Friday, July 31, 2009

26 and a half hours without electricity: who will pay the price?

The sun is out, the power is on, and the twenty-six and a half hours without electricity that we Springfield, Massachusetts residents endured until 6 pm. yesterday seem almost unreal. Of course, I still have to go through my refrigerator and throw out everything in it-- I just haven't had the energy or the heart to tackle that particular job just yet.

So this time the outage probably wasn't Western Mass Electric's fault, but the fault of a subcontractor, Turner Underground Installation, of Henrietta, N.Y. laying fiber optic cable along Route 91. This subcontractor worked for Adesta LLC of Omaha, Neb., the same company who had another subcontractor who caused a huge water main break a couple of months ago that made passing through the Main and Carew St. intersection impossible for weeks.

My particular area of the city seems plagued with outages which occur about every other month. On Wednesday, the power flickered for just the few seconds required to shut off my computer. On Thursday morning, it happened again. My fan hadn't even stopped rotating by the time the power came back on, but I lost a few paragraphs of what I was writing on my computer, and this time I called WMECO to tell the company about both outages. The woman who took my call gave a rote answer about all the lightening storms we were having. I told her no, that wasn't the problem. Possibly she was working in a windowless room; most likely, she wasn't even in Massachusetts.

So maybe I should take it back when I say it wasn't WMECO's fault, because they were certainly warned that something was wrong. A few hours later, at 3:30 pm., the power went out for good and stayed out until 6 pm. yesterday. And I do blame WMECO for not giving us an accurate estimate of how long it would take to restore power, instead doling out restoration in six hour chunks of time. If we'd known that the sun would set, rise and nearly set again before the problem was fixed, at least some people could have gotten the food in their freezers to a friend on the far side of town.

The Republican had a good article yesterday describing some of the impact the outage had on area businesses; more than 100 were affected. In terms of dollar amounts, obviously the bigger businesses were hit the worst. But in terms of just plain survival, I think the smaller businesses will pay an even higher price. Some won't survive.

As I prepare to toss at least $150 worth of food (and I don't even buy meat!) I can't help but run some numbers in my mind.

12,000 customers-- that is, households-- suffered the outage. That's 20% of Springfield's population.

25% of Springfield's residents live below the federal poverty level-- so that's about 4,000 households. Of course you don't have to live below the poverty level to be negative affected by the power outage, not with a median family income in this city of less than $37,000.

Some unknowable percentage of people in those 4,000 households will be hungry in the weeks to come. They will not be able to go out and replace the food that they lost.

Another unknowable percentage will not be able to pay utility bills or will ultimately wind up being evicted from their homes because of lost wages. A thirty-seven hour a week worker at a fast food restaurant, earning $8 an hour, takes home only $296 a week. That weekly income will be cut by 20 to 30% next paycheck, because that worker is paid by the hour, not salaried, and if the restaurant isn't open, nobody works. That same person will have the extra burden of replacing spoiled food.

This is what so many people don't understand about people who are living in poverty. The poor have absolutely no safety margin when faced with an unexpected financial calamity.

Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera wants Gov. Deval Patrick to have the state reimburse every resident and restaurant for the food they had to throw away. I doubt it will happen, but I do think somebody other than the beleaguered resident of this city should pay the price. We've had enough.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When books were works of art

Except for the few on my shelves, I haven't seen books like these since Johnson's Secondhand Bookstore closed. Lose yourself in the fantastic collection of publishers' bindings at Publishers' Bindings OnLine, University of Alabama.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Here they are! Springfield's candidates for mayor, city council and school committee

The Springfield Election Office has just finished certifying candidates' nomination papers are the results are in! We've got some business as usual and a few surprises.

First, Domenic Sarno and Bud Williams will be the only candidates for mayor. Jeff Donnelly failed to get enough valid signatures and I'm not sure David Pankhurst returned any papers at all.

We only have eight candidates for the at-large seats on Springfield City Council-- that means NO primary for the at-large candidates. Only four of the current nine incumbents are choosing to run-- James Ferrera, Jose Tosado, Kateri Walsh and Timothy Rooke. The other four candidates are Vera O'Connor, Morris Jones, Thomas Ashe and Robert Francesca.

NO primary for Ward One-- Gumersindo Gomez and Zaida Luna will go head-to-head on November 3.

Ward Two has five certified candidates for city council, and will have a primary on September 15 to choose only two among the five: Michael Fenton, Gil Herron, Thomas Sullivan, Robert Underwood and Hamilton Wray.

NO primary for Ward Three for city council: Martin Loughman and Melvin Edwards will face off on November 3.

NO primary for city council in Ward Four: longtime activists E. Henry Twiggs and Norman Oliver are the only certified candidates.

YES for a Ward Five primary: George Bruce and Clodo Concepcion have run for city council before; Carol Lewis Caulton has actually served a term on city council; DeJuan Brown is well-known for his role with A.W.A.K.E.

YES for a Ward Six primary: We've got five candidates: Amaad Rivera, Richard Carpenter, Victor Davila, Peter Lappin and Keith Wright.

YES for a Ward Seven primary: six candidates: Timothy Allen, Peter Appleby, Ronald Jordan, Walter Lysak, Michael Rodgers and Alexander Sherman.

YES for a Ward Eight primary: Gloria DiPhillipo, John Lysak, Orlando Ramos and Miguel Soto.

The School Committee slate is a bit disappointing, because there is far less competition. Only two candidates for the two at-large seats: Denise Hurst and Antoinette Pepe, so unless something completely unexpected happens, both women will be elected.

Norman Roldan is the only candidate for District One, a combination of Wards One and Three, so he will definitely be elected. (How nice for him!)

District Two, a combination of Wards Four and Five, will have a primary: Barbara Gresham, Maurice Thomas, Tahon Ross and Sirdeaner Walker are all certified.

District Three, a combination of Wards Six and Seven, will have a primary: Christopher Caputo, Orlando Santiago, Christopher Collins and Joshua Collins are all certified. Chris Collins is currently an incumbent but is running from his ward.

District Four will not have a primary: Either Joseph Flebotte or Peter Murphy will be elected.

To recap: Expect primaries in Ward Two for both city council and school committee, Ward Three for school committee, Ward Four for school committee; Ward Five for city council and school committee, Ward Sic for city council and school committee, Ward Seven for city council and school committee,k and Ward Eight for city council and school committee.

That's it, folks! I am now hoping that the neighborhood councils, civic associations and other community groups will hold candidates' night so that each ward has an opportunity to pick the best candidates under our new system. It's only taken 40 years, 3 initiative petitions, two federal lawsuits and numerous city council votes, but we did it.

If I tried to thank everyone who made this possible, I'd be bound to leave someone out, but I have to give a special shout-out to Frank Buntin, Gumersindo Gomez, Fred Whitney, Arise and Jose Tosado.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Music composed by and for Nora the cat

This is not what I expected when I watched this video. Do yourself a favor and don't watch it until you've got a whole five minutes to listen. Here's a link to Catcerto, that tells how the piece came to be composed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vintage ocean liner posters

I have either lived before or I expect to take a cruise on one of these liners after death, but I know them all. (Or, considering that all of these were created within 25 years of my birth, maybe I've actually seen them!) Whatever, enter a dream at the Collection from David Levine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nickelsville residents given 72 hours to vacate

34 homeless people died living outside in Seattle last year, and there are NOT enough shelter beds in Seattle to house everyone-- at least 2,600 people went unsheltered last year because of the shelter shortage.

In spite of that, on Monday, the state gave residents of Nickelsville, a small, well-run homeless encampment, 72 hours to clear out. King5.

You can read Nickelville's story at their website, Welcome to Nickelsville

Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested for disorderly conduct in own home!

How can one of America's most influential citizens wind up getting arrested for disorderly contact in his own home?

Could being Black have anything to do with it? Or is it at least partly because a police officer didn't think he got the respect he deserved?

Last Thursday, Gates was returning to his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts after a trip to China when he found he couldn't get his front door open. He and his driver went to the back door and managed to get in. Then Gates called the real estate company to report the faulty door.

Meanwhile, someone called the police and said they suspected two men were trying to break into a house.

You can read the rest of the story at the Boston Globe.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I support Amaad Rivera for City Council, Ward Six

After living in Springfield's Ward Four for thirty years, I was really looking forward to the day when I could vote for a councilor who was elected from and responsible to the Ward Four residents-- as well as all the other residents of the city. But it was not to be. Two years ago, just as voters approved ward representation by an astounding 74.2%, I had to move to Ward Six, which includes Forest Park. It's a lovely neighborhood, but scarcely problem-free. We need good representation, too!

Amaad Rivera was born and raised in Springfield. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met-- and I mean smart as distinct from educated, although he's educated, too, with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing with minors in Psychology and Information Technology from Bentley University. He completed his Master of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in May 2009.

Education per se doesn't impress me, but commitment to public services does. He's been politically and socially active for almost all of his 27 years. I want you to check out his website, so I won't go into the whole list, but he was an AmeriCorps volunteer for one year and then, "By his early 20s Amaad was an AmeriCorps Program Officer for the Massachusetts Service Alliance, becoming one of the youngest AmeriCorps Program Officers in the entire country. At the Massachusetts Service Alliance, Amaad managed an 11 million dollar portfolio of organizations dedicated to addressing issues of poverty, health care disparities, environmental disasters, education inequity, civic engagement, volunteerism, and youth development. In addition, he acted as the liaison between the federal and state governments to service programs all over the state of Massachusetts. " So he has some administrative and business experience, too.

One of the reasons so many of us worked so hard for ward representation was to give people like Amaad an opportunity to serve us.

This year we will be voting for five at large councilors and one councilor from our neighborhood who knows us and who has a special responsibility to us. But every ward councilor also represents the city as a whole, so all of us should care about the quality of the candidates who run for a ward seat.

In Forest Park, at least, I don't have to worry. Amaad Rivera will do an exfellent job for us, and for the whole city.

Two signs, different results

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which said: "I am blind, please help." There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?"

The man said, "I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way."

What he had written was: "Today is a beautiful day and I cannot see it."

Both signs told people the boy was blind. While the first sign simply said the boy was blind, the second sign pointed the fortunate ones to their positive possibilities.

Moral of the Story: Be thankful for what you have. Be creative. Be innovative. Think differently and positively. Invite the people towards good with wisdom.


Prize-winning story on student poverty a hoax

Moments before they accepted the top prize in journalism from the French magazine Paris Match, two students admitted that their story on student poverty was entirely faked.

There is student poverty in France, but the photos of students dumpster diving for food or selling themselves on the street were staged.

"We pushed the clich├ęs to the limit. We thought the whole thing was so hackneyed that it could never win ... We wanted to call into question the inner-workings of the attitude of the kind of media which portrays human distress with complacency and voyeurism," they said. UKIndependent.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't let Palmer Legare go to jail! Stand up for tenants!

Palmer Legare, longtime Central American solidarity activist, friend of Arise and housing organizer for the Alliance to Develop Power, was arrested a few weeks ago in Westfield. I received this email forwarded by Palmer and will let it speak for itself except to urge everyone to take action!


Three weeks ago I was illegally arrested for “walking while supporting democracy” in Westfield, Massachusetts. I have been threatened with arrest numerous other times and face arrest any day for organizing tenants to create affordable housing cooperatives. But this is nothing compared to what tenants have faced, from cops dragging them out of the shower and pointing guns at small kids before saying “oops sorry, we thought you were someone else” to police charging domestic violence victims for “having been in a relationship with a violent person and therefore putting their neighbors at risk.” The only thing that these people are guilty of is organizing the tenant coop. Please take a couple minutes now to make the call detailed below. EVERY CALL WILL HELP ME STAY OUT OF JAIL!!! PLEASE CALL!!!

In solidarity,


Take action now to defend organizing in Westfield! Tell Mass Housing to stand with the people, not the corporations! No more repression of tenant organizing!

Last month Alliance to Develop Power Lead Organizer Palmer Legare was illegally arrested at Powdermill Village in Westfield, Ma. The arrest was part of a systematic campaign of repression directed by Peabody Properties, a Boston-based corporation that is trying to wrestle control of the property from the tenants. They will not win! Powdermill Village will become a tenant owned cooperatively controlled permanently affordable housing complex! We need you to take action to stop the repression of tenant leaders and community organizers:

Please call Henry Mukasa, Director of Rental Management for Mass Housing, at 617.854.1000, extension 1161

Sample message:

It has come to my attention that Mass Housing has not been enforcing regulations at Powdermill Village in Westfield. I know that tenant leaders and community organizers have been arrested, threatened and intimidated based on their involvement with community organizing. Now that we have a former community organizer as President, we can not criminalize community organizing. I will continue to monitor the situation.

Please let us know that you have taken action so that we can track the effectiveness of this effort! Email ADP organizer Palmer Legare at palmer@a-dp. org or call 413-218-1313

Photo from the Global Justice Ecology Project (Pamler in the middle)

Bikes for the homeless

Two Chattanooga, Tennessee organizations, The Chattanooga Community Kitchen and Outdoor Chattanooga, have teamed up to help homeless people get back on their feet by getting off their feet-- on bicycles. They'll operate by taking in donated bikes, fixing them up, then providing training, a helmet and a bike lock to homeless people.

A nice program in Tampa, Florida repairs bikes brought to them by homeless people. You can read more at Creative Loafing.

Photo from Daniel Y. Go's photostream at Flick.

20,000 Dolphins a year slaughtered in Japan

The New York Times has a story this morning about The Cove, an award-winning documentary that opens on July 31. It will be shown at the Amherst Cinema Arts Center 3 starting August 14.

A central character is Ric O'Barry, a dolphin activist atoning for his role in commercializing dolphins. From an interview in New York:

You had captured the dolphins on Flipper, right?
I captured the five dolphins that collectively played the part of Flipper. I trained all of them, from the very beginning of the first show to the last show. I lived with all five of them in the Seaquarium. And on Friday nights, at 7:30, I would take the TV set, with a long extension cord, out to the end of the dock, so Flipper could watch Flipper on television. And that’s when I knew they were self-aware. I could tell when the dolphins recognized themselves and each other. Cathy, for example, would recognize the shots she was in, Suzy would recognize her shots, and so on. Dolphins are hard to read, because you have to look at body language. Almost all other animals you can read by looking at their faces. But dolphins have this built-in “smile” that makes it look like they’re always happy.

How did your ideas about captivity turn around?
Cathy died in my arms, of suicide. It was just before Earth Day, 1970. The next day, I found myself in a Bimini jail, trying to free a dolphin for the first time. I completely lost it.

How do you know it was suicide?
You have to understand, dolphins are not automatic air breathers like we are. Every breath for them is a conscious effort. She looked me right in the eye, took a breath, held it — and she didn’t take another one. She just sank to the bottom of the water. That had a profound effect on me.
Photo from Jurvetson's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New uses for shipping containers

Containers are about $500 apiece and just about indestructable. See Inhabitat.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Just two of the painful and bizarre incidents in Springfield this week

When will homeless people get a break? When will children stop being afraid of the police?

This morning the Springfield Republican reported that Bill Miller, Executive Director of the Friends of the Homeless Shelter on Worthington St., has had a sexual harassment charge filed against him by a social worker who had also been employed at the shelter. President of the board Bob Carroll is defending Miller, but the social worker, Holly Bell, has a letter from Bob Carroll that states, "The Board determined that many of your allegations were substantiated and that the Executive Director made comments to you that were inappropriate. The Board of Directors has taken appropriate discipline against the Executive Director."

So Carroll can deny Miller's culpability now, but he admitted it in print in a letter.

Part of what makes me sick to my stomach is how many people must have known about this, who just hoped it would go away, who found it more important to cover Miller's (and the Friends of the Homeless) ass than make the tough decisions. It reminds me of the Springfield Housing Authority in the Ray Asselin days, when it was common knowledge that maintenance men would attempt to solicit sexual favors in return for apartment repairs, with threats of evictions if tenants didn't comply.

I suppose I can feel sorry for Miller, put him in the same category as the numerous politicians who have seemingly lost their minds over a woman, betrayed their wives, and put their careers in the toilet. But Bell didn't want a relationship with Miller, she told him to stop, and she took it to the board of directors.

The last permanent director of the Friends of the Homeless shelter before Miller was Frank Keough, who has recently finished serving three years in prison for stealing from the shelter and putting his friends in no-show jobs, among other things. Rumors of sexual misbehavior on his and other staffs' part were common. Arise fought for years to get rid of Keough, but it took a Justice Department investigation, the same one that swept the Asselin family, the Ardolino brothers, and so many more, to accomplish the change.

Don't the homeless people who live at the Worthington St. Shelter deserve a director who pays attention to running the shelter?

Thursday night, 15 year old Delano Walker ran from police into the street and was immediately hit and killed by a car.

Delano and two friends, all on bikes, were observed by the police just emerging from the car lot at Balise Hyundi on Columbus Ave. The police, who were part of an anti-car theft detail, went to stop them for questioning. Delano jumped off his bike and ran. Apparently, and I am only going on news reports so far, he had a knife and likely knew he'd be in trouble if searched. (Obviously, the kids hadn't just stolen a car.)

The police were doing their job, and Delano reacted with fear. We'll hear a lot more about the roots of that fear over the next few days. Delano had a knife. Did he also have a record? Or was he just one of those kids on bikes who get stopped and searched by the police because they are in a place deemed inappropriate by the police?

I think of a young African-American friend of mine who was stopped and searched cutting through a Mass Mutual parking lot who had some pot on him and got busted. (This was before the shift from felony to misdemeanor.)

I think of the small business owner not far from Arise's office who was questioned and frisked recently by several police officers in broad daylight outside of his store. Apparently he'd been observed by the officer on traffic detail across the streethanding some money to another man. I talked to the guy later; he was humiliated and embarrassed. Apparently a former teacher of his was walking by on his way to the drugstore and they stopped to talk. The teacher realized he'd left home without his wallet and asked if he could borrow $4. It was this transaction that brought him under suspicion. I mean, come on, why would a business owner be handling money?

I called Community Policing later that day to ask if there was a policy to determine when a conversation goes to the next level and becomes a search. Yes, indeed, there is such a document-- it's called the Use of Force Procedure. I asked if I could have a copy and the officer said she would email it to me. A few weeks later I called again to remind her. I'm sure such requests are not high on the priority list, given how busy the police are, but I would like to know, and right now I'm still waiting.

It's very difficult for people who are not poor and not of color to understand the relationship between the inner-city community and the police. I could write a book about it, but I won't. What I will say is that on both sides, suspicion and fear continue to damage our community.

I'm sorry for everyone involved in what happened Thursday night: the officers and driver who helped lift the car off Delano, his friends who had to watch him be killed, the Walker family, and most especially, Delano.

Photo of Bill Miller from Friends of the Homeless.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The REAL threat to Americans


Politician versus Statesman

My first political memory is both vague and vivid: when Adlai Stevenson lost the presidential election to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, my mom cried-- and I, of course, being five years old and completely in sync with my mother's emotions, cried also. Thus I was imprinted early with the importance of politics.

When I was a kid my dad always made a great deal about the distinction between a politician and a statesman, and I was thinking a lot about those distinctions yesterday. I just looked up the definitions to refresh my mind.

  • Statesman: a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.
  • Politician: a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles.

Yesterday Springfield City Councilor Bill Foley announced that after 28 years, he will not be seeking re-election this year.
Bill is an affable guy. I cannot remember him taking a controversial position on anything, ever. I do remember that he has always been a foe of ward representation. However, according to a Republican article yesterday, the fact that this year will be the first year in 50 years that we will be electing city councilors from each ward as well as at large has nothing to do with his not running. In a direct sense, this is probably true-- Bill's always been a top vote getter. But he joins four other incumbents who seem to show no interest in serving on city council under the new system.

Yesterday was also the day that I and two others met with State Senator Stephen Buoniconti to talk about a bill he submitted to the Legislature, An Act to promote responsible and effective transitional assistance. I will have a lot more to say about this meeting, and this legislation, in a later post.

Statesman or politician? Intent has everything to do with this distinction.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party

I am very much looking forward to spending time with the Milky Way at the Cape this summer.

Death row cell

Come take a virtual tour of a death row cell, a cell housing unit, and other sites to be seen at the Florida Department of Corrections. 'Nuff said.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dangerous to be homeless: an apology

I wrote a post last month about the death of homeless Northampton resident Arthur Polier. Later I found a comment about the post on BlogoWogo that includes the following:
My son, the son of Arthur Polier read this story and took offence to you implying that his father should die...that is a terrible thing to say.

Despite whatever circumstance anyone person may encounter in their life, we as a society have no right to pass judgement and for your information, Arthur...affectionately known as David, his middle name was a warm and giving person who succumbed to his alcoholism and that does not give you or anyone the right to say they should die.
So let me say first that I apologize to Arthur Polier's family for any offense my post caused. I think the offending portion of the post was: "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."

There's no such thing as a natural death when you're living on the streets. It is just plain dangerous to be homeless.

Homeless women are at quadruple the risk of sexual assault. Maybe that was in the mind of the homeless woman from Joliet, Illinois when she saved a 10 year old girl from being kidnapped and assaulted last month.

Homeless people are often robbed and beaten-- sometimes by each other. That's what happened when a homeless woman was beaten with a piece of wood last Saturday in Raleigh, NC. She's now listed in good condition at the hospital. (Hope they keep her a few extra days.)

Homeless people are the victim of accidents. Melissa Sjostrom, 33, was crossing the street in Tampa, Florida when she was hit and killed by a 17 year old driver who then fled the scene of the accident. Something very funky's going on with why it the case was closed without an arrest and then opened two months later after queries by the St. Petersburg, Florida Times.

Homeless people can die from exposure not just from the cold but also the heat. Pheonix, Arizona officials and agencies are opening cooling centers and handing out water to homeless people this week, where temperatures are expected to be about 115 degrees.

Sometimes homeless people just die. Back in Tampa, Florida, a homeless man was found dead last week only one day after another homeless man was found dead less than a block away. Neither death is considered suspicious by the police. In Anchorage, Alaska, yet another homeless man was found dead-- the eighth in just a few months-- and this death, unlike the others, appears to be a murder.

Each year on December 21st, the longest night of the year, cities across the country commemorate Homeless Persons Memorial Day, a remembrance of all those who have died without a home during the year. I wait for and works towards the year when the numbers decline-- but it won't be this year.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New life for three-legged turtle

Her leg was bitten off by a dog, but her rescuer figured out a way for her to get around. Read more at Mail Online.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oakland and Hancock

Queen Anne's Lace with bee

Statue of Michelangelo's David in front of a mysterious building on Oakland Street. He's chastely covered in the summer and completely exposed in winter.

Don't silence their voices - ban devocalization in Massachusetts

Massachusetts resident? On Monday, pick up the phone and call your state legislator. (Don't know your legislator? You can look it up here.) Tell him or her that you support An Act to Prohibit Devocalization of Cats and Dogs. There will be a hearing on the bill on Monday, July 14, with a full vote to follow sometimes this legislative session.

Who would oppose this law? Unethical dog breeders and fighters and animal hoarders who fear animal noises would give them away.

The effort to produce this bill all started with a 15 year old Care2 member and Massachusetts resident Jordan Star. You can find out more about this legislation and why it's needed at Care2.

Photo from Tony the Bald Eagle's site on Flickr.

Close a shelter and what do you get?

How about a homeless encampment? The Sacramento Bee is reporting that after a homeless shelter closed on July 1, displacing more than 200 men, women and children, former residents have been moving from encampment to encampment. A group formed a "Council of Elders" and they spent a week researching land at the tax assessor's office, finding a plot of land that had actually been designated as a shelter. And there they have settled-- for now, anyway; the police came on Tuesday and gave them three days to move.

Photo from the Sacramento Bee

Friday, July 10, 2009

Springfield without Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan, Executive Director of Open Pantry Community Services in Springfield, Massachussetts for the last twenty years, has announced he's leaving the agency. I've known for a couple of weeks but promised to keep it under my hat until he went public.

I have to admit I was not excessively gracious when Kevin told me he was leaving OPCS, although I did try. I just kept thinking of what a loss it was going to be for Arise, for homeless people and for the entire city.

Kevin became OPCS's director when Arise for Social Justice was about five years old. He definitely got my attention in 1997 when he began a six day hunger fast to get then-Mayor Albano to restore funding for the Open Door, an OPCS social work program for homeless people and the poorest of the poor. Albano caved in but of course he never forgot; one characteristic I've noticed in every Springfield mayor is how personally they take any challenge to their policies, and how it brings out the worst in them. Then they pass their prejudices on to the mayor next in line.

In those days there were still a few radicals left within traditional agencies. Some of those folks formed the Affordable Housing Alliance with Arise. We tried to stop the conversion of the Hotel Charles into condominiums by getting an injunction to prohibit the city's planned displacement. We organized affordable housing conferences. We pushed the city to find a better place for homeless people than the old Armory St. shelter, a true hellhole where women were raped and men beaten. We bought the old Rainville Hotel and converted it to affordable housing. Pat Quinn from the Springfield Action Commission, Gary Richards and Faye Rachlin from Western Mass Legal Services, Peter Friedland and Bernie Cohen from HAP, and, of course, Kevin and some others were our active allies. Arise, an organization of welfare mothers and poor people, was so grateful to have some people on our side. Those people really believed in Arise's mission-- that poor people have a right to speak for ourselves about the issues that affect us.

Most of those allies had faded away, burned out or been forced out in 2004, when lack of funding forced the closing of OPCS's Warming Place shelter and Arise took on the task of organizing and assisting displaced homeless people into forming Sanctuary City. Our tent city started out on the lawn of St. Michael's Cathedral and moved to OPCS's parking lot when pressure from the Diocese got too intense. Kevin was on vacation during the move, a perfect opportunity for him to look the other way as we moved in. We lasted six months until the Warming Place was able to reopen, and was, I believe, the catalyst for the city of Springfield to finally develop a plan to deal with homelessness.

Of course there was a price to be paid politically for being in allegiance with poor people, and the Open Pantry paid it. All the "good" agencies, the ones who think of poor people as "clients," were folded in to the city's new efforts to coordinate homeless services, and it was clear pretty quickly that if you played by a different set of rules, there was no place for you at the table. The next year, the state couldn't find the funding for the Warming Place and the city was no help at all, being more than happy to see all homeless people funneled to the city-controlled Friends of the Homeless Worthington St. Shelter. Open Pantry's attempt to seek an injunction to prohibit the shelter's closing was denied. Last year, in another one of the state's "reorganization" plans, Open Pantry lost funding for its family shelter on Jefferson Ave. I can guarantee you that no one from the mayor's office or from the "Homes Within Reach" coalition picked up the phone to plead with the state to save the family shelter. Yet the state is still packing them in at motels around the region-- more than 750 homeless families today.

I think that for Kevin, that was the beginning of the end. He didn't want to be a political liability for Open Pantry. At his instigation, his agency merged with South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) earlier this year, and I knew that the announcement he was leaving the directorship could not be far behind.

I am happy for Kevin and his wife, Legal Services attorney Marion Hohn (they fell in love at tent city!) but terribly sad for homeless people and, I admit it, sad for Arise. Life-- and organizing-- will go on, but where we will ever find another ally like Kevin Noonan, I just don't know.

Just a few hours before Kevin made his departure public, I was reading an essay from Common Dreams by Derrick Jensen on the difference between personal action and political action. He ends his essay with words that immediately made me think of Kevin, because he has lived them so well.

We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dolphins make bubbles to play with

Just try to tell me the human animal is superior to other animals.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Troy Davis, Jason Vassell: keep on fighting!

60,000 signatures were presented to the Savannah District Attorney on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to delay reviewing Troy Davis' appeal for a new trial until at least this fall. Davis has spent 18 years on death row after he was convicted of killing a police officer in Savannah. There was never any physical evidence, and most of the witnesses have recanted, but somehow, innocence stands distinct from justice in cases like this.

Closer to home, the next hearing for former UMASS student Jason Vassell, on trial for defending himself against an assault by two white non-students, won't take place until later this summer and will be before the Mass Supreme Judicial Court. The court will be making a decision about Jason's attorneys' Motion for Discovery, requesting the past five years' of all cases in Hampshire county involving interracial assaults and other violent hate crimes. It also included a request for case files regarding another example of selective prosecution that had odd similarities to Jason's case. The trial judge had ruled in favor of the discovery, but the D.A. appealed to the SJC. You can find out more at Justice for Jason.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reviled, tolerated, bulldozed, born again: tent cities just keep on coming

What's it really like to be homeless? To live in a tent city, or a homeless shelter or a car? Do you really have to want to know? You can't find out just by looking; you have to be willing to dig, and that's just what Mark Horvath of is planning to do over the next six weeks. According to, he's going to twenty different cities in forty-nine days to "unearth the modern-day realities of homelessness while providing a venue for "invisible" people to tell their story, raw and unedited."

Mark won't be going to the tent city in East Palo Alto, California because bulldozers cleared out the dozen or so people living in dry-grass marshland at the end of June so the owner can sell the property. the owner says that he fears fire, because two years ago a homeless woman died when her campfire set the grass ablaze. The two dozen people camped by a creek in Merced, California will probably be gone by then, too, because the Merced Irrigation District (MID) needs to clear brush.

"I don't think it's up to MID to solve the homeless problem. We've got enough problems supplying the water," MID board member Jack Hooper said. Merced Sun-Star.

If Mark goes to the Catholic Worker House in Champaign, Illinois, he'll find himself in the middle of dispute inside and out: the neighbors aren't happy with the eight tents occupied by homeless people in the back of the CWH property. Inside the house, the nineteen people who live there permanently find themselves bitterly criticized by the homeless, advocates and some volunteers because they discontinued a Sunday lunch for more than 120 homeless people. Of course they're still providing lunch on the other six days of the week--the residents just wanted one day for themselves.

The tent city in Lakewood, New Jersey might not have turned into a little farming community by the time Mark arrives, but it's one of the options on the table. Five months after the city ordered the camp cleared and residents placed in housing, none of the relocation possibilities have actually happened. One community group helping the tent city residents is asking for a little piece of land where residents can raise chickens and vegetables and live in peace. Matzav.

The Catholic Church-run tent city in St. Petersburg, Florida will probably seem like a little bit of heaven to Mark. At the end of a dead-end street, 250 people live in 250 tents and the camp, called Pinellas Hope has showers, a dining hall and a laundry room. Thank God it doesn't get cold in St. Petersburg.

Back in California, Mark will have missed the march of 25o homeless people protesting at City Hall in Sacramento because the city destroyed their tent city three months ago. Loaves and Fishes, the non-profit agency that is helping to organize the march, is being treated with quite a degree of cynicism by some in the homeless community. Tom Armstrong of Sacramento Homeless wants to know why, if the Loaves and Fishes Director was so opposed to the closing of the tent city, she wasn't willing to risk arrest before the tent city was closed, rather than after?

Tomorrow was supposed to be the deadline for the last of Fresno, California's tents (and homeless people) to be cleared from its H Street encampment, but the 50 or so remaining residents have been given one more week. About a quarter of the tent city's original residents have been placed in housing, another two dozen found housing on their own, many have just disappeared, but many remain. Fresno is waiting for stimulus funds to implement plans to target smaller encampments around the city.

If Mark Horvath could move at nearly the speed of light, and was willing to spend a year on his quest, he could talk to every one of the 3.5 million people who are expected to spend at least part of the calendar year without a place to live.

If you have suggestions for where Mark can stop on his journey, email him at roadtrip@invisiblepeople.t.v

Photo by Lisa James from the Merced Sun-Star.

Around Springfield

My friends, I really appreciate the hard work you've put in to creating this wonderful dirt pile for me.

Once upon a time...this was 20 Hancock St., the site of Arise's first office (we took over Springfield Project for a United Neighborhood's office when the organization faded). There were apartment buildings up top, storefronts below. When the building burned and was torn down, this wall appeared behind.

Asters and clover

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Springfield Anti-Biomass Meeting July 22

Massachusetts banned new incinerators 19 years ago, with very good reason, but is now not only promoting biomass incinerators, but apparently is even willing to reconsider incinerators themselves. See this Boston Globe article from May, 2009.

Massachusetts already burns 25% of its trash, compared to a 7% national average.

Haven't our policymakers heard about recycling? Are money and politics driving these decisions? Or could they just be that shortsighted? (Amazing what we can justify to ourselves.)
We won't get really serious about recycling until we're not allowed the easy outs.

A new coalition, Don't Waste Massachusetts (no website yet, apparently) is working to keep any new incinerators out of Massachusetts. You can read more about it at Mass Sierra Club News.

Back in Western Mass., Mary Serreze reports on the five biomass plants proposed for our region. Interestingly, each plant's impact is evaluated separately by state officials, with no look at the combined impact. Losing a litre of blood won't do you irreparable harm, but how about five litres?

The plant proposed by Palmer Paving for Springfield, the most urban of the five affected communities, has some special hazards: it will be allowed to burn up to 75% construction and demolition wood, often saturated with toxins that we clearly wouldn't choose to drink from a cup in front of us.

It's late in the day for organizing to stop Springfield's plant but not too late. Arise for Social Justice is hosting a meeting on Wednesday, July 22nd, 6 pm. at 467 State St., to figure out how to build community opposition to biomass. Join us if you can.

Photo from Asea_'s photostream at Flickr.

Assault on democracy close to home

The following paragraphs are from the Latin American Solidarity Coalition.
Background: A military coup took place in Honduras on Sunday, June 28, led by SOA graduate Romeo Vasquez. In the early hours of the day, members of the Honduran military surrounded the presidential palace and forced the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, into custody. He was immediately flown to Costa Rica.

A national referenfum had been scheduled to take place on Sunday in Honduras to consult the electorate on a proposal of holding a Constitutional Assembly in November. General Vasquez had refused to comply with this vote and was deposed by the president, only to later be reinstated by the Congress and Supreme Court.

The Honduran state television was taken off the air. The electricity supply to the capital Tegucigalpa, as well telephone and cellphone lines were cut. Government institutions were taken over by the military. While the traditional political parties, Catholic church and military have not issued any statements, the people of Honduras are going into the streets, in spite of the fact that the streets are militarized. From Costa Rica, President Zelaya has called for a non-violent response from the people of Honduras, and for international solidarity for the Honduran democracy.

You can go to this site and send a message to President Obama, asking him to cut off aid to Honduras (as required by law) and take what other actions he can, but what isn't included in the message is a demand to close the School of the Americas. You can go to the School of the Americas Watch for some history on the numbers of oppressive dictators and military "leaders" trained by this U.S. funded bastion of tyranny.

President Zelaya is due to return to Honduras today. For an up to the minute account, check out Al Giordano's The Field. (Al was a reporter at the Valley Advocate, Western Mass.'s weekly alternative paper, a few years after I worked the front desk.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Great Moments in Physics

The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen.

"Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."

One student replied:

"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did the problem it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer which showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn't make up his mind which to use.

On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:

"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer."

"Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper."

"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T = 2 pi sqroot (l / g)."

"Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up."

"If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building."

"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr, the only person from Denmark to win the Nobel prize for Physics.

From Short Funny Stories, photo from CERN Photo Lab.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Don't ask, don't tell"-- Obama continues to disappoint

b"Syracuse, NY -- Lt. Dan Choi vowed Tuesday evening to fight to stay in the military after an Army board in Syracuse recommended he be the first person discharged from the New York National Guard for violating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

A four-officer panel meeting at Hancock Air Base notified Choi at about 5 p.m. that it would recommend he be discharged because he has publicly said he is gay.

The recommendation now goes to Lt. Gen. Thomas Miller of the First Army Division, and Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, who will make the final decision.

"Today was a setback for me," Choi said at a 6:10 p.m. news conference. "I got in trouble for saying three words. 'I am gay.'"

But he said he refuses to lie about being involved in a relationship with another man. Choi said the relationship has made him a better person, a better Christian and a better officer.

Choi, an Arabic-speaking officer who served for 15 months in Iraq as a member of Fort Drum's 10th Mountain Division before joining a New York National Guard unit based in Manhattan, said he would appeal to the higher-ranking officers to stay in the National Guard.

There is no deadline for a final decision in Choi's case." Read more at

Yesterday, at a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Pres. Obama said, "We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

Wait a minute-- assuming he anticipates winning a second term, does that mean eight years from now?

You can sign a petition to President Obama with the following text: "President Obama, The time has come to end discrimination in our armed forces. We, the undersigned, ask you to stop the discharge of Lt. Dan Choi and any other soldier as a result of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. We ask that you uphold your pledge and push Congress to quickly put a bill on your desk to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

Photo courtesy Lt. Choi from the Syracuse Post-Standard.