Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where's Denny Crane when we need him

The Boston Legal TV show began winding up last week just as a pre-trial hearing took place at Seattle Municipal Court for 23 citizens who were arrested at Nickelsville back in October. Those folks opted not to leave the West Marginal Way site as a sign of civil disobedience when the police told people living there (residentially challenged, a new term I just found) that they couldn't campout.
You can read the jist of the homeless problem on some of my previous posts and on some of other blogs that I hope to link too sometime this century. Anyway, I showed up at the court to lend moral support to Andrea Bauer and Steve Hoffman, two of the people arrested at Nicklesville that day. Andrea and Steve represent the Freedom Socialist Party, one of many organizations that's stepping up big time for people who sometimes have trouble fighting for themselves.
Andrea, Steve and the other Nickelsville defendants went out in the corrider to plan their next move as the rest of us sat watching the other court cases. Some of it was tedious, and we almost wished that BL's outrageous Denny Crane would make an appearance to liven things up.
But there was one case that stood out. A young woman was brought into court, wearing orange prison garb, and her hands tied behind her back. I wondered if she had just killed 15 people. It turns out the women, who looked about 21, was involved in a hit-and-run accident (apparently no one was hurt); she has a drinking problem and no way to pay damages on the other car.
The judge, Judith Hightower, said that the court would work with the girl if she gets a job (I assume that's after she got released) and she started with restitution for the car. I had two thoughts: 1) this poor girl probably ain't going to find a job and 2) if she had a rich daddy, she sure as hell wouldn't be getting dragged into court tied up like Bobby Seale at the Chicago 7 trials. It is indeed a classist society.
When the Nickelsville people returned it was decided that they'd be heading to court on March 10 at 9 AM. It sounds like they're ready to fight the system and Andrea says, that why'll many of these people were strangers, they're starting to bond, kinda like a sports team.
Hightower, the judge hearing the case, is the same judge who told the city a couple of years ago that she wasn't going to prosecute anymore people who were brought in for sleeping on the street if the shelters are full. The judge, a small black woman, with short hair, probably in her late `50's, seemed pretty lay back as well. She said if anyone wanted to film the trial just let the lawyers know. Apparently, there's at least one Nickelsville documentary being made.
Let the games begin.

The above YouTube has some really cool stuff that was mostly filmed by Revel and Alex from Real Change unless otherwise noted. There's stuff from all over the country if you click on to the little boxes underneath.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Personal History

On December 1 2008, my father would have been 95 years old. Even though he’s now been dead more than half of my life he’s still the best person I've ever met. I’ve been thinking about how much 20th century history my dad actually lived through.

My dad was an altar boy growing up. He never would have said anything if a priest touched him inappropriately but he remembered being on the altar a few times when the priest was too drunk to serve Mass. He remember leaning on one priest so he didn’t tip over.

He quit high school during the Depression to go to work in the mills to help support his family. These were changing times in Rhode Island where he grew up. The unions were becoming a force in the mills and Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants were literally taking control of the state, voting straight Democratic tickets of course and going to Catholic Church every Sunday. The Republican White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (called WASPs) who owned the mills, the media and the banks were losing power.

My dad probably thought at one point that he’d never leave Rhode Island. But most able-bodied males went into the service when World War II started. My father traveled to places like Guam, New Guinea and even briefly Hawaii. I guess I’m my father’s son, the thing that most impressed my dad about New Guinea was that women didn’t wear tops on the beach. Looking back, I would have liked to have asked more about his travels. But when you’re a teenager you know everything, and then when you get older there’s so much you want to learn.

My dad was stationed in Washington D.C. for much of the War and said he looked liked Radar from MASH then- he was a clerk also, relatively short, wearing green fatigues and glasses. Sundays were the soldiers’ day off. My dad never forgot riding on the bus; there were no problems when the bus was in Washington, but as soon as it reached the Virginia state line; the blacks (most of them soldiers in uniform) had to go to the back of the bus.

When my dad grew up in RI there weren’t many blacks living there and he didn’t think much about black people. But he thought it was the damndest thing that black soldiers, who were defending their country, had to move to the back of the bus. I’m sure my dad had more empathy for black people when he saw signs in front of stores in Virginia saying, ``no dogs, Yankees or (insert `n’) word allowed. And that was the pecking order. My dad was below a dog but above a black. The greatest irony is that the part of Virginia just outside of DC is a fairly wealthy area now; what some commentators call the most ``liberal or Democratic’’ part of the state. My dad went back to school on the GI Bill and got a college degree in accounting. That’s something W wanted to cut out, even though HIS father and a lot of influential Americans went to college on the GI Bill.

I’ve been reading Tom Brokaw’s book about the 1960’s where Bill Clinton said you can tell a lot about people by how they felt about the `60’s. My dad liked the `60’s. He liked the military also because it had been a good experience for him, but at parties he liked to hang out with my younger cousins. He said that the younger generation coming up was less hypocritical than his generation. It particularly bothered him that his generation considered it so terrible if a man and woman lived together without being married.

Even when my dad died it was an historic time. He died walking outside in the blizzard of 1978, the worst snow storm to hit the Northeast in 100 years. My mom and I had to go to the hospital to identify his body and got stranded there. It was over a week before we had a funeral.

Of course, my memories of my father are more personal. He told me to never use the `n' word, the `f' word, and go to church every Sunday. Well I never use the `n' word. And he taught me how to drink while we watched Johnny Carson monologues on television. ``Hey son, I'll open another can of Narragansett if you share it with me.'' I won't get a better offer all day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What A Difference Four Years Make

The night of the election I saw something I thought I'd never see. I was chilling out at the Showbox in downtown Seattle when CNN flashed across the screen that they were projecting Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.
The room literally exploded. I saw one girl jump two feet in the air from a standing position. A woman I'd been talking with came back from the bar where she'd been ordering some food. ``I just made out with about 12 people, four of them girls.'' Later on I discovered that hundreds of people were partying on Capitol Hill, an area filled with young people, liberals and gays. It wasn't that a black man had been elected that surprised me so much; it was the massive celebration for a politician. Aren't politicians somewhere between ax murderers and child rapists on the food chain. Usually people celebrate like this when a team in the city wins the World Series. Yes, I know this is Seattle but as more than one person pointed out to me, Seattle sports fans don't have this passion.
As revelers continued their reveling, I couldn't help but think back to Election Night four years earlier. I'd been writing a lot for the Real Change newspaper in Seattle and received two passes from the editor to go to the Democratic Party shindig at another hotel. Stacey, one of the RC interns was voting for the first time and was really into the election. She was driving everyone in the office crazy talking about it. ``Gee, why don't you take Stacey with you to the political party.''
So off I headed, with my intern to Democratic headquarters (insert Bill Clinton joke hear). It was no joke to see Stacey (who people thought was my daughter) crying at the end of the night when George W. was re-elected.
Stacey's mood was even worse in the next couple of days. She attended Antioch College, a progressive school in Ohio. If students came from a state where John Kerry was expected to win - like Stacey who came from upstate New York - they were being encouraged by their teachers to vote in Ohio where a close race was expected. Stacey had been on the phone with friends and Antioch students were assigned to a polling place that had only a couple of old voting booths. The Ohio secretary of state WAS head of the Bush campaign. Some students waited eight hours or didn't vote at all. I was tempted to say to Stacey, ``welcome to the real world." But she felt bad enough without me being a smart-ass.
I got to thinking about Jimmy Breslin's book that week - How The Good Guys Finally Won about Richard Nixon's resignation. And how Bush's re-election showed good guys don't win anymore. It turned out that there were a lot of voter discrepencies in Ohio but Kerry didn't have the fight in him. Too bad for Stacey and her friends.
Maybe that's what people were celebrating that Tuesday night. I have a lot of cynicism about Obama - Nixon got us out of Viet Nam and into Cambodia, Obama will get us out of Iraq and into Afghanistan - but I like how he gives people hope. And as the title of the book says, for one night at least, it felt like the good guys finally won.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Baseball and Porn

Two of the three major league baseball players from Rhode Island - Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder Rocco Baldelli (bottom) and pitcher Danny Wheeler (top) - played in this year's World Series. The third - catcher Chris Iannetta - played in last year's WS for the Colorado Rockies. More importantly, he took one of my cousins to her ninth grade prom. As the comedian Steve Wright once said, ``it's a small world but I wouldn't want to paint it."

Wheeler was coming up thru the Warwick, Rhode Island Little League and Babe Ruth programs when I left that city in the early `90's. I don't think anyone expected him to be a big-leaguer when he was 14. He was one of those guys who just kept getting better.

Rocco on the other hand was one of the greatest athletes to come out of the state. Besides baseball he ran track and was offered a college volleyball scholarship almost unheard of for a player from New England.

I interviewed Rocco once along with his cousin Jonathan Smith when they were about to face off in the state high school championship series. I remember two things - 1) Rocco was quieter and Jonathan did most of the talking and 2) a couple of nights later Baldelli hit a home run off his cousin that left McCoy Stadium - the home of the Boston Red Sox's Triple A team.

Baldelli came from the northern part of the state and played high school ball at the Catholic school down in Warwick so my old paper and new paper at the time showed an interest in him. I was working for my new paper when I talked to Deb my partner from the old paper on the phone. Deb thought Rocco was a great kid but was surprised when she heard that Rocco's family ran a porn shop.

I was surprised also. Rocco's uncle, Charlie Baldelli had once been Mayor of Woonsocket, R.I. But then again Rhode Island had bishop's who went to mobsters funerals. Fortunately, I was talking to my friend Rich a few days later. Rich was working in Central Mass. at the time; the best editor I ever had and a guy who knew everything about Northern RI sports not to mention the name of every bad baseball player and rock song that came out of the `60's and `70's. He was the guy to ask about Baldelli.

After nearly passing a kidney stone from laughing so hard, Rich exclaimed, ``I love how Rhode Islanders pronounce the word p-o-r-n and p-a-w-n the same way. '' In fact, Rocco's dad ran Woonsocket's biggest pawn (not porn) shop for several years.

If you've read this far, that's the only connection I know between baseball and porn (although some would argue that both were better in the 1970's than they are today).

Rocco Baldelli battled a mitochondrial disorder to hit home runs in last month's American League Championship Series and the World Series. Rich Pedroli, a former writer and editor for the Woonsocket Call, Miford News and MetroWest News, died suddenly of a heart attack last year. He touched the hearts of many in the newspaper and sports world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let's All Go To Nickelsville

In the movie Burn After Reading, a couple of CIA agents wrap up all the storylines in the final scene. At one point, one of the CIA guys looks into the camera and says, ``have we learned anything from this? I don’t think we’ve learned a fucking thing.’’

For a second I thought I was watching Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and his staff discussing Nickelsville the homeless encampment that the mayor’s office has been chasing around the city for the last month.

Seattle’s shantytown, built by and for the homeless, has had four homes since it came to fruition last month. First it was in Southwest Seattle, but police chased Nickelodeons off the West Marginal Way site although 22 campers and friends stayed to be arrested as a sign of civil disobedience.

Nickelodeons camped in the parking lot briefly (that’s owned by the state, the vacant field they were originally squatting is owned by the city) and then moved to Discovery Park in the northern part of the city. Nickelodeons thought they were okay on tribal land but the city claimed their presence violated the city lease with the United Indians of All Tribes. The tribe also asked the Nickelodeons to leave presumably to avoid further hassle from their landlord. Fortunately, Nickelsville now has a lawyer, from the Northwest Justice Project, who kept getting the date moved back before the Nickelodeons left Discovery Park.

I recently talked to one of the guys who got arrested in Southwest Seattle and he was in a grumpy mood. ``The city said they own the West Marginal Way property but that’s only in white man’s law. The Duwamish (Indian Tribe) owned it first. Then the city says that Nickelsville being on Indian land violates the Indian’s lease with the city. What does the lease say? You’re not allowed to be humane towards the homeless?

His mood didn’t improve any when I told him that if Nickelsville hadn't left Discovery Park the city was planning to fine homeless groups for every day that they stayed. Groups such as Share/Wheel, Veterans for Peace, ROOTS a.k.a. Rising Out of the Shadows and the Interfaith Task Faith on Homelessness.

``The UN ruled that you can’t do that (fine third parties),” my friend Steve bellowed. The United Nations! Holy crap. Perhaps someone like feisty Anita Freeman, a Nickelsville spokesperson, could go and speak before the UN. All kidding aside, people who can’t get food and shelter must feel like they’re in a war zone sometimes.

Things have been quiet lately as Nickelsville has been at its new home- the United Christian Church in the University section of the city across from the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Members of Nickelsville met with their new neighbors last week and explained what they were all about.

Some members of Nickelsville would like to the mayor as well. The day before they left West Marginal Way a group from Nickelsville went down to City Hall. The mayor refused to meet with them (surprise) and one Nickelodeon told me they even locked the elevators. If you’re healthy enough to walk the long staircase it doesn’t matter because you won’t get any farther than the reception area, all the offices are behind locked glass doors.

Like the campouts in front of City Hall, Nickelsville has been successful in putting the plight of the homeless into the mainstream media. A couple of web sites – and the provide information and links to past media coverage.

As someone noted on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer web site, ``I’ve complained in the past about the homeless in Belltown who panhandle and defecate in alleys. But Nickelsville is an example of homeless people doing something to help themselves.’’ Here’s hoping the city will see it that way someday.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

You Can't Register A Complaint Here

One of the things about being a political activist, who by definition is tilting windmills at the establishment, is that you occasionally run into one of those delicious moments right out of the books 1984 or Catch-22.
Nickelsville opened Monday at 4am in Seattle, a new shantytown/homeless camp, named after our beloved mayor Greg Nickels. A hard-working group of homeless who don't have anything else had their pink fuscia tents set up (thanks go out to the Girl Scouts for those) by evening. Then the cops showed up and put up a sign giving the campers 72 hours to evacuate.
I work at an activist organization on Wednesday and my boss thought it would be a good idea that instead of writing the events calendar like I usually do, I should round up some people in the office to call the Mayor and register complaints about Nickelsville closing. Many people around the city were doing the same thing.
While I sent out an e-mail to the Mayors office and wrote a few letters, three women made calls. One couldn't get through, another had her name taken by the main reception who said the Mayor's office would call back (she's still waiting for that call) but a third women hit the jackpot.
She talked to the City Hall receptionist who was quite friendly and got transferred to one of the Mayor's aides. By the way, the Mayor is getting new aides all the time, he could solve the homeless problem just by hiring the people at Nicklelsville as aides.
Su wisely asked the aide if the Mayor was still planning to close Nickelsville. When the female aide, not as friendly as the receptionist, said he was, Su said she wanted to register a complaint. The aide replied, "you can't register a complaint here, you can only leave a message."
Several people I've told that story too have responded with various degrees of amusement. But there's no missing that it shows just how arrogant the Mayor's office has become. Sadly, not unlike other politicians, Nickels has gone more-and-more to putting policy pronouncements on his web site so he doesn't have to deal with the media directly. So much for accountability.
Hopefully, the electorate will hold Nickels accountable in the next election. And if his aide winds up living in a pink tent in Nickelsville - don't complain, just leave a message.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Beware of Hockey Moms

Last week at the Republican National Convention the GOP’s nominee for vice-president, Sarah Palin, identified herself as a ``hockey mom.’’ In a lot of the country, people just shook their heads knowingly trying to pretend they knew what a hockey mom was. But outside of the upper Midwest, New England, and apparently Alaska, most people really don’t.

At one time in my life I was primarily a hockey writer. The hockey team in the town I worked was ranked the number one high school team in the country. Several of their players went on to the National Hockey League. I wrote about college hockey, minor league hockey, even a couple of articles on women’s hockey. And I heard from the hockey moms.

Hockey parents are unique. It’s the only sport where parents have to drive their kids to practice before school because of rink availability. There are also hockey tournaments; so parents have to drive their kids hundreds of miles in the cold winters to get to all of their games. You can imagine what it’s like if parents have two or three kids playing at different age levels. I also imagine that Sarah Palin buys her kids new hockey equipment every year.

Those may be some of the factors that make hockey parents and hockey moms, shall we say, a little on the feisty side. Besides the berating of coaches, referees, other players and other parents, they sometimes get in a little snit with the local paper. I took calls from hockey moms about spelling their kids names wrong; a legitimate complaint even though the kid had a name like Tzulowinowski or something likes that. And you’d try to explain that the coach, or worse, a high school girl calling in the score to the paper, didn’t know (or care) how to spell the name.

There were some hockey moms who weren’t even subtle. People I know, especially those who don’t consider high school sports a life or death, are surprised when I tell them that there were parents who would call the paper and say we weren’t writng about their little Johnny enough. Parents had it in their minds that how often we mentioned their kid would affect whether they’d get a college hockey scholarship to a good school. The rest of their lives was in our hands. Of course, there were scouts who went to the game who knew far better than me whether a player was a college or pro prospect.

Some of the hockey moms (and dads) really were barracudas and I’m kinda glad I’m not dealing with them anymore.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Come On Down...To Jail

You can tell you’re in the Bible Belt when you see more churches than Starbucks

Down here (West Texas) there are more prisons than Starbucks

- from the movie `Life Of David Gale'

A group I’m involved with, the Real Change Organizing Project, has recently taken up the cause of not building a new prison in Seattle. Projections that the county made for estimated prison population is about 4,000 people short but the city wants to build a new prison anyway.

I’ve always felt the worse thing about prisons is that the powers-that-be always find a way to fill them. Prison population in this country went from 19,000 in 1980 to 251,200 in 1999 no doubt in large part to the countries ill-advised war on drugs.

But it wasn’t until recent years, when I stopped writing just about sports and took a shot at more real world stuff, that I discovered the whole concept of privatizing prisons. Prisons just like wars and TV news has become nothing more than a way to make money. And that means more prisoners. Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton, is involved in prisons.

Sometimes it’s hard to find who actually owns your neighborhood prison. A Seattle paper is using the Freedom of Information Act to find out who’s building the new Seattle prison. When I did a google search, ``who’s building Seattle prisons,’’ I couldn’t get anything.

However, I did stumble across one of the great Internet rumors which is that former Price Is Right game show host and Happy Gilmour star Bob Barker, owns 90% of the prisons and makes $3,000 on every prisoner. If you don’t watch game shows this is the guy who’s always yelling for people to ``come on down.’’ Insert your own joke about Bob Barker greeting prisoners here.

It turns out that Bob Barker Company of Fuquay-Varina, N.C. is in fact American’s leading detention supplier (and we all thank them for that). But this Bob Barker has nothing to do with game shows. It’s actually a family run business that started with plumbing and now even provides the telephones at the prison in Minneapolis.

Nevertheless, there are people who still believe that TV’s Bob Barker, who also tells people to neuter their pets, runs our nation’s prison system. It makes for a good blog posting but I’ve always felt that the really ridiculous conspiracy theories just get in the way of those that have some truth to them. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A tie to the past

Recently I attended a Boston Red Sox game against the Mariners at Seattle's Safeco Field. The first Red Sox game I attended was at Fenway Park in Boston, September 18, 1967. The Red Sox beat the New York Yankees that day, 9-1. Mickey Mantle played in that game. So did Jim Bouton, who wrote ``Ball Four,'' one of the best sports' books ever. I enjoy telling Red Sox fans I meet that I probably saw my first game before they were born. I'm usually right.
I'm one of those nerdy fans they talked about on ESPN after Boston won the World Series in 2004. People who thought about parents and grandparents who had long since passed away having never seen the Red Sox win a world championship. My parents weren't huge fans but my dad took me to my first game and many others after that. My mother didn't know a lot about baseball but Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski was her favorite player. She called him Carly. And I often think of the words of former Red Sox relief pitcher Mike Myers (one of the most obscure players on the team) who said ``when a New Englander finds out you were on the 2004 Red Sox they don't say congratulations they say thank you.''
So it's hard for me to scoff at Seattle Sonic fans who feel a void now that they've lost their team. For me, following the Red Sox (and other Boston teams) 3,000 miles away is a tie to home and to the past.
The Red Sox beat the Mariners, 6-3, in 12 innings. There were loads of Boston fans on hand. Many were born after 1967. It wasn't Fenway Park and Carl Yastrzemski didn't play but you can't beat a day at the ballpark.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Buddy

If you were born in Providence, Rhode Island in the late 1950's you only remember about four mayors in your lifetime. But the most famous (or infamous) was ``The Prince Of Providence" Buddy Cianci, mayor of the city on and off for about 30 years, six terms, thrown out of office twice, put in jail once, and barely avoiding prison stripes on a couple of other occasions.
But there was always the perception that Buddy was competant (sort of a Bill Clinton without Monica) and he oversaw the city's great renaissance of the 1990's. I never saw the charisma that people claimed Buddy had (there was a lot of ego and self-congratulation in what he did) but he was certainly loved by Providence's strong Italian-American community.
Word out of Hollywood is that an actor has finally been selected to play Buddy in ``The Prince Of Providence,'' Mike Stanton's book which is being turned into a screenplay by David Mamet. Oliver Platt, who played George Steinbrenner in the ESPN mini-series last year, has been tabbed (as they say in the biz) to play his second blustering character in a row. Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti had also been prominently mentioned for the part.
A Rhode Island message board had asked people who they'd like to see play Buddy and other actors mentioned included Robert DeNiro, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Al Pacino (who doesn't resemble Buddy but would be good in the scenes where Cianci went a little crazy), Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, Paul ``Pee Wee Herman" Reubens, Dustin Hoffman and Paul Sorvino, a longtime character actor who probably resembles Buddy the most. As one posting noted only Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep didn't receive votes.
I'll try and post more Buddy movie news as it develops.

Monday, July 7, 2008

An effective way of dealing with hecklers

Back in the mid-1980's I saw George Carlin for the first and only time at a place called the Providence Performing Arts Center. About mid-way thru the act when everyone else was laughing a fan yelled out in that falsetto voice people seemed to heckle with back then, ``hey George.'' Carlin immediately wheeled in the direction of the heckler and exclaimed (I won't edit the words in honor of George), ``shut the FUCK up. If people want to start busting my fuckin' balls I'm walking off this fuckin' stage right now.'' In that brief diatribe, George might have dropped 3 or 4 more F bombs, but you get the point. Needless to say, no one gave Carlin anymore shit the rest of the show. All in all, an effective way of dealing with hecklers.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pitching A Tent In Downtown Seattle

I was with over 100 people in downtown Seattle on Monday morning and I don’t know if anyone had the same feeling that I did. When the Women In Black finished their service in front of City Hall, for those who’ve died homeless on the streets, everyone began scurrying around the corner where 15 people were about to get arrested protesting the city’s sweeps of homeless encampments.As I turned the corner I was overwhelmed by the site of Mike Smith, one of the leading members of the Real Change Organizing Project (RCOP) sitting in his wheelchair next to a tent that read “Stop The Sweeps.” It was actually one of the coolest moments in my life. This wasn’t something I was watching on TV but something that I was personally involved in. Almost since I joined RCOP on March 26 (and thanks for the invite Rachael), we’ve been working towards this moment, Our Camp4Unity. The service and the arrests were preceded by our third campout on City Hall the previous night. About 125 people walked through City Hall on Sunday night and many camped overnight – homeless, activists, students, Catholics and Buddhists. Why all the fuss?

Well, the city’s approach to homeless encampments used to be the same as the police approach to streakers in the Fremont parade. Nothing was really done unless someone complained. But then last summer the city started to take a pro-active approach; the city invaded the camps, chasing people out and destroying their property. The city kind of wants it both ways, they don’t want people camping out but there are no shelters and low-income housing is dwindling.

The arrests last Monday were very ritualistic. 20 cops stared down 15 advocates. Then there were two announcements in five minute periods by a cop with a bullhorn, “by Seattle ordinance you must disperse, blah, blah, blah.” Finally the police started arresting people. On this day at least, Seattle police weren’t wearing their Darth Vader helmets and weren’t handcuffing people. Each protester got a hand as they were led individually to a bus. I reverted to my Fenway Park bleacher days; yelling out the names of people I knew, as they led away.

Looking back, I don’t think anyone ever asked me if I wanted to get arrested. I guess I could have volunteered. Apparently, the rule of thumb is that if someone’s on medication they’re discouraged from civil disobedience. A guy in my book club reading group, who’s a veteran of the anti-war protests, says there was a famous case in New York City where they took the anti-depression meds away from jailed anti-war protesters. To the surprise of no one, the Camp4Unity people were back on the street within the hour. Now it’s up to the city whether to press charges but I think it just hopes RCOP goes away.

On a personal level, I wanted to make a contribution. Early on, I made up a list off Seattle media people who’ve written articles on homelessness, which Revel, our media guru, found helpful. I took a lot of pictures on Sunday night and kept an eye out for media people as they arrived. From a media standpoint the event was a success, with every TV station, both dailies, and one of the two weeklies giving us coverage. But political activism isn’t always exciting, since most of the people who set up were arrested; I was part of the understaffed crew that had to clean up.

In the end, was it worth it?
I went to the Real Change offices a couple of days later only to hear about a volunteer who took some homeless campers over to West Seattle where their gear had been stored. The word was - their isn’t a lot of stuff there regardless of ownership. One of the campers lost all of his tools for work and the people at the storage center went into the backroom to find him some usable stuff.

Not very encouraging. But the most important thing I've learned - you can’t give up. Don’t let the bastards win.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Inconvenient truths

When Nancy Reagan was leaving the White House she said what she’d miss most was the convenience. Apparently First Lady’s don’t really do anything; they have it done for them.

Being homeless is the polar opposite. In Seattle for example, most homeless ``live’’ in the downtown area. To get a pass to sleep in a shelter they have to go to the Central District, a few miles East of the downtown (and uphill), and then head back downtown, sometimes with only minutes to spare before the shelters close.

Then after sleeping in a shelter, sometimes on the floor and practically on top of other people (I once heard a homeless person say people shouldn’t sleep so close together unless they’re in love); they’re kicked out of shelters, sometimes as early as 5:30; even though there’s no place open for another two hours, it’s like being in a hurry not to get anywhere.

And being homeless means always waiting in line; waiting for breakfast, waiting to do your laundry; waiting to take a shower. In recent months, the city of Seattle has added a few more inconveniences. Since the shelters are pretty full these days, people have taken to sleeping outside more than ever. However, if you camp outside, the city has thrown a few more obstacles in your path.

Since last summer, the city has conducted ``sweeps’’ of campgrounds. If people weren’t present – say working or looking for work – people had the only pictures of family members destroyed or backpacks with their only forms of ID confiscated.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who unfortunately (for him) looks like a grownup version of Pugsley, the child character from the Addams Family TV show, announced a series of protocols at the end of March – a more humane way of dealing with homelessness. Homeless activists say that the loopholes in Nickels’ protocols are large enough to drive an SUV through.

It was around this time that I joined the Real Change organizing project – quality people fighting the good fight. RCOP has sponsored two campouts on the steps of City Hall, both times in a drizzling rain, and recently we made an appearance at the City Council’s Public Safety Human Services and Education Committee (it seems odd that this committee deals with homelessness and not the Housing and Economic Development Committee).

Tim Harris has a play-by-play description of the day on his blog – I don’t know if we made any headway but Nickels and the Council’s homeless guy, Tim Burgess, know that someone’s watching.

Most of the RCOP people spoke in the open forum portion of the meeting. I decided to focus on what happens to anyone who has his or her personal belongings confiscated, the stuff’s taken to West Seattle, away from downtown on the other side of the Sound. Still not far if you have use of a car, but it’s almost an hour bus ride. And, oh by the way, the last bus stop is still a quarter of a mile away. Not ideal for someone with health problems, and if your ID or bus tickets were part of the confiscated goods; then things really get dicey.

It adds up to inconvenience for the homeless again. Not something they’d put up in the White House.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

And Now A Few Words About Homelessness

Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1960’s and `70’s I never saw any homeless people. The closest may have been Freddy The Freeloader, a character on the Red Skelton show. I think even Red grew tired of playing the character after the while.

Then around the `70’s or early `80’s, there was a guy that started sleeping in the park near my house. I remember seeing him a few times and how unsettling it was, the soot caked on his face because there was no place to wash up. Around this time, local legend has it that a transient known as John The Bum (these were definitely politically incorrect times) had a memorable chess game against Providence’s notorious mayor, Vincent ``Buddy’’ Cianci at Leo’s Bar and Restaurant. I don’t know how the match came out but in retrospect it seemed like the mayor could have done more for John than just play chess with him. At least the people who ran Leo’s gave him odd jobs and a place to sleep sometimes.

I may have missed a few homeless people wandering about Providence back then (the homeless are generally invisible to the rest of society) but statistically there wasn’t a lot of homelessness from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. Maybe Franklin Roosevelt just knew how to run a war more profitably than George Bush but there were also housing programs in place after WWII not to mention things like the GI Bill which put my father through college.

In the 1980’s, the shit started to hit the fan. Hospitals closed and the mentally ill were put on the streets. In the 1990’s, low-income housing dwindled as many big cities decided they only wanted yuppies living in their town.

As someone who’s been called a homeless advocate I sometimes think we make the homeless situation more difficult than we have to. Radio talk shows for example, invariably focus on panhandling even though about one percent of the homeless partake in that endeavor. Well-meaning types think you can cure homelessness with job programs even though about 30 percent already do some kind of work.

Alcoholism and mental illness; those are toughies. I don’t know how to solve them; but homelessness- build more low-income housing and don’t tear down what we already have. It would be a step in the right direction.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My last Sonics post, maybe

Kudos to David Goldstein of, who recently related a story he heard about a top National Basketball Association executive. While some second-hand stories can be a little off-the-wall, sometimes they're probably true.
According to Goldy, a friend of his mentioned to the NBA big-wig that he couldn't believe the league would abandon Seattle, the 12th ranked media market in the country for the 45th, sometimes refered to as that ``hell-hole'' Oklahoma City. The NBA guy said his owners aren't thrilled with the move, but Commissioner David Stern says Seattle needs to be made an example of; a city where politicians had the termerity to ignore what the league wanted in favor of what most of their constituency wanted.
For the unitiated, Howard ``Starbucks'' Schultz, the previous owner, wanted a new arena even though Seattle's Key Arena was rebuilt in 1998. However, City Council president Nick Licata and even Mayor Greg Nickels, who never met a downtown development deal he didn't like, knew which way the wind was blowing; voters were still smarting about the Mariners getting a new stadium even when it was voted down.
Stern then helped broker a deal between Schultz and Oklahoma City's Clay Bennett to buy the Sonics. Local newspapers are now publishing e-mails they acquired between Stern and Bennett that will likely say that Bennett and his cowboy buddies never planned to keep the team in Seattle.
However, Seattle has made some last-minute overtures about getting the Sonics to stay. When Microsoft exec Steve Ballmer said he'd throw $150 million into the pot to help upgrade Key Arena, Stern called it a ``publicity stunt.''
Just like George W. Bush reached a point where he was going to invade Iraq regardless of anything the Iraqis said or did, Stern and company are pulling out of Seattle. Never mind KJR's Sonics Day (in the spirit of full disclosure, I did get a free ticket to the Sonics-Trailblazers game that day); the Save Our Sonics group (well no, they're not our Sonics, they're Clay Bennett's Sonics) or former Seattle superstar Freddie Brown wanted to build the first indoor basketball arena with a retractable roof, the Sonics are pulling up stakes.
Recently Oklahoma City voters passed by a 60-40 margin plans to upgrade the downtown arena to prepare it for an NBA franchise. For a vote like that to pass by that big a margin was unheard of. Plans to build sports venues usually don't go to the ballot box for one simple reason - they usually get voted down. I was in Oklahoma once in the late `80's, and even then noticed the opulent high school football stadiums and softball complexes with their multiple fields and sunbaked red clay infields. All of these venues surrounded by people living in poverty.
There was one post on Goldy's blog that may have summed things up. While OK residents are being told that this is their chance to become major league, one respondant noted, ``I'd be prouder to say I'm from the city that stood up to the extortion attempt of the NBA than to say I'm from a city with an NBA team.''

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dave Zirin comes, the Sonics go, and the buses don't run in Oklahoma City

I dislike calling Dave Zirin a radical writer. In some people's minds, that conjures up images of anarchists throwing bags of urine at cops. But Zirin definitely writes about sports from a leftist point of view, That's made him a favorite of his readers at the web site, I like his philosophy that sports is like a hammer; they can build a lot of good things but in the wrong hands can do a lot of damage.
Zirin, who looks just like his picture on the jackets of his books, was on the book circuit a few months ago promoting two new books- Welcome To The Terrordome and The Muhammad Ali Reader. The title of the former comes comes from a Chuckie D. rap song but in this context refers to the Louisiana Superdome.
Michael Vick was a topic that day. Zirin had been involved in a blog feud with a writer from The Nation. He felt, among other things, that Zick's biggest mistake was getting arrested in August when not much else was going on in the sports universe. Zirin, who isn't in favor of dog fighting, drew a few chuckles when he talked about how if a white quarterback like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had been in the same situation, the media would have called it a ``learning moment,'' where we are all taught a lesson about the evils of dog fighting.
A women asked Zirin about the Seattle Sonics iminent move to Oklahoma. Unlike those who could care less if the Sonics leave or the sports talk show callers who want new stadiums without thinking about who'll pay for them, this woman spoke for another segment of the public. She'd spent a good part of her life rooting for Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams and Slick Watts but she didn't want the new owners rewarded - "welfare for the rich.''
Zirin, who's a regular contributor to SLAM, a slick, hip, pro basketball magazine, replied that it's time for public ownership of sports teams. In this case, not nationalized sports teams, but "municipalized'' franchises, just like in Green Bay where a large segment of the population owns the Packers.
Perhaps it was that woman who motivated Zirin to write in a recent Edge Of Sports column, "basketball fans should press the state of Washington to sue for the right to buy the team back from Clay (Bennett) and his cronies. They should claim that the Super Sonics are the intellectual property - eminent domain - of the people in Seattle, and therefore the city has more of a claim than the Bennetts of Oklahoma."
It's the kind of original, out-of-the-box thinking that's missing from too many sports journalists. However, in the real world, said owners continue to dismantle the Sonics while the city won't let them out of their lease. NBA Commissioner David Stern and Sonic owner Clay Bennett are friends but some of the owners can't be thrilled about the league abandoning Seattle, always ranked as one of the top cities to live, for Oklahoma City, where the buses don't run on Saturday night.