Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gov. Patrick, shame on you! Clothe our children!

When I was on welfare, I remember how much I looked forward to September.  That was the month that Massachusetts issued a $150 per child clothing allowance to help parents get kids ready for the school year.  No matter the bills still unpaid, I'd take that $150, pull out all my shopping skills, and dress my daughter as best I could.

That $150 allowance hasn't gone up in twenty-plus years, and of course it doesn't go as far as it once did-- even a secondhand pair of pants costs over five bucks at Goodwill-- but for families on public assistance, it lightens the load.

Last night I heard that Massachusetts' Governor Patrick plans to not pay the clothing allowance this year.

Yeah, I know, times are tight, just about everything (except health care) is being cut, but cutting from the bottom brings the whole weight of this economic disaster down on the poorest people's heads.  Local merchants should be unhappy about this, too.

The way I figure it, an additional 66,000 children in Massachusetts will be wearing last year's, now ill-fitting winter jacket, or shoes too small, or unmatched gloves.  I say additional because sixteen years of welfare reform has reduced the welfare caseload but not the number of kids living in poverty whose families don't receive TAFDC benefits..

I'm hoping that maybe, just maybe, if we flood the Governor's office with phone calls, we can get him to reverse his decision. 

Starting Monday, start calling!
Governor Patrick's office:
Phone: 617.725.4005 or  888.870.7770 (in state)

Tell him NOT to make life any harder for Massachusetts' poorest kids.

Seed paper tutorial

OK, this is really lovely-- simple instructions on how to make your own paper embedded with seeds.  Plant the paper, and a garden will grow!  From Gracious Rain.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I do not cry in front of this family

I do not cry in front of this family
homeless with a baby
sitting in my office
waiting for a phone call which may never come
to save them

Instead when I step out back
for the brief sanity of trees and traffic
I see the pigeon that I've seen all day
and realize it has a broken wing.
I'm sorry for your injury,
I say to the pigeon,
I'll get you some water,
You are dead but you don't know it,
won't make it till winter
but today I can offer you

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leonard Nimoy captures Martin Espada

I don't usually get to the Arts section of the New York Times in the morning, but today a photo exhibit by Leonard Nimoy caught my eye: he has an exhibit at Mass MoCA in North Adams titles "Secret Selves," and as I scrolled through the photos, there was my favorite living poet, Martin Espada, and his son Clemente!

Martin says that when he was a kid, he wanted to be a gangster when he grew up.  I can't say that was an ambition of mine, but I and my cousins certainly played "Gangsters" a lot as a kid, and my gangster name was Sadie.

Check out the exhibit and also check out Katherine Gilbert-Espada's art page.  What a household!

Photo from Dreamsjung's photostream at Flickr.

CORI reform: is this the year?

Can't even tell you how often people stop into Arise trying to figure out how to get a job and housing when they have a  past criminal record. 

And CORI's don't just cover convictions.  Ever been arrested and then had the charges dropped, or gone to court and been found not guilty?  It'll be on your record for future employers to see.  (Actually, that part-- removing arrests that don't lead to convictions-- isn't even part of the reform effort.)

Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which represents employers, objects to the part of the proposed changes which would prohibit  a check-off boxes about CORIs on a job application.  But what's the big deal?  Nothing prevents the employer from asking about a past criminal record during an interview.  Under the current system, many applicants don't even get that far.

Time for change!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rockerfeller study tells us what 20% of us already know

Today at Arise a woman we know stopped in with her two kids.  She wanted to know if we knew of any project in the city where she could take her children's school uniforms, outgrown but still in good shape, and trade them for other uniforms that fit?

"If there isn't, there certainly should be," I said.

"Check with the Parent Information Center at Milton Bradley School," Liz said.

Our friend is living on $1,000 a month, which includes some widow's benefits-- that's 50% below the federal poverty level.  She does not receive welfare benefits.  She's looking for work-- and looking, and looking.

A guy came in.  He was looking for a studio apartment, and looking for a job, also.  But he was having trouble finding either, because he had a fairly recent assault and battery charge on his record.

"I didn't do it, but my mom was dying in a nursing home and I didn't want to risk being in jail when she passed away so I pled guilty," he said.  "Do you know any landlords who will give a guy a chance?"  I didn't have a lot of ideas for him.  (In fact, if anybody in the Greater Springfield area has any tips, let me know.)

Recently I find myself describing poverty's affect on people in terms of weather disasters -- dust bowls and tornados -- but there's an older image that came to my mind several "recoveries" ago.  Every time an economic depression washes like a hurricane across this country, there are more and more of us are left swept away, stranded, possibly never to recover.

Today I saw my belief turned into hard proof when Bob Herbert, New York Times, wrote about a rigorous study done by the Rockerfeller Foundation.  First the study created an economic security index to measure the number of people whose income went down by 25% or more in a single year.  Then the study looked at the numbers of economically insecure people after three recessions.

1985:  7.2% unemployment: 12% economically insecure.
2002:  5.8% unemployment: 17% economically insecure.
2009: 9.5% unemployment:  20% economically insecure.

Your house keeps burning down, and there's less to salvage each time.

Lobsters not allowed at meeting

Atlantic lobsters may be at the tipping point, but there will be no five year ban on lobstering after all-- The American Lobster Management Board will consider three options-- a 75% reduction, a 50% reduction, or no change-- and report back at their November meeting.  Boston Globe.

I've ordered lobster once in my life, and found that dismembering an animal that was alive only minutes before to be quite a disgusting experience.  To each his own, I guess.

Photo from Lee Nachtigal's photostream at Flickr.

Seven days or seven million years?

Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.  Yes, no, or not sure?

National Geographic.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Damn civilians! They're undermining the war effort!

No, I'm not talking about the civilians from WikiLeaks, responsible for the 90,000 Afghan War documents the New York Times  published this morning, I'm talking about the 52 women, children and men who dared to get themselves killed on Friday when a NATO rocket smashed into the house where they were cowering, trying to get away from fighting between NATO Forces and Taliban fighters.  Didn't those civilians know they'd make us look bad, might make even more people question what the hell we're accomplishing in Afghanistan?

In mid-year a report issued this month by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, every day for the last six months, six civilians are killed and eight are wounded, for a total of 1,074 civilians  killed and over 1,500 injured in armed violence from January 1st to June 30th.   We all have six family members and eight friends.   Is it easier to get our minds around the smaller figures?  Since this war began (and these are conservative figures) there have been between : 13,372 - 32,969 direct and indirect deaths (indirect meaning you're not an "impact death," you die later) and 18,000 - 44,000 people injured.  The population of Afghanistan is about 29,000,000, so that's a little more than one person in a thousand killed.  In my city of Springfield, that would be about 150 people killed and 180 injured.  What a crime wave!

Now NATO forces are only responsible for 40% of those casualties-- but I think we can say the war is responsible for all of them, as well as responsible for the nearly 2,000 Coalition deaths and 1,207 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan since the war began.

I suppose Obama will feel he's got to muddle through at least until his planned withdrawal begins in July, 2011, or he'll sound like a quitter-- although, does this sound like withdrawal to you?
"We didn't say we'd be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us," he said at the White House, a day after naming Gen David Petraeus as his new Afghan commander.
"We said we'd begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility."
You can hear the words out of his own mouth at the BBC.

Climate change legislation dead for now

 Three of the four lead editorials in the New York Times this morning bemoan the death of climate change legislation in Congress for this year.  I've been somewhat torn between the position of "Pass the bill, it's better than nothing" and "The bill is lousy, why institutionalize bad policy?"

Lee Wasserman's editorial comes the closest to explaining why the bill died.  His fourth point is the one that hit most home to me-- ma7ybe because it's the one point activists can do something to change:

Thread No. 4: The public sits it out. American history has few examples of presidents or Congresses upending entrenched interests without public pressure forcing their hand. Teddy Roosevelt is on Mount Rushmore for a reason.
Citizens wouldn’t support an approach they couldn’t understand to solve a problem our leaders refused to acknowledge. Even the earth’s flagging ability to support life as we know it couldn’t stir a public outcry. The loudest voices insisted that leaders in Washington do nothing.
They obliged.
We need an analysis that can place such apparently disparate pieces of our lives as the cost of good food, the prevalence of McDonald's and Burger King, lack of jobs and public transportation, winter heating costs, the upsurge in asthma and the BP oil spill into a single picture.  We've got work to do.

Photo from Squiffy's House of Fun.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hamster prefers organic

From The Cook's Den.

By the way, it does seem as if the BBC has continued its preoccupation with hamsters.  I blogged about it here.
Go to BBC News and search for hamster; you'll see what I mean.

Arise everywhere!

My daughter is on vacation on Cape Cod and she snapped this picture to send to me-- someone she met at the red Barn in Orleans who works for an organization in Texas called Arise!  I know there's an Alabama Arise, also-- maybe more?

State Probation Department: the lid is off.

The Boston Globe is running an incredible series on the state Probation Department.  The subhead on the article reads:

The troubles at the state Probation Department go way beyond patronage. Key programs have gone astray, with bloated budgets and indifferent management; caseload reports are wildly exaggerated; and a culture of secrecy has enveloped it all.

Yesterday I was writing about the effects of budget cuts on poor people in this state.  But somehow the Probation Department's budget continues to climb: "... state funding rose by 163 percent from 1998 to 2008, according to a study in December by the Crime and Justice Institute, a period in which budgets for prisons, sheriff’s offices, and other public safety agencies grew by no more than 20 percent."

Local readers in particular should pay attention to the claims of patronage swirling around State Rep. Thomas Petrolati, Seventh Hampden. - Consisting of precinct B of ward 6, of the city of Chicopee, the town of Ludlow, precincts E, F and G of ward 8, of the city of Springfield, all in the county of Hampden; and precincts B and C, of the town of Belchertown, in the county of Hampshire.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Economic Dust Bowl: will we ever recover?

Denoris and Waleska help with the kids
Two of the families we've been advocating with this week have shelter for a while.  They were placed by DHCD and have thirty days to prove they're really "eligible" for shelter. So a call to Gerry McCafferty this week got the ball rolling; HAP helped out; and we got great advice from Mass Law Reform Institute and Western Mass. Legal Services.

Of course it was chaos in the office for three days.  Two young women from the summer jobs program at MCDI really helped out keeping the children amused-- the kids were often tired, hungry and stressed, so it was not an easy job.  Simone, our summer intern from McDuffy, helped out, also.

One problem in getting these families placed was that they both come from out of town.  Turns out that they both also have substantial ties to Springfield-- the dad in one family had been in Springfield for four months, looking for work; meanwhile his family was evicted from their apartment in Buffalo..

Now, as long as I've been doing this work, I've been aware of the urban legends about Massachusetts as a magnet for poor families: signs saying "Come to Massachusetts!" posted in NYC bus terminals and Puerto Rican welfare offices.  No one has ever seen the signs, of course, they've only heard of somebody who heard of somebody who has.

But there's a grain of truth in these stories, although Massachusetts is no more a target than any other state with large urban : poverty breaks the ties a poor family has to its community of origin.  I saw this first right here in Springfield.  Used to be that a family could be pretty close to destitute, renting not owning, and yet stay in the same neighborhood for years, building and maintaining ties with neighbors and local schools and businesses.  The loss of these networks comes at great cost to families that have little in the way of material resources.

We are seeing a migration  similar to the Great Dust Bowl, only now it is not soil that has blown away and farms  taken by the bank, but houses, apartments, jobs, stores, teachers, hospitals, social services-- you name it.  This morning's Boston Globe reports on potentially fatal cuts in day care programs for homeless families.  Mass Home Care says 2,400 low-income elderly will lose services that help them stay in their own home. Just as the widow's mite was so much a larger share of her wealth than what the rich man offered,  so these cuts and others like them are a huge share of what make survival possible.

I really don't know where all this is going-- the economy, the community, the individual lives of the poor.  I do know that  every time we have a "recovery," fewer of us get to recover.

Photo: Liz Bewsee

New England Climate Summer

This week bicyclers from Students for a Just and Stable Future passed through Springfield on their New England Climate Summer tour.  We got them over to Gardening the Community and hooked them up with the Springfield Institute for a short bike tour of the city's North End.

On Thursday, they gave a presentation on climate change at the Forest Park Library and showed the following short film.  I'm going to watch it several times more until I really understand the feedback mechanisms that are bringing our climate so close to the tipping point.

Hope to see a lot more of these folks next year!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Scannergate: Suicide by barcode

How did an inmate in Los Angeles County jail commit suicide when he was being checked by sheriff's deputies regularly?  Because the deputies were never there, that's how.  The administration had installed electronic checkpoints with bar codes at regular spots in the jail to make sure the checks were actually carried out.  But some deputies, apparently too lazy to do the job they were paid for,  had a copy of the barcode which they just scanned in at their desks.  Check out the story at Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tornado of homelessness

Hampden County is on a tornado watch....all I want is a soaking rainstorm and a break from the heat.  OK, that's passed, and now we have a rainbow-- a little like the temporary rainbow for some homeless families today.

Seems like as soon as I wrote that I haven't had much direct contact with homeless people recently, I made a liar out of myself.

Last week we at Arise for Social Justice heard from three different single homeless people about health conditions at Worthington St. shelter.  Dust from the shelter renovations, fans taken out of the shelter space and moved to the basement for the workers (does it have to be a choice?), bedbugs, scabies, and today, a suspected case of MRSA.  I've been trying to cut the shelter some slack, because the Friends of the Homeless corporation is finally getting near to finishing the new construction and renovations that former Mayor Ryan said would be finished two years ago (economic downturn, and all that.)  But this is getting way out of hand. We're trying to figure out what we should do.

Last night I saw a quick TV news story about two families threatening to camp out on the steps of the Liberty St. welfare office because they were homeless and being denied shelter by the Dept of Housing and Community Development homeless unit housed in the building.  Now, this is not a new story; Arise has worked with families in this situation for many years.  Has there been an improvement?  Well, DHCD is in charge of homelessness services instead of the Dept. of Transitional Assistance, but the staffperson is the same.  And I have to believe that the same unwritten rule continues to apply: deny as many as possible to keep the statistics as low as possible.  After all, you can't be counted as homeless if you aren't in a shelter or motel.

This morning I was taking the bicycling Students for a Just and Stable future  over to meet the youth-run Gardening the Community folks (they deserve their own post). I hadn't even had a chance to ask Arise organizer Liz if she'd heard about these two families when a woman from an agency I shall not name stopped at Arise and began to tell Liz there were now three or four other families, also denied shelter, who had joined the first two families.  The woman took our business card and a few flyers back down to  Liberty St.  and most of us left for the garden.  Half an hour later, Liz stopped at the garden, snatched up Dave and Louis, two of our members, and headed down to Welfare.

For the next several hours, Liz advocated, Dave consoled, Louis translated.  The DCHD staffperson came out of her office to tell the families that if they didn't leave right now, she was calling the police and then DCF to come and take their children.  Liz spoke to Western Mass legal Services three times and Gerry McCafferty at the Office for Housing to let her know what was happening.

"I'm calling because you said you would not let any family sleep out on the street," Liz said.

"Let me make some calls," Gerry said.

Liz came back at the office to make more calls, and  I answered the phone when Marsha Crutchfield from HAP called.  She asked how I was and I launched into telling her about the homeless families.  But it turned out she was actually calling to say that HAP would put families up for the night at a motel, and the agency was sending a van to welfare to pick them up!  Liz went back down to welfare to let the families know the good news.  At the end of a long day she went home, only to get a call from the father of one of the families-- the motel wanted a $20 deposit on each room and HAP wouldn't pay.  So she went back down to Welfare and paid the deposit.

At least one poor family was lost in the shuffle.  Yesterday some of our members made contact with a woman who needed help. She come up to the office this morning-- a Puerto Rican woman who may have been only in her fifties was raising her three grandchildren and had become homeless.  She'd already been to Welfare once and been told she wasn't eligible for assistance.I asked if they'd let her fill out an application for Emergency Assistance and she said no.  I told her to go back down to the office and insist she be allowed to apply.  Apparently she did, was denied again, and left in tears before anybody noticed.  I hope she's OK; I hope she comes back.

Six years ago, and for nearly two years, Arise had rented two, three bedroom apartments for families in exactly this predicament.  We ran it until we couldn't afford it anymore, until it broke us, really-- we wound up having to give up our office and operated out of people's houses for a year.  But hey-- we're not service providers, we're organizers.  Other agencies get the big bucks to provide shelter  and it's our job to make sure they do it.

We hear there's a big meeting tomorrow with DCHD, HAP and the City of Springfield.  We had better be invited.  Enough of this baloney.  Enough of the indifference, the threats and the cruelty that had children quaking in fear and parents in despair.  Enough.

Graphic: Banksey, from Chris Dever's photostream at Flickr.

Flash mob: Opera Company of Philadelphia

How fast is Earth moving through space?

To begin with, Earth is rotating on its axis at the familiar rate of one revolution per day. For those of us living at Earth's midlatitudes -- including the United States, Europe, and Japan -- the rate is almost a thousand miles an hour. The rate is higher at the equator and lower at the poles. In addition to this daily rotation, Earth orbits the Sun at an average speed of 67,000 mph, or 18.5 miles a second.

Perhaps that seems a bit sluggish -- after all, Mars Pathfinder journeyed to Mars at nearly 75,000 miles per hour. Buckle your seat belts, friends. The Sun, Earth, and the entire solar system also are in motion, orbiting the center of the Milky Way at a blazing 140 miles a second. Even at this great speed, though, our planetary neighborhood still takes about 200 million years to make one complete orbit -- a testament to the vast size of our home galaxy.

Dizzy yet? Well hold on. The Milky Way itself is moving through the vastness of intergalactic space. Our galaxy belongs to a cluster of nearby galaxies, the Local Group, and together we are easing toward the center of our cluster at a leisurely 25 miles a second.

If all this isn't enough to make you feel you deserve an intergalactic speeding ticket, consider that we, along with our cousins in the Local Group, are hurtling at a truly astonishing 375 miles a second toward the Virgo Cluster, an enormous collection of galaxies some 45 million light-years away.

From StarDate.  Photo from kiwizone's photostream at Flickr.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Helmetless young man
texting on his bicycle
name: oblivion.

Hiatus for lobsters?

The Boston Globe is reporting today that a multistate commission will be deciding whether to implement  Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be recommending a five year ban on lobster fishing from south of Cape Cod to the southern edge of North Carolina.  The ban was recommended back in April by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.  Without such a ban, the commission says, the lobster population may go into permanent decline.

 It's not just lobsters (and those who make their living catching them) that are in trouble, though.  In 2006, the Science News Blog posted:  

Ocean Fish Depletion by 2048?

Reuters reports that a shocking study published in Science found that ocean life and seafood could be depleted by as early as 2048. The scientific data also indicates that marine biodiversity has already crashed by as much as 29% since 1960.
In an analysis of scientific data going back to the 1960s and historical records over a thousand years, the researchers found that marine biodiversity -- the variety of ocean fish, shellfish, birds, plants and micro-organisms -- has declined dramatically, with 29 percent of species already in collapse.

Extending this pattern into the future, the scientists calculated that by 2048 all species would be in collapse, which the researchers defined as having catches decline 90 percent from the maximum catch.

This applies to all species, from mussels and clams to tuna and swordfish, said Boris Worm, lead author of the study, which was published in the current edition of the journal Science.

Ocean mammals, including seals, killer whales and dolphins, are also affected.

"Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world's ocean, we saw the same picture emerging," Worm said in a statement. "In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems. I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are -- beyond anything we suspected."
If you're a member of Costco, you should know that Costco sells "Red List" fish-- those fish species which are already at the depleted levels from which they can't recover.  There's a campaign to get Costco to stop this practice and to correctly label their fish so consumers know what they're getting and from where.   There's a petition top right-hand corner to ask Costco to use its massive buying power to leverage positive change in our oceans.  Please sign.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ferrera's prostitution proposal defeated 12-1

Jesse Lederman just called me to let me know that Councilor Ferrera's proposal to send prostitutes and johns to jail for a mandatory one year sentence was defeated by the Springfield City Council-- twelve to one!

About thirty people came down to the council speak-out tonight to show opposition to Ferrera's proposal.  A half dozen of us had signed up to speak, including Arise members, Out Now members and the members of the Prison Birth Project.  Jimmy Ferrera spent most of his time during the speak-out chatting with Kateri Walsh, listening with only half an ear, if that, as his later remarks showed.

Jesse tells me that at one point during the presentation of his proposal, Ferrera said, "As you can tell from tonight's speak-out, there are some people in this city who actually support prostitution."   Councilors Keith Wright and Melvin Edwards challenged his interpretation, saying that they hadn't heard that from the speakers at all-- that we understood drugs are a problem in our community, that prostitution follows the drugs, not the other way around, that we all have a right to live in a safe  neighborhood..

In fact I hear that Melvin Edwards, councilor from Ward Three, just shot down every one of Jimmy's fallacious arguments in favor of incarceration. He echoed the speakers tonight who said that studies have shown mandatory minimums don't prevent the offenses for which they are designed.  He spoke at least three different times.  Thank you, Councilor Edwards.

  I do believe prostitution should be decriminalized, and I do believe that nine out of ten women, men and youth who are doing street level sex work-- survival sex, as they call it-- would be off the streets in a year if they had access to drug treatment on demand, a network of understanding supporters, and a decent job and housing they can afford.  Let's take the approximately $38,000 cost of incarcerating someone in the county jail system in Massachusetts and use it to help open doors.

Problem is, there's always money to lock more people up, even as jobs and drug treatment-- and so much more!-- are cut from the state budget.  That $38,000 would not come from the city's coffers, but from the pockets of Springfield's residents, whose taxes are the bulk of  the state's revenue.  And someone-- I think from the Prison Birth Project--  pointed out the immense cost of law enforcement, especially sting operations,  in Springfield, and the diversion of needed police resources from serious crimes.

I don't think Councilor Ferrera has given much time to understanding what street level sex work is all about..  I wonder how much money he is willing to propose be added to next year's city budget to attack the root cause of the issue.  How about designating a municipal building as a drug treatment on demand center?  Sure, when pigs fly.

As Arise's Ellen Graves said tonight, no one intends to be a prostitute when she or he grows up.How can we help people reclaim their faith in the future, instead of stomping on their lives?

Photo from luckyfish's photostream at Flickr.

How to forecast weather

Turn the calendar back 5,000 years and think about it: those who planted rice and barley knew the right time to plant, knew when the rivers would flood their banks, and could tell pretty well what the weather would be like on the next day.

Many of us are surrounded by concrete; we're not looking up at the sky, we're looking at our IPhone.  We listen to the weather forecasters on TV and complain about how often they are wrong.  But we can regain the lost art of forecasting the weather if we want to, with no gadgets to assist.  Amaze your family and friends!  Marisys has a lovely page on how to forecast the weather.  Give it a try.

 Photo from kevindooley's photostream at Flickr.

Racism hurts

Last week I stopped at my favorite convenience store for milk and had a conversation with one of the two Pakistani brothers who run the store and own the franchise.

The younger brother has worked hard (or maybe it's not so hard for him) to learn customers' names and build relationships.  He is almost always in an open and cheerful mood, but that day he was different.

"How are you?" I asked.

"Oh, man, trying to calm down."

"What happened?"

"This guy came in a little while ago and he was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap.  So I just started joshing with him a little bit, saying, 'Hey, man, you're in Red Sox territory, here.  What are you doing with a Yankees cap?'  You know, I was just fooling around.  I said to him, 'You know, when I first got to this country, I landed in Boston, and I learned pretty fast that I had to be a Red Sox fan.'  And you know what he said to me?  'Boston, huh?  Isn''t that where the 911 terrorists came from?'"

"Wow," I said.  "That was so unnecessary."

"I know," he said.  "I was just kidding around about sports, and he took it to a whole other level!"

Depending on how busy the store is, he and I often have short, political conversations, but this was the first time he'd shared something that had obviously upset him personally.  We chatted a bit longer and I hope I was able to let him know that not all white people are like his previous customer.

Or are we?    Now I will admit that I've gone out of my way to cultivate this relationship with this fellow, because a couple of years ago, I realized I was developing a prejudice about Pakistani store owners.  It didn't have anything to do with terrorism; it had to do with Pakistani-owned stores in low-income communities of color that sold everything that hurts us-- lottery tickets, tobacco, junk food, rolling papers, liquor-- items that most Pakastanis wouldn't purchase themselves.

At least, that was my thinking at the time.  I was quite horrified when I realized I was having these thoughts, and I turned to my closest friends to help me process where my thoughts were coming from.  One of the most useful conversations I had was with my daughter, who asked me if I had the same kind of thoughts about white store owners selling in communities of color, or Black store owners-- and I didn't.  And why not?  Clearly I could have made a similar case around whites who capitalized on poverty and addiction, or Blacks who helped oppress their own communities. 

Gradually I'm unpacking and undermining my prejudice.  It'll be a while before I lose my shame. But I had to recognize my prejudice first, and recognize it was wrong.

Are there white people out there, younger than I am, who are growing up without the prejudice and racism so ingrained in so many of us?  God, I hope so. 

Photo from msmail's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

25 thousand barrels of oil seen in a new way

The man who made this did so before the Gulf catastrophe began. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Homeless man drowns in Connecticut River

Not a lot of information right now (and maybe there won't much to come) but a homeless man named Keith Rainville drowned in the Connecticut River in Springfield yesterday and his body was recovered this afternoon.  Apparently he and some friends were trying to cool off when Mr. Rainville slipped away.

Yesterday a homeless man and woman came into Arise to ask for advice, and when I asked where they were staying, they said, "The Riverfront."  They said quite a few others were also camped out there, but that's been true for years, especially in the summer.

On Thursday, a woman I've known for more than 15 years,  who's been an on again, off again member of Arise, stopped into Arise to help with petitioning.  She was on her second day of a three day ban from the Worthington St. Women's Shelter, because she'd been complaining about the bedbugs and scabies infection.

"Where did you sleep last night?" I asked her.

"In the doorway of an apartment on ________ Street.," she said, "with a couple other people.  A few people in the building brought us down water and some food."

The new women's shelter has been built, but the women haven't been moved up the street yet-- the men have been moved into it instead while their quarters are renovated.

"The men have bedbugs too,"  she said.

When I started this blog three years ago,  Arise was at the tail end of a long fight to have the city to stop ignoring homeless people and help them.  Although there's much still to be done, the city has stepped up through the Office for Housing/Special Homeless Initiative.  Finally, after many, many years of people and organizations asking why you had to become homeless first, to get any help,  preventing homelessness has become a major strategy.  Many homeless policy people think they thought up this strategy all by themselves, but no-- it's simply that they had the power to make it happen.

I've kept homelessness a major focus of this blog, but gradually my day to day contact with homeless people has lessened.  I've felt less comfortable writing about homelessness in general if I couldn't balance that with my own ongoing perceptions.  Meanwhile I've become consumed with the environment assaults against poor people-- against all people, really.  I won't write about this now.  But two months ago I just stopped writing.

Thinking about starting again has felt like starting over. Yet I'm going to try.

Photo from rbglasson's photostream at Flickr.

The Windmill Farmer

You can find out more about the animator, Joaquin Baldwin, at his site.

Thanks for the tip, Boing Boing!