Monday, June 30, 2008

Going Down With No Backbone

The thing we've been waiting for is happening. As Seattle City Council prepares for the delivery of Mayor Nickels' big fat gift to for-profit housing developers in the form of an expansion of the Multi-Family Tax Exemption, the economy is contracting, and with it, the capacity to deliver the services that are most needed when budgets go south. This morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports a projected $70 million shortfall on the King County side.
County Executive Ron Sims has asked department directors to prepare 2009 budget proposals that would cut spending by 8.6 percent from a sustaining level of services to close that gap.

In response, several elected officials from the county's criminal justice agencies -- Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Sheriff Sue Rahr and judges of the district and superior courts -- called a joint news conference June 5 to sound the theme of "Public Safety in Peril," making alarming predictions about the effects of the proposed cuts. The criminal justice agencies' budgets, which account for 70 percent of the $650 million general services total this year, are presented by Sims to the County Council for approval -- but Satterberg, a Republican, and Rahr and the judges, who run as nonpartisan candidates, are independently elected and operate from their own power bases apart from Sims, a Seattle Democrat who is the county's highest-ranking elected official.

The article goes on to describe how the budget process will, despite denials on both sides, become politicized by the upcoming race for the King County Executive position. The Public Safety in Peril frame offers a taste of what is to come. As the criminal justice system eats the county budget alive, a new downtown jail is proposed at a cost of $110 million for construction and $19 million annually to operate. It doesn't take a Norm Stamper to see that this is the wrong direction, and we can count on the politics of fear to drive at least one side of this debate.

Meanwhile, the State picture is looking equally grim. The Washington State Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that, in the face of a projected $2 billion deficit, the legislature needs to look more realistically to the revenue side of the picture to sustain current levels of services. Even these, as anyone who understands how broken things are will sadly confirm, are nowhere near adequate to the need.

The continuing projection of a significant deficit is a matter of public concern and a deliberate conversation about how to close the gap should begin in earnest. It is important to note, the problem is not one of spending; current budget figures are largely in line with past budgets as a share of the economy (see figure above). Instead, changes to our revenue structure must be part of the discussion.

Earth to Olympia: Grow some fucking balls and start taxing the rich. Race to the bottom corporate welfare and weak-kneed anti-taxation policies that favor the most affluent are an unsustainable politics.

Washington State is far from alone in this. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that 29 states face a total shortfall of at least $48 billion for 2009. As Washington State isn't even on their list, this projection surely underestimates the scope of the crisis. While there's an excellent discussion of the complexities of various alternatives at their website, I'll put it in layman's terms: We're screwed, and we're going down, big time.

Looking at the Seattle picture, I'm reminded of a line from Joan Baez' anthem to an asshole:
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Meaning this: Seattle, like everywhere else, is heading toward ugly recession, but recent Office of Finance analyses project mostly blue skies. The June Economic Update admits only to this:
Sales, B&O, and REET taxes are particularly sensitive to recessions (see table) as they are good representations of economic activity. Inflation adjusted sales tax receipts declined on average 6.5% in the first year of the last four recessions. B&O receipts suffered similar fates. If we are in recession the NBER likely won’t identify it until late summer. By then Seattle’s tax receipts should provide some guidance as to where we are and where we’re going.
Meanwhile, if anyone's driving, they're not saying. Compared to last April's economic report to the City Council, which projects a mere 30% probability of recession, this most tentative of admissions to bad news comes 0ff as downright alarmist. But even this, if one scrolls all the way to the last line, foretells budget cuts to come.

So, why are we giving tax breaks away to rich developers so they can create housing at prices that exceed what the market already delivers without the aid of public subsidy? Getting re-elected takes money I guess. Especially when one lacks a backbone.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pharoah's Army Got Drown-ded

A few versions of Mary Don't You Weep, a negro spiritual with pre-civil war roots. Leroi Jones, in his Blues People, a History of Negro Music in White America, discusses this song as an example of how Christianity provided slaves "a great pacifer and palliative" while producing a "great inner strength to the devout and an almost inhuman indifference to pain."
One of the reasons Christianity proved so popular was that it was the religion, according to older Biblical tradition, of an oppressed people. The struggle of the Jews and their long sought "Promised Land" proved a strong analogy for the black slaves.

Mary, don't you weep an' Martha don't you moan,
Mary, don't you weep an' Martha don't you moan;
Pharoah's army got drown-ded,
Oh Mary don't you weep.

I thinks everyday and I wish I could
Stand on the rock where Mose stood
Oh Pharoah's army got drown-ded
Oh Mary don't you weep.

Above is a 1929 version by a group of Georgia field hands. Below is Pete Seeger with a very young Bernice Johnson Reagon, who later went on to found Sweet Honey and the Rock. Below this, a truly stupendous 70s version from the All-Star Gospel Ensemble, performed on Soul Train.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Prophetic Imagination

Just noticed that my hero Reverend Rich Lang of Trinity United Methodist Church was in the Ballard News Tribune a few weeks ago calling for churches to pro-actively stand for the poor by providing alternatives to camping in the city's greenbelts.
"You can't solve homelessness without talking about housing. The church has a moral obligation to work with the state for common wealth," said Lang.

"As a representative of a church, I see no reason whatsoever, why every church can't house someone who is homeless, with 1400 church buildings (in Seattle) empty at night," said Lang. ...

"When you see neighbors naked, give them clothes. When they are hungry, feed them. They are not animals. Begin rebuilding the person to get them back in society."
God I love this guy. My own disenchantment with Christianity began in the fourth grade at Saint Mary's School with Monsignor Sullivan's Mercedes Benz. Each year, the Monsignor (this is the middle rank between priest and bishop) upgraded to the latest model. "He works hard," my mother explained. "He deserves it." Even as a fourth grader, his job looked pretty cush to me. I didn't buy it.

The lawn at Saint Mary's was known as "Monsignor's salad," as in "Don't walk on Monsignor's salad." The utterly radical and infinitely appealing message of the Sermon on the Mount, to my young eyes, was displaced by the hypocrisy of the late-model Mercedes driving old fart with the sanctified and apparently edible lawn. This, I decided, was Christianity in action. A harsh assessment, but sadly accurate.

Since then, I've met enough real Christians to overcome my precocious dismissal of God, but my opinion of most churches remains unchanged. Lang's different. He's the real deal. Were more churches to take Christ's message to its conclusion — as opposed to reflecting the narcotized, self-indulgent consumerism of our time — the world would be a very different place.

The church can't replace government's responsibility to provide a base-line level of human dignity and economic security for those who are otherwise abandoned, but they can help, and they can mobilize their resources and congregations to build the power it will take to change the rules of the game.

Is that an audacious vision? No more so than Jesus.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My God

To a twelve-year-old Catholic school boy, it didn't get any better than this. Jethro Tull. Live at the Isle of Wight. 1970. Twin B says, "He is so silly! But I like him."
People -- what have you done --
locked Him in His golden cage.
Made Him bend to your religion --
Him resurrected from the grave.
He is the god of nothing --
if that's all that you can see.
You are the god of everything --
He's inside you and me.
So lean upon Him gently
and don't call on Him to save you
from your social graces
and the sins you used to waive.
The bloody Church of England --
in chains of history --
requests your earthly presence at
the vicarage for tea.
And the graven image you-know-who --
with His plastic crucifix --
he's got him fixed --
confuses me as to who and where and why --
as to how he gets his kicks.
Confessing to the endless sin --
the endless whining sounds.
You'll be praying till next Thursday to
all the gods that you can count.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today's Inspiration

To: Timothy Harris
Executive Director for Real Change

After reading your article "The Reinvention of Homeless Advocacy" in the Real Change paper that came out this morning, I sat quietly in my retirement apartment looking out the window at the distant Cascade Mountains. Your words, so eloquently written, made me think deeply: "My activism doesn’t flow from a sense of charity. It springs from a deep respect for the struggles of the poor and a sure knowledge that, in pursuing this work, I gain far more than I surrender." These words made me think deeply about why I donate $100 to Real Change monthly and cannot pass a vendor on the street without giving at least $2 to each one even if I have already bought a paper, and I realized why I do this — because I really care about these fine human beings whose lives are so truly dreadful compared to mine.

As I thought further, I began to question if I could give more to your present fundraising drive. At first I thought I couldn't, and then I pondered all you said about how so many Americans have become big spenders on trivial things, but it took me more time to look at myself. I am a woman in my mid-80s, retired now for twenty years, who has tried to live a responsible life while at the same time enjoying many pleasant experiences, including having a dear and loving family.

Next I questioned myself: Do you really think you would suffer if you gave more to Real Change at this time? And of course the answer is that I would not. Therefore I enclose a check for $365 that after all is only a dollar a day. I will also increase my monthly donations to $150 for as long as I can. At my age I have various "health issues," as all elderly people do, so I am not sure how long I can do this, but I will as long as I can.

Thank you for causing me to realize that I can at least do a little more toward easing the extreme pain and anguish that mark the lives of poor people including your always fine, frequently smiling vendors.

With sincere admiration for all that Real Change accomplishes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From the Dept. of Dead Horses

OK. I know it's over. And the whole "bitch" tag for Hilary has a misogynist edge that bugs me. But I still love this and wanted to share.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Re-Invention of Homeless Advocacy

People often ask what drew me to homelessness. My first involvement was as a student in 1984. Mitch Snyder’s Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) was engaged in a life and death fight in Washington DC to adequately shelter that city’s homeless during a decade where the need for emergency shelter tripled and quadrupled in most American Cities. Thousands of people turned out from around the nation to protest at the Capitol. More than one-hundred were arrested. Ten of us drove there from Amherst to be hosted for three days in DC’s Central Cellblock. Shortly after, the city capitulated to Snyder’s demand for $5 million to make the CCNV shelter for that City’s homeless liveable.

It was the forty-ninth day of Snyder’s fast. The nation’s most famous and militant homeless advocate had lost fifty-seven pounds. When a reporter asked if he was afraid to die, Snyder said “No. It's painful, but I have a greater fear of allowing people to languish like animals, and sometimes I'm afraid I'm not doing enough."

I have been inspired by the moral clarity and extraordinary heroism of those, like Snyder, who have come before me. Those who — in building the civil rights, labor, and poor people’s movements — placed their lives on the line when the cause was just and the situation dire.

The second part of the answer has to do with respect. Over more than two decades of engagement in the survival struggles of the very poor, my regard for those who, each day, place one foot in front of the other to simply keep going in the face of troubles that would break many of us has steadily deepened.

Extreme poverty sucks. Nobody should have to endure the deprivation, loss of identity, and dehumanization that homelessness entails.

And yet, there is another side to this. While most homeless people would be happy as the next person to have a comfortable home with a flat-screen TV, the trivial desires of our consumer culture often become a distant concern. Life is reduced to bare essentials. Humor becomes a survival skill. People become strong or they break.

These are the folks I want to be around. Our brokenness, for me, is a reality to be embraced as part of what it means to be whole. In witnessing and, in my small way, participating in the everyday heroism of those who have nothing, I have grown more than I can measure.

This, for me, is an enormous privilege. My activism doesn’t flow from a sense of charity. It springs from a deep respect for the struggles of the poor and a sure knowledge that, in pursuing this work, I gain far more than I surrender.

Beyond inspiration and respect, my commitment flows from a deep, systemic, appreciation for what mass homelessness in the midst of extreme affluence means. The economic restructuring of globalization has brought thirty-five years of growing inequality. This widening of polar extremes will only deepen. If one wants to understand where this leads, they need only look to the horror show of the urban mega-slums of the southern hemisphere.

Mass homelessness grows out of an economic system that blithely accepts the abandonment of the most vulnerable. Anyone who’s paying attention knows that multiple systems are deeply and profoundly broken. Homelessness, however, is often defined as a matter of broken people; not as evidence of a broken system in which some of us are regarded as “less than.”

This, finally, leads to an intolerable acceptance of the logic of dehumanization, and this, I believe, is the core issue of our time. We have come to accept the existence of a large and growing class of throwaway people. The homeless, too often, are defined as an expensive, dirty, and inconvenient problem to be managed. One in ninety-nine Americans has disappeared behind bars to exist as the out-of-sight and out-of-mind casualties of an economic system that has embraced human expendability.

In the face of this, homeless advocacy is in dire need of re-invention.
  • To regard homelessness as a largely depoliticized social services issue — divorced in practice from the realities of growing poverty and inequality — is to fight an unending rear-guard action in an ever-expanding theater of war on the poor.
  • To engage in forms of advocacy that privilege inside politics and value narrowly technocratic forms of expertise over movement building is to miss the point: this is about power. If we’re not building power, we’re not even in the game.
  • To treat opposing the dehumanization and criminalization of the very poor as a leftist distraction from the more important work of “ending homelessness” is to collaborate in the inhuman oppression of the least among us.
  • To narrowly pursue the empowerment of a handful of homeless people at the expense of building for power across class is to misunderstand our mutual interest in broad system change. Our movement needs to amplify the realities of the street through the respectful power and clout of our allies.
  • To organize around “issues” without taking the time and effort to build relationships that value our mutual humanity, life experience, and self-interest is to embrace an empty, bloodless politics that surrenders movement building to short-term expedience.
The Real Change Organizing Project is reinventing homeless advocacy and changing the rules of the game. Our cross-class, relationship-based organizing model reaches beyond the “usual suspects” to engage, involve, and inspire. We have rejected co-opted, bureaucratic, insider strategies for “ending homelessness” to engage in the impassioned business of building for power.

Watch our seven-minute video of our recent Camp4Unity at City Hall. Understand what’s at stake in the fight against homelessness. Get involved and support Real Change’s work however you are able.

Organizing takes resources. Since May Day, we have raised nearly $63,260 toward our critical summer fund drive goal of $85,000. Our capacity to sustain the work we have started depends upon your support to reach our goal. Make a secure on-line gift at our website, or send your tax-deductible gift to Real Change at 2129 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121. We’re counting on your support to reach our goal by June 30th. Thank you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

36th District Dems Weigh In On Sweeps

This resolution from the 36th District Democrats (North Ballard, Ballard, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Belltown, Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Greenlake) opposing the Nickels administration homeless encampment sweeps policy is more evidence that the tide has turned on this issue and that opposition is growing. The resolution passed by voice vote at their June 12 meeting with few nays. The Progressive Party of Washington State has also voted to support this resolution. We hope to see other citizens organizations follow suit.


WHEREAS homelessness is a national problem that will likely get worse in a declining economy, and

WHEREAS the 2008 One Night Count found more than 2,600 persons surviving outside in greater Seattle on a winter night when emergency shelters were full, and;

WHEREAS it is inhumane and immoral to punish people for living outside when there is not enough shelter or affordable housing to meet the need, and;

WHEREAS the Mayor's Office pursues a policy of demolishing homeless people's encampments and throwing away their property without providing any alternative shelter, and;

WHEREAS homeless advocates have broadly condemned this policy for failing to address the chronic and severe shortage of emergency shelters and services;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the 36th District Democrats call for Mayor Nickels to stop all non-emergency homeless camps demolitions immediately and to expand homeless housing and services, and;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 36th District Democrats urge the city to work with homeless advocacy groups to find more humane ways to address the problem of homelessness.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why I'm Voting Republican.

This speaks for itself. The close credits affirm that "No Republicans were harmed in the filming of this video."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Camp4Unity: The Video

The video is done. It only took until 5:30 am. It's seven minutes. It's hot. It tells a story. Watch it. Pass it on.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Welcome to the New Word Order"

In honor of the launch of Nickelsville yesterday by "the group that is not SHARE/WHEEL," here's Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine doing The Ghost of Tom Joad. Tom Joad, of course, is the protagonist in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. This song has always made me a bit weepy, but these days it hits home hard. Watch Bruce's face light up when Morello shreds the lead at the end. Beautiful.

The red ink scrawl across Morello's guitar, by the way, says "ARM THE HOMELESS."

Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no goin' back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin' for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin' in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
But where it's headed everybody knows
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' downhere in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Camp4Unity Photo Album

Shortly after I arrived Sunday night, I spoke to these workers while one interpreted for the three. They were up from Vegas and hoping to land a flooring job in the morning. They said the shelters were full and that the authorities keep stealing their blankets, and that these were hard to keep replacing.

I kicked off the program that night by talking about why we were there and encouraging people to reclaim the word "comrades." After I spoke, people broke into small conversational groups to get to know one another.

The homeless remembrance sculpture offered a wonderful reminder of why the Mayor needs us on his doorstep.

I spoke to a regally dressed homeless woman who was born in 1927. She opted to sleep in a chair out in the open that night.

I did my first interview Monday at 4 AM. Fuckers woke me up.

Tons of media came in the morning to see us arrested, and lots of us got to do interviews. Here's Lead Vendor Staff Danina Garcia, telling it like it is.

It was a kick for us to see the favorable press in the morning papers.

Women in Black stood in front of the homeless remembrance sculpture and read the names of the 280 homeless who have died on the street in Seattle since 2001.

Church Council President-elect Michael Ramos thundered prophetically while surrounded by clergy just before we all went out into the street.

SHARE Executive Director Scott Morrow and I carried the tent out where it didn't belong.

You can always tell the true CD junkies. They're the ones right up front, staring down the cops.

I chat up my arresting officers.

We weren't sure police would choose to arrest RCOP activist Mike Smith, but with proper encouragement and forewarning, they obliged. Mike was given a ride to his door in an unusually nice ACCESS van.

"Free at last! Free at last! Lawd, Lawd, free at last!" The Camp4Unity 15, sans Mike Smith, released to the sidewalk behind West Precinct half an hour after our arrests.

All photos by Doug at Whitney's Corner. Additional photos and commentary may be found at his excellent blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Always Leave 'Em Laughing

OK girls. It's time for bed.


I dunno. It's past your bedtime. Getting the ice cream took longer than I thought.

"But you said story!"

Yeah, but it's getting late. Tomorrow I'll do a story.

"Short story!"

Sigh. OK. Once upon a time, um, there was a fairy with a bicycle.

It's always about the opening line. If you get 'em there, chances are you'll have them to the end. I had Twin B's full attention.

"Heh, heh haaaaa! A fairy with a bicycle!"

Yeah. Her wings didn't work anymore, so she used a bicycle to get around. And she was really good at it, and could go really fast. But she really would rather be flying, because back when her wings worked, she could go to the moon. She missed that.

"Why did she miss it?"

I was starting to feel like I'd already talked myself into a corner when Twin B offered an assist.

"Because she missed her friends the aliens?"

Yeah, honey. That's it! She hadn't seen them for a long time. Not since her wings broke, because her bicycle didn't fly. But then she started to think that maybe it could. Everyday, she'd ride her bike down a big hill, and she'd spread her wings and the air would catch her. And everyday she could go a little farther. Until one day, she thought she was ready.

She rode her bike, fast, fast, fast. And when she got going her fastest, up she went, and she was on the way to the moon. But there was a problem. When she got way up high, the air got thin and didn't hold her up anymore, and she started to fall.

But just then, a huge flock of Bigbirds came by. And these were special birds who could even fly with no air. And some of them grabbed the fairy and some grabbed the bicycle, and they took her all the way to the moon. And the aliens had never seen a bike before. And the fairy started teaching them how to ride a bike.

"HEH HEH HAAAAAAAAA! Aliens riding bicycles!"

Yep. They were so happy! But soon it was time to go, and it was easier this time because it was going down hill. She just let go and started falling, and when she got toward the air, she spread her wings and glided down.

"Wow! What about the aliens?"

Well, they missed the fairy and her bicycle a little bit, but they knew she'd be back. The Bigbirds told her they'd help her anytime. So from then on, whenever the fairy wanted to go to the moon she could, and she always brought her bicycle for the aliens to ride. The end. Ok, goodnight you two. Did you like that story?

"Aliens riding bicycles! Heh haa haaa! Good one daddy!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hot Damn, It's Ken Schram

Here's yet one more bit of evidence that the Nickels propaganda mill has broken down: Ken Schram's KOMO commentary on Seattle's Big Lies. He's sounding a lot like me.

Between the photogenic haz-mat suits, the transparent lies, and the refusal to meaningfully answer the question of just where people are supposed to go, media credulity has largely turned to disgust and the City has lost their credibility. While the podcast isn't up yet, I've heard that Schram's KOMO 1000 commentary, which was pointedly directed to Greg Nickels, is even better.

As the Mayor's office pushes hard on escalating the pace of homeless sweeps, their Big Lie strategy doesn't work like it used to.
Here's one Big Lie. Tent City is a farce. The homeless can just go sleep in a shelter. Here's a another big lie. Seattle officials cleaned out homeless encampments in Queen Anne earlier this month out of concern for public safety. Want a dose of truth? There is no where near enough shelter for people who need it. … Maybe when Seattle city officials quit pretending that the best way to end homelessness in Seattle is by hiding it, Maybe when they figure out that homelessness is a big problem that is getting nothing but bigger, maybe those Big Seattle Lies will give way to a little truth.
In other news, I've been described as "urban idealist Tim Harris" over at Seattle Crime Blog ("collecting and documenting criminal activity from the Streets of Seattle") and have earned my own label. They seem to take great delight in quoting my more inflammatory comments (no shortage there) out of context. I feel honored.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Guantanamo Experience

Our organizing project met about a week before the Camp4Unity event to discuss how the arrests would go down. When we'd talked about civil disobedience before, the notion was to get a delegation of clergy and others up to the Mayor's office and then refuse to leave. In recent days, this idea had come unraveled. The Nickels people, as is their propensity on the sweeps issue, weren't open to a meeting. The seventh floor office is built like a fortress with a receptionist behind glass and security doors. It looked like this route would most likely unfold as a group of people sitting in the Mayor's sterile lobby until closing time and then being arrested too late for the evening news. Not a real attractive idea.

I arrived to the planning meeting a little late. This was my Bleed for the Homeless morning, and my hands were numbed by stinging nettles. I was running on no sleep and adrenaline propped up by Adderall. Activists from Jobs with Justice and the Student Labor Action Project were already in our conference room with our staff and a few other organizing project members. I showed them the drawing I rescued from the trash that morning. "Here's something to rip your fucking heart out," I think I said. I was feeling pretty raw.

These were some of the people who planned to risk arrest at Camp4Unity. We didn't really have a working plan yet. "I have one idea," I said, "but it's a good one."

I'd run this by staff already to good reviews, and happily, it went over here as well. We'd link the CD to the memorial service, keep it simple, and we'd be in cuffs by ten a.m. A group would simply walk out into the street to halt oncoming traffic. Others would follow with a few tents, and we'd sit down in the street. The message was that the homeless sweeps are a human and civil rights atrocity, and that people need to stop and pay attention. Our arrests would be a way to withdraw consent from how the City does business.

No one blinked. "That'll work," someone said. After that, the discussion was pure logistics. Where in the street? Negotiations with police or not. Timing and program. We reached consensus in less than an hour. It was cool.

We agreed there was no reason to surprise the cops, and much to be gained by negotiating as much control over the process as we could. I agreed to make the calls. SEIU had blocked traffic in a labor action recently, and their organizer gave me the contact of the woman who did the advance work. She was in Puerto Rico, but she answered her cell.

Not a big deal, she said. In their case, the Mayor's office put them in touch with the City Attorney, and withing fifteen minutes the right cops were on the phone with them to work out how things would go down. They acted like pros. Jail booking, she said, was King County. I should call Ron Sims' office and talk to them.

I was having fun. The last time I'd done something like this was more than fifteen years ago, but it's like riding a bike. That time, I'd found myself alone in a small crowded room with brass from Massachusetts Statehouse Security, Boston cops, and State Troopers. It was a large CD at the Statehouse, which made it a multi-jurisdictional arrest scenario. The cops were polite and all business. The arrests went smoothly. No one got hurt. They set up processing in the Statehouse basement. We were all released within hours. This was the goal here.

It only took a few phone calls to reach the right person at King County. She was labor and easy to work with. While no guarantees were offered, she said it was in no one's interest to keep us there. They'd be ready. We'd probably be out by mid-afternoon. There would be lunch. A vegetarian option was available but the food wasn't very good. I laughed. I wondered whether her next question would be aisle or window. "It's OK," I said. We weren't really counting on lunch being part of the deal.

The City Attorney's office wasn't quite so helpful. Someone later told me that Tom Carr thinks we're all insane, and that we're in favor of people living in filth and squalor. It amazes me sometimes how obtuse smart people can choose to be. I explained that we were planning an arrest in the street on Monday morning, and needed to negotiate with police. After some time on hold, I was referred to the Citizens Service Bureau, the City's all purpose referral line. This, I knew, was stupid, but I called them anyway. I was transferred and put on hold a few more times before I was referred to the Traffic Sargent. This led me to the phone tree from hell, where I had seven different traffic supervisors to potentially leave messages for. I randomly chose two and waited. The return call came a few hours later.

I should call City operations and get a permit, he said. "I'm not sure you understand," I explained. "We intend to get arrested. I don't think the City gives permits for that."

There was a pause. "No," he said. "You wouldn't."

"This falls between the cracks," he said. "Usually groups get a permit for an event, and if they're going to do something illegal, they don't tell us."

By now, I was beginning to feel like I was speaking in some sort of an arcane language that only a few scholars had mastered. "Look," I said. "We're going to do this, and we're just trying to do it responsibly. Who can I talk to?" He said someone would call.

I got an email from someone in the City, asking whether we wanted a permit to go into the street. This made me smile. I ignored it and called a friend in Councilmember Licata's office to see if she knew any police brass who weren't idiots. She did. A few calls later, I was on the phone with Sargent Lou Eagle. He knew the drill. I was finally on familiar ground.

"What do you want," he asked. "These are people who plan to cooperate," I said. "We don't need any unnecessary dramatics or force. We don't want to be prevented from going out into the street. We don't want you to block off both ends and leave us to have an all day street fair of we want." He laughed. "No. That won't happen," he said. "We need that street."

He assured me that arrests would be swift and said they'd prefer we allow police to direct traffic around us instead of blocking the whole street. Fine, I said. The charge would be pedestrian interference. We'd have a trained police liaison on site, and Eagle would be there directing things on his end. It would go smoothly.

"I don't know if you're expecting us to drive you all around the block and let you go," he said, "but we don't do that anymore. You'll most likely be taken to the jail. "Fine," I said. "I've already talked to them." I asked for precinct booking if possible, and Eagle said this was basically a political decision from higher up and he didn't know what would happen. I said I understood.

The morning went smoothly. Police said they'd be more open to precinct booking if we blocked Cherry instead of Fourth. Our group of CD folks took about three minutes to process the news and said that would work. Within two minutes a phalanx of bicycle cops had the intersection blocked and our bus was parked down the street. There were fifteen of us. Within ten minutes the arrests began.

While we waited Reverend Rich Lang told me he anticipated the removal of his large cross. I joked that perhaps their next step would be to remove his Alb and throw dice to see who gets to take it home.

The arrest was as by the numbers as they come. Three warnings on a bullhorn. Then, one by one, Miranda and a gentle walk to the bus. They took Polaroids on our way in as we emptied pockets into a brown bag and were cuffed. Inside the bus we were all high on adrenaline and having a nice time. Police were courteous. One person's cuffs were loosened immediately upon request. The drive to West Precinct was brief.

When we arrived, a stone faced cop boarded the bus. "Alright," he said. "I want every one's IDs."

One of us said they'd been taken and were in the bags. He looked at us as though we'd just refused an important request. "OK," he called out behind him. "They don't have any IDs." There was a perplexed silence. I saw this for what it was. Cop humor. "He's just fucking with us," I laughed. "You're fucking with us."

After that, they processed us by two's out of the back of the bus. We were given our stuff back as they checked our addresses. They were nice to us. We'd been arrested at 9:30 am. By shortly after ten, we all stood on the sidewalk, free to go. We did a group photo. I'll post that when I get it. I was home enjoying a glass of wine by noon.

Not exactly Guantanamo. Guess they didn't want to mess with us.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Teachable Moment

This morning Twin B asked about the writing she found on an index card. It said this.
Am F C G
Am F C E
These were the chords from Iggy Pop's The Passenger. A friend and I played around with this several days before and I'd written them down to keep the complicated chord progression straight. It had been a rough week.

This struck me as what progressive educators sometimes call a teachable moment. I told her about how music is represented by letters, got out my guitar, and showed her how the same line repeated over and over with just one chord change at the end to make them a little different. She grabbed her African drum and started banging out a respectable rhythm and singing along.

"Try two hands," I advised. She nailed it. We rocked out while she sang along with me, totally going to town on the la-la-la-la-lalala-la's. Me and my five year old, at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, sounding pretty good on a song by a sweating lunatic. Sweet.

"That was fun daddy," she glowed, "I'm going to be a musician!" I'll bet she is.

There's an awe inspiring version above, with the young 1977 Iggy glowing at around 10,000 watts. His class anger speech at the end is cool too. Wish I knew what he said.

Below is a photo of the girls and I eating strawberries at the Mercer Slough Nature Park today, where I learned that Lake Washington had once been lowered by 9 feet, that slough is pronounced "slew" and is a marshland connecting two bodies of water, and that there are bullfrogs there that eat mice, birds, and each other.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Seattle Times Editorial Board: Pointless

A Response to "Tent City: Pointless"

The Seattle Times "Editorial Board," which in the last six months has denigrated extreme poverty as "exercising the Huck Finn option," dismissed compassion for the poor as "sentimentality," and characterized homeless people's survival encampments as "tiresome," has migrated so far to the right in recent years as to make the Nazi Party look like the Democratic Leadership Council. A handful of elitist windbags sucking up to power and money. What is the point?

It cannot be to accurately inform the public. As a source of information, this so-called "newspaper's" editorial page is about as accurate as Donald Trump's Ouija Board, in that it's sole purpose is to intuit what the well-off want to hear and to treat matters of life and death like a parlor game. There is no regard for truth to be found here.

There will always be those who bend over backwards for the Mayor no matter what. We call them "ass-kissing hacks."

While many of the Seattle Times' reporters and columnists have proven themselves capable of grasping simple facts and engaging in occasional acts of empathy, The Seattle Times editorial board seems to have crawled up inside of Greg Nickels' ass and died.

The point of it is politics. It is to have well-housed people feel no guilt over the existence of homelessness.

As a newspaper, they have squandered whatever credibility they may have ever had. They have become tiresome. There are other newspapers. Read those instead.

Editorial boards who have no regard for truth and seem to enjoy beating up on those who have absolutely fucking nothing have no place in a civilized society. These are dangerous times, and a free press is the life-blood of true Democracy. Too bad the Times has sold out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Blame the Urine Soaked Homeless

Kudos to Jonathan Martin at the Seattle Times for one of the fastest turn-arounds in the history of print journalism. We spoke this morning a little after 10 a.m., and by 2:30 today, Seattle crews trashed nearly everything, homeless advocates complain, was up on their website. In a moment of elegant understatement, Seattle Parks Department spokesman Dewey Potter said, "It's fair to say we have some improvements to make."

Ya think?

Here's the entire warehouse inventory for the last two months of sweeps, which she released to the press today.
Leather jacket, beige shorts, brown duffel bag, scissors, 2 pair socks, blanket, assorted hygeine products, radio, quilt, green Novara mountain bike, purpe Shimano mountain bike, 2 Real change vendor IDs, tripod, Portastudio sound mixer board, sleeping bag, pillow, 760 pumpmaster pellet gun. Schwinn mountain bike (retrieved), small hand tools, retrieved. shovel, flashlight, saw, catfood 7 cans.
How sparsely random. It's a Dadaist poem.

This represents the whole of what was saved from six different area sweeps, one of which, alone, yielded twenty-one tons of "debris."

The article is filled with lovely quotes, but the one that made me inappropriately scream out loud was the following, in which Potter follows standard City procedure by referring the the urine-soaked essential nature of homeless people.
Potter said about five duffel bags of belongs were bagged and tagged by date during the recent cleanup. But a crew chief in charge of determining what was salvageable "found they were so contaminated with urine she had to back away and the bags were tossed," said Potter.
Let's think about this a moment. Twenty-one tons of stuff got tossed during this sweep, or "clean-up," as the City prefers, so they chose to select out five urine-soaked duffel bags for storage? The "had to back away" part is a great image. After that, I suppose, there was nothing left to do but douse the bio-hazard bags with gasoline and light them on fire.

I remember Potter from the public hearing on the new protocols last February, where sixty-five people lined up to trash the protocols and no one spoke in their favor. She was the one with the stricken expression.

I guess she got over it.

Above, in honor of peeing homeless people everywhere, is Danny Barnes with his epic Pee Pee the Sailor. Below, in honor of our craven Mayor, is a cartoon that recently appeared in the Queen Anne and Magnolia News.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oscar's Got Your Stuff

It's worse than I thought. Just when I thought the City of Seattle has reached its lowest low in regard to their homeless sweeps policy, they've found a way to do me one better. Two displaced homeless campers went to the Westbridge storage facility this morning to retrieve their possessions, accompanied by a small delegation of suporters. There was an advocate, a lawyer, and an RCOP member who helped break this story last fall by documenting various illegalities involved in an early round of Kinnear Park and lower Queen Anne greenbelt sweeps.

It helps when advocates bring people to get their stuff, since the storage facility is about 10 blocks from the nearest West Seattle bus stop, only open a few days a week for a few hours at a time, and requires a valid state ID to get your possessions. There's also the matter of finding the right storage facility. If your camp is swept by the State Department of Transportation, your stuff is taken to a different site. This, of course, is a secret to those who might attempt to brave the various obstacles in the way of retrieving their belongings. It seems the City is less than committed to making things easy for people. Then there's the issue of whether your stuff might actually be there.

Those who have been following the sweeps issue closely may have noticed that the City has made much of the twenty-one tons of debris that were cleared from the lower Queen Anne greenbelt during last weeks media event/homeless sweeps. Presumably the bulk of this was composed of rotted food, human feces, bottles of urine, and hypodermic needles, since this was what most of the media — taking their lead from the Goebbelsesque City propaganda mill — saw fit to report. Joseph Goebbel's, for the benefit of the history-challenged, was the Nazi spin-meister who once said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
But I digress. Have you ever thought about just how much "21 tons" is? That would be 42,000 pounds. This is the equivalent of seven Hummers, or, if you prefer, fourteen Priuses. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that twenty-one campsites were cleared from this greenbelt last week. This would mean that campers from each site, over time, brought in 2,000 pounds of crap each. Who are these superhuman homeless people?

You might think, after such a major clearance, that the storage facility might be filling up. You would be wrong. The delegation to Westbridge found shelves that were largely bare. The entire Queen Anne Greenbelt clearance, with its 21 tons of "debris," yielded just one BB gun and a bike. That's all that was saved. One BB gun. One bike.

I reported here recently that a parks employee told me there were three bags of "personal items" saved from the site I watched get cleared last week. The delegation asked where these might be. Apparently, these bags arrived in a dampened state, and the decision was made to throw these away after all. So nothing from that site was saved. I don't recall a "dampness contingency" loophole in the protocols, but apparently these protocols have loopholes they haven't even invented yet. They just make them up as they go along.

There is a happy side to this story. One of the bikes had a flat tire and some other broken parts. The workers at the storage facility fixed it for the owner. Another man came to the storage facility in search of the work tools that the City of Seattle stole from him. These were deemed trash and thrown away as well. The Westbridge workers took him to their tool room and gave him what they could to replace what was lost.

This, to me, is a hopeful sign. The City's urge to break and destroy the lives of the most desperate is far from monolithic. There are those who, despite the poor behavior of their employer, still possess human decency.

The Westbridge delegation was told that the City knows they have a problem, and will now train their workers in the specifics of the protocols. Given the utter absence of City accountability, I'm a bit cynical as to the difference this will make.

In other news, Kinnear Park has now officially been posted for sweeps three times. Under the recurrent campsite clause of the City's protocols, permanent posting will occur after the next round of sweeps, rendering the application of protocols null and void in this area. No notification will be required. No services will be offered. No possessions will be saved.

I was projecting 3-6 months before the first major area was marked for gloves-off sweeps. I underestimated the evil of which these fucks are capable, and that is truly frightening.

Perhaps this is why the Westbridge storage facility is so pathetically out of the way, understaffed, and underutilized. They really don't intend to be using it for long

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Grand Slam

During our civil disobedience training last Saturday, someone asked what the strategic objective of getting arrested on Tuesday might be. I said this was our third protest encampment and we needed to ramp things up. "The city propaganda mill is in full swing," I said, "and we need a grand slam to get the media coverage we need right now. This will get it." While the coverage of Seattle's homeless sweeps was already turning, The encampment and arrest of fifteen advocates took it to a different level. Local coverage was phenomenal, and the story went at least as far as Chicago. Nearly all of it was the sort of coverage we wanted to see. Here's a partial list, with links.

Meanwhile, the City just hired a media guru for $160,000 to try and regain their spin. This is what the soulless do when they're losing. Our media relations work was done by a volunteer. This sort of thing is less expensive when you don't have to lie.


Seattle Times encampment coverage, Seattle Times CD coverage, Robert Jamieson column in PI, Post-Intelligencer CD coverage, Post-Intelligencer encampment coverage, Tacoma News Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Bellingham Herald, The Columbian

KNDO/KNDU TV – Tri Cities, Yakima, KOMO News TV, KING 5 TV News, Q-13 TV News, KIRO TV news, Northwest Cable News

NPR/KUOW 94.9, KIRO radio

Stranger SLOG,, Indymedia, Belltowner, My Ballard, Community Investment Network, Media Island International, Infoshop News, Outsidein, Knowledgeplex, , RawstoryBlog, The13thjurorBlog, Policelink, YouTube

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why I Was Arrested

I went out into Cherry Street by City Hall yesterday after camping out there with 150 of us on Sunday and waited with fourteen others to be arrested. It had been a long time coming. Simultaneous to the arrest, we flooded the Mayor's office with calls. The press coverage was huge and it was favorable. We need to do more. This is a beginning. Not an end.

Until last year, the City of Seattle would clear encampments after a pattern of neighborhood complaint identified problems needing to be addressed. It didn't happen all that often. The shelters are full and thousands remain outside. Everyone who knows anything about homelessness in Seattle knows this. The policy, therefore, had been to mostly look the other way.

Then came the condo boom. Housing costs in Seattle rose dramatically and cheap housing became even more scarce. The rental vacancy rate went below 4%. Those who lacked decent credit, had felonies, or had poor rental histories were basically fucked. They couldn't get in. The numbers on the streets rose by at least 15%. Then came the sweeps.

We started hearing whispers about a zero-tolerance policy in the Mayor's office on homeless encampments last summer, but couldn't get any on the record confirmation. Finally, a public disclosure request offered the proof we were looking for. There was the acknowledgment in black and white that policy had shifted, and a list of key sites for proactive clearances. Public employees were required to report any camp they saw, and any single report from anyone was enough to trigger a clearance. Horror stories began to surface. Homeless people complained widely of losing their stuff and of radically increased harassment.

Once we broke the story, the shit really hit the fan. The City launched a media offensive to justify their actions, focusing on filth, criminality, and drug use. Most of the media, for a time, obliged. The City recognized that their asses were hanging out all over the place and retreated for awhile to assess and address their various legal vulnerabilities.

Now, there's a set of protocols that pretends to offer help to people, yet shelter turn-aways are at a record high. They hired a couple of outreach workers, and give notice before they throw people's stuff away. They added twenty shelter beds. For 2,633 people counted surviving outside. And those were just the ones who were found. Twenty beds.

Throughout all of this, advocates were stonewalled and kept in the dark. The Mayor and his staff meet all questions with the same empty, dehumanizing mantra. We spend $40 million a year on housing and homelessness. We have a ten year plan to end homelessness. Homeless campsites are illegal, filled with debris, feces, bottles of urine, and hypodermic needles. People are being offered services.

The City sells the protocols as consistent and humane, and speaks of how liberal they are. Yet two huge loopholes were added after the public comment period that deny protections to the homeless in the majority of cases. Camps of less than three structures are unprotected. Camps that reoccur in areas that are cleared will also be denied protection. The Queen Anne sites cleared a week ago have already been reposted for repeat clearance. Within six months, it appears, no outreach, notification, or storage of possessions will be required most of the time.

The sites where homeless people frequently camp will all soon be permanently posted for immediate removal. The gloves will, once again, be off, and we'll be back to where we started, with the City doing whatever the hell they want. This isn't conspiratorial shit. This is the clear intention behind the wording of the protocols. The permanent posting strategy may not stand up to legal challenge, but it will be years before a suit is filed and a ruling made.

Meanwhile, people are being chased around and harassed. They are being driven to more remote locales, and their gear is being trashed. Their odds of survival have decreased. The stress of homelessness has radically multiplied. At Real Change, we see it everyday.

The story of organizing and committing the Civil Disobedience action at City Hall will have to wait til later. We wanted a media grand slam that was critical of the Mayor. It happened, although, as usual, print and radio were the only ones to leave the City frame behind. Both the dailies — the Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times — were great, and got the story right. The key bit from the PI was this.
"What the mayor needs to realize is that opposition isn't going to go away, it's only going to increase," said Tim Harris, one of the event's organizers and executive director of the nonprofit activist publication Real Change. "He has to negotiate with human service advocates and homeless people to come up with a more just policy and agree to some form of accountability."
The Seattle Times talked to me about four times over the course of several days, and got the story right as well. My favorite part there was ...
"We feel it's time to make the strongest statement we can, and say that we withdraw our consent from the way the city is being run," said Harris, the executive director of Real Change.
But the most amusing coverage for me was the KUOW interview, which I did at 6:10 a.m. while reclining on the broad wall next to the stairs that lead up from the 4th Avenue side of the building. As I talked on my cell, I looked out over a sea of tents and sleeping bags on City Hall Plaza.

It wasn't too early. I got up at 4 when a reporter from KOMO asked for an interview and the few hours sleep I managed that night came to an end. I guess she was worried she might get scooped.

KUOW is a major NPR affiliate, and the story was repeated several times over the morning. My favorite moment here is the short sardonic laugh I offer when asked why people don't just go to shelters.

The footage of the Civil Disobedience portion of our demonstration above is by Dr. Wes Browning. More to come.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Married Strawberry the Mermaid

Twin B has a new little friend. She tells me all about her. Her name is Strawberry. She has an elephant friend who picks her up with his trunk to give rides on his back. He also sprays her with water. Strawberry is a mermaid. Her mermaid friends Cranberry, Orange, and Banana call her that because she smells like strawberries. They gave her a pink ribbon because it matches her name.

Things have been kind of rough for them lately because the King put them in jail and took away their tails. He gave them away to other mermaids he liked better. He shouldn't have taken away their tails. That was mean. He should have gone to the tail store instead. Strawberry got away because she had a key to the jail. She couldn't get her friends out though. She only had a key to her own jail. This makes her kind of sad.

Strawberry can still swim pretty well. Lot's faster than me. She can fly too, and walk and run. She doesn't really miss the tail. Her and I got married last week at a diner over hamburgers and french fries. We ate cake. It's a difficult relationship, her being a mermaid and all, but I love her and try to make it work. She spends a lot of time in the bathtub, and we go swimming together in the apartment complex pool. I think she's hot in an Annette Funicello sort of way. I'm in love.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

You Can Fool Some of the People ...

The City's full-court press propaganda offensive on homeless encampments is developing new cracks. While the TV media can generally be counted on to accept the City's framing of the issue (Seattle is ending homelessness — encampments are dens of filth, drug abuse, and criminality — the "clean-ups" are consistent and humane — concerns of advocates have been met) and to faithfully broadcast whatever shocking images the city offers, print and radio have become more critical.

This, as you are no doubt aware, isn't universally true. I started to read the Seattle Time's third and latest travesty of an editorial and decided to stop before I was overtaken with murderous rage. They're hopeless. But Danny Westneat wrote a column recently in that paper that admirably asked the key question: With the numbers going up and the line on shelter being held, where are people supposed to go? I always follow this sentence with the word "Hello?," but few in City Hall seem capable of listening. In my opinion, he nailed it. Nicole Brodeur, who just last November penned a dehumanizing piece of shit, has redeemed herself recently as well.

Robert Jamison followed suit yesterday in the PI, and did us the favor of mentioning the Camp4Unity tent City we're doing on City Hall Plaza tonight. He goes even further to take on the history of City duplicity on this issue, the failure to follow their own protocols, the moral bankruptcy of a policy that steadfastly refuses to address the inconvenient math of twenty new shelter beds for 2,600 or so people, and the complete absence of accountability by the City. I generally follow this string of observations with the word, "fuckers!"

In Seattle, where city shelter beds are full, the homeless have few choices. They can sleep on cold, hard sidewalks. Or they can find a freeway underpass or a park -- and risk being swept away by city muscle.

A middle ground has to be found, but Mayor Greg Nickels -- deft and articulate when it comes to dealing with condo developers and wealthy streetcar advocates -- is tongue-tied and tone-deaf to the down-and-out.

That's why homeless advocates are firing back.

They're camping out this weekend at City Hall Plaza at Fourth and James to make a statement: The homeless shouldn't be treated like garbage.

Fuckers. John Iwasaki, who I once called a hack after he turned a city press release into "news," seems to have developed newfound critical facilities as well. To see this sort of thing outside the pages of Real Change does my battle-scarred and deeply pissed off heart good. I'm hoping to see more of it in the coming months.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Total Blow Off Music Video Post

My general rule is to allow myself one music video post a week, usually reserved for those times when things are unusually intense, I'm out of time, and my brain is fried. This morning, I was preoccupied as I drove my girls the ten blocks to daycare. I missed the turn not once but twice. I said, "Daddy's brain doesn't work." Twin A, who is recently five, said, "I'll be your brain." OK baby, be my brain. "Go straight," she says, "and then turn." She was right. It made things a little easier.

So, things being as they are, I've uncharacteristically spent the last hour surfing YouTube. This was the gem. Better than Bill Monroe doing Wayfaring Stranger. Better than live footage of Flipper from 1982. Better than Steve Earle knocking out a jamming civil war tune on mandolin. Better than the Beatles' rooftop concert. It's a bad photo montage running over a rehearsal tape of the Beatles working out I Want You along with Billy Preston. It rocks.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Price of Doing Business

Homeless Reach $2.3M Settlement with Fresno, Calif., and State Department of Transportation Staff

AP News
Jun 05, 2008 21:02 EST

Several Fresno homeless people who claimed their belongings were wrongfully seized and destroyed in raids on their camps have reached a $2.3 million settlement with the city and state.

The proposed settlement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fresno calls for the city to pay the eight plaintiffs and any others who qualify under the class action suit $1.4 million in cash and living allowances. The state Department of Transportation will pay an additional $85,000 in cash. The city agreed to pay $850,000 in fees. A federal judge ruled last month that Fresno's past policy of sending city workers to raid homeless camps and destroy personal property violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

On Power

A friend of mine sent me a quote on power by MLK yesterday after I played Mesmerized by Uncertainty and Revolution of Values for him in my car. I turned the highlights of King's Riverside speech into music and am now obsessed. I find them grounding.

Revolution of Values
in particular, with its extended theme on the radical power of love, gets me misty nearly every time. In this speech, King nailed it, and its relevance to the contemporary moment is complete. My appreciation for King's ability to connect a political vision to the fullness of what it means to be human is constantly deepening. Here is King, in a 1967 address the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, on the subject of power and it's relationship to love.
"Now power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose…And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites -- polar opposites -- so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.

…we've got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love…It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times."
I recognize a lot of Reinhold Niebuhr in this. Niebuhr's unsentimental views on human nature and power had an enormous influence on King. The strategic clarity of the civil rights movement derives substantially from Niebuhr's thinking on the centrality of self-interest to human experience and what this means in terms of the need for movement building.

Liberalism fatally assumes a base-line level of human decency that too often fails to materialize. This often includes a blindness to the power that self-interest plays in our own lives. This marriage of love and power that King discusses is the foundation of a grounded and transformational politics that can challenge the dehumanized ethics of a consumer society that defines us in terms of what we earn and own.

For Niebuhr, this grounding in a universal form of love was expressed in Christian terms, but the notion of a transcendent standard of love and community that rises above the limitations of time and tribe can be expressed in other ways as well. Love is bigger than religion. Love is all.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

In Honor Of Obama Winning the Nomination

This hip-hop remix of Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come" works for me in a big way. Story in today's NYT: Many Blacks Find Hope in a Breakthrough. About damn time.

Adventures in Hyper-Bureaucracy

I was going to spend my last hour at work today paying bills, but Dr. Wes just blew my mind, so the boring stuff will have to wait until the morning.

He's been sitting out at our conference table cataloguing the latest batch of public disclosure requests, which includes Customer Service Bureau data related to the homeless sweeps. Apparently, each time someone calls to complain, a case is opened, sent to an "investigator," and, once resolved, the case is closed. This whole process, when someone calls to say they oppose the sweeps, takes 2-3 minutes. Click on the above to enlarge, and you'll see all of the various fields in the database that need completion. I've blacked out identifying information to protect the innocent. When two family members complain, two cases are opened, investigated, and closed. Actual complaints about campsite sightings take longer, and people are sent out to investigate.

This suggests several strategies.

1.) Call the Customer Service Bureau (684-CITY) to tell them you oppose the sweeps, and be sure that the opposition of all family members is duly registered. Feel free to include family pets, such as Snooper, Goldie, and Prettyboy. They won't mind. Each will get their own form.

2.) Call the Customer Service Bureau to report non-existent encampments. Personnel will be sent to look for them. If their bogus to real call ratio goes up to, oh, say 4-1, they may become discouraged. The objection could be made that this is a misuse of taxpayer resources, but it's all a misuse of resources, so what's the problem?

3.) Invent your own variations on the bogus call theme. Sample Call:
"Hi. I'm calling to report a homeless campsite. It's a pretty bad one. You'll probably want to wear your haz-mat gear."

Where is the encampment sir?

"It's up the Mayor's ass. Bring flashlights too. It's way up in there!"
Then they'd have to fill in their little form.
Short Subject: City Hall: Illegal Encampment
Long Subject: Encampment deep inside Mayor's Ass. Possibly hazardous.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Banality of Evil

I promised last week to post my photos from the lower Queen Anne campsite clearance last Thursday. This action initated by the Mayor's office and executed by the Parks Department was deeply wrong. Rather than say why yet one more time, I thought I'd simply accompany the photos with this quote from an essay on Hannah Arendt's concept of the banality of evil. This sort of evil, she says, is not rooted in mal-intent. It is rooted instead in an uncritical acceptance of the premises put forth by the State, and a sort of radical thoughtlessness.
"I mean that evil is not radical, going to the roots (radix), that it has no depth, and that for this very reason it is so terribly difficult to think about it, since thinking, by definition, wants to reach the roots. Evil is a surface phenomenon, and instead of being radical, it is merely extreme. We resist evil by not being swept away by the surface of things, by stopping ourselves and beginning to think, that is, by reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life. In other words, the more superficial someone is, the more likely will he be to yield to evil. An indication of such superficiality is the use of clichés, and Eichmann, ...was a perfect example."