Monday, June 29, 2009

Two poems from Iran

A Rumi Poem
How did you get away?
You were the pet falcon of an old woman.
Did you hear the falcon-drum?
You were a drunken songbird put in with owls.
Did you smell the odor of a garden?
You got tired of sour fermenting
and left the tavern.

You went like an arrow to the target
from the bow of time and place.
The man who stays at the cemetery pointed the way,
but you didn't go.
You became light and gave up wanting to be famous.
You don't worry about what you're going to eat,
so why buy an engraved belt?

I've heard of living at the center, but what about
leaving the center of the center?
Flying toward thankfulness, you become
the rare bird with one wing made of fear,
and one of hope. In autumn,
a rose crawling along the ground in the cold wind.
Rain on the roof runs down and out by the spout
as fast as it can.

Talking is pain. Lie down and rest,
now that you've found a friend to be with.

"These Branching Moments", Coleman Barks
Copper Beech Press, 1988

I have never feared death
Even though
Its hands were more fragile
Than banality.

I dread, however, to die
In a land where
The grave digger's wages
Exceed the price of human freedom.

Looking for,
Choosing freely,
And transforming one's essence
Into a fortress.

If the price of death is higher than all that,
I deny, in absolute terms,
To have ever feared death

From Death
Ahmad Shamlu
translated by
Iraj Bashiri
Copyright ©, 2004, Iraj Bashiri
Photo from kashyap_hc's photostream at Flickr


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Former landlady buys new locks

Got a call from Sasha, the tenant Arise is working with, about nine this morning. Seems the building's former owner had put a new lock on the kitchen door and was telling tenants a new lock would go on the front door, also, to which only she would have a key-- anybody who wanted in or out of the building would have to call her (she also lives there). Sasha said the woman's son had come over and he'd done lock work on the place before.

I got the former owner's number from Sasha and called but it went to voicemail. I told her I was sorry she was losing her house, but that what she was doing was illegal. I called the Fire Department but all they had available on a Sunday was a referral to 911, which I wasn't going to do. I called the Police Department and at first they didn't want to get involved-- said it was a landlord/tenant issue better dealt with by Housing Code on Monday-- but after I explained that the woman was no longer the owner of the building, and had no legal right to do what she was doing, and kept reiterating my fear there would be a fire, they said they would send a cruiser and I expressed my gratitude. The police came, talked to the former owner, and she removed the locks. I expect there will be another salvo later on, but we'll see.

Fire has been on my mind and probably the minds of the police and fire departments because two boys, four and seventeen, died in a house fire in Springfield yesterday. Yesterday morning, firefighters from all over New England in Springfield for a conference attended a ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral for all those who have fallen in the past year.

How the health insurance industry shapes its message

Saturday, June 27, 2009

When the U.S. saves the world

I watched two disaster movies recently, Armageddon and Independence Day,
and I happened to notice
that when the alien mother ships are destroyed in Independence Day
and when the asteroid is blown to smithereens in Armageddon
and when people all over the world celebrate,
it is daylight everywhere at the same time:
Egypt and Australia, Iceland and India, China and Peru:
thus the glorious victory
of the United States
suspends natural law as well as belief
as we illuminate everyone
and it is daylight everywhere.

Photo from Mailonline

Foreclosed owner puts tenants at risk

A couple of months ago a woman who had no place to live (we'll call her Sasha) came into Arise for Social Justice for some help and she got it-- Lamont happened to know about a room in a boarding house that fit her budget, and she moved in, very happy that the Worthington St. Shelter was not her next stop.

Two days ago Sasha reappeared at Arise. Apparently the owner of the building had come to her (and three other tenants) at the end of May and told her that the house was being foreclosed upon, that she needed to move in the next twelve days, and that she, the owner, wanted her rent.

Sasha was upset because it appeared that the woman knew the house was being foreclosed upon before she rented the apartment to Sasha. (This is a very common story.) That didn't seem fair to Sasha. She'd withheld her June rent and wanted to know what to do next.

Of course, the story was very much more complicated. We could tell her that if she paid her rent, she should pay it to the new owner, not the old. We could tell her that a new law allowed tenants in foreclosed properties a three month notice, not the usual 30 days. But we also knew that if the dwelling was an illegal boarding house, it might void her right to stay.

The next day, Sasha came back to say that the landlady had come to her room with a man purporting to be from Housing Code Enforcement to say that she had to move out right away. The landlady had also put a padlock on the kitchen door (access to the kitchen was supposed to be included in the rental agreement) which also meant that tenants only had one means of egress if there was a fire.

Six hours of phone calls spread over two days produced the following:
  • I could not find any program in Springfield that assists tenants in foreclosed properties-- some help for owners, but not tenants. I'll keep looking.
  • The woman who owned the house was notified in April-- before Sasha moved in-- of the bank's intent to foreclose.
  • As of June 12, the woman no longer owns the property, it is now owned by an international bank which is proving extremely difficult to reach. We did find the book and page number at the Registry of Deeds which shows the deed transfer.
  • No one from Housing Code Enforcement went to Sasha's apartment with the former owner.
We then went over to where she lives and cut the padlock off the kitchen door so that tenants could cook and escape in case of a fire. We gave Sasha the page and book number in case the former owner calls the police so Sasha can show that the woman is no longer the owner and that the tenants have the right to protect themselves. We also gave Sasha our home numbers so that if there's a problem over the weekend, she can call us.

I know that situations like this are happening all over Springfield. Some owners will continue to rent right up to the very last minute and never inform tenants about a pending foreclosure.

Our tent meeting to form a Springfield Tenants Union will take place on Wednesday, July 8, 6 pm. at the Arise headquarters, 467 State St. Spread the word.

Photo from Fotogalarie.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Greenfield biomass hearing gets wild

Well, Springfield, we've got to catch up. Greenfield has some passionate environmentalists, but last night when the Greenfield Zoning Board didn't even want to hear from a resident who lives right across the street from the proposed plant, and has the police remove her, you know something's rotten.

Mary Serreze has photos and an astounding audio
file over on her blog. Give it a listen.

Photo from Noe's photostream at Flickr.

Troy Davis fate in Supreme Court hands

I received the following message from a Facebook group today with an action we can all take right now:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Troy Anthony Davis' appeal yesterday (June 25), and are expected to publicly announce the decision today or Monday June 29. If they rejected Troy's appeal, then the Savannah DA can sign a death warrant immediately. But Savannah DA Larry Chisolm also has the authority to stop this insanity, and reinvestigate in light of the evidence of innocence.Please call Larry Chisolm's office at 912-652-7308 today and Monday to voice support for Troy Davis.

On Tuesday, an opinion piece in the Savannah Morning News asks, "Why the Rush to Execute Davis?"

At Arise: weeds or wildflowers?

Here we are, in the middle of the city. Are we weeds or wildflowers?

Back of Arise

Tomato plant among the iris

Pink Thumb


Nothing natural about homeless deaths

Last Friday, 50 year-old Arthur D. Polier was found dead in a tent where he'd living with his girlfriend in a swampy section of Northampton. Police are saying he died of natural causes.

What I guess we can say is that it's natural that a 50 year-old man living in a swamp on the edge of society, should die.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless,
The rates of both chronic and acute health problems are extremely high among the homeless population. With the exception of obesity, strokes, and cancer, homeless people are far more likely to suffer from every category of chronic health problem. Conditions which require regular, uninterrupted treatment, such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, addictive disorders, and mental disorders, are extremely difficult to treat or control among those without adequate housing.
Many homeless people have multiple health problems. For example, frostbite, leg ulcers and upper respiratory infections are frequent, often the direct result of homelessness. Homeless people are also at greater risk of trauma resulting from muggings, beatings, and rape. Homelessness precludes good nutrition, good personal hygiene, and basic first aid, adding to the complex health needs of homeless people. In addition, some homeless people with mental disorders may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, and those with addictive disorders are also often at risk of HIV and other communicable diseases.
In Anchorage, Alaska, 6 homeless men have been found dead since May.

In Madison, Wisconsin, a 38 year-old man was found dead on a park bench of "natural causes" earlier this month.

A 42-year old homeless, incarcerated man was found dead in his cell on June 12 in the Webb County, Texas jail. he appears to have fallen from his cot but his death is possibly due to complications of heart disease.

Robert "The Lion" Allan, only 41, died suddenly in Camden, UK on Tuesday. Mr,. Allan is being lauded by his friends as a tireless fighter for social justice.

Photo of Robert Allen

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

OK, another nice thing....

After I wrote about the rabbit, I went out back of the Arise office and noticed that one of the little ground-level apartments had a 3 by 5 elevated garden spot that had several iris plants surrounded by lots of weeds. I hollered hello through the back screen door, and a man answered.

"Would you like a tomato plant for your little plot?" I asked. "We're giving them away."

"Too late in the season," he said.

"No, we've got them in buckets, pretty big plants, you could leave it right in its container."

"OK," he said, so we went in the office and got one out of the window.

When I went out back a few minutes later, he'd cut down weeds growing in the back lot and was raking up trash.

"The plant looks pretty good, huh?" he said.

I agreed.

Rabbit, addict and break in the rain cheer me up

Just came from a rotten meeting-- the last of its kind I will have to attend, fortunately-- where I felt, as usual, unappreciated and unsupported. Usually this kind of stuff doesn't bother me, but seeing as this meeting was the culmination of two year's work, a kind word without prompting would have been appreciated.

As I was packing up my car, a flash of brown caught my eye, and there it was: an adolescent rabbit with a white tail, stopped in its tracks, watching me askance to see what I would do. I greeted the rabbit, as is my wont with small creatures, and stayed in place until the rabbit felt safe to hop into the brush. Took a little edge off my "Get me out of here!" silent scream.

A significant amount of power steering fluid had leaked out of my car during the meeting (ongoing problem I haven't had the money to fix). I could still go straight but sharp turns would require an amount of strength I felt lacking after the meeting. Unfortunately it takes two people to get my hood open, one to push down on the hood while the other pulls on the hood release, so a few miles down the road I pulled into Auto Zone to see if I could find a kindly person to help me. (Usually I ask my sister in the morning, but today she'd left the house before me.)

A small brown man was sitting in his car, waiting for someone to come out of the store, and I approached him and asked if he could do me a favor. Guardedly, he asked what the favor was, but when I explained, he was happy to help.

"No man should turn down a woman in need," he said.

I like your bumperstickers," he said, approaching my car. "Do you live in Amherst?"

"Springfield born and bred. In fact, I lived in that house, right over there, for thirty years."

"I just got out of rehab," he said. "I caught myself early and was lucky to get right in."

He insisted on adding the power steering fluid for me and we had a little political talk.

What he said:
-- These kids out there, dealing drugs, they barely know it's wrong.
-- Ludlow jail is so crowded, people were sleeping in the halls when I was there.
-- Why can't they sentence kids to school, or job training?
-- I've just got to keep praying, and I know I'll be all right.
-- I've got a good family, I never stole from them, and they're here for me.

I told him a bit about Arise, and he asked if we took people who have to do community service for the courts. I said we certainly did, and he should come down, meet everybody and sign up.

So now I'm at Arise, feeling much more centered, much more blessed, as I wait for everyone to arrive for our first tenants union meeting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

large Hadron Collider

Picture of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. Amazes me that we use using one the the world's largest objects-- the Collider, 17 miles in circumference- to watch what happens when some of the smallest objects-- protons-- smash into each other. The Collider was only on line for a week last September when it had a problem with two of its superconducting magnets, and isn't expected to be back online until September, 2009 at best.

How do particles have mass? Does supersymmetry exist? And where is the Higgs boson?

Photo by Maximilien Brice, © CERN

Suspicious of good news - will forests get a reprieve?

I spent a fair amount of yesterday morning on the phone, calling different public officials about the proposed biomass plant for Springfield, and none of them mentioned-- in fact, I doubt they knew-- that the state Department of Energy Resources plans to commission a study to determine if Massachusetts' forests are up to meeting the needs of the three proposed WMA biomass plants.

There's an article by Stan Freeman in today's Republican about the hearing. Apparently none of the other permit processes will be held up by this study.

Found a good article by local activist Mary Boothe that was in the Boston Globe last month, debunking the green energy label that's been slapped on biomass. (Let's add this to our lexicon of NewsSpeak.)

There's no study-- so far-- on the potential health imact of this plant. Just a few days before I went to the SASEA forum on Springfield's plant, one of Arise's members called to say she'd be late for a meeting because she was going to the funeral of her 32 year-old cousin, who'd died while having an asthma attack. I said to her later-- as I've said a few time recently-- that when I was in junior high, there was one girl who had asthma, and everybody knew her name, because nobody else in the school had asthma; it was an exotic and terrifying disease. Just look at us now-- Above 16% and climbing.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Regarding Palmer Paving's proposed biomass plant.....just found out that the DEP issues a draft permit FIRST and THEN has an Air Quality hearing...still trying to find out the date of that hearing. The fellow I did speak to, expressing concern about the CO2 levels the plant will emit (seeing as we banned incinerator burning nearly twenty years ago) said it's a societal issue, a trade-off for our need for electricity...and I was glad to be able to counter the the combined five plants will only provide one percent of Massachusett's needs!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Many good reasons to oppose biomass proposal for Springfield

On Tuesday, June 16, I and my sister Liz, Arise's Economic Justice organizer, went to a public forum by the Springfield Area Sustainable Energy Association (SASEA) on the problems with a biomass plant proposed for Springfield by Palmer Paving. Only 30 people or so attended the forum at Western New England College, and only a few were actually from Springfield, MA-- but still, just possibly enough to form a core organizing group in opposition to the plant.

Actually, five biomass plants are in various planning stages in Western Mass.-- Fitchburg (really more Central MA), Pittsfield, Greenfield, Russell and Springfield. I knew that considerable organizing has been going on in Russell organized by Concerned Citizens of Russell, and the night before, 500 people had shown up for a public hearing about Greenfield's plant.

My poor city, however, is full of poor people, not farmers and environmentalists. Most people's attention is focused on how to meet basic needs like paying rent and utilities. Trying to figure out how can we build opposition here is why I went to the forum.

What I learned is that the biomass proposal is far worse than I could have imagined.

What follows is my first attempt to pull together some of the key facts about the Western MA proposals, in particular, the Springfield plant. Being unfamiliar with the funding mechanisms for biomass, and the extent of the political maneuvering, some facts in the first bullet are sketchy. I'm hoping to strengthen all sections as I get feedback and more information. If you have facts to add, strengthen or correct, please let me know.


  1. We don’t need these biomass plants. All five plants will provide only 1.2% of Massachusett’s power.
  2. Dollars spent on conservation and winterization would reduce our need for electricity, save consumers money and provide a lot more jobs
  3. Homes near biomass plants ultimately lose about 20% of their property value.
  4. Biomass plants and proposals are sucking up more than 79% of the Renewable Energy credits dedicated for green industry (and it’s NOT green—see below). (Also not clear if this is on a state or federal level.)
  5. The Springfield plant wouldn’t even be economically feasible to open and run if it were not for the $60 million in stimulus funds the owners will receive as soon as it’s open.
  6. Western Mass advocates went to Washington, D.C. this Spring armed with information to oppose the promotion of biomass as green energy only to find out that the biomass industry had spent more than $80 million in the first quarter of the year to promote biomass. (Need to hear more of this story, which was told by Williamstown attorney and biomass opponent Margaret Sheehan.)


  1. Biomass is NOT carbon-neutral: it takes 5 minutes to cut a tree and 70 years to grow a full-grown one!
  2. Biomass plants will be allowed to clear-cut Massachusetts forests and will triple the logging rate.
  3. Biomass is nearly as dirty as coal but somehow is considered “Green” energy!
  4. Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass plants are exempt from regulations.
  5. Just the three plants in Springfield, Russell and Greenfield will increase greenhouse gasses by nearly 8% more than 2007.
  6. Biomass plants use a huge amount of water - , 0ver 800,000 gallons a day on peak days.
  7. There has been no environmental impact study done on the Springfield plant! (not sure about Russell and Greenfield.)
  8. The Springfield plant will be allowed to burn up to 75% “construction and demolition”” product (see below).


  1. The Springfield plant is expected to add 4.3 tons of lead to the atmosphere, an increase of 71% over what is released today. (Still looking for info on the presence of lead in people’s bodies right now.)
  2. Construction and Demolition product includes asbestos, wood with lead paint, wood treated with many other heavy metal compounds, and produces dioxin, the 2nd most dangerous chemical in the world, linked to cancer, birth defects and many other health problems.
  3. The state asthma rate for children continues to climb and is now at 10% but the Springfield rate is more than 16%! People with other breathing difficulties such as CODP are bound to suffer more.
  4. Even though Massachusetts banned incineration plants 19 years ago, biomass releases as much Fine Particulate Matter as coal. FPM has no known safe level and is detrimental to breathing!
  5. The plants also release chemicals which produce ground-level ozone, also hazardous to breathing
  6. Woodpiles at the plants can also create stubborn fires which can smoulder for long periods. An Athens, ME biomass fire forced schoolchildren indoors at recess for more than six weeks.
So that's the story as I know it so far. The public forum helped me to identify some key allies but there are so many more organizations and people that need to be involved, including health centers, neighborhood councils and our elected officials, who so far, seem only interested in the amount of tax revenue that Palmer Paving will add to the city's coffers.

The Springfield plant is very far along in the permit process with, I believe, only one hearing left to happen. We've got our work cut out for us.

Photo: clearcutting at the Savoy State forest. See the Massachusetts Chainsaw Massacre for more chilling photos and information.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran's regime lousy at photoshipping

Funny and awful at the same time..President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has to resort to photophopping to make his crowd of supporters look bigger than it is! See Daily Kos for analysis and links.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Holocaust Museum murder raises larger questions.

I've been trying to think what's held me back from blogging much this week. Of course I've been busy, but who isn't?

Finally I came to the conclusion that there was so much I wanted to write about, so many extraordinary events, a kind of paralysis came over me-- I could never catch up.

May 31: Doctor George Tiller, one of the few U.S. doctors to perform late-term abortions, was shot at his church in Wichita Kansas by anti-abortionist Scott Roeder.

June 1: a 23 year old Army private was shot outside a recruitment center in Arkansas by a convert to Islam.

And on June 10: "Big John" Stephen Johns, a security guard at U.S. holocaust Memorial Museum was shot to death by an 88-year -old white supremacist.

I want to call these killings crazy, but of course they are not: they are the natural outcome of policies of hate.

It's the murder at the Holocaust Museum that is most on my mind.

Right now one of our Arise members, Ellen Graves, is at the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza with hundreds of other international activists, trying to break the blockade of food and medical supplies so desperately needed in Gaza. I've been posting her emails at the Arise for Social Justice blog.

It's not difficult for progressives to support the struggle of the Palestinian people. In spite of the perspective that Western media have put on the conflict, still, information is available, and most of us think that Israel's response to the rockets fires at it by Hamas is way out of proportion to the damage done to Israel. The 1907 Hague Convention defines proportionality in this way: "a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante."

What is harder for progressives to remember, I believe, is that Israel was founded for a particular reason: to keep the Jewish people safe from from annihilation. Six million Jews dying in work and extermination camps is the most horrific example of antisemitism, but antisemitism and the murder of Jews did not begin or end with World War Two. This evil is fading from people's minds but I was born only two years after the end of World War Two and trying to understand the roots of the Holocaust is what started me on a lifelong quest for social justice.

I'm no academic and most of my political life has revolved around domestic issues like homelessness and poverty. I've also carried some essentially innocent belief that those who have experienced oppression will not oppress others, and this belief has to be built afresh each time it comes face to face with reality. Thus I remember my disappointment to learn that, during the height of South African apartheid, Israel was willing to sell armament to the South African government. Then of course I learned about Palestine. And I also learned that even the slightest criticism of Israel's policy toward Palestine is likely to bring out accusations of antisemitism.

So what is a non-Jewish social justice to believe? To do?

I take my cue from progressive Jewish activists in the U.S. and Israel. I check in regularly with Jewish Voice for Peace and I'm on their mailing list and others. I also check out Rabbis for Human Rights.

What I fear is that U.S. activists are forgetting about antisemitism. The murder at the Holocaust Museum ought to be a wake-up call.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Time for a Citywide Tenants Organization

If there's one issue bringing people into Arise for Social Justice these days, it's housing.

Today a Navy veteran with a nine year old autistic son needed some help in finding out where she is on the list for subsidized housing. She'd call HAP the other day but they misunderstood what she was asking and they told her they're not taking new applications because there's a ten year waiting list! She feels as if the family members she's been living with are running out of patience with her because her son is not easy to live with, but her income is under $900 a month in SSI for her son and TAFDC for her so she hasn't been able to find anything she can afford.

Another woman last week was never notified by her landlord as to which bank is holding her security deposit, and now that's she's moving, she wants to know where it is-- minor in the light of things, except that she needs the money to put down on the new apartment.

Of course we see our fair share of bad housing issues, the occasional case of sexual harassment by a landlord or other tenant, pending evictions because not having the rent money, and a steady stream of single men and women looking for an efficiency apartment they can afford. People are feeling shell-shocked and discouraged yet somehow they keep on with the struggle.

Funny how even living poor, you can be so shocked by the situations of others. Arise was started in the mid-eighties by four of us on public assistance, so we all knew something, but I still remember the day I found out that there were so many homeless families, they had to be put up in motels. I still remember the day I first heard someone say, "How can there be empty buildings when the shelters are full?" And I remember the day I figured out that rents had gone up 161% in just three years.

This was just a few years before the savings and loan debacle, where buildings were emptied and boarded up as their overextended owners, who thought they could just keep flipping buildings at higher and higher prices, with no chance ever to be able to meet a monthly mortgage payment based on tenants' rents, finally faced the bursting of their own housing bubble.

Arise was involved in the one and only development project we've ever undertaken just after that bubble burst-- we built a coalition of organizations and agencies and purchased the old Rainville Hotel on Byers St., a building that defined the word seedy. It had been taken over by the Resolution Trust Company, a Government-owned asset management company. and we turned it from a 60 some odd unit dump into forty-three efficiency apartments for homeless people "ready for independent living." I write these words so blithely, but it took three years of difficult development work to make it happen, and we have now provided housing for ten years. Never again, we decided.

But just because we don't want to do housing development doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

We at Arise have taken no particular opinion at this point on the proposed development of Longhill Gardens, a controversial affordable housing rehab, except, of course, to be aware of how many of the project''s opponents seem to believe that poor people are indistinguishable from criminals. But the cry of "No more affordable housing!" begs the question: affordable to whom?

I had an amicable conversation with a project opponent at an candidates' training sponsored by Arise. He said that Longhill Gardens would be designed for people who make 60% of the median income, as if that was a terrible thing. I asked him what that was and he said it was about $20,000. Well, I'm an intelligent person and I've worked all my life but I'm not college-educated and the work I do tends not to be valued very much. For all but three years of my working life, I qualify to live in Longhill Gardens.

So here we are, 24 years after Arise was founded, with homeless families in motels, unaffordable rents, and streets so riddled with boarded and abandoned houses they look like the site of a natural disaster.

A federal law that gives tenants in foreclosed properties some rights was just passed this May, and we're getting ready to do door to door with information because not knowing you have a right is the same as not having it. We learned that one a long time ago.

Although (because?) Arise is primarily an organization that organizes, we also do a lot of advocating. It's time to bring the people we advocate with plus our members together so there's a vehicle to spread information about people's rights. What are the other issues people will bring to the table? I have a pretty good idea, but we'll find out.

There's strength in numbers and it's time to form a citywide tenants organization.

Join us on Wednesday, June 24, from 6 pm to 8 pm, at 467 State St., Springfield, for the first meeting.

Graphic by Eric Drooker.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Your vet ain't no snitch!

On Thursday I, along with tens of thousands of residents, received a recorded call from the City of Springfield.
Our records indicate you have a dog or dogs that have not been registered for 2009. This information is coming from your Veterinarian. Please register as soon as possible to avoid a late fee of $5.00 per month. You may also be accessed a late registration fee of $50.00. If you register your dog or dogs on or before June 15, 2009 the late fees will be waived. If you fail to register by June 15, 2009 your name will be forwarded to the Animal Control and Police Department for enforcement actions and your name will be posted on the city website. You may register your dog or dogs at the Springfield City Clerk Office 36 Court Street Rm 123 Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4 pm.
By yesterday morning a message had appeared on the the front page of the city's website.
June 5, 2009: Last night all City of Springfield residents received a message regarding dog licenses that contained misinformation. The message was sent in error and the City sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience this may have caused. No further action is required on the part of those residents who received the message.

The City has investigated the cause of this error to ensure that it will not happen again. Any resident wishing to have their telephone number removed from the City’s broadcast system can call 3-1-1 or click the button below.
Notice that the apology does not identify exactly what the "misinformation" is.

Well, my vet happens to know my dog is dead and does not require a dog license this year, so I decided to give his office a call and Oh, boy, are they aware of the city's "misinformation." No, vets are not required to report information on your dog to the city in which you live.

Massachusetts vet are not even required to report suspected cases of animal abuse, although eleven other states do require it. In Massachusetts, however, veterinarians are given immunity from civil suits if they make a good faith report of suspected abuse. That's all good.

I couldn't find any reference on the city's website to the more punitive aspects of the city's stated policy, but dog licenses are required. Other ordinances regarding dogs can be found in the Good Neighbor Handbook put out by the the Springfield Community Policing Partnership.

So, if I have an unlicensed dog, my name will be posted on a city website and the police will come to my house? Sounds like a good example of the more laws you create, the more lawbreakers you will have.

Meanwhile, we're now up to eight murders in our fair city. I don't happen to believe that the police can prevent all murders-- the young man assaulted with a baseball bat who succumbed of his wounds yesterday could not have been anticipated by the police-- but the recent strip club murders might have been able to be prevented with a higher police presence in downtown.

Where are our priorities when it comes to using the city's scarce resources?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Northland poster to close

I received the following sad email this week:

After thirty years of speaking art to power, the Northland Poster Collective will close its doors for the last time at the end of June. Founded in 1979 by activist artists, Northland has become an important source for art, slogans and cultural organizing experience for unions, grassroots activists and social justice movements. Much of their considerable artistic output was developed in close relationship with those movements. The materials produced by Northland covered a spectrum from silkscreened posters and note cards to buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts and other organizing tools and raged from politically inspired quotes and poems to depictions of labor history and organizing slogans created for specific campaigns.

Part activist organization, part business and part arts group, the Collective was a union shop and remained committed to democratic self-management until the end. Northland workshops with titles like “Give the Boss an Art Attack,” and “Creative Organizing” were fixtures at union conventions. Its slogans have been a frequent sight on picket lines for the past three decades. In fact Northland coined or popularized such slogans as ‘The Labor Movement: The Folks That Brought You the Weekend,’ ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Cross Picket Lines,’ ‘Unions: the Anti-Theft Device for Working People,’ among many others.

About their decision to close, founding member, artist Ricardo Levins Morales noted wryly, “After thirty years of undermining Wall Street, it finally fell on us.” Some of the services provided by Northland, such as union-made buttons, union T-shirt printing and graphic design will continue as spin-off businesses. Levins Morales will open his own studio in Minneapolis.

During the month of June the Collective will sell all remaining inventory at half price through their web store at and at their Minneapolis shop.

Ricardo Levins Morales
Northland Poster Collective
PO Box 7096
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(800) 627-3082

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The urban legend goes like this:

The urban legend goes like this: back in the 70’s, the only decade in which I lived mostly away from Springfield, the welfare office was housed at the old King’s Plaza across from the Indian Motocycle building. Going there was a depressing experience—dingy, not enough chairs, not much real help available.

The waiting room was separated from the administrative offices by an old-fashioned wooden counter with one hinged section which could be lifted so someone could pass through.

One hot August day, a Black woman was standing at the counter filling out an application for welfare. She’d been given a yellow pencil and when she laid it down for a moment, it rolled to the other side of the counter and fell on the floor. The woman lifted up the counter, passed through, and squatted down to retrieve her pencil. The ubiquitous security guard stepped forward and put his hand on her arm to remove her. She fully straightened.

“Take your hand off my arm,” she said.

Exactly what happened next is unclear, but within five minutes , Springfield had a full-blown “welfare riot” on its hands—parking lot full of police, office full of angry, shouting women and crying children.

Apparently a welfare rights organization came from the riot but it was long gone by the time I returned to Springfield and was told this story.

I’d known that plaza well when I was a kid—I spent the first 8 years of my life on Willard Avenue. Maybe I knew Pete and Don’s Fruit Stand on the corner best of all—candy necklaces for a nickel!—but my dad bought auto parts and hardware at Western Auto and at least one of my Easter outfits came from King’s Department Store.

My childhood was rather sheltered. Years of rheumatic fever kept me housebound except in the summer, when I’d improve for a while. I couldn’t attend school and was taught at home by a kindly grayhaired tutor. I read everything I could get my hands on and spent much of my real life in Arabia, China, Ireland, Scotland and Sherwood Forest.

Never, never could I have known I would live most of my life in Springfield, spend time on welfare myself, and pick up the legacy of welfare rebellion to found a new welfare rights organization, Arise for Social Justice, now a poor people’s rights organization that’s lasted for twenty-four years.

In 1985 the long-empty Indian Motocycle factory was about to become the center of a controversy regarding its re-use: affordable housing or retail? (Sound familiar?) One part of the building had already been demolished and I often walked by the site while passing out flyers for Arise. It was on one of those trips that indulged a vision I knew would never come to be.

for the indian motocycle building

Plant this lot to clover. Never mind the bones

of rusted steel, green bits of broken glass

that shine like hidden water. They can be

the fossils for future history

and the struggling herbs be prophecy

for the generations who will wonder

what lies beneath the meadow thatch

where solstice dances lift the scent

of ancient summers.

Photo from Alki1's photostream at Flickr.

Mankind is no island

Winner of the 2008 Tropfest Festival