flights, including British Airways, which added a second non-stop between London and Seattle in summer 2006 in order to accommodate the growing demand from Europe.”
So, lets review. There’s momentum. Positive trend lines all around. No less than three records broken: cruise passengers, air travel to Seattle, and the overall number of overnight visitors. And Seattle’s hotel occupancy rate is performing in the top 5% of all major cities.

But wait! Here’s more from the King County Visitor Profile and Economic Data report that the Convention Center Visitor’s Bureau commissioned from CIC Research, an independent outfit based in San Diego.
“Over the last 15 years King County visitor industry sales have increased three-fold from $1.6 billion in 1991 to $4.75 billion in 2006. During the same 15-year time period, the volume of overnight visitors increased 54% from 6.1 million to 9.41 million. … Visitor spending has accelerated in the last two years with a combined total growth for 2005 and 2006 of 20%, substantially exceeding the growth in overnight visitor volume of 8%.”

There were an estimated 9,410,000 overnight visitors to King County during 2006 – an increase of 3.4% from 2005 (9,100,000). The 9.4 million visitors was a record for King County and continued a growth trend that started in 2003 (see Figure 4). Overnight visitor spending jumped 10% to $4.75 billion. … Visitor spending also generated a total of $419 million in state and local tax revenues, an increase of 10.4% from $376 million in 2005. …

The visitor industry in King County continued solid growth in both overnight visitor volume and spending for 2006. This marks the third consecutive year of significant growth in the King County visitor industry. The hotel sector led the way with outstanding revenue growth of about 17% for the year and total room nights sold of 8.35 million. The visitor industry should continue to experience growth, albeit more moderate growth throughout 2007 and 2008.”
So, clearly, we need to pass more laws targeting homeless people because they’re a such drag on the local economy. We were sick of them anyway. Perhaps we could create camps of some sort where they’ll never again be seen.

The thing about being rich, it seems, is that there is never quite enough.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Compassion or Class War?

Saul Williams has remade U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday as an anthem against class war being waged on the homeless. I'm thinking the city portrayed here is probably LA, but it could be pretty much anywhere. As our cities have become islands of affluence, campsite clearances have become business as usual, and it's always trotted out as compassion. Municipalities share tactics and rhetoric, and over time, refine the process. Real Change has, for example, obtained documentation of Sargent Gracy's trip to LA to meet with Chief Bratton last year to learn from that city and San Diego.

So, this week's poll. Is the Mayor's new policy on campsite clearances about compassion, or class war? As always, vote at top right.

The results are in, and produced our most lopsided polling margin to date. Class war beat out compassion as a descriptor of the Mayor's policy by a resounding forty to two! Who were those people? Patricia? Craig?

The Rich Are Giving More ... To Themselves

Call it a sign of the times. As the chasm between rich and poor yawns wider and wider, with the folks in the middle for the most part falling, certain institutional realities have taken hold. The New York Times reported earlier this month that private cash is setting the agenda for urban infrastructure. Apparently, as our bridges and roads and such are crumbling because government has gone broke with war and handing bundles of unmarked bills to the rich, institutions like Yale are flush with cash and spending like drunken Ivy league frat boys.
The message in this outburst of activity, here and in other places across the country, is that private spending, supported handsomely by a growing number of very wealthy families, is gaining ground on traditional public investment. In the case of New Haven, once the recipient of more federal dollars per person for urban renewal than any other city, private investment now far surpasses public outlays.

“For us,” the mayor said, “infrastructure spending has come to mean growing the university. Yale has the money, and what they get from us is the approval to grow.”...

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that government should be spending $320 billion a year over the next five years — double the current outlay — just to bring up to par what already exists.

Meanwhile, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports the following:
Even as many wealthy nonprofit institutions — like museums and universities — are reporting record increases in contributions, other charities, especially those that provide direct services to the poor, are struggling to get donations and keep up with rapidly escalating demands for aid. Some veteran leaders of organizations that serve the needy say they have not faced such a tough time before in their nonprofit careers.
Why? Well, as it turns out, most people aren't doing so well, and the people who are tend to give to their own.
“There are two tiers of income, and donors are in one tier or the other,” says Melissa S. Brown, associate director of research at Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. “Charities with donors in the top tier see big increases, and nonprofits whose donors are squeezed by lost income are feeling the pain.” ...

Colleges, hospitals, arts organizations, community foundations, and other wealthy institutions have in the past decade built their endowments and reserves to insulate themselves from economic fluctuations. In addition, such organizations have been hiring many new fund raisers to focus exclusively on seeking big gifts from wealthy people.

And wealthy donors overwhelmingly prefer those types of institutions: A study released this month of more than 8,000 gifts of $1-million or more to 4,000 nonprofit organizations found that the largest share of those dollars, 44 percent, went to higher education, followed by hospitals and other medical institutions (16 percent), and arts and cultural organizations (12 percent). Social-service groups received just 5 percent of the dollars, according to the study by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

A bit further down in the article comes this news from LA on how the homeless are doing.

Other charities in Los Angeles are facing an even tougher time. Beyond Shelter, a Los Angeles charity that has focused on moving homeless families out of emergency shelters and into permanent homes, is struggling to meet payroll next month while trying to help a homeless population that has exploded in size in the past two years, according to Tanya Tull, the charity’s president.

Ms. Tull says she has watched government support decline, while foundations that provided support in the past are making smaller and smaller grants to her charity because they are deluged with requests from other social-service groups.

“Every agency we speak to is turning families away, and the shelters have been full all year,” she says. “I am seeing families with children sleeping in their cars, riding the bus all night, sitting in fast-food restaurants, just to have a place to be. This is a very, very sad thing to experience, after so many years when we thought we were getting a handle on the problem.”

In her 25 years of working with the homeless, Ms. Tull says, “this is the worst I have ever seen in terms of the numbers of homeless families and the fact that the safety net is gone.”

What's this? I recently read that Los Angeles has halved their downtown homeless problem through a creepy combination of repressive policing and high-tech legerdemain. I guess that stuff doesn't really work. Oh, wait, she's talking about homeless families. They don't count.

The rich are having a big party, and we get to come and eat cake. No wait ... the cake's all gone. All they're serving now is crumbs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Time to Stop Being So Damn Nice

The Mayor’s new draft policy on homeless clearances has been released, and there’s only one way to say this. It’s an atrocity, pure and simple.

From the moment the Mayor’s office was called on their secret campsite clearance policy last October, their response has been characterized by contempt for process, continued secrecy, and commitment to aggressive clearances. Meanwhile, they fed a mostly willing media scare stories about homeless criminality to stigmatize and smear this City’s most vulnerable.

Existing laws are sufficient to identify and prosecute criminal behavior that truly poses a public threat. This policy isn’t about that. This is about eliminating visible poverty through a systematic campaign of harassment and criminalization.

The Mayor’s policy extends the parks exclusion ordinance — which was designed as a tool to ensure that public parks remain family friendly — to all public property throughout the city, no matter how urban or remote. Groundwork is laid to deputize any city department or their delegated authority with the power to issue progressively onerous citations based on no more than suspicion of illegal activity, which is defined to include sleeping.

Homeless advocates were promised inclusion in the drafting of a “consistent and compassionate” City policy toward homeless campers. Instead, we were stonewalled and offered two weeks “comment period” on a draft policy that is anything but.

There is no legislative process or any other real opportunity for the public deliberation that this sweeping change in public policy deserves.

A public hearing has been scheduled for January 28th, at 6:00 pm at Seattle Center’s Rainier Room. I just checked the PI story that announced this hearing, and see that they're listing the time as 7:30. And yet the HSD website has the original time.

So which is it? 6, or 7:30? Who the hell knows! We're going with 6:00.

Meanwhile, if you read the article you'll see that hack journalist John Iwasaki was so busy uncritically sucking up the city line that he neglects to mention the key component of the proposed policy change: the extension of the parks exclusion ordinances authority to ticket and arrest those who sleep outside at night to every scrap of public land in the city.

He probably didn't even read the thing. I mean, 20 pages. Who has the time? Better to just ask Patricia what to write.

And listen to the fearless "homeless advocates" whom the City has embraced as our representatives:
"What's being proposed is a big step in the right direction. I'm glad to see that the city is responding out of a sense of humanity toward people who are in encampments," said the Rev. Sandy Brown, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. ... The proposal covers a number of key components that concerned advocates, said Bill Block, director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County.
Long-time homeless organizer Paul Boden said once that when it's more important for you to be at the table than to stand your ground and say what needs to be said, it's time to leave the table.

But maybe these guys were selectively quoted as being more supportive than they are. Hacks will do that to you.

At this point I wouldn't talk to the PI's John Iwasaki if he were the last journalist at the last daily in Seattle. Not that he's ever called me.

While it is critical to pack the hearing, nobody should be under the illusion that this alone is going to stop this Mayor. We need to aggressively and creatively fight back. Call 441-3247 x202 or email for more information.

Screw Those People

Ever wonder where the homeless people being displaced by Seattle's aggressive new campsite clearance policy are supposed to go? Here's the simple answer: somewhere else. The rural homeless are relatively invisible and, unlike the urban poor, don't especially bother the rich. So, no Ten Year Plan for them. This excellent article from High Country News offers a glimpse of the growing rural homelessness problem, to which not much of anyone is paying attention. Here's my favorite paragraph:
Philip Mangano, head of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, coordinates the federal response to homelessness — and he agrees that it’s harder for rural areas to get federal money. But “rural folks need to get beyond the idea that someone’s going to come from Washington to solve their problem,” he says. “They have to be strategic and creative in fashioning a solution.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bob Kuttner on Homelessness

My interview with economist Robert Kuttner, founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, a regular columnist for the Boston Globe, and a frequent guest on TV and radio shows where these things are discussed, comes out in Wednesday's Real Change. His new book, The Squandering of America, is subtitled “how the failure of our politics undermines our prosperity.” Kuttner argues that the corporate capture of the democratic process has resulted in windfall profits for the wealthy at the great expense of average Americans. Our choices, he warns, are to build a citizen’s movement that curbs the power of wealthy elites, or face continued decline and inevitable economic disaster. Here's a brief excerpt.

RC: One of the things that struck me about the American Prospect special issue on poverty was that there was no mention of homelessness. How did that happen?

I don’t have a good explanation for it. Maybe we just dropped the ball. We have written about homelessness in other issues.

RC: I can venture a guess. Homelessness seems more manageable when approached as a technocratic social services issue, as opposed to a problem of growing poverty and inequality. Government reframes the issue in a de-politicized way, and homeless advocates generally follow their lead.

I think that’s right. It’s often said that one of the problems Democrats have is that Republicans can reduce their ideology to a bumper sticker and Democrats can’t. So the Republican story is “Markets work, governments don’t. Poor people reflect poor values.” That’s nine words. You can put it all on a bumper sticker.

I think the typical middle class person who walks by someone who is homeless sees that person as dysfunctional. Either they look strange to the middle class, and you conclude that that person is mentally ill, or they look okay and the middle class person says, “Well gee, why isn’t that person working?”

Instead of seeing this as a failure of capitalism — as a failure of government to provide enough good jobs, to pay a living wage, to have decent housing policies and adequate mental health services — it’s seen as a problem of marginality and dysfunction. So, if we did not include homelessness, shame on us.

RC: Why do you think there is so little discussion of structural unemployment and the people who have, statistically speaking, just dropped off the radar?

I think it is the fracturing of the coalition that used to exist between the working middle class, the working poor, and the very poor. The periods when that coalition was together is when you had transformative social policies like the New Deal and Great Society. Those were the few periods in America when we actually had progressive politics.

It’s too easy for people who have jobs to ignore people who don’t have jobs. I have this polite argument with John Edwards that goes, “Look, it’s magnificent that you are talking about the bottom fifteen percent and you will go to heaven for talking about the bottom fifteen percent, but if you want to go to the White House, maybe you want to talk about the bottom seventy percent.”

Increasingly, the difference between the bottom seventy percent and the bottom fifteen percent is one of degree. The bottom fifteen are a lot poorer, but the bottom seventy percent have the same vulnerability. It’s less a problem with structural unemployment than of the vulnerability that almost everybody has to losing their jobs, losing their health coverage, losing their retirement coverage, losing the ability to have work that pays a living wage.

The job of political organizing and leadership is to remind somebody who’s making fifty or sixty thousand dollars a year that they’re just as vulnerable. People have those worries privately, but that needs to be politicized.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chiller Dillers

This Chilly Willy from 1967, which illustrates the age old tension between rock & roll, authority, and shameless commerce, has emerged as Twins A&B's top pick. Doin' the mukluk bop ...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Law In Its Infinite Majesty ...

forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread"
— Anatole France

I just took my first run at the City's new draft policy on homeless encampments. There's 14 pages of legalese and five pages of city procedures that essentially extends the parks exclusion ordinance protocols to all public property of any sort everywhere, deputizes pretty much anyone the city chooses with authority to issue progressively onerous citations, and gives permission to summarily destroy any property that looks like its worth less than twenty-five bucks on Ebay, isn't clearly marked with name tags, or is deemed "hazardous." The definition of hazardous gives one the feel of the document:
Hazardous items may include blankets, clothing, sleeping bags, tents, or other soft goods that may be contaminated by unknown substances that may pose a risk of harm to members of the public or cleanup personnel who come in contact with the material.
May be contaminated by unknown substances? Nickels should give whoever thought that one up a raise. What, exactly, would that definition leave out?

Does this policy live up to the "Consistent and Compassionate" label it has adopted?

Hardly. There's talk of outreach, but no clarity on how and by who or where the funding is, and help arrives with police back-up. Yeah. That'll work. It mandates a minimum of 48-hours notice, which is an improvement, but with no real alternatives being provided, that's cold comfort. And then there's some language about "additional interim/overflow shelter beds, as necessary, for occupants of unauthorized encampments," whatever that means.

The public comment period runs from Jan. 14-31. There's a public hearing January 28th, 6-7:30 pm at Seattle Center's Rainier Room. Call (684-0253) or email Human Services Department Public Information officer David Takami for your copy of the "administrative rules" (the legalese that tightens definitions, extends the parks exclusion ordinance, and delegates enforcement authority), and the "updated procedures" today. Force yourself to read it. and then ask yourself, "with 1,600 homeless people counted outside in the middle of the night late last January, is this compassionate?"

See you January 28th.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beautiful Dreamy Outlaw

One of the people I feel privileged to have gotten to know a bit is guitarist and composer Bill Frisell. His talented and lovely wife, Carole d'Inverno, started volunteering at Real Change in the early days, when it was just me and Ozula Sioux. Carole has this gorgeous accent that I never get tired of hearing and a keen working class Italian sense of outrage, so I was happy when she stuck around for more than a decade on the front desk, as a board member, and finally as a volunteer book keeper. That, apparently, was the last straw.

Carole kept talking about this guy she was married to. Oh, he'd just done a record with Elvis Costello. And had some project going with Marianne Faithfull. And played some with James Blood Ulmer, and worked a lot in New York with John Zorn. And so forth. And then one day she gave me his Live album, done with Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron, and it blew my mind. His website generously streams highlights from most of the records. Take a listen. You'll see what I mean.

To say Bill plays guitar is kind of like saying Picasso drew pictures.

He did a bunch of benefits for us and would shyly chat from time to time as Carole's orbit drew him to our office. Bill does most things shyly. Except play guitar. The New York crowd he played with used to joke that Bill was "raised by deer."

Outlaw, performed above at the 2002 Montreal Jazz Festival, is off the Blues Dream record, which is wonderful. The trombonist is Curtis Fowlkes, who is best known for his work with The Jazz Passengers. Curtis was also a big part of the sound on Bill's Quartet album.

I love a lot of Frisell records, all for different reasons, but Quartet and Live remain my favorites. Listen to Tales of the Far Side on Quartet. With Eyvind Kang's spooky violin, Bill's ax murderer guitar, the sonorous trumpet of Ron Miles, and the great big beautiful splats of noise dropping from Fowlkes' trombone, this is, I think, the most amazing six minutes you'll spend anytime soon.

One year he did a benefit for us on one of the smaller stages in the then new Benaroya Hall, and as we waited together for me to go out and intro him I noticed Bill nervously doing this thing where he somehow got harmonics with just the hand holding his pick. I can't explain it. My playing has never progressed much beyond the rudimentary stage, so I'm easily impressed.

"You're pretty good at that thing," I joked. "Oh, this is nothing," he said. "Some guys can get all kinds of tones this way that I can't." And that's classic Bill. He's always quick to say that he's not much of a guitar player, really. I later came to understand that it isn't really that he doesn't believe he's good. He just doesn't think he's good enough.

Even now, after winning a Grammy.

And this is why Bill still inspires me. Our slight acquaintance has revealed that when people do remarkable things, it doesn't just happen. More often than not, the insanely talented are obsessive, single-minded, driven freaks who take their love for what they do to levels of self-torture that are simply beyond what most of us are willing to endure. And we love them for it and stand in awe.

The clip below was my second favorite on YouTube because it shows Bill more than twenty years ago, as a young turk, being obsessive, geeky, and brilliant.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Don't Try. Do.

My most extraordinary twenty minutes of the year so far were spent on Wednesday morning at the Sound Alliance leadership retreat. It was the beginning of the second day, and as we prepared for the session, I noticed this little Jewish old man in a cardigan waiting expectantly off to the side. This, it turned out, was Dick Harmon, the lead regional staff for the IAF Northwest, and one of the two main organizers who built the Industrial Areas Foundation along with Saul Alinsky.

From the moment he opened his mouth, he no longer seemed little at all. He had gravitas. He had duende. He spoke as if the words welled up from the ground beneath his feet, slowly, directly, forcefully. His vision was huge, and seemed to come from the sort of spiritual center and political grounding that one very rarely encounters. I felt, funny as it sounds, as though I were in the presence of greatness.
Together, we will create a new spirit, not grounded in optimism, but in hope. A full employment economy. We need to redo every building and car to be energy efficient. We need to build levies to hold back the waters. All of our infrastructure needs to be redone. We are embarking on a task that is more radical than any New Dealer ever dared to dream of. Not because we want it, but because it is being forced upon us.

We need to reground our imaginations. What is being given to us is a new world view, in an early state of articulation: low carbon economy, full employment, power among. When people get together, their imaginations change, as well as their hearts. And so it comes to discipline.

This is a great enterprise that respects the great mix of our people. Wall Street has committed to $6 billion for clean energy. These guys are out in front of us. The churches and institutions are lagging behind. We are present at the founding of the birth.
After Harmon spoke, he asked each of us to think of all of the social pressures that motivate us to work for change, and to assign our commitment a value between 1 and 10. After a moment he asked for someone to share. Someone who hadn't talked much. Since I'd uncharacteristically kept my mouth shut for most of the retreat, I raised my hand.

"I gave it a nine," I said, "because I don't even know what a ten is. If I were at a ten, it would be dangerous." The room laughed. "Our group is cross-class in its work, but my work for twenty years has been with homeless people. I see a system that is massively broken, and these are the people who fall out on the bottom. And the bottom seems bottomless. And I see people seeking advantage at the expense of the most vulnerable people around. So, yeah. A nine."

Harmon stood up front, searching my eyes. "Do you feel grief?"

The question took me by surprise. "Um, yeah. I feel grief."

"What do you do with that?"

"I channel it. I'm not big on despair."

I'd stopped taking notes by then. But Harmon took this as his opening to talk about the need to embrace our grief. To not succumb to the easy denial of optimism. To walk toward what makes us uncomfortable, own it, and make this the source of our passion.

"When we talk together, when we plan and understand," he said, "our hearts are strangely warmed. We need to live in this warmth, and discover new life."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Mother's Grief

Michael Cacoyannis' 1971 Trojan Women remains my favorite movie of all time. Katherine Hepburn gives the performance of her life as Hecuba, and Geneviève Bujold, as Cassandra, is a vision unparalleled. The play by Euripides speaks boldly to war as the human condition and its inhuman cost, born chiefly by innocents. This scene portrays the abduction of Cassandra and the grief of Hecuba over a life in ruins.
O God, I called to you. You did not help. ...
Why lift me up? What hope is there to hold to?
Count no man happy, however fortunate, before he dies.
The great classicist Gilbert Murray describes this play as "only the crying of one of the great wrongs of the world wrought into music." Well put.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Managing the Media with Team Nickels

Adam got another thick sheaf of Public Disclosure Request docs on the encampments issue this Monday. A bored lawyer friend gave us some good advice on how to be more aggressive here and it seems to be paying off. I'll leave the news to the real reporters, but this email exchange made us laugh. Be sure to get down to the end.

Martin McOmber, City of Seattle Communications Director, 12/4/2007, 1:23 pm
Editorial writer Bruce Ramsey from the Times is going to write on the encampments issues. He is interested in taking the tour but need to check if he can hold the editorial for a day. I'm betting he can.

Can we arrange a tour for him tomorrow mid morning? I think he will understand the City's position on this and it's very important to get our point of view presented to him.

If he has to write for tomorrow, Patricia, can you walk him through our position?

Cheryl Fraser, Seattle Parks Operations Manager, 12/4/2007, 1:43 pm
Martin -- We can do the tour tomorrow however if it rains tonight we will need to reassess the Greenbelt conditions in the morning. Let's plan to meet at the Super Supplements Vitamins parking lot on Elliot Ave at 10 am. We are planning on using the same tour as last time.

Patricia -- are you available at 10 am?

Martin McOmber, 12/4/2007, 2:28 pm
Bruce is available for the tour at 10 am tomorrow. Per Cheryl's email, I told him to meet Cheryl and Patricia at the Super Supplements Vitamins parking lot tomorrow.

Cheryl, can you work out any remaining details with Patricia?

David Takami, Strategic Communications Adviser, Dept. of Human Services, 12/4/2007, 2:41 pm
Hi: Patricia can do it and will meet you at 10 am at Super Supplements.

Marty, does this mean he's holding off on the editorial (until after the tour)?

Dewey Potter, Comm. Director, Seattle Parks, 12/4/2007, 3:47 pm
Hi. I have a call from Adam Hyla at Real Change. Should we invite him along?

Martin McOmber, 12/4/2007, 5:11 pm
Absolutely not. If he wants to do a separate tour, we will consider.

Dewey Potter, 12/4/2007, 5:12 pm
OK thanks. I'm not calling him back.