Saturday, October 11, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Sunday, June 29, 2008
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
- George Elliot
This morning I found myself thinking about a case going to trial in mid-July. The women, Joy Kohler and Jamie “Bork” Loughner, are being tried on charges of terrorism for locking themselves to a public housing unit in New Orleans. Their actions were a last ditch effort to prevent the demolition of one of the last public housing spaces left in the city. The arrests made by New Orleans police, were defended by an officer’s claim that the lock down devices the women used to prevent the removal of their chains, looked as if they could be bombs.
This story left two major imprints on my brain, that eventually came full circle:
1)The rhetoric of the law being such that a person may be jailed, and tried, because an officer of the law thinks something or someone looks like something threatening.
2)The conditions facing the poor and homeless in New Orleans, as well as the rest of the nation’s large cities.
The former will make more sense for me to address after addressing the issue of homelessness.
I suppose a good place to start when it comes to topics liek this, is with facts.
*1 in 25 people in the city of New Orleans is homeless. That measures out to be about 4% of the population. Easily the highest homeless population in the country. (To put it into perspective, the next highest percentages of homeless are in Atlanta with 1.4% and Washington, with .95%)
*40% of the homeless staying in public shelters in New Orleans have full time jobs.
*Since 2005, attacks on homeless have increased by 65%. The vast majority of these attacks are by civilians, and of those, and overwhelming amount of the attacks are by teens.
*16.5% of people in New Mexico go without food every day. Of those people, less than half qualify for welfare.
*A recent study concluded the number one cause of homelessness was (big surprise) unaffordable rising housing costs. The second largest factor was unaffordable health care. Nearly a third of all homeless are without healthcare.
*Only 26% of all homeless are reported as having a “substance abuse” problem.
*46% of homeless report having a chronic health condition. Nearly a third have high risk ailments.
*That percentage doesn’t account for the 22% of homeless described as having a serious mental illness.
*40% of homeless men are veterans
It is difficult to decide where to begin addressing these facts. I am tempted to begin with the issue of veterans, but it seems to make most sense to start at the top. A common response heard, when i have relayed these facts, is justification. “Of course there are high amounts of homeless in New Orleans. They just suffered a natural disaster”. “ Of course there are poor conditions for homeless in New Mexico. They are probably immigrants.” I have a response to each of these. Aside from the fact that a continued growth in the homeless population of a city after a natural disaster has occurred is completely unprecedented, the fact that federal aid funding continues to be cut is an atrocity. A recent article in USA Today said it best, “being in a natural disaster is no longer a guarantee that that the government is coming to rescue you.” This is partially why the demolition of public housing in the city is so controversial. The city argues that the decrease in the city’s population has decreased the need for public housing. But this is faulty logic because it is those people on the brink of homelessness who most benefit from it. To the second response, about New Mexico... I can offer no statistic about what percentage of homeless and hungry are immigrants. I can say with confidence that 100% of them are humans. I think of woody guthrie’s song “deportees”:
The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"
My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.
Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.
The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?
It is here that my mind splits into two directions: 1) The treatment of veterans, and 2) the treatment and mindset towards the homeless.
To me, this song does not just pertain to deportees. You could easily substitute the word “veterans” for deportee. Our government uses them as a means to an end. If they don’t die there by the gun, they die here by our own hands. Of homeless veterans, a large portion of them are unable to obtain jobs due to injury or illness. The “benefits” provided to veterans are feeble at best. They are duped into “defending” the laws of our country (i use defended in quotes because at present the vast majority of homeless veterans are from the Vietnam War...and i do not think anyone is willing to argue that that war was a necessary act of defense.) In this way they are treated as a means to an end... they serve to advance an agenda and then are discarded to the streets. ( I could argue that this is a somewhat modern phenomenon...the percentage of homeless veterans prior to the Vietnam War was less than half what it currently is. I would argue that there is far more implication in that than people are willing to look into.... they are not treated liek heros, because everyone knows their “service” is a joke (perhaps another reason we are seeing rising rates of homeless Iraq War vets). There is a term for this that comes to mind: “standing reserve”. It is a term expressed by Heidegger in “The Question Concerning Technology”. In it, he argues that with technological increases, humans exponentially increase the conversion of universal materials, into consumable goods. The example he uses, is trees into mulch for particle board, chairs, etc. It takes little imagination to draw the impending parallel between the treatment of trees (and animals for that matter) to the treatment of men (through the example of the treatment of veterans). “Is this the best way we can grow our orchards? Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit? to fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil, and be called by no name except deportees?”
It is hard to follow the heavy implications behind the treatment of veterans, with the weighty discussion of the treatment of the homeless. The 3rd fact i noted is perhaps the most troubling. Since 2005, attacks on the homeless have increased by 65%... with the vast majority of these being carried out by civilians. This has directly followed an increase in laws around the country that seem to be taking direct action against the homeless. In Nevada, laws were imposed making it against the law “to provide food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee.” Labeling an indigent person as “a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance (please see my first point about the inherent flaws in the rhetoric of the law). A similar law was enacted in Orlando. In Austin, and Atlanta, new laws increase possibility of jail time for loitering. In New Orleans, lawmakers are threatening to make it against the law to sleep in public spaces, and in Denver, it was proposed that it be made illegal to sleep under an overpass. Similar laws have been a trend all across the United States. The implication here, would seem that the law creates the stigma. By criminalizing the homeless, we are in essence telling society that it is OK to attack, that is is OK to mistreat the homeless, because they are criminals, they are scum unworthy of an existence commensurable to ours.
This is a disturbing thought. Things occur in progressive stages. It all begins with the dehumanization of a group... we have gotten into the habit of dehumanizing immigrants, and dehumanizing the homeless. This is evident in our laws, and evident in our actions (one example, is Warren Messer, a 15 yr old boy serving life for beating a homeless man to death “just because”). We cannot let our government shape our mindset. That is scary territory. We have got to step back and think about out actions....think about our laws. Awareness is a good first step towards change. I am not sure what the best solutions to this problem are. A changing of the laws certainly seems in order. To criminalize a human for being without the means to eat and live, is sickening. But we have to do more. We have to change the way we see the homeless before we can begin to provide solutions for helping them cope with their situation. I am not implying society is entirely responsible for the condition of all homeless peoples. But I cannot idly sit by and watch these people be beaten, or be commodified. I think, appropriately, of Marx: “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. I cannot allow the complete dehumanization of a group of people to occur...because that could allow for a farce far too tragic for me to appreciate.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Wednesday, July 2nd - Call Minister Diane Finley
Next Wednesday, July 2nd Americans are invited to join the pan-Canadian “call in” to Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley (phone 613.996.4974). Ask her to STOP deportation proceedings against Corey Glass and all U.S. Iraq war resisters; and IMPLEMENT the motion adopted by Canada’s Parliament to allow U.S. Iraq war resisters to apply for permanent resident status.
Monday, June 23, 2008
I have been devoting much thought recently to the idea of protest; of violence and non-violence and resistance and resignation. These have been difficult terms for me to grapple with, and it has taken some time for me to flesh out thought from feeling. I suppose a good place to begin, is with a poem by Hayden Carruth:
"On Being Asked To Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam"
Well I have and in fact
more than one and I'll
tell you this too
I wrote one against
Algeria that nightmare
and another against
Korea and another
against the one
I was in
and I don't remember
how many against
when I was a boy
Abyssinia Spain and
and not one
breath was restored
mans womans or childs
not one not
but death went on and on
never looking aside
except now and then
with a furtive half-smile
to make sure I was noticing.
This poem has been described as a "troublesome" one. This is because it seems to state, "what is the point of protest, if the violence will still carry on?" and yet, the poem itself is an act of protest in a way. it is still breathing (a breath of despair, yes)- but also a breath of resistance. So the point still seems amorphous...until one digs deeper. Perhaps, the point is that his goal, and the point of this small resistance, is not about stopping violence or war, but about something else entirely....
Accompanying this contemplation on resistance, has come the topic and rhetoric surrounding 1968. Kevin has invited me to attend a"Recreate '68" protest at the DNC. The stated goal of the protest is to voice the resistance towards the two party system, resistance towards the war, and make visible the disenfranchised masses wishing to shout together "enough!"
This all sounds good and well, but i cannot help but recall the many negatives associated with the year: the violent deaths of great visionaries (RFK, MLK), the Vietnam War, gender and race riots.... in short, great violence. But then, I am reminded of the positives. In a way it was a year marking the rebirth of our nation...our eyes were opened to an ugliness and violence (brought right into our living rooms for the first time via television) that we were not used to seeing. In a sense, it was our exit from the cave. Therefore, it makes sense that this period would be a painful one marked by mixed emotions. Nonetheless, it would seem we had come closer to the light.
Fifty years later, we are seeing strong parallels. A recent article I read in the "New Statesman" was written by Noam Chomsky, and titled "On 1968". In it, he weighs both the good and the bad aspects of the year, to conclude that it had an overall positive effect on our nation and its history. He encourages us, pointing out that unlike Vietnam, there has been a strong opposition to this war from its onset. He points out that this opposition has even been within the margins of main stream media, and main stream politics.
These points aside... the verbiage at least seems dubious. I think of the protest last week in response to a House approval of a bill allotting $162 billion towards continued funding of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Red stained dollar bills were showered upon lawmakers as they entered the visitor's gallery.
While that protest is not directly related to R-68, it coincides in my mind because is raises the question "what is the point?" "Does this create any positive change?" These types of protests seem naive. I think of Wendell Berry: "Much protest is naive. It expects quick, visible improvement, and despairs and gives up when such improvement doesn't come." It seems flashy, and reactive to splash around red dollar bills, and strut around the halls of congress in suits and pig masks. But this value judgment aside....does it work? To determine this, I suppose we should first ask "what are the goals of these acts?" before we are able to determine if they succeed.
I asked a friend what he thought the point of protest is. He responded by saying that he thinks it is to make your voice heard when you think no one else is listening. That seems accurate. It also seems naive; liek a shouting match. Yet this is the continuous rhetoric: "Let your voice be heard!" "Fight the oppressive silence!"...... I was having trouble Figuring out just why this bothered me so much. Why did this not seem right?
The answer dawned on me while reading at my mother's home. She had a copy of Josephus on a shelf, and liek I have done so many times before, browsed through it for something of interest. One of the first things I stumbled upon was the resistance of the Jews in Caesarea against Pilate and the orders of Roman law. They refused to allow a statue of the ruler to be erected, saying they would rather face death than see the laws of the Torah desecrated. This gave me chills. I then thought of the photograph of the man in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square. What gave these protests the authenticity that others seem to lack?
Again, Wendell Berry provided clarity. "If protest depends upon success, it has no durability. Protest that endures, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirt, that would be destroyed by acquiescence." I think it is in this statement, that Berry is able to elucidate the poem Carruth wrote. It becomes clear that the poet's intention was simply one of survival. He had to write. He was left with no choice... action or atrophy.
I then think of Thoreau: "There will never be a really free and enlightened state until the state comes to recognize the individual as a higher, and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly." The people are a power higher then the state. This is a fact that, for me, becomes lost and crippled by concerns with political parties, elections, laws and lawmakers. We are kept well sated with "facts" and conflicts; filled to the brim with diversions. But the restless current cannot remain forever dammed. The footage of the floods sweeping over the midwest at present, provide powerful imagery. It would seem it is time for our rivers to swell and levees to break. The time seems nearer at least, when people will heave breathes of resistance in as necessary a fashion as heaving breaths of air. There is not a need for violence, or elaborate show. There is only a need to refuse to quell, and a need to rise and climb...no matter how high the sandbags scale. I find I have hope in this...and hope is far more powerful than protest, because it is what gives one the strength to even heave those breaths.