Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Wordcloud

I copied and pasted the last three months of Apesma into Wordie to see what would happen. Pretty cool. It's like a schematic of one part of my brain.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

U Really Got A Hold On Me

I've been obsessing over this song this week and got to the heart of it this morning. You know when you've nailed it, and this feels right. Meanwhile, I came across this: Smokey Robinson, on Sesame Street, where the letter U is holding him tighter, tighter, tighter ...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Let's Take A Ride ...

This morning's 8 a.m. Garageband creation. I was doing my morning coffee and frozen waffles and picked up the guitar to do The Passenger in a single track, as opposed to recording guitar and vocals separately. More of an in the moment sort of an approach. I'm thinking I need to start playing bigger venues than my kitchen table. I may need to get dressed first.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

For The Alma Mater

You know I'm way pressed when I drop back to posting once or twice a week. How busy is too busy? This is too busy. So, here's something I wrote today for the University of Massachusetts Amherst program in Social Thought and Political Economy newsletter, because the program director, who I adore, asked me to. I'm sure they won't mind being scooped.
How does one meet the immediate survival needs of those who are have nothing while building institutional power to fight the root causes of homelessness and poverty? This is the question that fifteen years ago led Tim Harris to found what would become North America’s premiere street newspaper.

Seattle’s Real Change now employs more than 350 homeless and very low-income people each month in street sales of their weekly publication. Last year, street vendors sold 722,571 copies of the progressive community newspaper that offers “opportunity and a voice to low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty. “ Vendors buy their papers for thirty-five cents to resell for a dollar plus tips. In the process, homeless people find that they are not without friends.

“Over the years I’ve come to understand Real Change as an enormous web of human relationships,” said Harris. “People stop being afraid and find that they care for each other. That’s where the personal and social transformation really begins.

Soon after Harris graduated from the STPEC program in 1987, he became involved in alternative newspapers and direct-action style empowerment organizing with homeless people in Boston.

“I discovered that the formulas for community organizing just didn’t translate. Leaders came and went very fast, and were up against too many demons to be real effective. Meanwhile homelessness just kept increasing. The Boston years were about getting my butt kicked and organizing without a roadmap.” By the time Harris left for Seattle in 1994, he understood that homeless people couldn’t win without allies, and that street newspapers could bring people together.

Real Change is presently leading a multi-racial, cross-class coalition in a ballot initiative organizing drive to create alternatives to a new Seattle municipal jail. “People get that cutting school budgets while building new jails doesn’t make sense, and ever-increasing incarceration rates just deepen poverty and wastes limited public resources,” said Harris. The initiative has lured activists out of their single-issue ghettos to find a new, more unified, way forward.

“Taking risks only strengthens our support,” said Harris. “Our funding comes mostly from reader donations and paper sales, and this gives us huge freedom to tell the uncompromised truth. It’s a powerful position from which to organize.”

For more information, visit, and

Friday, February 20, 2009


Revel turned me on to this one. I can't believe I've never seen it. Henry Rollins rocks my world.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Passenger

My voice keeps getting more loose, ruined, and expressive. Here's the reason I only got 2 hours sleep the night before the I-100 launch party. Picking up my guitar and opening Garageband at midnight is always a mistake, especially when I'm committed to being downtown at 6. Happily, I do well under pressure.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gil Kerlikowske? Drug Czar?

When I found myself asking the question, "Gil Kerlikowske? Obama "Drug Czar" appointee? WTF?," the first place I turned was the excellent Injustice in Seattle blog for an informed opinion. Here's a guy who allowed the raid of a medical marijuana clinic and opposed an initiative to make marijuana prosecution a low police priority, but has some center-liberal opinions about drug treatment being a better option than jail and has directed his officers to uphold the pot law he once opposed. We could do worse, Packratt concludes.

This ringing endorsement is echoed by others. Vanessa Ho and Scott Gutierrez at the PI did a solid piece on the choice that led with Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance saying "He's likely to be the best drug czar we've seen, but that's not saying much."

I guess we gotta start somewhere. Here's my own ill-informed list of reasons for the Kerlikowske appointment.
1.) First and foremost, he's got the Clint Eastwood squint. In a land where perception is everything, looking like a bad-ass detective is half the game.

2.) In Seattle, a major American city with a liberal reputation, he has revealed himself to be a bit of a wuss in dealing with the mob-like police union, but other than that, has been neither great nor terrible. He is, first and foremost, a politician.

3.) He is also a bureaucrat, was in DC during the Clinton Administration, and knows how things are done there, or not.

4.) Kerlikowske has made little to no noise regarding drug policy, but also reportedly has a wonky side. He is uncontroversial enough to be confirmed, and yet smart enough to possibly create policy based on facts. This "fact-based" thing is a shift in DC, where up until very recently policy formation has been based on prejudice, emotion, and magic 8-balls.
All of which makes him a likely candidate to steer the ship of state ever-sooo-slooowly to a five to ten degree deviation away from the Lock Up All The Black People policies of the past twenty-five years.

Change You Can Believe in was for the campaign trail. Now, the real politik slogan rules: Change That Won't Freak Anyone Out Too Much. Domenic Holden, over at the Stranger SLOG, is more optimistic and calls the Obama choice "brilliant." Maybe so. But it's certainly safe.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Seattle Crime Of Standing While Black

Speaking of institutional racism, today I spent five minutes on the sidewalk with one of our vendors, and my sense of outrage us up to around a 9.7 on a scale of 1-10. Donald Morehead, a poster child for the screwed, poor, and dark-skinned if ever there was, had the misfortune to be standing while Black last month in one of Seattle’s drug enforcement zones. The arresting officer grabbed him by the face hard enough to extract a molar without anesthetic, but was kind enough to distract our vendor from the tooth pain by slamming his head against the car hood hard enough to leave permanent marks. Donald spent more than two weeks in King County Jail when he failed to accept the plea bargain.

“I’ve spent eight years in the brig,” he told me. “Three months is no big deal. I’m not going to cop to a nothing charge for this BS.”

Donald is one of our more politically involved vendors and is well known and loved around here, yet it was more than two weeks before he was able to get word to us through a lawyer of his problem. By the time we had his bail the next morning, he’d been released because, basically, the city had nothing. He spent two weeks in pain, courtesy of chez King County, where Blacks are represented in the daily average jail population at nearly ten times their numbers in King County. With this sort of targeting going on, it’s easy to see why.

Donald is one of those people who, not to put too fine a point on it, was fucked from birth. Raised Black, male, and poor in the projects of New York, he took his best shot at success by joining the Army just in time for the first Gulf War. When he came back, Donald found that he was still Black and poor, and all his military experience counted for was a case of PTSD.

Since then, most of his time has been spent homeless or in prison. Given that our system seems to delight in nothing more than kicking people when they’re down, I find this sadly unsurprising, and admire him for each and every day that he’s woken up without hating the entire human race

Our vendor was released to the street after 16 days, minus his twenty bucks from Real Change sales. Drug money and “evidence,” the cops said. But Donald got a decent lawyer, and at least got out. Given the math of poor people in jail on bullshit charges and funding for public defense, this was an improbability. Donald, believe it or not, was a lucky man.

“There’s a war going on,” he told me this morning,” and as the economy goes down, it’s only going to get worse.” Word

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wish You Were Here, Live

I keep playing this thing, and it keeps getting faster, harder, and further away from it's origins. Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here is about life in the checked out zone, where the peaks and valleys are slow and even and everything is safe. It's about illusions, loneliness, and the kind of narcotic comfort that never satisfies. This is a beautifully bitter song, and I'm trying to do it justice.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stuff, Stuff, And More Stuff

Tonight I went to my cross-class dialogue group, a pretty cool bunch of folks trying to wrap their heads around who they are and where they fit in relation to others. Class is the subject we don't know how to talk about. It's just not polite. So we gather in each other's homes once a month and politely transgress. Tonight's postprandial discussion centered on this, The Story of Stuff. A lot of information, brilliantly delivered.

A few hours earlier, I went on Kevin Cole's show at KEXP to talk about Real Change. We're their featured Audioasis group this month, which means we get a bunch of PSA's, a couple of interviews, and a benefit show this Saturday at the Sunset Tavern. The two-minute scheduled interview went on for ten. Kevin was cool, I was on, and the thing just flowed. I got to talk about the I-100 jails campaign, say we do "kick-ass organizing," and utter the phrase, "The more hell we raise, the bigger the checks people write." Which, actually, is true.

When I got back to Real Change after the interview, I found that a public defender had called about one of our vendors. He hasn't been around. Turns out he's been in jail for about two weeks after being arrested for standing while Black. Apparently, it's a criminal offense to loiter in a high drug crime area. You don't need to have drugs, sell drugs, or even be on drugs. All you need to do is have low enough status to get tossed in jail for nothing and be powerless to do a fucking thing about it. And no one has lower status than a homeless Black guy.

The volunter who took the lawyer's phone call gave me twenty bucks toward his $150 bail. Someone from my cross-class dialogue book handed me another twenty. I'm thinking that if I ask around, by noon tomorrow I've got his bail and we can spring him. He could, from what I understand, sit there for months over this matter of standing while Black. I think I'm starting to understand why Seattle thinks they need a new jail so damn badly, and why there are nearly ten times as many Black people on average jailed in King County than are represented in the population.

As I was writing just now, The Story of Stuff was playing in the background, and the narrator reached her conclusion:
There are people working on taking back our government, so it really is by the people and for the people. All this work is really important. But things are really going to start moving when we see the connections. When we see the big picture. When people across the lines get united, we can reclaim and reform this system into something new. A system that doesn't waste resources or people. Because what we really need to chuck is that old school throw-away mindset. ... Some say it's unrealistic, idealistic, and it can't happen, but I say the ones who are unrealistic are the ones who want to continue with the old path. That's dreaming. Remember, it didn't just happen. It's not like gravity, something we just have to live with. People created it. And we're people too, so let's create something new.
She was talking about stuff, but we throw away people as well. One leads to the other. And the mass incarceration system that has one in 99 Americans behind bars isn't mandated by natural law either. Just twenty-five years ago, that didn't exist either. We made it, and we can make it go away.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Stranger: My Dad With A Nose Ring?

Today The Stranger ran their article on the filing of Initiative 100, Jailbreak: Activists fight jail, but do they stand a chance? As you might tell from the headline, it was a little disappointing. Reporter Jonah Spangenthal-Lee did some of the earliest and most critical reporting on Seattle's proposed new jail, so I had high hopes for something decent. Instead, his article focused on the siting controversy, and gave a mere paragraph to the issues of race and class disparity the initiative addresses.

Even more disappointing was the Strangeresque note of dismissive superiority on which the article ended:
The fate of I-100 remains to be seen. In 2002, Harris pushed an initiative to increase funding for homeless shelters to $400 million a year; that initiative was ultimately shelved when the group cut a deal with the city to increase shelter funding. So far, Harris says, organizers have collected "several hundred signatures." That's a long way from the 25,000 they'll need if they want to make a vote on the jail a reality.
In the first place, he's sloppy wrong. $400 million is ten times the current annual city spending for homelessness and housing combined. Don't they have editors there? The initiative goal was to add 400 shelter beds. We gained the required signatures and qualified for the ballot on a budget of around $15,000. The deal with the city council added 200 shelter beds and ensured that the Seattle Housing Levy would focus on those at below 30% of median income. And this at a time when the bottom had fallen out of the General Fund and human services were very much on the defensive. We cut a deal from a position of power and poor people won. A little fucking respect, please.

Moreover, the fact that only "a few hundred signatures" have been collected mere days after the City Clerk's approval of a ballot title is hardly evidence of impending failure. More than 300 fired up people attended last week's panel discussion on this issue, and our campaign launch event is still more than two weeks away, on Thursday, February 19th, 7:30-9 am at Town Hall. Had Spangenthal-Lee wanted to be helpful, he might have mentioned this. If this is what progressive activists can expect from the boys at Seattle's premiere alt-newspaper, it's a damn good thing Real Change's circulation keeps growing.

Their photographer Kelly, on the other hand, totally rocked. When I whipped out my three-foot industrial bakers whisk, she was way into it, but took the straight shot just before leaving in case the art director wasn't so fun-loving. The whisk got vetoed, but at least one of them made the website.

The Stranger
, and I say this as a friend, ought to loosen up, have more fun, check their facts, and get behind something that matters. They're starting to remind me of my dad.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Living In The Burning Light ...

If I don't start writing more than once or twice a week soon, I'm afraid I'm going to lose all credibility as an obsessive-compulsive attention-seeker. I should at least be able to find an amusing 70s hair band video for you all. I'm not even trying.

An initiative campaign launched last week to shine a little light on the City's freight train approach to building a new jail in Seattle. It's the culmination of about four months of discussion and planning. The effort is much bigger than Real Change, and is fronted by a group of activists calling themselves Citizens for Fairness and Efficiency in Public Safety. I wish we'd discussed a bit less. We have until May to collect the 23,000 or so signatures needed to qualify for November's ballot. The big public launch is on February 19, 7:30-9 am at Town Hall. You're invited.

In my more hopeful moments, I think that this effort, and the opportunity for movement building across race, class, and issue that it represents, is just the kind of organizing that could lead to the new civil rights movement this nation so badly needs. In my less hopeful moments, I think of how overwhelming the odds against our success really are, and how this could be just one more example of institutional power and momentum overwhelming citizen participation.

So, the stakes feel high, and I'm working my ass off, trying to focus on what's important. Today started with a 9 am interview with the Socialist Worker. This arrived far too soon after yesterday's thrilling 1 a.m. conclusion of a 16-hour day. Today, I was at Real Change until 7:30. A mere ten and a half hours. I really should be working right now. No. That's not right. I really should be sleeping.

On the other hand, this is my idea of a really good time. Everyone should be lucky enough to live in the burning light of their passion, surrounded by people they love and respect. I have nothing to complain about.

Above is a two-part video of my speech at our packed forum at Seattle University's Pigott Auditorium last week. I was supposed to speak for 8 minutes. The evidence strongly suggests I went over my time, but at least I wasn't alone in this. This video, if you let it, will lead you to others. All of the panelists were wonderful. The Seattle Channel is showing the forum daily. Sometimes twice. It was that good.

Below is the "Directors Corner" I wrote for Real Change today in the time I had between the initiative steering committee meeting and the meeting of the Real Change board. This issue, in some ways, is about whether we have eyes to see and the courage to change. So, I wrote about that.
As I drove into work this morning, I was thinking of my 9 a.m. interview with the folks from the Socialist Worker newspaper, and what I might say. Here was a rare opportunity to dig a little into the connections between globalization and growing inequality, the war on drugs as a means of criminalizing the black and marginalized, shelters and prisons as containment systems for the surplus and abandoned poor, and how class and race are the unacknowledged third rail in this question of a new Seattle jail that the city is desperately trying to avoid.

This is a time when enormous possibility for change is colliding directly with the prospect of system collapse. This leaves one with a vertiginous feeling of combined hope and dread. As my car made its way down I-5, I drifted to the theologians who have addressed the times in which we live.

Walter Bruggeman, author of The Prophetic Imagination, talks about having courage and conviction, despite the many inducements that exist to just shut the hell up and go along with the program. “Situations of cultural acceptance,” said Bruggeman, “breed accommodating complacency.” When a ten-fold disproportionality exists in King County between Blacks that are jailed and their representation in the community, we are called to actively imagine a different reality

I also thought of Reinhold Niebuhr’s take on Matthew 10:16, “ which reads, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Niebuhr writes concisely on institutional self-interest as a reflection of the human capacity for evil, and how liberals are often naive on this point. His work was enormously influential during the nation’s last civil rights movement and needs to be revived.

The new city jail is not about how our city handles misdemeanants. It’s about whether Seattle accepts an unacceptable status quo, and commits to a future of deepening race and class inequality as a response to system failure. For the questions behind the questions, the analysts often miss the point. The philosophers, on the other hand, have much to say.