Baltimore City Government: Stop treating homeless like trash

Baltimore City Council, March 4, 2012
Baltimore City Council, March 4, 2012

by Rob Brune

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Council are treating human beings like trash. They’re about to raze the third encampment of homeless along the Jones-Falls Expressway, just like they’re sweeping out the trash.

Most of the fifteen people at Camp 83 will have nowhere else to go if the City “cleans up” on Friday as it has promised.

Yesterday, Baltimore City Council had an opportunity to treat the residents of Camp 83 with a little bit of dignity but passed it up. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution with two options: either to postpone the eviction of the camp by three months or provide alternative temporary housing for the residents until permanent housing can be arranged. About thirty advocates for the homeless showed up in support of the resolution.

Council shuffled the resolution into a Housing Committee hearing on Thursday, and for several reasons the postponement makes it dead in the water. First of all, with an impending snowstorm the hearing may not even take place. Secondly, according to Councilwoman Clarke, she doesn’t have the votes to pass the resolution in committee. And thirdly, according to Bonnie Lane of Housing Our Neighbors, even if passed by the Housing Committee, the resolution wouldn’t come before the full Council again until April.

There are reasons that many of the homeless avoid the shelters. With impossible hours and challenging conditions, the City’s shelters are less welcoming than the streets. Many prefer to sleep in the cold than endure loud, crowded shelters where their belongings will be stolen and they may contract communicable diseases as serious as tuberculosis. Some even allege that shelter staff have sexually assaulted them.

“The shelters have failed them,” says Bonnie Lane of advocacy group Housing Our Neighbors.

A big snowstorm is on the way. Normally the police give the homeless two options when storms of this magnitude come through the city. They can go either to a shelter or to a jail cell. Under the pretense of the residents’ safety, there’s a possibility that residents of Camp 83 could be forced out as soon as tonight when the storm hits.

In his response to the City’s rationale for clearing out the homeless along Jones-Falls Expressway, Jeff Singer, former CEO of Healthcare for the Homeless, points out a historic parallel. In the early 20th century, Mayor James Preston declared Gallows Hill a “health and safety hazard” based solely on the fact that African-Americans lived there. Their homes were condemned and Preston Gardens built in their place. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has declared Camp 83 a health and safety hazard too.

It’s only right that we stand up for the little guy, the weak and most vulnerable. Only a handful of homeless and affordable housing advocates are standing up for the homeless at Camp 83, which could be the third such camp swept away by the City in two months. The people there don’t deserve to be kicked to the curb. Tell Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to stop this eviction and place Charlie, Venus, Rich and all the rest in temporary housing until we can get them in homes of their own.

You can reach Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office at 410-396-4900.

Video of Baltimore City Council hearing on Resolution 13-0097R that didn’t happen:

Life as War

THERE IS NO NATURE, THERE IS ONLY TECHNOLOGY

Many are familiar with the seminal 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, or “Life Out of Balance.” Fewer know that it is the first of the Qatsi trilogy, visual tone poems all accompanied by Philip Glass’ minimalist but powerful music. Naqoyqatsi, “Life as War,” followed Powaqqatsi, “Life as Transformation,” to round out the exploration of human beings, nature and technology:

Naqoyqatsi is a Hopi word (more correctly written naqö̀yqatsi) meaning “life as war”. In the film’s closing credits, Naqoyqatsi is also translated as “civilized violence” and “a life of killing each other”. While Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi examine modern life in industrial countries and the conflict between encroaching industrialization and traditional ways of life, using slow motion and time-lapse footage of cities and natural landscapes, about eighty percent of Naqoyqatsi uses archive footage and stock images manipulated and processed digitally on non-linear editing (non-sequential) workstations and intercut with specially-produced computer generated imagery to demonstrate society’s transition from a natural environment to a technology-based one.

Technology is not in itself evil, nor do I think the film implies that. But divorced from nature, it becomes soulless. When our perception about ourselves is that we are not part of nature, we lose our integral connection to nature and thus to our souls. Somehow, in isolating ourselves from the natural environment, we have decided that we are something apart from it, above it even.

We are constantly making choices as a society about technology and our course into the future. To say that the “market” best determines our fate is not only irresponsible, it’s just inaccurate. We opened Pandora’s box with nuclear weapons and drone warfare. Life as war. We declared war on the planet as well–every energy policy our governments implement is a choice whether to make war or to make peace.

messagefromearthThe Keystone XL Pipeline is yet another Pandora’s box, one which might tip the balance toward irrevocable warming of the planet. We must make a conscious decision yes or no. We can’t leave it up to the energy industry to bully us into it.

It’s a horrifying vision, life without nature. It’s one reason why so many steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that global warming is happening–it’s just too overwhelming. It simply can’t be true that we’re headed toward such a nightmare future. The people rising up against Keystone XL and the fossil fuel economy are courageous in their refusal to look away. They refuse to accept “Life Out of Balance” or “Life as War.” Let us make this era Powaqqatsi, Life as Transformation–and move toward Life in Balance.

Occupy DC eviction at McPherson: Reflections on one year ago

by John Zangas

I stood by my tent late at night gazing up at the Tent of Dreams, its blue tarp billowing in the cold wind. Another occupier approached me. He said that police planned to raid the camp later that night. Just five days before, U.S. Park Police had warned us that they would start enforcing the statute against sleeping or possession of sleeping bags and blankets. Uneasily I went from tent to tent spreading the news. What would happen to our camp if there was a raid?

The warnings proved true: police arrived in legions before dawn and began cordoning off K Street and surrounding areas in every direction. It was February 4, 2012, the day that an overwhelming police force mobilized to evict Occupy DC from McPherson Square.

We occupied McPherson Square to protest structural socio-economic inequality. We didn’t camp to create conflict with police or local businesses, although the media portrayed us that way. It was easy for them to define us by appearance and not by purpose. We had carefully articulated our concerns, both from socio-economic and ecological standpoints, in our December 1st declaration.

Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Ethics committee, had called a hearing to question the National Park Service’s handling of the McPherson Occupation. But even if Congress had been friendly to our cause, it alone couldn’t resolve our concerns on behalf of the people. The very edifice of banking, Wall Street, commerce and government was the problem, we believed.

Published reports of bank and Wall Street misconduct and legal actions against them justified our actions: up to 90% of foreclosure transactions were fraudulent, according to whistleblower accounts. Rampant mortgage fraud and misconduct during the 2008-2010 foreclosure crisis resulted in a $25 billion settlement by five major banks. They did not have to admit wrongdoing.

Banks across the U.S. and Europe were involved in the LIBOR scandal, which fraudulently valued trillions in assets by fixing bank to bank loans while cheating borrowers in 2007. With knowledge of LIBOR irregularities, the U.S. Federal Reserve still loaned banks billions in interest-free TARP money in 2008.

Another major issue we stood for was action on global warming. There is ever-increasing scientific evidence of world climate change–catastrophic storms and new temperature records across the U.S. Meanwhile, measurements in ice-flow melting rates in Iceland and the Antarctic are accelerating at rates never before seen.

We were protesting all this and more and believed the people supported us, yet mainstream media was neglecting the vital issues.

We didn’t want to confront police, but when they came to McPherson Park to take down Occupy DC–as police had earlier that year evicted every Occupation in a major city–we couldn’t stop the freight train approaching at full speed.

That morning they stationed a tactical command center truck, positioned sharp shooters with scopes on rifles on building rooftops, deployed a fully armed paramilitary squad with tasers and automatic weaponry, and sent a horse cavalry onto the green. They erected truckloads of metal barricades around the perimeter and strung yellow tape. It was as if they came to fight a battle against a domestic terror group. But we had no weapons; we were a non-violent movement and they knew it.

They immediately removed the Tent of Dreams tarp from the statue of General McPherson and arrested four protestors at its base for “failure to obey” police orders. Several scuffles broke out and there were injuries, as police in full riot gear strategically moved throughout the camp dissembling tents, overwhelming the camp and its occupiers. Workers in white hazmat suits threw away most of the tents, and vehicles tore up rain-soaked ground. The park ground was ripped to tatters, mostly by the operation itself.

I stood in front between police and protestors, perhaps foolishly, in the role of a reporter taking pictures and videos until the last of my phone memory ebbed. The police ignored me. Teams of strong men slid metal barricades into place like fake movie props. As dusk approached and a drizzle fell, occupiers stood together as one at the People’s Library, singing songs of camaraderie, such as “I shall not be moved” and “We shall overcome.” Then there was a sudden push as police forced us out of the park and onto K Street. The Occupation had ended, or so we thought.

We held a spontaneous General Assembly and testified to the day’s experiences late into the rainy night. Washington D.C. now had dozens of new homeless on its streets. Word came from Luther Place Memorial Church that they would give us a place to stay.

I returned to the park early the next morning to an unrecognizable landscape. A few police were still there standing watch. I looked to where my tent one stood and found nothing but a deep furrow of mud dug by truck wheels. Nearly every tent and sign was gone. But the beloved People’s Library still stood! The books were untouched, still organized on their shelves.

I felt resignation and wondered how the movement had come to this. We believed the people supported us, especially those hurt by the repressive system of banks, Wall Street brokers, selfish CEO’s and a government corrupted by cozy relationships with them. But yesterday, where was our cavalry, where were the people? Had we failed?

I thought about our efforts to make the change our society so desperately needed: the meetings we held, the discussions, the classes, the hundreds of free meals prepared in our kitchen, the extraordinary time we put into the declaration of societal wrongs, and wondered if anything we had done had made a difference.

We challenged institutions and authority in a pitched battle of wills for four long months. Their final response was to send in a paramilitary force to shut us down. We had no weapons with us that day or any other day other than our will and perseverance.

In the coming months we continue to occupy the park in a limited way. We weren’t allowed to camp, but our library remained open and even a few tents stayed until June.

Noam Chomsky said that the Occupy movement “lit a spark” of awareness. Although we were evicted from the park, I believe that ultimately we had made a difference. We prevailed by standing up to the authors of a broken system. We showed others that it could be done.

NDAA lawsuit shows lengths DOJ will go to cover Obama’s tracks

After presenting arguments to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Hedges v. Obama, plaintiffs and their lawyers participated in a panel discussion. The lawsuit challenges the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), a pernicious law allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens without due process.

Plaintiffs were found to have standing because they could be targeted under the NDAA for “substantial support to an organization associated with terrorism”–support being so vaguely defined that it could encompass their work as journalists and activists.

The judge hearing the case imposed a stay on the NDAA in December 2012.

Judge Katherine Forrest determined last year that the provision of the NDAA—Section 1021—was unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction. The government not only appealed the ruling but also asked Forrest for an emergency stay. She denied the request and the government went to the Second Circuit and obtained a stay so that it could continue to use the provision to its full extent as it is being challenged.

The Justice Department went beserk, filing an appeal on the injunction on a Friday afternoon, as Chris Hedges describes in the panel discussion. The appeal was successful, and the NDAA is in effect.

The AUMF (Authorization of Military Force) of 2001 gave the president the power to snatch up accused terrorists during combat and hold them without due process. Now under the NDAA, the president can not only detain accused terrorists but their supporters as well–however the president might choose to define them–including U.S. citizens.

Carl Mayer, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, says,

Almost with each passing year, the government keeps pressing the outer boundaries of who they can target. First it’s Al Qaeda, then it’s quote “associated forces.” They’re expert at making up these squishy terms like co-belligerents. They keep expanding the target for the government.

In the lawsuit the government claims it doesn’t have any citizens in detention. But Hedges thinks that the administration “aggressively” sought to appeal to the injunction imposed on the NDAA precisely because it is holding those with Pakistani-American dual citizenship in Bagram. If the injunction remained in place, the government would have been in contempt of court.

What if the DOJ has an even bigger legal problem to solve? Tangerine Bolen of RevolutionTruth says it might. The broad sweep of the NDAA looks like “a retroactive attempt to legislatively fix the fact that they didn’t have these powers [of indefinite detention of American citizens], and they’ve been using them all along.”

Like preemptive warfare and drone warfare, it may be the case that our government does what it wants and makes up legal justification for it after the fact. By passing laws like the AUMF and NDAA, both parties of Congress seem happy to give unchecked powers to the President. Will the third branch be so compliant?

As Carl Mayer says, this case comes down to the question, are we going to have a civil justice system or a military justice system?

Groundhogs say, No way! DC’s fake Punxsutawney Phil has got to go

Photo by Washington Post

by Groundhog Johnny (@GroundhogJohnny)

They call him the “brother” of Punxsutawney Phil. But in reality he’s a trussed-up travesty procured from Miss Pixie’s vintage store.

For the second year in a row, the District will trot out this dog and pony show–or should we say groundhog and pony show?–for its supposed metereological delights, the Washington Post reports.

At the District’s second annual Groundhog Day celebration, “Potomac Phil” will look for his shadow in Dupont Circle Saturday morning to determine how long winter will last.

According to legend, if one of the Phils — be it the real-life Punxsutawny or the taxidermied Potomac — sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last six more weeks.

Last year, “Potomac Phil” (if that is his real name) predicted six more weeks of winter and nine more months of Congressional deadlock. This year, we hear that once again there will be fortune-telling.

This being Washington, Potomac Phil is also expected to make political predictions, organizers said.

But not everyone is fooled by this chicanery.

Some revelers hesitated to get too close because they said Potomac Phil, with his grizzled fur and aggressive expression, looked “creepy.”

Media hyperbole has raised the public’s hopes. They anticipate accurate weather forecasting and inside-the-beltway political knowledge in these uncertain times, depend on it even.

The predictions are slated to be the main event in a morning of celebration, which will include live accordion music and polka dancing.

Last year’s event also included cookies shaped like groundhogs and an opportunity to take photos with the “National Groundhog.”

Look, I’m down with the cookies. But only a real, live groundhog can make accurate predictions. And what of “Potomac Phil,” forced to be the subject of this mockery? Groundhog Day in the Nation’s Capital should be a bellwether event, not a farce. We need a real National Groundhog. Too many people’s lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Groundhog Johnny, head of the #FreeFakePhil campaign, humbly submits himself for consideration as the first real, live National Groundhog
Groundhog Johnny, head of the #FreeFakePhil campaign, humbly submits himself for consideration as the first real, live National Groundhog

Missing the Jack Lew connection: How a Citigroup exec becomes Treasury Secretary

Jack Lew, former COO of Citigroup Alternative Investments, current White House Chief of Staff–and future U.S. Treasury Secretary (Photo AP / J. Scott Applewhite)

Frontline’s most recent program entitled “The Untouchables,” which aired on January 22, outlined how Lanny Breuer, head of the DOJ’s criminal division, and his Deputy were unwilling to prosecute Wall Street bankers in spite of evidence of fraud. Breuer confessed to the New York Bar Association that he was up nights thinking about how his actions potentially may have had tragic ripple effects throughout the economy.

Frontline did a good job in calling out Breuer and the Justice Department. So good that DOJ called “The Untouchables” a “hit piece,” and Lanny Breuer has resigned his position. Still, Frontline failed to point out a vital connection with a key Obama cabinet appointment.

U.S. Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew, the current White House Chief of Staff, used to be in charge of the very Citigroup department that was the subject of a Senate hearing. Frontline documented the Citigroup policy of bank underwriters’ approving mortgages that would eventually go into failure, and even showed Senator Carl Levin questioning the chief underwriter of Citigroup. Levin asked him whether he believed the bank he worked for had been running a scam by intentionally granting housing loans destined to fail while at the same time betting heavily against the housing market.

Of course, it was a scam. It conned many people out of their paychecks, their life savings and their retirements. Ultimately, it crushed the economy. One merely needs to look at the jobs market to see how the economy is devastated beyond repair. And Jack Lew, soon to be Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, played a key role in the mismanagement of risk.

All too often the federal government chooses to address a problem with the very same individuals who played roles in creating the problem. This isn’t the “Hope” and “Change” that Obama voters were expecting when they pledged their support for the President in 2008.

According to an officer outside the Alfalfa Club dinner Saturday night, Metropolitan police have yet to negotiate a contract or receive a pay increase in 7 years. Teachers, healthcare workers or any individual who has a job remotely connected to the government stand to lose their jobs after March 27. Had individuals like Jack Lew not created the economic collapse of 2008, more than likely we would not be facing such harsh cuts.

Like Frontline, mainstream media outlets have dropped the ball as well. Few are making the connection between Jack Lew and his former role at Citigroup (contrast this article on Huffington Post), or pointing out the continuing relationship of the U.S. Treasury with firms which received bailout money, such as Lew’s former employer.

What’s more, the mainstream propaganda machine is hard at work validating President Obama’s choice for Treasury Secretary and whitewashing Jack Lew’s involvement in this fraud. Not only are big bankers going unpunished, in the Obama administration they are being rewarded with cabinet appointments. We need a watchdog media that has the courage to say so.

Unconditional love: US support of Israel likely to continue with Kerry at helm

John Kerry’s nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (January 24, 2013)

Nominee for Secretary of State John Kerry didn’t address US-Israeli foreign policy in today’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but if he follows in Clinton’s footsteps, he will implement an Obama policy that essentially gives Israel everything it wants and more.

In November, Rep Gerry Connolly (D-Va) called “U.S.-Israeli relations…at an all-time high”:

President Obama has provided every penny and more in foreign assistance requested by Israel. Moreover, the president has agreed to sell Israel our most advanced jet fighter, the F-35. And unlike the previous administration, President Obama has authorized the sale of advanced “bunker buster” weapons to Israel that are now part of its arsenal.
 
Bottom line, in the words of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as it’s ever been….
 
But we cannot be fooled. The president’s actions prove that he has Israel’s back. When the Palestinians threatened to obtain statehood at the United Nations Security Council, President Obama pledged a veto. When the notoriously biased Goldstone Report attacked Israel’s self defense efforts in Gaza, President Obama fought against it. When Israeli diplomats’ lives were threatened in their Cairo Embassy, President Obama intervened to save them. And when forest fires ravaged northern Israel, President Obama committed US assistance to extinguish them.

(At face value, Connolly’s article on Congressional blog The Hill would seemingly indict Obama’s Israeli policy. Instead, it’s a full-throated defense against critics who accuse him of being anti-Israel.)

 

The US view that Israel is a strategic asset in the Middle East plus the rabid pro-Israel lobby underlies the remarkable level of American support for Israel over the years. Glenn Greenwald contends that “Israeli aggression is possible only due to the unstinting financial, military and diplomatic support of the US.” And Middle East expert William Quandt negatively assesses Obama’s achievements in the region, based as it is on a continuation of past policy, saying, “There is no evidence of a fundamental rethinking by the president; his Middle East policy is the product of his view of America and the world.”

Kerry is expected to pass the nomination hearings with flying colors with little opposition from Republicans, even if they gave him a hard time on a few issues today, such as the attack on the Benghazi consulate. (Yesterday, current Secretary of State Hilary Clinton put Republicans in their place when they tried to rake her over the coals for the attack, which led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.)

Ultra-right pro-Israel media predictably whine that Senator Kerry is no friend of Israel. But there is little indication that Kerry would change the course of US policy regarding Israel. During the DNC convention, he defended President Obama’s Israel cred, portraying him and Netanyahu as best of buddies. Unconditional support of Israel, no matter how destructive to Palestinians and the stability of the region, will continue.

Evicted from a public space, will Occupy DC kick itself out of a private one?


If things keep going the way they are, Occupy DC is going to lose a good thing.

In May there was a little dust-up because Service Employee International Union (SEIU) generously leased office space for the campless movement in the Institute for Policy Studies building. There were accusations of Occupy DC and the union being a little too cozy. On the contrary, Occupy DC isn’t complying with the only deal it struck with SEIU for the office space: a self-enforced basic code of conduct.

The group is having a hard time holding up its end of the bargain. After months of working out the details, the top priority for the Resource Center, as it’s called, is using the office suite for “getting shit done.” But there are some who use the place to camp out just like they did at McPherson Square.

A lot of shit is getting done there, it’s true. It’s a secure and climate-controlled space for committee meetings and provides desks, computers and wi-fi for anybody wanting to accomplish something for the movement.

While spontaneous, stimulating conversations occur there all the time, it’s not supposed to be a hang-out–or an Occupation like McPherson Park was. The code of conduct forbids sleeping, squatting or storing personal belongings. Unfortunately, after weeks of habitual rule-breaking and desperate solutions like changing the locks, Occupy DC can’t seem to rein in several individuals. Even worse, their behavior reinforces some of the worst stereotypes of Occupiers–the place smells bad, it’s sometimes dirty and full of backpacks, people go shirtless and bathe in the restrooms.

In an office building, that’s not going to fly. Occupy DC seems in danger of losing its Resource Center after October if SEIU decides not to renew the lease–and keep forking over $3,500 a month. Or even sooner.

Occupy DC is responsible for who it lets into its office–or can’t keep out. But there is a wider issue. Most of the squatting is by young people who are homeless. There’s some tolerance at play here simply knowing that someone is pretty desperate for a place to sleep and get out of 100-degree heat. Housing problems don’t have easy solutions.

And the District isn’t doing its part to address housing and homelessness, increasingly instituting more austerity measures and closing shelters. Coincidentally, Occupiers who were arrested in November 2011 protesting the closure of a homeless shelter at the Franklin School in 2008 will go on trial July 9.

As a statement from Free Franklin DC reads,

Three years later the city continues to break its promises to house and shelter DC residents, under-funding housing and shelter programs, including cutting $3 million from services for DC’s 6,500 homeless individuals and $20 million for affordable housing last year alone. The DC government refuses to ensure the most basic human right to housing for everyone in our community.

Pretty ironic that Occupy DC put itself on the line to address homelessness, yet may itself be undone by it.

UPDATE 7/16/12: The executive director of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which houses the Occupy DC Resource Center, dropped by the office to hand-deliver a letter detailing complaints. Efforts to get things in hand since have had mixed results. There’s no doubt that the majority is disgusted by the habits, hygiene and behavior of a minority. Yet that minority stubbornly clings to a belief in its right to do whatever it pleases in the office space, consequences be damned.

The office was cleared of personal belongings abandoned there, aired out with fans, and generally cleaned up. Messes large and small still occur and have to be cleaned up, there’s sleeping overnight, loitering, playing video games and surfing the internet. Situation improved but not solved.

There was a follow-up meeting with IPS this week, basically admitting we know we have a problem, we’re trying to fix it. Will that be enough to preserve a valuable resource?

Breaking the Death Fast

A couple of weeks ago I took the unusual measure of removing two posts from this blog. They were about the activist who calls himself “Start Loving.”

His name is actually Jay McGinley, and you can read more about his background and reasons for hunger striking on DC Mic Check. (I am quoted in the article.) McGinley is on Day 37 of a hunger strike in front of the Canadian Embassy, what he calls a “Death Fast,” because he does intend to continue it until death.

My decision to remove the blog posts came from a change in assessment about McGinley’s state of mental health. Initially, I ardently believed in what he was doing–bringing attention to the most pressing problem of our time, global warming. Many participants in Occupy DC, including me, have supported him throughout his hunger strike. Not just supported but gone to extraordinary lengths in providing him water and electrolytes, carrying away bottles of urine, charging his laptops, transcribing numerous videos, editing voluminous book manuscripts, and having long conversations into the night.

Not every hunger strike is a good hunger strike. It’s only after having spent a lot of time with McGinley that I came to the conclusion that this isn’t a good hunger strike. I was slow to come to this conclusion and didn’t want to. Out of personal affection I continued to visit him until recently. The bottom line is this: McGinley is a very intelligent man but also sick, and he’s becoming more and more delusional the longer he goes without food.

You’re not going to read this anywhere else. We want to praise someone who appears to be sacrificing themselves for a noble cause, and even major press outlets like the Los Angeles Times have interviewed and written about McGinley.

But I say, stop it. McGinley’s motivation and mental state are at issue. He’s getting an enormous amount of personal and press attention for committing suicide. It’s inherently immoral to encourage someone unbalanced to commit suicide. By giving him attention, this is what we’re doing. If he’s stopped somehow before he dies, he doesn’t deserve praise. If he dies, he shouldn’t be given the status of a martyr.

I write this not only to address this one case, but also because I believe it illustrates several weaknesses we as activists are susceptible to: cultivating rigid ideological conviction, extolling personal sacrifice to the Cause or Cause’s leader as proof of devotion, and believing that utter commitment is the gateway to effectiveness. All these are qualities of cults, in which individuals can become abusers and manipulators, or become vulnerable to being abused and manipulated.

This is what I wrote about the Occupy the Vote hunger strikers last December:

When you go on hunger strike for a cause, you put your body on the line. That’s why a hunger strike, as a nonviolent tactic of protest, can be so compelling. We all know the discomfort of hunger. Fewer of us know the pain and suffering of starvation. But we can imagine. The first, most basic thing we learn to do to survive is scream when we’re hungry. On a visceral level, hunger compels us.

So when a hunger striker overrides the primal command to survive and deprives him or herself of food for days or weeks, we turn and look and wonder: What conviction is so burning that it’s worth suffering or even dying for?

McGinley and his fast were compelling. When I first met him on Day 3 of his hunger strike, he inspired me with his uncompromising idealism and purported love for humanity. He’s truly awesome in his command and synthesis of information about carbon emissions. I wanted to believe that here was a holy man who had had a spiritual vision, who was suffused with love like the name he had taken on, Loving.

I visited him often, usually late at night, and enjoyed talking with him on a variety of subjects. He always greeted me with a cheerful, “Hello, Sister!” and soaked up long hugs before I left. I charged his laptop and brought him water and cough drops. I waited patiently and watched his things while he made trips to Starbucks to relieve gastrointestinal distress. He desperately wanted publicity for the Fast, so I edited a draft of a press release and looked up contact numbers for media outlets. I tweeted quotes, wrote articles and took photos that I posted on this blog.

And who wouldn’t want to support the cause he was trying to promote? We’re experiencing the effects of climate change now, and the Republican refusal to recognize the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing it, or that it’s happening at all, is maddening. Here was someone doing something about it, putting his life on the line!

For many of us supporting McGinley, the Cause took over. It was easy to overlook inconsistencies on his part. The greatest is the gap between his stated goal–publicity–and his actions to achieve it. While he made meticulous preparations for the hunger strike, he did nothing in advance to announce or publicize it, nor to my knowledge has ever contacted media himself but left it for others to do.

He refers to eight years of being exiled and ostracized by other environmentalists and people in general, and he indicated that he decided to undertake the hunger strike relatively quickly after having a vision. The isolation he underwent and the suddenness of his resolve also makes me think that his actions are part of a death wish.

More important to him than publicity, though, is the objective of getting more people to join him in fasting to death: “But all that matters on Earth right now, is that if there are 1000 people in the US that Love Humanity more than they Love their own life, that they come and join the Death Fast, now.” His mantra is “‘Till enough are seen dying.” The wish for others to join him in an apocalyptic vision and march to death is self-evidently insane. Indeed, in emails he chides his supporters for not following his example.

As lucidity wanes, he’s sent out numerous extended email rants:

Uh, I’m so stupid, I want you burned out on this mission, when you could find joy and passion in others that isn’t in this one for you?  Uh, no.  All of them are MY  missions too!

But as a consequence of your lack of passion, joy, and your predominant dissatisfaction with all that I’m doing, attempting, delivering… it is flaming me out.  I’m losing focus, feeling the weight of your dark moods, sadness, lack of passion, lack of delivery….  As I said from the beginning, and as is always true of the Potent Activist – I can do my part.  But there is a corollary I’d forgotten – not with the weight of those opposed to the mission for whatever good reasons, appalled at my execution of my part, etc, on my shoulders.  This is a lesson we must all remember going forward on future missions.  We need to help those that are trying, and avoid undoing that help by our gripes, moans, dis satisfactions, frustrations, etc; or find another mission where we can.  We’ve all been there, right?  Someone like me looks really tough, and maybe I am, but extremely delicate at the same time, because I keep myself exactly on the extreme edge, every second.  Every breath.

He often lashes out at his greatest supporters in Occupy DC. The alternation between harsh criticism and lavish praise is manipulative. He excoriated someone for speaking to a reporter unauthorized; later the same person is “the one of strong heart, [unwilling] to turn away from decency no matter what.” At one point he made a detailed list of one supporter’s personal flaws and shortcomings in carrying out the “mission.” Now that this follower has come back into the fold, he is part of the exclusive inner circle of the Death Fast. The criticism/praise dynamic extends to Occupy DC in general as well:

The Death Fast can’t survive any more “help” from Occupy right now
In the last two days somehow this became “our” campaign.  WHAT?  You mean “we,” in Occupy, that have honestly and clearly told me they were opposed, the messaging was wrong, the target audience was wrong, that have not sustained any but the smallest contributions, haven’t joined….???????  What kind of fantasy is this?

I will not fight you.  You can take the Death Fast over in the press.  Say it is Occupy DC’s campaign.  Whatever you want.  I’ll not fight you, and I’ll keep on. 

But later:

Thanks to friends at Occupy DC I’ve made it to day 37 relatively in tact, funcitonal [sic], and I’m fairly sure now, able to get the books completed sufficiently. Wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Framing the Death Fast as a  grand “mission” (“this is the most high stakes campaign on earth right now”) enables him to play on supporters’ devotion to a cause and appeal to their sense of self-sacrifice and fears that they may be one of the faint-of-heart.

Most recently, he has begged for all but the three most committed devotees to leave him alone and let him work–making the dozens of videos he posts on his site and writing two books–claiming that they are harming the mission.

My energy, powers of focus, etc are waning, but that’s par for the course.  IF you continue to comply with my wishes and allow the uninterrupted seclusion I need, I’ll be able to do my part. 

I will not allow interference with the mission, especially now that I’m entering a very very depleted, fragile zone for me.

Still, he relies on them not to go away completely:

I PRAY, IF THERE REMAINS ANYONE I’VE NOT YET TOTALLY DRIVEN AWAY, that you immediately read the draft and provide top level comments, major suggestions, major input.

It seems that despite my best efforts… I haven’t totally done my part yet of driving everyone away.  Thank goodness. Not totally anyway, yet.

Underlying everything is a contempt that none share his true commitment and join him in the Death Fast. (“The target objective is not one you see as worth your life, or even close.”)

There’s a natural tendency to adulate someone who is seemingly making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the planet. But that doesn’t mean we should eschew skepticism or fail to examine our motives and the consequences of our actions. Supporters are well-aware of McGinley’s degeneration, yet they’ve promoted him to the press all the more. Because the cause is important, they fail to mention to reporters the ranting emails or the apple juice he drank while in the hospital. In ordinary circumstances, this is simply unethical. When it comes to someone who is disturbed and harming himself, it becomes a serious moral breach. I feel a responsibility for contributing to it, and that’s why I’m trying to set the record straight now.

UPDATE 6/2/12: McGinley announced that he will suspend his fast to finish the books he is working on: “Unless I consume moderate calories the books will not get done. The books must get done. I’ll be taking roughly half rations, about 800 calories per day until the books are done.  Weight loss will continue, but moderated, and my mind and strength should stay sharp and strong enough to finish.”

Rove, Boehner talk Big Business to Small Business Summit

They banned the press, but we were prepared to infiltrate.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) was putting on a “Small Business Summit” in Washington, DC on May 14-16. The NFIB calls itself “the voice of small business” (rights reserved). That’s because they’re a lobbying group leveraging the clout of its 350,000 small business members.

Premiere guests included Republican “Architect” Karl Rove, House Speaker John Boehner, and “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. Gregory took heat for being the conference’s keynote speaker, but NBC claims that doing the gig unpaid freed him from any accusations of journalistic impropriety. (Whatever. Do we really expect much from David Gregory?)

The high-profile speakers brought the desired patina of prestige and smattering of media attention, but no media were admitted to the events as far as I can tell, given the subsequent coverage: zero. Our little alternative media group (led gamely by Occupied News Network’s Rob Brune, plus live streamers Carlisle and Chapell, and me the blogger) intended to crash Speaker Boehner’s dinner. Livestreamer Flux was colorfully dressed as Uncle Sam and unlikely to gain entry.

But our plan was foiled when, unannounced to the public, the event was held on Capitol Hill instead of the Grand Hyatt. No unobtrusively slipping through that security. (Do lobbying organizations often get to host events at Congressional office buildings, we wondered?) So we lamely stood outside on the sidewalk.

Boehner, by the way, had a busy day. He earlier threatened to hold the country hostage to another debt limit “crisis” in 2013 if the White House even thought about tax increases.

Conference attendees slowly leaked out of the Cannon Building. NFIB bills itself as nonpartisan, but its leadership and objectives are closely aligned with the Republican Party. ThinkProgress calls NFIB “one of the Republican party’s strongest allies”:

The group spent over $1 million on outside ads in the 2010 campaign — all of it backing Republican House and Senate candidates (and, Bloomberg News reported last month, “another $1.5 million that it kept hidden and said was exempt” from disclosure requirements). The group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Obamacare law and bankrolled state governments’ challenges to the law. The NFIB has also taken stances against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, opposing regulations on businesses, and supporting curtailing union rights.

In 2010, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS gave NFIB $3.7 million to its PAC, Save America’s Free Enterprise Trust (SAFE), to defeat Obamacare. Key NFIB leaders were staff in various Republican administrations. The incestuous relationships and money flow make NFIB effectively function as a Republican front-group.

On Capitol Hill, these were probably the smallest of the small business owners trickling onto 1st Street. The VIPs would have been escorted to their limos behind barricades. Some of its membership is comprised of large corporations such as Sam’s Club, American Express, Intuit, AGLA (an insurance group), Bloomberg Government, and Solveras–all of them sponsors of the conference. Membership dues cost about $1,500 on the bottom end and a whopping $25,000 for upper-tier. Not surprisingly, NFIB often pursues big business interests over small business interests.

Flux Rostrum mocks Sam’s Club sponsorship of Small Business Summit

Nearly every exiting conference attendee flinched as they approached our loitering alternative media cabal. Strangely, it didn’t seem to be Flux in the Uncle Sam suit that they were reacting to. Rob and I dressed as natives to blend in in that squeaky clean-cut Republican way, Rob in blue blazer and red power tie, me in job interview clothes, suffering make-up and heels. Yet we still seemed to stick out.

I’d expect the plastic employees of NFIB to give me the “Talk to the Hand” treatment. Still, anyone else I approached to interview was even more wary. The innocent face wasn’t working the usual magic. Was it the camera and notepad setting off the danger signal?

Blowing me off is a non-story to say the least, except that it seemed like a symptom of extreme paranoia. Do even conference attendees have to be prepared to face the liberal media? Were they this paranoid last year? Well, maybe. But in the last 8 months Occupy Wall Street’s message has penetrated the public consciousness. Republican and business leadership have to take note, and they seem to be taking steps to cultivate an even greater paranoia among their flock.

It’s probably not that hard to increase fear when the seeds are already planted: They want to destroy capitalism. Occupy Wall Street is the enemy of small business, the entrepreneur. They are a threat to your success. They want to tax you into oblivion.

The fear-based Right always feels threatened, but they may be feeling the heat more than usual. Wealth inequality is the mainstay of NFIB, and they want it to keep it that way. The public gets it that politicians are bought-and-paid-for, and they’re absorbing the nature of PACs as shills for the Parties. Occupy Wall Street’s bread and butter is exposing organizations like NFIB and their lobbying power. If it can keep beating that drum, the message will strike fear into the heart of Karl Rove.

(Photos by coolrevolution.net)