Friday, December 9, 2011

Who needs food stamps? We're too fat already

When possible, I like to spend the first hour of my day reading the news, because it really does inform the political work I do.

Mark Bittman in this morning's New York Times asks, What's the difference between eating a cookie for breakfast and having a helping of a sweetened breakfast cereal?  Usually, the cereal has more sugar!  Bittman outlines the lobbying and political pressure that the "breakfast food" industry applies to any attempt to reduce sugar content or marketing to children.  So far, the industry wins every time.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is calling for big cutbacks in the federal Food Stamp program.

If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?” Santorum asked.   ThinkProgress.

Three-quarters of those who live in this country are either overweight or outright obese.  The health problems that accompany obesity are well-documented.  What Santorum doesn't understand is that access to calories does not mean access to nutrition. 

Some few people manage to resist  marketing and the lure of cheap food, but the deck is stacked against us.  Occupy Breakfast? 

Photo from Frapestaartje's photostream at Flickr.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Send in the stenographers: City Council votes to appeal PRE's building permit

It was all over in less than ten minutes....eleven councilors showed up for last night's special meeting, and nine of them voted to appeal Palmer Renewable Energy's building permit to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Thanks, guys! I don't know when the appeal will be heard yet but I do know it'll be important for the community to attend.  I am also appealing, as well as one of  PRE's abutters.

Something interesting did happen last night, though: PRE sent stenographers to record the proceedings.  That in itself is not unusual; they've done it before.  But what I did find interesting is that PRE didn't bother to send stenographers for the first attempt of city council to appeal the permit.  Why didn't they send the stenographers for that meeting?  Because obviously, they knew that no vote would be taken.  And why was no vote taken?  Because Councilor Katari Walsh invoked Rule 20.  My, my, my.. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Biomass opponents still in the game

We had a good piece of news yesterday and expect another step forward today.

Commissioner Ken Kimmell,  Mass. DEP, rejected his Presiding Officer's recommended decision that a ten citizens' group (that is, those of us in Springfield who are appealing the air permit issued to Palmer Renewable Energy) do not have the standing to appeal, and sent the case back to the officer to be determined on its merits!  Of course, he reserved the right to challenge our standing after the determination is made.  So we're back in the game.

Tonight, at a special meeting, the Springfield City Council will take a vote to appeal the building permit issued to PRE by Building Commissioner Steve Desilets.  The city council revoked PRE's special permit back in May, and thought that would be the end of the matter, only to find out that its vote didn't count for much-- PRE is saying tit never really needed the special permit that it asked for and received in 2008. 

Every day that we hold off this plant is a day that Springfield residents-- and the rest of the Valley-- don't have to breathe air even more polluted than we already have to live with.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Biomass backstabbing-- citizens being sold down the river (but we're still swimming upstream)

To be blunt, this has not been a good week for biomass opponents and the residents of Springfield.   At Monday night's city council meeting, we expected councilors to authorize themselves to appeal the building permits issued to Palmer Renewable Energy for construction of a biomass plant.  Instead,  an obviously choreographed effort   between city solicitor Ed Pikula and Councilors Walsh, Ferrera and Rooke paved the way for Walsh to introduce rule 20, bringing the proceedings to an abrupt halt.   Western Mass. Politics and Insight   has an excellent blow-by-blow description of the evening's farce.

"Don't worry, we'll fix this on Monday," Councilor Mike Fenton told us, and I believe that he and the other nine councilors who also appose this biomass plant will prevail,  but it gives the council less time to file an appeal-- the deadline is December 15.

We've had some members researching campaign contributions from PRE's owners, family members and attorney, but the Valley Advocate summed it up nicely for us before we could finish. From the Callahan family:
  • Jimmy Ferrera: $1,400
  • Bud Williams: $1,400
  • Kateri Walsh: $1,250
  • Tim Rooke: $750
 From Callahan's attorney, Frank Fitzgerald:
  • Walsh: $500
  • Ferrera: $350
  • Rooke:  $250
  • Williams $250
 Now, do I think a councilor's vote can be bought so cheaply?  Possibly.....but what I actually suspect is that there were far more substantial offers of assistance, financial and otherwise, made to city councilors by PRE this year, which will never appear in a list of campaign contributions.  I suspect that that if city councilors revealed the extent to which they have been lobbied and cajoled, we would be shocked. 

But what I absolutely believe is that no city councilor should accept a financial contribution from any person who has business before the council and who would benefit financially from a council decision.

Second piece of bad news: just today, DEP handed down a "recommended" decision about our air permit appeal, basically saying that citizens have no "standing" to appeal a DEP-issued permit!  On the advice of attorneys, I'm not going to comment on our legal strategies at this point in time (except to say we still have plenty!), especially as the decision is not final until approved by DEP Commissioner Ken Kimmel.  Our press release is below.  

I do, however, want people to think about the ramifications of this decision if it is upheld.  Clearly, DEP would not apply this decision only to PRE opponents, or only to those appealing air permits.   Think about it.  And we'll talk more later.


Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution Says
No One Other than Developer Can Raise Administrative Challenges to
Power Plant Air Permits – Not Even Affected Residents

BOSTON, MA  November 30, 2011 – Conservation Law Foundation, Arise for Social Justice, and Toxics Action Center today issued the following joint statement in response to the Massachusetts DEP’s recommended final decision on the air permit appeal for Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposed biomass-fueled Power Plant in Springfield, MA.

“This decision, if adopted, would change the rules so as to prevent affected members of the public from participating in administrative appeals of air permits. It also would undermine the state’s clean energy agenda. The recommended decision, which does not address the substance of the petitioners’ claims, essentially says that no one other than the developer has the right to raise administrative challenges to power plant air permits – not even people already suffering from severe respiratory illness, nor people suffering from disproportionate air pollution burdens. We look to DEP Commissioner Kimmel to reject the recommended decision and preserve the right of Massachusetts residents to have a voice in decisions that affect their health.”

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that preserve natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
# # #

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who owns the radioactive fallout from Japan?

Here's a good one-- the owners of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which spewed radioactive materials over much of Japan, say they don't "own" the material, and that it now belongs to the people on whose property it fell!

A local golf course which is contaminated by radioactivity is concerned about its employees and its customers, and wants the Tokyo Electric Power Co. to clean up its property.  But Tokyo Electric Power Co. says the golf course will have to clean it up, because the golf course owns it!  See story at Asahi Shimbun. 

I wonder if Palmer Renewable Energy will say that the air pollution that would come from their proposed plant 'belongs" to the breather?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't let the 1% pollute our air in Springfield!

"Artist's rendering" which fails to show nearby houses
Please forward this to your friends and coworkers! 

Springfield residents should contact their city councilors to support these resolutions and contact Governor Patrick to urge him to uphold state law.

Springfield, MA - November 17, 2011 - Members of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield (STIS), a volunteer group opposed to the building of the Palmer Renewable Energy (“PRE”) biomass incinerator, are outraged at the issuance of the building permit by Springfield Building Commissioner Desilets that would allow construction to begin on the incinerator.  According to Lee Ann Warner, STIS spokesperson, "This permit flies in the face of the Springfield City Council's 10-2 revocation vote of PRE's special permit.  It sets a very dangerous precedent for Springfield to allow utility-scale incinerator development within the city limits without any special permitting.  This effectively eliminates the public’s voice in decisions that affect our health."
Patrick Markey, concerned Springfield citizen and attorney, states, "The city’s issuance of a building permit for the PRE incinerator is contrary to the requirements of the City’s zoning rules.  The facility lacks a necessary special permit."
Sue Reid, Director of Conservation Law Foundation – Massachusetts, added "The issuance of a building permit to PRE is directly at odds with the City Council’s revocation of PRE’s Special Permit.  In addition, PRE’s rush to secure an unlawful building permit is baffling:  state law prohibits PRE from beginning any construction because it does not have a final air permit.”
On Monday, November 21, at 6:30 pm in City Hall, the Springfield City Council will meet and vote on two resolutions concerning the PRE biomass incinerator.  Michaelann Bewsee notes, "The first resolution would reaffirm City Council’s finding that the PRE Biomass plant is an incinerator that requires a special permit on land zoned Industrial A.  The second resolution calls on the state to enforce its rule of no construction of a polluting facility prior to issuance of a final, non-appealable state air permit.  The people of Springfield spoke loudly and clearly that they do not want – and should not have to tolerate – any more pollution in our already overburdened city.  We commend the city councilors for acting on behalf of the people and support them in passing these resolutions."

Thank you from the volunteers at STIS,

Monday, October 24, 2011

Speak out against the immoral S-COMM!

Dear friend,
Did you watch "Lost in Detention" on PBS's Frontline on Tuesday night?  If you missed it, you can watch it online today1.  This groundbreaking documentary showed us just how dangerous President Obama's immigration policies really are.
The most frustrating part of the documentary was having to watch White House official, Cecilia Muñoz, defend the Administration's failed immigration policies.  As the former vice president at the National Council of La Raza, Ms. Muñoz was a champion for immigrant rights and fierce voice for justice.  She knew our struggles and witnessed the pain that a broken immigration system inflicts on our communities.
Now, Ms. Muñoz is the main administration official publicly defending "Secure Communities" (S-COMM), which relies on racial profiling to incarcerate immigrants and tear apart thousands of families each year.2  Not only is she defending the program, but she has made a series of statements that hide the human toll of the immigration crisis that are outlined below.
We want Cecilia, the immigrant rights advocate, back!
Click here to sign a petition asking Ms. Muñoz to set the record straight and to denounce S-COMM. When you're done, please forward this email to your friends and family and ask them to sign as well.
MISREPRESENTATION: Ms. Munoz has said that half of the almost 400,000 immigrants deported this year were criminals.3
FACT: According to statistics released this week, only 22% of people deported last year were convicted of serious offenses.4  That means that 78% of the "criminals" being deported by the Obama administration for "serious" offenses are people with traffic and immigration violations and other non-violent offenses.  Furthermore, legal experts and journalists have questioned Muñoz and the Obama Administration's definitions of “criminal” immigrants.
According to the administration's statistics, one person's petty marijuana charge would be considered the same as someone else's armed robbery.  What's worse, in the 2011 fiscal year, the Obama administration changed the way it defined "criminal" to include people never convicted of any crime under previous definitions.5
Journalist Adam Serwer recently said that the Administration's definition of its “criminal removals” category “raises the question of just how many people in this category actually fit the description of someone who has committed a serious crime or poses a threat to public safety.6”  It's outrageous and only further criminalizes immigrants who want to give back to this country. 
MISREPRESENTATION: Ms. Muñoz defended S-COMM by saying that the Obama administration modified it after listening to community input.
FACT: The S-COMM task force the Obama administration set up to listen to community concerns ended in resignations of key task force members and made no significant changes to the program.7
MISREPRESENTATION: Ms. Muñoz stated that the cases of the 300,000 people currently in deportation proceedings would be reviewed, and that low-priority cases like those of DREAM Act students and those with strong ties to the U.S. would be dismissed.8
FACT: The Obama administration has not begun its review of these 300,000 cases. DREAM Act students are in deportation proceeding as you read this. Reports from the ground suggest that not only is the Obama administration not using discretion with the people it deports, but that immigration agents are actually pursuing enforcement even more aggressively.9  The United We Dream Network, an undocumented youth-led organization, reported that even after the announcement, they are aware of at least 100 DREAM eligible youth who are still in deportation proceedings.10
Ms. Muñoz's defense of Obama Administration policies that place massive numbers of immigrants in that system is inexcusable.
Click below to sign a petition asking Cecilia Muñoz to set the record straight and denounce S-COMM.
Thanks and ¡adelante!
Felipe, Favianna, Roberto, Laurie, Carlos, Kyle and the rest of the Team
1. "Lost in Detention" on PBS' Frontline website

2. "Report: Secure Communities Encourages Racial Profiling, Lack of Due Process", Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, 10/20/11

3. "In the Debate Over Immigration and Deportations, the Facts Matter," White House blog, 8/16/11

4. "FY 2011: ICE announces year-end removal numbers, highlights focus on key priorities including threats to public safety and national security," Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 10/18/11

5. "Yes, Mr. President, the Facts do Matter," National Immigrant Justice Center, 8/18/11

6."Open-Borders Obama Sets New Deportation Record," Mother Jones, 10/18/11

7. "Secure Communities Task Force Releases Recommendations, Five;Members Resign In Disagreement," Huffington Post, 9/16/11

8. "Immigration Update: Maximizing Public Safety and Better Focusing Resources," White House blog, 8/18/11;

9. "MIA: Obama's New Common-Sense Immigration Policy," 7/27/11

10. "An Open Letter To Cecilia Muñoz,", 8/11/11

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Biomass update - thanks, City Council!

Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield's Jesse Lederman at the rally
Yup, it's true: in spite of Springfield City Council's vote earlier this year to revoke the Special Permit for Palmer Renewable Energy's biomass plant, PRE is attempting an end run around the city council and filing for a building permit to begin construction.

On top of the city council's vote,  we're appealing the  Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection's air permit, so that permit is far from decided.  But apparently PRE has the support of the Sarno Administration on its side, and their confidence appears to be high.

Now, you might think that because Palmer renewable Energy is now suing the Springfield City Councilors that they would be feeling more wary.  But no, they're hanging tough!  Below is a copy of a letter that eight councilors wrote to Building Commissioner Steve Desilets.  Hope our rally on Monday night helped show the councilors who voted against PRE that we've got their back. 

In case you missed it, at the bottom of this post is a September report on our air quality.

 Dear Commissioner Desilets:

          It has come to our attention that Palmer Renewable Energy (hereinafter “PRE”) has filed with your office for a building permit. We further understand that this permit seeks “as-of-right” permission to build a smoke stack necessary for their proposed “biomass” facility.

            Earlier this year, we revoked PRE’s Special Permit for their proposed “biomass” facility. Said revocation was predicated on findings of fact that we made regarding the facility and the changes that were made to plans approved in 2008. This action was taken with the understanding that PRE would be unable to build their facility without a new Special Permit. Such is our interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance.

            M.G.L. ch. 40A, § 7 states that “[the] building commissioner . . .  shall be charged with the enforcement of the zoning ordinance or by-law and shall withhold a permit for the construction, alteration or moving of any building or structure if the building or structure as constructed, altered or moved would be in violation of any zoning ordinance or by-law; and no permit or license shall be granted for a new use of a building.”  As such, we believe it is your obligation to deny this permit.

As the legislative body for the City of Springfield, we respectfully request that you to deny this permit and all future building permits for this site which would circumvent our Zoning Ordinance. Failure to deny said permits will bring unnecessary burden upon the city and its taxpayers.

Please accept this letter as our request for enforcement prescribed in M.G.L. ch. 40A, § 7. The statute reads, “if the officer or board charged with enforcement of zoning ordinances or by-laws is requested in writing to enforce such ordinances or by-laws against any person allegedly in violation of the same and such officer or board declines to act, he shall notify, in writing, the party requesting such enforcement of any action or refusal to act, and the reasons therefor, within fourteen days of receipt of such request.”

In accordance with this statute, please inform us of your decision by November 4, 2011. Once we are in receipt of your response, we will consider our rights for appeal pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 40A, §§ 8, 15, 17.


Jose F. Tosado             John A. Lysak              Timothy C. Allen
Melvin A. Edwards       Michael A. Fenton        Amaad I. Rivera
Zaida Luna                   E Henry Twiggs

cc: Mayor Domenic Sarno
cc: City Solicitor Ed Pikula

And just WHAT are genetically modified foods good for?

Bigger crop yields, right?  And resistance to weeds?
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of "superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.  The Guardian.
I already wrote about how Monsanto's RoundUp weed killer was creating superweeds..   (Wonder if they're edible?)

GM foods require more weedkiller and seem to be attracting more insect pests as well, and apparently for no good at all except to make Monsanto shareholders rich.  For the case against Monsanto, and what people are doing to organize, see the organic Consumer's Millions Against Monsanto page.

Graphic from Alphachimp's photostream at Flickr.

Occupy Springfield - Monday, October 24th * 3 PM - 6 PM * Court Square

 *********************** Please Forward Widely! ******************************

The Occupy Wall Street  movement has spread to Springfield MA and it is building momentum.   This past Monday, October 17th, from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm - several dozen  people converged on Court Square in downtown Springfield.  With signs  such as "We are the 99%" "64 Million in Poverty," "Hey Bank of America: Suck my Debt," and "No More Displacement," among others - students, toddlers, nurses, mothers and fathers, teachers, and community activists joined together to proclaim: 


Please  join us this Monday to grow the Occupy Springfield movement!  Tell your  friends, your relatives, your co-workers, your classmates!  Bring your  bodies, your signs, your outrage and your love!  

Monday, October 24th * 3 PM - 6 PM * Court Square 

We will gather for both a rally and a general assembly.   General assemblies are the decision-making bodies of the Occupy Wall  Street movement.  Based on a model of non-hierarchy, consensus, and  mutual respect, the general assemblies have become a source of strength  and empowerment for our burgeoning movement.  To learn more about the  Occupy Wall Street movement in general, check out  To find out the latest about Occupy Springfield, check out our facebook group: 

With respect,,
Dan Keefe

Resource Developer, Out Now! 

P.S.  Just to be clear: I in no way speak on behalf of the Occupy Springfield  participants.  It just so happened that Holly (also of Out Now!) and I  decided to circulate a contact list this past Monday.  Hopefully at this  week's General Assembly, we can develop a real outreach committee  tasked with mobilizing for the next event.  In the meantime, however, a  disorganized handful of folks have been doing what must be done to get  the word out - using emails, fliers, personal outreach, facebook, etc. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Alice Walker on Occupy!

the joyful news of your arrest

this sunday morning everything
is bringing tears.
in church this morning
not a church anyone from my childhood
as church
a brother singing
about the bigness of love
and then this moment
news of your arrest
on the steps of the supreme court
a place of intrigue and distrust;
news of the illegal sign you carried
that you probably made yourself:
Poverty Is The Greatest Violence Of All.
brother cornel.  brother west.
what a joy it is
to hear this news of you.
that you have not forgotten
what our best people taught us
as they rose to meet their day:
not to be silent
not to fade into the shadows
not to live and die in vain.
But to glorify
the love that demands
we stand
in danger
shaking off
our chains.

See OccupyWriters for the hundreds of writers who support the Occupy Movement.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tigers, zombies and homeless families inside my brain.

Ever since I woke up this morning and watched the news on CNN, I've been filled with grim anger and a disgust so deep my soul is twisted.  Some truly insane man believed he had the right to keep lions and tigers, wolves and bears as his personal possessions and last night, he killed himself and let the animals free.  Today most of them are dead, killed by law enforcement because the public was in immediate danger.  Pointless, pointless, should never have happened. 

So it only seemed par for the course later this morning when I got an email about the immediate limiting of shelter access for homeless families.  I wrote about this over on the Arise blog, and we're calling for an emergency membership meeting for next Wednesday at 5:30.  But somehow homeless families and tigers are together in my mind, looking for freedom, looking for security, scared and furious all at the same time.  Some of us will go down fighting and some of us will just go down.  Or maybe, somehow, we can find some safety.  But we are far from home.

I had a zombie dream last night.  They are falling out of closets and vegetable bins, and seem more a nuisance than a danger.  I am in some public banquet hall waiting for President Obama to arrive.  I am hungry and I'm going around to people's leftover plates and eating the pie crust that is left on them.  Finally Obama charmingly takes the stage and starts doing a soft shoe dance.  He asks a young Black girl who is watching to come up on stage and dance with him, but she declines.  I find out that a poet is passing through Springfield and decide to ask him if he'll come to Arise and read a few poems, but his business agent gets involved and it turns into a big deal and I decide to forget it.  End of dream. 

Before I set off for Arise I just had to look up "soft shoe" in the Urban and other slang dictionaries to see what I was trying to tell myself.  Besides the obvious reference to African-American dance, soft shoe can also mean to move surreptitiously, cautiously and quietly.  It's also hobo slang for a railroad detective.  Anyway, Obama is not the one I'm waiting for, and the poet stood me up.

I have to move out of my apartment because my landlord sold the house and I can't find a place to live that I can afford. I'm trying to avoid panic and expect to wind up in Housing Court at some point (but I can't live there.).  Tonight I found myself saying to my cats, in a faux Southern accent, "Wherever shall I go?  Whatever shall I do?"   It is somewhat of a comfort to me to know so many others are in my same position-- limits the amount of self-blame for being poor.  On the other hand, I'm a lot better off-- don't have kids at home anymore, and I only have to worry about me and my cats. 

So I guess it's extra important for me to feel that if there was ever a time when the power of the people could make a difference, this is the time.

Graphic: Abi Cushman.

We are the 99%

City Council race and bullet voting

Elections are coming up on November 8, and we have ten candidates for five At Large seats on Springfield City Council.  So registered voters will get to vote for up to five candidates.

But just because you can vote for five doesn't mean you should vote for five!  You can bullet vote!

Say there's a person you really want to see win or retain a city council seat, but he or she was not among the top five vote getters in September's preliminary election.  By casting only one (or two) votes, you raise the ranking of your candidate without raising the ranking of candidates about whom you feel less passionately.

Here's a good description of the pros and cons of bullet voting, and when to use or not use the tactic.

Photo from Theresa Thompson's photostream at Flickr.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy/Take Back Springfield

No One Leaves and others start the rally
Too tired to write much text tonight, but Occupy Springfield did happen...about 35 people...more if you count the ones who came and went.  And at the Take Back Springfield rally tonight, Occupy folks joined in and swelled the crowd to about 150 people.  many people were then headed in to a Springfield City Council meeting, and i don't know what happened there, because I had another meeting.  But I'll post when i do know.  Basically, there were three big issues propelling ralliers to the meeting:
  • protecting the recently passed  ordinance requiring banks to put money in escrow (most of which they'll get back) whenever they foreclose on a property;
  • a non-binding resolution urging the City of Springfield to remove its funds from Bank of America;
  • encouraging city councilors to protect their vote revoking Palmer Renewable Energy's special permit to construct a biomass plant by appealing the building permit PRE seems likely to receive!

Jesse Lederman, speaker from Stop toxic Incineration in Spfld

Patti and Bill, Arise/STIS

Arise members: Ellen (recently pepper-sprayed in D.C) & Christina, founder of 2004's Sanctuary City
By the way, at a General Assembly meeting today, Occupiers decided to be back next Monday, Court Sq., from 3 to 6 pm.  Yippee!

Today! Take Back Springfield rally at 5:30

 Reposting about today...hope to see everyone there!

In June Springfield revoked a permit for a bio-mass plant that would damage our environment:
       Now Palmer Renewable Energy is attempting to build the air polluting biomass plant anyway!

In August Springfield passed the strongest anti-foreclosure legislation in the country:
       Now Bank of America and the Mass Bankers Association are threatening a lawsuit against the city.

Big Banks and Big Business are destroying our communities, killing our  jobs and damaging our environment! Its time to take back our city!

Monday, October 17 @ 5:30PM
Springfield City Hall Steps

We won’t be silent while big banks and big businesses continue to make profits at 

the expense of the people.
We won’t allow big banks and businesses to destroy our communities 

while taxpayers pick up the tab!
Stand up and fight back to take back control of our city and support policies that 

put people, not profits, first!

Arise for Social Justice  •  SEIU Local 1199 • Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude • City Councilor Amaad Rivera •  • Western Mass Jobs w/ Justice • Progressive Democrats of America •   WMass American Friends Service  Committee • Stop Toxic Incineration • Pioneer Valley Young Democrats • Out Now

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Springfield?

Something is happening around the world-- is it ready to happen in Springfield?  We'll find out at least some of the answer  tomorrow.

Thursday I went down to the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen with Ruben and Christina to pass out flyers.  I haven't been down in about four months, and I've never seen it so crowded.  I had conversations with a lot of people, including folks who volunteer at the kitchen and who told me that people who were homeless were sleeping in doorways and abandoned buildings all over the city.

"They go up to Worthington St. Shelter and they're told there's no room, even though the shelter promosed to always make room for them," one woman said.  This didn't surprise me; I've heard it before,  and made calls to Worthington St. on their behalf where I've been told it was "all a mistake" and to send them back.  But what about the people we don't hear about?

I saw my friend Ahmed come in for lunch.  We nodded to each other. He and his two daughters are refugees from Iraq and had been  living in an apartment in West Springfield before it was destroyed by the June 1 tornado. He's going to Springfield Technical Community College, right across the street from Arise, and a few times a week he comes in with a bag of bread and vegetables that he's scrounged from somewhere, leaves it in our office, and then he or one of his daughters comes back to pick it up later in the afternoon.

The flyers we were passing out were about a rally, this Monday  at 5:30 on city hall steps, called "Take Back Springfield."  Arise, as members of the No One Leaves coalition and as founders of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield,  is involved in two areas where corporate control in our city is hurting our people: the foreclosure crisis, typified by Bank of America, and the effort to stop a biomass plant being built in our already asthma-plagued city by Palmer Renewable Energy.  Empty houses, polluted air-- if we don't fight back, we don't stand a prayer.

But on the back of the flyer, we let people know that there has been a call to Occupy Springfield on the same day, starting at 8:30 in the morning at Court Sq.!  We don't know any of the people organizing it, and the timing of the event is not what I would have chosen-- but there you go, it's happening.

In some other cities with an Occupy presence, I know there has been great solidarity between college students, the un- or under-employed and the homeless people who have joined them-- sometimes with political understanding and sometimes because it's safer to sleep out with a crowd than under the bridge.  I can't say I see the potential for that kind of solidarity in Springfield, however.  Maybe I'm not dreaming big enough.  But I think the average person in Springfield still sees homeless families and individuals as lazy, stupid or drug-addicted cheaters.  Yup, some people fit that category--just as there are non-homeless people who cheat on their taxes, treat sick days as vacation days, pad their mileage accounts and get over on the system in every way possible.  but that's not most of us, and never has been.

The Occupy movement has a slogan: We are the 99%.  It's true that if you earn less than $1,137,684 a year, you are in the bottom 99%.  But really, it's the top ten percent that hold more than two-thirds of this country's wealth.  The median income in Springfield is $36,235.  So the median income for Springfield puts us in the bottom 20%!!

I remember the days when I could stop at Savers every couple of months and look for clothing bargains.  I remember the days when I could buy an occasional  book without trepidation of its impact on my utility bills..  I remember when I didn't have to take my medication every other day in order to make it last.  A lot of us remember those days, right?  We don't want much, just enough.  And these days, we're not getting it.  Why is that?  Because wealth is being distributed upward at an astounding rate, and it's been going on for thirty years.  Yet many of us continue to think that if we're not making it, it's our own damn fault.  We continue to think as individuals rather than as members of a society whose strings are being pulled by the elite few.  We work harder and longer for less money, and we stand in line at the convenience store for a chance at MegaMillions.
So here we are.  People all over the country are starting to get it.  Are we ready in Springfield?  I don't know.  Maybe Occupy Springfield will be small in numbers and easily dismissed or maybe tomorrow will be the opening gambit in a movement that will grow over time until we have built the power we need to make change.  That's up to us-- me, and you, and the guy sleeping in the doorway and our neighbor across the street.  Hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


In June Springfield revoked a permit for a bio-mass plant that would damage our environment:
       Now Palmer Renewable Energy is attempting to build the air polluting biomass plant anyway!

In August Springfield passed the strongest anti-foreclosure legislation in the country:
       Now Bank of America and the Mass Bankers Association are threatening a lawsuit against the city.

Big Banks and Big Business are destroying our communities, killing our  jobs and damaging our environment! Its time to take back our city!

Monday, October 17 @ 5:30PM
Springfield City Hall Steps

We won’t be silent while big banks and big businesses continue to make profits at 

the expense of the people.
We won’t allow big banks and businesses to destroy our communities 

while taxpayers pick up the tab!
Stand up and fight back to take back control of our city and support policies that 

put people, not profits, first!

Arise for Social Justice  •  SEIU Local 1199 • Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude • City Councilor Amaad Rivera •  • Western Mass Jobs w/ Justice • Progressive Democrats of America •   WMass American Friends Service  Committee • Stop Toxic Incineration • Pioneer Valley Young Democrats • Out Now

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What kind of Springfield do YOU want to live in?

OK, so the following is a press release, and as cynical as I feel sometimes, I do believe it's absolutely urgent to participate in this process to Rebuild Springfield.  if our voices are not heard, at least we know we did not remain silent, and we can go from there.  Sign up for the online discussion, and go to the meetings! 

Springfield Residents Urged to Show up and Be Heard at Neighborhood and Citywide MeetingsRebuild Springfield Planning Meetings begin week of October 11
Springfield, Mass., October 6, 2011—Rebuild  Springfield, an initiative of DevelopSpringfield and the Springfield  Redevelopment Authority, kicks into high gear with the first series of  three neighborhood meetings during the week of October 10th, followed by  a citywide meeting on Saturday morning, October 15th. Residents and  stakeholders are asked to help create a vision for Springfield that will  ultimately help form the master plan for both the tornado-impacted and  related areas of the City of Springfield.

According to Bobbie  Hill of Concordia, the firm retained to lead the master planning effort,  “These meetings are critical to the planning process. We need to hear,  firsthand, from a diverse array of residents from the impacted  neighborhoods as well as the City at large. A successful plan is one  that meets the needs and hopes of the city’s residents and  stakeholders.”

Concordia is a 28-year old firm at the forefront  of research and best practices related to planning for disaster  recovery. They have applied their model to facilitate the collaborative  design of neighborhoods and buildings for cities, most recently  post-Katrina New Orleans.

The first round of neighborhood meetings will be held next week:

Sixteen Acres, East Forest Park
Tuesday, October 11, 2011, 6:30pm-9:00pm
Holy Cross Gymnasium, 221 Plumtree Road

Six Corners, Upper Hill, Old Hill, Forest Park
Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 6:30pm-9:00pm
J.C. Williams Center, 116 Florence Street

Metro Center (Downtown) & South End
Thursday, October 13, 2011, 6:30pm-9:00pm
Gentile Apartments Community Room, 85 William Street

The  week will end with a city-wide meeting—all residents and stakeholders  are encouraged to attend—on Saturday, October 15 from 8:30am-11:30am at  the MassMutual Center. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss issues  and opportunities that affect the city as a whole.

Residents are also encouraged to learn about Rebuild Springfield and to submit their ideas at the online conversation at For information, residents can call 413-209-8808.

There  are two more rounds of meetings planned in November and December  respectively, the dates and times are to be announced. The final meeting  in January will be the presentation of the master plan for Springfield,  incorporating the ideas and needs of the residents and stakeholders.

Nick  Fyntrilakis, Chairman of DevelopSpringfield stressed the importance of  community engagement. “Working together, we have an opportunity to  create a vision for a stronger Springfield that builds upon our rich  history while focusing on our future.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Right to the City; Anti-foreclosure activists protest Bank of America

No One Leaves in Boston (photo Joe Oliverio)

Yesterday forty of us from Springfield hopped on a schoolbus and drove to Boston under the No One Leaves banner to join 3,000 other activists to protest the brutality of Bank of Boston's foreclosure policy.  Here's a link to a MassLive article which talks about the rally and the arrest of protesters, and a link to Right to the City, the conveners/organizers, and here's a photo history of our day.

We had a short protest at BofA in Springfield before loading

Candejah Pink Bank Tenants leader, goes over the logistics of the day

City Life/Vida Urbana gets ready

Rally at Boston Commons

people block entrances of the Bank of America

Add caption

Ruben (red on the right) rallies us in front of the bank

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Putting poor people to good use

Today Liz and I went to a hearing held by the Dept. of Housing and Community Development on the new HomeBASE program, which is supposed to help eligible families avoid homelessness.  The hearing focused on the regulations themselves, and how they might be fine tuned; we were there mostly to talk about the implementation end.

To put that in human terms, when a young woman with a baby (apartment lost in the tornado, didn't know about FEMA, staying for 2 months with a friend in subsidized housing whose own housing is now at risk because of her presence) goes down to the Dept. of Transitional Assistance to apply for Emergency Assistance (necessary before you can apply for HomeBASE) and is twice told she is not eligible and turned away with no written explanation, then something is wrong with the implementation picture.  It was not until she came to Arise with her story and we gave her a flyer (thanks, Mass Law Reform) about HomeBASE, with certain key parts highlighted, and sent her back down to DTA, that she was able to get help.

The hearing today wasn't huge.  Some advocates came, and some agencies charged with administering some aspect of the program, and a couple of poor people.

One of the testifiers (this was an official hearing) is the head of a local housing agency.  Among other things, he spoke about how the housing rate is set too low, and may, through the law of unintended consequences, concentrate poverty in particular areas.  I've heard him speak about the need to have our neighborhoods economically diverse before; and while I agree with some of his analysis in theory, it's really a much more  complicated scenario.  So i thought i knew where he was going.  But I was wrong.

"Poor people should be able to live in more affluent neighborhoods," he stated, "because they need people to hire for the low wage jobs."

My mouth fell open.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  And he went on later to speak about how many homeless families are coming from out of state, and shouldn't these scarce benefits be preserved for the people on his long housing waiting list, a point nicely countered later by someone else who said that studies show a statistically insignificant difference between the needy families who come to our state and our needy families that go some somebody else's state, which also has long waiting lists., etc.

I've been pondering  his remarks all evening.  Let me get this straight: at least a few of us (not too many, mind you) should live in affluent neighborhoods so we can do their dirty work?  Can we all get hired to become maids and gardeners?  Can we wander their snowy neighborhoods with shovels?  (Actually, we do that already.) Work in the convenience  and mega-drug stores?  (We do that already, too.) And wouldn't affluent people really prefer we commute rather than live next door?

As classist, serf-like and  preposterous as his idea is, it also belongs to an era long gone, never to come again.  This isn't the Fifties. Most people's fortunes have been rolling downhill for decades. Sure, we still have a few affluent neighborhoods in Springfield, but they're ragged around the edges, and in a city where nearly thirty percent of us live below the poverty level, there just aren't enough affluent people to go around-- not here, not anywhere.  

Even the HomeBASE program, rotten with good intentions and riddled with  regulations, is predicated on the belief that, starting basically from zero, a homeless family can turn its life around in just one year.Do these policy makers and administrators read the same news that I do?  Is anybody predicting the economy will recover in just one more year?

I have a lot more I could say about we what we, as poor people, need to do, but that's another post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yesterday's preliminary election

City Council Biomass Hearing
Why, when people go out to vote, do they not bring the knowledge that they have about councilors' positions with them into the voting booth?

The vast majority of people in Springfield support ward representation and oppose a biomass plant being built in the city.  But four out of five of the top vote getters in the city council race oppose ward representation and support the biomass incinerator!-- Timothy Rooke, Kateri Walsh, Bud Williams and James Ferrera.

The scary thing about this, of course, is that the message councilors are likely to take from this disconnect of councilors from issues is that they can act with impunity.  Councilors should ponder, however, the first place finish of first term At Large Councilor Tom Ashe, the only at large councilor to vote to revoke the special permit for biomass developer Palmer Renewable Energy.  At 6885 votes, Ashe came in more than 900 votes of second place Tim Rooke, and a whopping 1,800 votes ahead of fifth place Jimmy Ferrera.  I think it's fair to assume that were Jose Tosado still running for city council instead of mayor, Ferrera would not have been among the top five.

While one tends to think that primary results dictate the outcome of the general election, the potential of stay-at-home voters can be tapped.  In 2008, 60% of all registered Springfield voters managed to get themselves out of the house and to the polls to vote their passion. Most candidates for office are not only unable to generate that kind of passion, most of them would prefer the blandest possible persona: lifelong residents, I graduated here, my wife works there, kids go to school here, etc. etc. Smooth, bland, and (until ward representation) colorless.  Don't let voters develop strong opinions about you.  Go along to get along. Be happy to get the votes of the folks who always vote.

I do think there are a couple of candidates this year who haven't shied away from taking strong opinions.  I know who's on my list, who's on yours?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weather, climate, my cousin and I

Oceasn breaks thru from the bay side on Hattaras Island
Hurricane Irene created more damage in Western Mass and Vermont than it did on the Cape, but that's where I was-- in Wellfleet-- when the storm hit.  Although little rain fell, on Sunday we had sustained winds of 30 miles an hour and gusts up to 70 miles an hour.  But a couple of days before that, I knew Irene had been battering the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where my cousin and her partner lived. Turned out that she's OK, and her house stood, with minor damage.  Hattaras Island, however, was hit hard.

Wellfleet's Mayo Beach --on the bay side!- sea foam in foreground
 This year I've found myself tallying a lifetime of weather.  Probably my list isn't much different from other New Englanders-- flooding, blizzards, heat waves, hurricanes-- but I've experienced blizzards and floods while living alone in the woods, when I had moments of wondering if I'd make it through.  I didn't, however, ever expect to be looking at a tornado barreling up State Street straight toward me.  

I hope never to know a forest fire, a major earthquake or a tsunami.  I hope New England never suffers a drought as lengthy as what Texas is experiencing.  But I have a feeling that I'll have a few more major weather events to add to my tally in the next few years.

Here's quick explanation of the relationship between weather and climate change