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Posts Tagged ‘Food Not Bombs

Occupy Wall Street movement: What happened in San Francisco?

Occupy Wall Street movement is covering almost all the US States and has vigorously spread to every European States.  This movement is unstoppable and will feed from the experience of the hundreds of sit-ins and marches around the developed States where liberal capitalism has impoverished the people for the benefit of 1% of the elite classes in every State.

I am disseminating this story of what happened in San Francisco:

“Last night, San Francisco Police officers showed up at Occupy San Francisco for the first hostile altercation that the SF movement has had with cops, and among the first police crackdowns on the larger Occupy Wall Street movement. The encampment was cleared of tents and supplies, but protesters remained at the site and the incident could serve to broaden the movement and strengthen its resolve.

Around 9:30 pm, a police officer pulled up in an unmarked car and, with little comment, distributed fliers amongst the approximately 200 protesters, camped out in front of the Federal Reserve building at 101 Market Street, where I was camping with the protesters and reporting a story for next week’s The Guardian.

The fliers stated that we were in “violation of one or more of the following local ordinances or State laws,” and listed six laws, including open flames on a city street without a permit, lodging in a public place, preparing or serving food without a permit, and violating the city’s sit/lie ordinance. The order did not look legitimate, as it did not include an author, a timeline for the police action, or any dates. The atmosphere turned tense as protesters tried to decide how to react.

The camp had substantial infrastructure at this point, with a kitchen area, medical tent, supplies tent, tech area, and about 20 other tents for meeting and for lodging. The kitchen was largely set up by Food Not Bombs and had a propane-powered stove. Kitchen committee members immediately turned off the stove and closed the kitchen upon receipt of the notice, eliminating any open flames and serving of food.

A general assembly was called and emotions ran high as protesters fleshed out the intricacies of nonviolent protest, resistance, and the consensus-based decision-making system, which had served them so well in past weeks, when faced with a more urgent and high-stakes situation. Despite anger and disagreements, the group vowed to remain nonviolent.

A call was put out via Twitter, Facebook, email, and phone for supporters to come to the scene. Within a half hour, at least 100 more people had come, including members of Occupy Oakland, which just began this week.

Around 11 pm, about 60 cops showed up as well as four Department of Public Works trucks. The cops stood on the far side of Main Street, seemingly awaiting orders. Thirty minutes later, one protester, Alexandra List, told the General Assembly that she had spoken to the commanding officer, Captain Charlie Orkes. Orkes told her that if the camp and all the food, equipment, and other items that the camp had amassed were not completely removed in 30 minutes, they would arrest everyone.

Some protesters sprang to action taking down tents, while others discussed the possibility of risking arrest. It was unclear what would happen to confiscated items and for many travelers and homeless individuals currently living and organizing at the camp: They risked losing most or all of their personal belongings. All the tents were taken down, but the stuff was not removed. The camp had been receiving truckloads of donations per day, and finding a vehicle and destination to transport it all was difficult.

Fear and anticipation mingled with the excitement of having so much support and interest, locally and around the country. One protester, Zaigham Kabir of Oakland, said “There’s been a lot of confusion. It looks like a couple hundred people just came here. I also heard that there’s 10,000 people watching on livestream right now.”

Sup. John Avalos – the only mayoral candidate to take part in last week’s rally and march – came to the site around 12:40 am. He spoke several times with Capt. Orkes and also reportedly called Police Chief Greg Suhr in an attempt to mediate the situation and protect the protesters. He was the only supervisor or mayoral candidate to arrive on the scene.

Around 1 am, protesters saw cops put on riot gear and bring out batons. They then marched up Main to Market and formed a line around the remainder of the physical encampment, blocking protesters from their belongings. As protesters sat on the ground, imploring the cops to leave their things alone and chanting “Join Us! You’re the 99 percent too!” DPW workers loaded everything into five trucks. Tubs of food were spilled on the ground as they dismantled the kitchen, taking donated food, water. and supplies (there was so much food in the kitchen that only hours before, protesters had begun turning away food donations).

It was 1:45 am when protesters began taking to the streets to block the trucks. About 20 ran in front of the line of trucks to link arms and stacked wooden pellets, which had been used to elevate the camp during the rain, to form a barricade. One man lay down in front of the truck, smiling with his banjo in hand. They yelled, “That’s not trash! Don’t throw it away!”

Soon, about 250 protesters were linking arms, surrounding the line of trucks. A few brought over municipal trash cans and road blocks to form a barricade around the perimeter.

Throughout the night, many protesters reported conflicted expressions on officers’ faces. One such officer stood now in front of a truck with an American flag that had flown in the camp, still valiantly flying from its post in the DWP truck-bed garbage heap.

Eventually, the trucks backed out of the circle and began driving down Main Street, as protesters ran to try to stand, sit, and lie in front of them. While trying to remove the protesters, one woman was hit and pushed and another man was beaten down and reportedly kneed in the stomach. There was one arrest. It has been reported that the officer responsible for most of this behavior was Officer Pascua, who apparently said to several protesters, including Dylan Brignon of Fremont, “I can’t wait til I get the chance to beat your faces in.

The Guardian has called Chief Suhr, Mayor Ed Lee, and the SFPD and is awaiting a statement on the tactics and decision to raid the camp.

The trucks made it out of there by about 2:30 am. About 50 cops and 100 protesters remained in a standoff on Main and Market, and protesters chanted, sang, and held a large sign reading “We love you” and police stayed in a silent line, batons in hand.

By 3 am, protesters had regrouped. All of the structure was gone, but the occupation was still there. Protesters pledged to remain indefinitely despite the night’s events, and to continue to grow. Around 4 am, some cops returned to the site, and throughout the night there were seven or eight police cars circling the block at all times.

Protesters awoke this morning to a dozen or so police officers guarding the Federal Reserve building. There had already been donations of money, blankets and sleeping bags at 3 am in response to the events, and at 7 am the first food donation since raid came in and the protesters ate a free breakfast.

Said Kabir, “The fact is, we’re all here in solidarity. We’re still here. And we’re not leaving.”

Note: You may read the Official statement on https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/occupy-wall-street-is-statement-official/

How America criminalised poverty

From TomDispatch, part of the Guardian Comment Network, Wednesday 10 August 2011

Note: Occasionally, I like to republish interesting articles before I butt in for a few comments. This article explains the reactions to the book Nickel and Dimed 2001

    • Homeless person, Washington DC
A homeless person sits wrapped in a blanket near the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: Robyn Beck/EPA
“There’s just no end to it once the cycle (of poverty) starts. It just keeps accelerating.”says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School

“The viciousness of State officials to the poor and homeless is breathtaking, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.

A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she’d always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn’t always an option. And if I had a quarter for every person who’s told me, he or she now tipped more generously, I would be able to start my own foundation.

How to define poverty?

Three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families”, which found an astounding 29% of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes – though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts..

I completed the manuscript for Nickel and Dimed in a time of seemingly boundless prosperity. Technology innovators and venture capitalists were acquiring sudden fortunes, buying up McMansions, like the ones I had cleaned in Maine and much larger. Even secretaries in some hi-tech firms were striking it rich with their stock options.

There was loose talk about a permanent conquest of the business cycle, and a sassy new spirit infecting American capitalism. In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, “Make love not war,” and, down at the bottom, “Screw it, just make money.”

When the book Nickel and Dimed was published in May 2001, cracks were appearing in the dot-com bubble and the stock market had begun to falter, but the book still evidently came as a surprise, even a revelation, to many. In that first year or two after publication, people came up to me and opened with the words, “I never thought …” or “I hadn’t realised …”

To my own amazement, Nickel and Dimed quickly ascended to the bestseller list and began winning awards. Criticisms have accumulated over the years. But for the most part, the book has been far better received than I could have imagined it would be, with an impact extending well into the more comfortable classes.

Even more gratifying to me, the book has been widely read among low-wage workers. In the last few years, hundreds of people have written to tell me their stories: the mother of a newborn infant whose electricity had just been turned off, the woman who had just been given a diagnosis of cancer and has no health insurance, the newly homeless man who writes from a library computer.

At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to – only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty.

29% is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.

The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution.

For example, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Post-meltdown poverty

While I was researching my book the  hardships encountered– the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans –Mind you that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.

In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street.

Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed “experiment”, had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.

For the last couple of years, I have attempted to find out what was happening to the working poor in a declining economy – this time using conventional reporting techniques like interviewing. I started with my own extended family, which includes plenty of people without jobs or health insurance, and moved on to trying to track down a couple of the people I had met while working on Nickel and Dimed.

This wasn’t easy, because most of the addresses and phone numbers I had taken away with me had proved to be inoperative within a few months, probably due to moves and suspensions of telephone service. I had kept in touch with “Melissa” over the years, who was still working at Wal-Mart, where her wages had risen from $7 to $10 an hour, but in the meantime, her husband had lost his job.

Caroline, now in her 50s and partly disabled by diabetes and heart disease, had left her deadbeat husband and was subsisting on occasional cleaning and catering jobs. Neither seemed unduly afflicted by the recession, but only because they had already been living in what amounts to a permanent economic depression.

Media attention has focused, understandably enough, on the “nouveau poor” – formerly middle and even upper-middle class people who lost their jobs, their homes, and/or their investments in the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic downturn that followed it, but the brunt of the recession has been borne by the blue-collar working class, which had already been sliding downwards since de-industrialisation began in the 1980s.

In 2008 and 2009, for example, blue-collar unemployment was increasing three times as fast as white-collar unemployment, and African American and Latino workers were three times as likely to be unemployed as white workers. Low-wage blue-collar workers, like the people I worked with in this book, were especially hard hit for the simple reason that they had so few assets and savings to fall back on as jobs disappeared.

How have the already-poor attempted to cope with their worsening economic situation?

One obvious way is to cut back on health care.

The New York Times reported in 2009 that one-third of Americans could no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions and that there had been a sizable drop in the use of medical care. Others, including members of my extended family, have given up their health insurance.

Food is another expenditure that has proved vulnerable to hard times, with the rural poor turning increasingly to “food auctions“, which offer items that may be past their sell-by dates.

And for those who like their meat fresh, there’s the option of urban hunting.

In Racine, Wisconsin, a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he was supplementing his diet by “shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked and grilled”. In Detroit, where the wildlife population has mounted as the human population ebbs, a retired truck driver was doing a brisk business in raccoon carcasses, which he recommends marinating with vinegar and spices.

The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space – by doubling up or renting to couch-surfers.

It’s hard to get firm numbers on overcrowding, because no one likes to acknowledge it to census-takers, journalists, or anyone else who might be remotely connected to the authorities.

In Los Angeles, housing expert Peter Dreier says that “people who’ve lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying even 70% of their incomes in rent“.

According to a community organiser in Alexandria, Virginia, the standard apartment in a complex occupied largely by day labourers has two bedrooms, each containing an entire family of up to five people, plus an additional person laying claim to the couch.

No one could call suicide a “coping strategy”, but it is one way some people have responded to job loss and debt.

There are no national statistics linking suicide to economic hard times, but the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported more than a four-fold increase in call volume between 2007 and 2009, and regions with particularly high unemployment, such as Elkhart, Indiana, have seen troubling spikes in their suicide rates. Foreclosure is often the trigger for suicide – or, worse, murder-suicides that destroy entire families.

“Torture and Abuse of Needy Families”: TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy  Families

We do of course have a collective way of ameliorating the hardships of individuals and families – a government safety net that is meant to save the poor from spiralling down all the way to destitution.

But its response to the economic emergency of the last few years has been spotty at best. The food stamp program has responded to the crisis fairly well, to the point where it now reaches about 37 million people, up about 30% from pre-recession levels.  Welfare – the traditional last resort for the down-and-out until it was “reformed” in 1996 – only expanded by about 6% in the first two years of the recession.

What’s the difference between the two programs, Food stamp program andWelfare ?

There is a right to food stamps. You go to the office and, if you meet the statutory definition of need, they help you. For welfare, the street-level bureaucrats can, pretty much at their own discretion, just say no.

Take the case of Kristen and Joe Parente, Delaware residents who had always imagined that people turned to the government for help only if “they didn’t want to work”. Their troubles began well before the recession, when Joe, a fourth-generation pipe-fitter, sustained a back injury that left him unfit for even light lifting. He fell into a profound depression for several months, then rallied to ace a state-sponsored retraining course in computer repairs – only to find that those skills are no longer in demand. The obvious fallback was disability benefits, but – catch-22 – when Joe applied he was told he could not qualify without presenting a recent MRI scan. This would cost $800 to $900, which the Parentes do not have; nor has Joe, unlike the rest of the family, been able to qualify for Medicaid.

When they married as teenagers, the plan had been for Kristen to stay home with the children. But with Joe out of action and three children to support by the middle of this decade, Kristen went out and got waitressing jobs, ending up, in 2008, in a “pretty fancy place on the water”. Then the recession struck and she was laid off.

Kristen is bright, pretty, and to judge from her command of her own small kitchen, probably capable of holding down a dozen tables with precision and grace. In the past she’d always been able to land a new job within days; now there was nothing.

Like 44% of laid-off people at the time, Kristen failed to meet the fiendishly complex and sometimes arbitrary eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Their car started falling apart.

So the Parentes turned to what remains of welfare – TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

TANF does not offer straightforward cash support like Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which it replaced in 1996. It’s an income supplementation program for working parents, and it was based on the sunny assumption that there would always be plenty of jobs for those enterprising enough to get them.

After Kristen applied, nothing happened for six weeks – no money, no phone calls returned. At school, the Parentes’ seven-year-old’s class was asked to write out what wish they would present to a genie, should a genie appear. Brianna’s wish was for her mother to find a job because there was nothing to eat in the house, an aspiration that her teacher deemed too disturbing to be posted on the wall with the other children’s requests.

When the Parentes finally got into “the system” and began receiving food stamps and some cash assistance, they discovered why some recipients have taken to calling TANF “Torture and Abuse of Needy Families.”

From the start, the TANF experience was “humiliating”, Kristen says. The caseworkers “treat you like a bum. They act like every dollar you get is coming out of their own paychecks”.

The Parentes discovered that they were each expected to apply for 40 jobs a week, although their car was on its last legs and no money was offered for gas, tolls, or babysitting. In addition, Kristen had to drive 35 miles a day to attend “job readiness” classes offered by a private company called Arbor, which, she says, were “frankly a joke”.

Nationally, according to Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut Law School, “applying for welfare is a lot like being booked by the police“. There may be a mug shot, fingerprinting, and lengthy interrogations as to one’s children’s true paternity. The ostensible goal is to prevent welfare fraud, but the psychological impact is to turn poverty itself into a kind of crime.

How the safety net became a dragnet

The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalised in America.

Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.

Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. )It is the same tactics at every generation).

Urban officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws: “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a St Petersburg, Florida, city attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalisation of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Centre on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.

The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities – the largest of which include Los Angeles, Atlanta and Orlando – but new contestants are springing up every day. In Colorado, Grand Junction’s city council is considering a ban on begging; Tempe, Arizona, carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent at the end of June. And how do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.

That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it’s definitely Al Szekeley at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington DC – the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Phu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972.

He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until December 2008, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants.

It turned out that Szekeley, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs, or cuss in front of ladies, did indeed have one – for “criminal trespassing“, as sleeping on the streets is sometimes defined by the law. So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail.

“Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Szekeley. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless?”

The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking.

A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, leading to the arrests of several middle-aged white vegans.

One anti-sharing law was just overturned in Orlando, but the war on illicit generosity continues.

Orlando is appealing the decision, and Middletown, Connecticut, is in the midst of a crackdown. More recently, Gainesville, Florida, began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day, and Phoenix, Arizona, has been using zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people.

For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalisation, and one is debt.

Anyone can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t pay fines for things like expired inspection stickers may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.

More commonly, the path to prison begins when one of your creditors has a court summons issued for you, which you fail to honour for one reason or another, such as that your address has changed and you never received it. OK, now you’re in “contempt of the court“.

Or suppose you miss a payment and your car insurance lapses, and then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight (about $130 for the bulb alone). Now, depending on the state, you may have your car impounded and/or face a steep fine – again, exposing you to a possible court summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”

The second – and by far the most reliable – way to be criminalised by poverty is to have the wrong colour skin.

Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor succumbs to racial profiling, but whole communities are effectively “profiled” for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor. Flick a cigarette and you’re “littering”; wear the wrong colour T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighbourhood can mark you as a potential suspect. And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest“.

In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement.

Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector jobs, then penalise people for falling into debt. The experience of the poor, and especially poor people of colour, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.

And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a brief, drug-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too.

One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world.

Today, exactly the same number of Americans – 2.3 million – reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.

It is not clear whether economic hard times will finally force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment.

With even the official level of poverty increasing – to over 14% in 2010 – some states are beginning to ease up on the criminalisation of poverty, using alternative sentencing methods, shortening probation, and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missing court appointments.

But others, diabolically enough, are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes”, but charging prisoners for their room and board, guaranteeing they’ll be released with potentially criminalising levels of debt.

So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people?

Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list – a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.

Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organise for better wages and working conditions.

Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets.

Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty – though I would argue otherwise. At least, we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.” End of article

This article is hugely important to me.

If I wrote my diary it is mainly to recollect the miseries I experienced living in the USA for 20 years, to face the conditions, and have a closure.

I earned a PhD in Industrial engineering, but graduated in 1991, at the peak of a recession during Bush senior.

Worse, I had no residency to even hope for a decent job, since I had no relative for support or to back me up.

I recall periods of utter helplessness.  I was living in Kensington (Maryland) and people who knew me assumed I had AIDS or a terminal disease, simply because I looked it.  I spent my last $10 visiting a local dispensary to be told that I am suffering from malnutrition.

At least, I had a professional opinion that I have no terminal disease…I was not entitled to food stamp or welfare programs either (I think), otherwise I would have jumped to the occasion since I turned every stone for survival sake.

I returned to Lebanon: I would not die of hunger or in a ditch like a dog, or in the one room basement frequently flooded and humid

Note 1: George Orwell described this situation very accuretly in https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/down-and-out-in-paris-and-london-by-george-orwell/

Note 2:  You may read https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/no-mass-demonstrations-in-the-us-so-far-is-youth-in-the-us-practically-illiterate/


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