Monthly Archives: November 2011

100 Homes of Jacksonville: Rational Exuberance

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Since exploding into the public debate in the 1980s, America’s homeless problem has remained front-and-center, and never more so than at the present. It took way too long, but policymakers on all levels of government and the private sector have finally begun to recognize the severity of the problem. And just in time. The economic collapse has had predictable results: the numbers of homeless have spiked, while resources allocated to help them have diminished. Nonprofits of all kinds are getting less from individuals and institutions alike, forcing rapid adaptation of their methods.

The most recent statistics, compiled in 2010, offer a sobering picture of an epidemic entirely unconstrained within demographic boundaries. Officially, over 400,000 people are without regular housing in the US; as with official figures on unemployment, the real number is likely much higher.

According to stats compiled by the Emergency Services and Homelessness Coalition of Jacksonville in January 2011, Northeast Florida has about 4,564 homeless, according to the definition provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development: “[A] person sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation or in an emergency shelter, and a person in transitional housing for homeless persons who originally come from the street or an emergency shelter.” 4,284 live in Duval County with another 280 spread across Clay (113), Nassau (165) and Baker (2) counties. 1,500 of those are “permanent homeless”; they have no shelter of any kind.

(It’s worth noting at this point the vast disparity in how homelessness is formally defined at the state and federal levels. The state definition basically doesn’t count anyone who has access to any type of legal sleeping arrangement, such as: staying with a relative or friend; staying at a hotel, motel, trailer park or campground; “living at an emergency or transitional shelter”; “is living in a car, park, public space, abandoned building, bus or train station, or similar setting”; “is a migratory individual”. The best qualifier: “Has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private space not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings”. Not surprisingly, by this definition, there are only 1,903 homeless—59% fewer than by the state definition. This helps explain why the individual homeless people and those private citizens and organizations out there trying to help them have had such a hard time achieving their goals. Simply compiling workable statistics on the homeless population is a great accomplishment in this area of study.)

Some 90% (4,123) are adults, aged 18-60. There are 230 homeless seniors (60+, 5%), and 189 homeless children (18 and under, 4%); they are the generations most adversely affected by the recession. 3,109 are men, and 1,443 are women; there are two male-to-female transgendered homeless, and 10 who refused to answer the question. Homelessness here is almost evenly divided by race: 2,005 white and 2,373 black. Of course, that represents a much larger percentage of the black community, which is one reason why the leaders of that community are so active on the issue. Also, the Hispanic members of that community need to be better-defined in the numbers.

At least 12% of Northeast Florida’s military population is comprised of veterans—570 of them. Given that another 823 respondents refused to answer the question, for unknown reasons, one may presume that proportion to be as high as 31%, or 1,393. That should put a chill into the heart of every Patriot. But it would, sadly, be consistent with the classic (pre-recession) talking point holding that half of America’s homeless men are vets. Back then, Vietnam vets swelled the homeless population after the 1970s recession, while the vets of Korea and WWII entered their old age, and the VA system was overwhelmed, creating the crisis that continues today.

Health disparities are rife, and exert a brutal toll on emergency services. The primary impact of homelessness is on the person’s health. Overall, premature death rates among the homeless are nearly quadruple those of the general population; their lifespan runs, on average, some 25 years shorter than non-homeless Americans.

They die from starvation, malnutrition, illness from living conditions, or eating tainted food, or not seeking general preventive care. In winter, many homeless up north die of frostbite, gangrene or exposure. Homeless people are often subject to violence, be it from each other or random bullies; this author helped the Southern Poverty Law Center document a number of disturbing incidents in Florida a few years ago.

29% of area respondents (1,316) reported some kind of physical or mental disability; another 1,673 refused to answer the question, so the real percentage may run as high as 66%. Only 10% reported any kind of alcoholism or drug addiction, which may be individual self-delusion or evidence that the usual stereotypes of the homeless are not applicable. Indeed, if there is one factor that can be pinpointed as a root cause of local homeless cases, based on the data, it is economics.

Among the 4,564 respondents to the ESHCJ survey, 41% (1,875) cited “financial problems related to job loss”. 1,270 (28%) cited various forced relocation or family, such as fleeing abusive relationships, while 623 (14%) cited disability issues. (At least one person was rendered homeless due to “Natural/other disasters; surely there’s a story in that.) Also, 3% (121) were once caught up in the foster-care system, which points to how the disruptions of families by whatever means can have a negative effect that reverberates through time. And here’s the most important stat of them all: 54% (2,471) have been homeless for less than a year.

The statistics indicate that, far from being lazy, stupid or crazy, the average homeless person is someone who simply had too many bad things happen at once. We already know the leading causes of both home foreclosure and personal bankruptcy is medical bills, and we know the difficulties that people with preexisting conditions faced get stable jobs with health care before the economy tanked. Now, even decorated combat vets and good-looking young people with advanced degrees are struggling to find work, so where does that leave those at the bottom?

A non-profit organization called Community Solutions has emerged with a bold new vision for tacking the topic head-on and changing the overall debate on homelessness. 100,000 Homes is a national campaign begun in July, 2010 that seeks to place the most vulnerable of America’s long-term homeless into housing by July 2013. If successful, they will have managed to reduce America’s official homeless population by 25%—an unprecedented feat. The idea is to give people a second chance at life, and to show what wonders can happen when those chances are given.

100,000 Homes has already partnered with major non-profits like the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Catholic Charities USA, the United Conference of Mayors, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Center for Social Innovation, the Conrad Hilton Foundation and the United Way. They’ve even received corporate support from Travel Channel and Bank of America, which could use the good press after a brutal autumn tangling with the Occupy crowd. (They were the primary target of Bank Transfer Day, in which $.6.5 billion in deposits was moved from banks to credit unions, largely to protest BOA’s aborted plan for monthly ATM fees.)

Their one-year anniversary report is loaded with impressive and uplifting stories and statistics from communities as diverse as Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Chicago, New Orleans (which leads the country by averaging 62 placements per month), Washington DC (which is second, with 39, and has the highest one-year housing retention rate—94%), Omaha, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Detroit and, of course, Hollywood. Led by Campaign Director Becky Kanis, 100,000 Homes now has more than 2,000 volunteers working in over 80 communities around the country; they expect to be in over 300 communities by 2013. So far, over 10,000 people have already been taken off the streets, but they’re just getting started.

Statistics can be misleading, of course, but early reports suggest that the group’s key talking-point is correct: Housing the homeless saves cities money. The most detailed study yet was conducted by Denver’s “Housing First Collaborative” project, which has already placed 150 people in homes and has already identified another 513 who could be served once additional funding comes in. Based on initial results for the 150, that money won’t be far behind. The Denver study is a must-see.

The cost of housing people, and counseling them to help them retain their housing, costs them only $13,800 each, or a total of about $2.1 million. Overall, placing 150 homeless into quality low-cost housing saved the taxpayers of Denver a total of $4.7 million; extending the project to the other 513 would generate a savings in excess of $16 million. By breaking those savings down into the constituent categories, they’ve helped spotlight the key costs of homelessness, which are surprising.

Of the 150 studied, 30 (20%) had been incarcerated at some point, twice on average, each spending an average of 26 days in jail at a cost of $1,798 to the city. After being put into housing, only 12 were incarcerated (a 60% decrease); they spent only six days in jail (a 77% decrease), costing taxpayers $427 each. Under their program, the cost of incarcerating participants plummeted by 76%, and Denver saved $26,000.

Health-care costs associated with the participants fell by 45%, with the biggest decrease—65%—occurring in the category on “Inpatient Care”. That’s because the sick people had actual homes to be released to, so doctors didn’t have to worry about the risk of releasing someone back onto the streets, where whatever illness they had would surely get worse. Note that, while “Outpatient Care” costs increased by 51% (because outpatient care is not really possible if one has no home), the actual dollar amount of the increase ($894) pales compared to the $6,845 saved on inpatient care.

The number of Emergency Room visits, and the costs of those visits, decreased by 34%. Total “Emergency Costs” decreased by 77%, or $31,545 per person. These statistics prove that the act of housing the homeless has an immediate, and financially measurable, effect to the benefit of their health, and the taxpayers’ bottom line. Every community is different, so it would be incorrect to just assume that what works in Denver will work in, say, Jacksonville. But between the hard numbers out of Denver, and the mountains of anecdotal evidence coming in from other areas, there is plenty of reason for optimism: If these trends held nationwide, homelessness could be eradicated pretty quickly.

Most of the placements done in the first year have been in communities with 1,000 or fewer chronic unemployed. To achieve their long-term goal, 100,000 Homes will need to step up activities all over the country, but especially in those parts of the country with larger homeless populations. As such, Florida is a priority. Our temperate climate and mild winters, like those of southern California, attract all kinds of people, including disproportionate numbers of homeless people. So, any serious fight against homelessness in America must focus on Florida. And where does Florida begin? Exactly.

100 Homes Jacksonville, the local affiliate of 100,000 Homes, is helping set the pace for the peninsula by networking aggressively among the many organizations already working to uplift the local homeless population. They’ve already lined up some of the region’s heaviest hitters, including the Clara White Mission, City Rescue Mission, Department of Veterans Affairs, Downtown Vision Inc., the Duval County School Board, Eldersource, Habitat For Humanity, the IM Sulzbacher Center, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville Housing Authority, Lutheran Social Services, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Trinity Rescue Mission, UNF, the United Way of Northeast Florida and Worksource.

The VA is providing assistance by giving housing vouchers to vets, while 100 Homes works to acquire quality, low-cost housing for them and others.. As seen in other cities, when veterans are able to turn a corner in their own lives, they tend to channel their energies into helping their fellow vets do the same. The mutual respect and love they show for each other is almost evangelical in nature, and offers a regular reminder that the oaths they all took to protect our country were not forgotten when they came home. The wars fought overseas in recent years are only a prelude to the real battle to preserve the American Dream in our own streets.

The diversity of affiliated groups reflects the diversity of the community and its homeless population. Jacksonville is one of six communities already enrolled in the project around the state; others include Gainesville, Monroe County, West Palm Beach/Palm Beach County, Pasco County and Panama City. Between their own stats and other data, it’s safe to say that Florida has a minimum of 31,000 homeless people; the real number could easily exceed 50,000, so there’s plenty of work to do.

A project of this scale could not succeed without the right organization. Locally, Dawn Gilman, Executive Director of the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition, is helping lead the way, along with Shawn Liu, from the VA’s Healthcare for Homeless Veterans. Technically, 100 Homes is managed by the VA. Publicly, the project is being pushed most aggressively by Marti Johnson, whose passion for the homeless is visceral. “We’re not only saving lives; we’re also saving the city money,” says Johnson, who estimates (based on the Denver study, and others) that 100 Homes could save the city up to $2 million in emergency services.

A graduate of Belmont University, Johnson spent a year coordinating for nonprofits in Uganda before returning home to Florida. She helped run an orphanage for children of Uganda’s war dead, sandwiched between a weak central government and the notoriously brutal misogynists of the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army”. Subsequent work with AmeriCorps Vista brought her back to Jacksonville, as Communications Coordinator with the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Jacksonville, where a big part of her job is getting the word out about 100 Homes.

Johnson lives in Green Cove Springs, to be closer to her family, and so chooses to drive an hour each way, each day, to and from her office at ESHC on the city’s Westside. It’s safe to say the lady has a passion for her business—which is a good thing, because it’s the kind of work that cannot be done without passion.

The next step for 100 Homes is Registry Week, which runs from November 14-19. Volunteers will be out canvassing the streets and collection information from participating organizations city-wide, in hopes of fleshing-out the existing data on our homeless population. Their goals are 1) to update the existing data on the city’s homeless community; 2) promoting the project to those potential allies and advocates who aren’t already aware of its existence; and 3) to begin identifying those homeless who are most in need, and who can make the most of the opportunity.

Besides the veteran outreach (which is probably the easiest part of this project, since there is already an infrastructure in place to identify them and at least try to address their problems), the 76 local homeless families with children are, of course, a priority, as well as the seriously ill.

100 Homes is conducting a “Community Conversation” delineating the data, and where the project is doing next, from 1-3 pm on Thursday, November 18 at the AT&T Auditorium downtown. For the record, 100 Homes has no intention of stopping at just 100; indeed, the room for growth in a city like this is immense, and it has the potential to be another one of those remarkable stories 100,000 Homes is generating nationwide.

http://www.100khomes.org

http://www.100homesjax.org

http://twitter.com/#!/100HomesJAX

http://www.facebook.com/100HomesJax

sheltonhull@gmail.com; November 10, 2011

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Guest post: Faith Bennett Meets Michelle Bachmann

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[Artist Faith Bennett (D-FL) happened to be on-hand when GOP Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) made a campaign stop at Angie’s Subs in Jacksonville on August 26. Her words and photos follow.]

Michelle Bachman’s blue campaign bus did not come silently, literally or figuratively, to Jacksonville Florida as it pulled into the locally legendary business that is Angie’s Subs. Hundreds packed in the small building pushing the capacity, and much of the crowd pushing 60. Small women stood on chairs, some waited in rocking chairs, others still stood by the glass window anxiously awaiting their favored presidential candidate.

The wait seemed more unbearable than the heat to the members of the First Coast Tea Party that remained inside. Whispers filled the room along with a sing-a-long Tea Party anthem prompting Americans to “Stand up” for freedom. “She’s probably doing her make up,” one woman noted, “she has to.” Another woman took the lull as an opportunity to show off her “I was anti-Obama before it was cool” pin to more people in the room.

When Bachman finally made her entrance, she was greeted with signs and smiles and American flags. The students starting the UNF chapter of the Tea Party seemed nervously excited. The founders of the First Coast Tea Party were proud and stood with their chins up. Ed Malin, the self described “Bible Thumpin’ Gun Totin’ Capitalist Pig,” who owns Angie’s Subs was happy. He had moments ago expressed via microphone that he hoped Bachman to be his next president. Michelle Bachman herself was hard to see at first over the crowd. As one woman put it, “She’s Teensy!” Her diminutive stature is a severe misrepresentation of her personality however. She speaks with a Minnesotan accent and all the enthusiasm in the world and gestures with her hands wildly with the zeal of a tent revivalist (and close to the same values.)

Bachman wasted no time explaining her disagreement with Obamacare. She spoke of how she wrote the bill to repeal Obamacare and how she was “The first member of congress on the floor introducing that bill.” She told of her desire to cut spending to the Enviromental Protection Agency, a declaration that was immediately met with clapping and cheering.. “I intend to turn out the lights and lock the doors on the EPA,” she followed while doing a locking motion with her hands.  When she closed her brief speech she made sure to say “God bless you!” to the crowd demonstrating her beliefs.

She spent longer shaking hands, holding babies, and signing the shoulders of Tshirts than giving her speech, though she didn’t stop speaking as she posed for pictures. As she signed a piece of memorabilia for an older gentleman, she expressed the ease at which she believed the natural gas movement could be started in the United States., “We can. Very easily. That’s the good thing is that we’ve got the resources in abundance.” She also made note however that she didn’t want America to own GM anymore. She is strongly against America owning companies. Bachman and her fans spent the hour of meeting and greeting aflutter with hope to, as Bachman put it, “Change the Change.” The collective spirit of the room was one of triumph in that they believed to be taking back America, and preserving their rights.

Outside, there was a smaller crowd. Ten (maybe) protesters stood on the corner with signs also demonstrating a desire to preserve their rights, and their country. The message was the same but the meaning couldn’t have been more opposite. Patriotism in the U.S. will always be relative.

Notes on Monica da Silva

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A recent Thursday evening in late September found the author, among many others, in the bar area leading into Matthew’s in San Marco. Its large plate-glass windows, the long, speckled white bar, illuminated glass shelves holding some 94 different brands of top-shelf spirits–and the best “bar-food” you’ll have this year–all gave it an airy, upscale vibe that elicits the feel of South Beach. The “suspension of disbelief” factor is high.

On that night, the aesthetic was reinforced by the music emanating from the bar’s far south side. There, strumming guitar on a stool, sat Chad Alger, with singer Monica da Silva hovering just in front. She lived here and played there every Thursday before moving to Miami a while back. Between sets, she networks as adeptly as she sings–a useful skill.

Da Silva, 27, began playing piano and flute very young, and was singing about as long as she knows. Her mom’s musical family hails from Brazil, home of BOPE, the Bossa Nova and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu; her aunt is the concert pianist Helene Elias. Her influences are much greater than Getz/Gilberto, though: the Beatles, Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, Cranberries.

Da Silva’s second album, Brasilissima, further fuses the sound of her elders with the pointed lyricism of her generation. It’s also her first recording with Alger; they met while both were living in Chicago. Together they moved to Ormond Beach before returning to the place where they were born, Jacksonville. They’ve already recorded a half-dozen songs toward the next album, but with so much on their schedule, finishing may take a while.

While in Chicago she started her own publishing company, Socialite Fiasco Music, and has licensed her music to a diverse array of TV entities including “American Idol”, “Miami Ink” and Major League Baseball. “You’re putting a value on what you do, explaining why you deserve it”, says da Silva (who’s fluent in English and Portuguese and conversant in Italian, Spanish and French), and it requires a mindset very different from what she brings to onto the stage or into the studio. It takes a lot of assertiveness just to find the deals, much less actually making them.

Also among the M Lounge set that night was French-American film-maker Andre Leboug, who’d sought them out via a mutual friend, WJCT’s David Luckin. They made plans to shoot a video for “Push Me Away”, a track off Brasilissima. Another track, “Ai Entao” , will carry da Silva’s voice to a global audience when it’s featured on Brazilian Beat, the next installment of international sounds issued by the Putumayo label.

While working the Red Gorilla Festival in Texas, she sent some tracks to influential Austin DJ Michael Crockett, who introduced her to a fellow Brazilian musician who suggested she and Putomayo would be a good fit. Apparently they agreed, which is good news for her. Some releases sell upwards of three million copies, and they’ve just now entered the digital realm. Brazilian Beat will be released in January 2012; her third album is planned for later that year.

Notes on Occupy Orlando

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Raising the Bar: Occupy Orlando sets the regional standard.

This reporter, who lives in Jacksonville, recently spent a couple of days visiting Occupy Orlando, which was then in its third week. The Occupy movement began in New York City, then quickly went national as graphic evidence of police misconduct inspired others to start their own local offshoots in solidarity. As such, while each Occupy location does have certain features common to all, they mostly reflect the distinctive character of the cities and towns they are situated in.

Having already spent hundreds of hours researching the subject in general, including communications with insiders, observers and other journalists at Occupations around this country, the chance to sprint south and check out the scene in Orange County was welcomed eagerly. It certainly helps that Orlando is a beautiful city with great food, from eateries like Dandelion Community Cafe and Ethos Vegan Café, multi-media madness at Rock and Roll Heaven and Park Avenue CDs, which is the best record store in all of Florida. Right around the corner, Stardust Video and Coffee makes epic soups and sandwiches and a massive selection of DVDs for rental. Each Monday evening, their parking lot hosts the Audubon Park Community Market, while the Homegrown Local Food Cooperative (HomegrownCoop.org) provides sustainable fruits, vegetables and dairy to homes and restaurants throughout Central Florida.

The city’s impressive development in the half-century since Disney’s arrival makes it an ideal location in which to weigh the costs and benefits of the corporatized society the Occupiers stand opposed to. The fact that so many of them (the students, in particular) are beneficiaries of this system does not invalidate their position; rather, it reinforces their responsibility to get involved.

After putting the word out via social media (the author maintains the greatest Facebook page ever, full disclosure), about two hours elapsed before receiving a phone call from Brook Hines, part of their Media Relations team. At 45, her experience in the media and public relations world was put to good use. This type of rapid response and vigor in regard to outreach efforts has been crucial to their rapid success in a state that is generally almost devoid of large-scale progressive activism of any kind. As she puts it, “We want to work with the city, rather than crash it.”

There were veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars. Some got their first taste of politics via the Obama 2000 campaign. Others are veterans of older movements, including the assorted presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and Dennis Kucinich. A smaller segment comprised folks old enough to have participated in the seminal protest movements of the 1960s; for many old-school activists, these may be the final act in their political lives.

As Hines wrote in one of the group’s press releases: “Like Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Orlando is a leaderless movement, but it is far from disorganized. Coordination takes place online and at daily General Assemblies where … participants present ideas and dialogue until reaching consensus. Then, we take action to accomplish out collectively approved goals. The formation of multiple committees, including media, medical, peacekeeping, legal, transportation, food, event facilitation and materials preparation, enables all participants to contribute to the movement.”

The actual Occupation of Orlando commenced on Saturday, October 15, but planning began two weeks earlier, including two General Assemblies held at the Orange County Regional History Center. The date was announced in advance, a website was set up, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds built, supplies gathered, responsibilities designated and promotional materials (flyers, buttons, posters, etc.) prepared. They even sent out a letter soliciting the support of local businesses. The work paid off. The first event was arguably the biggest political protest ever held in Orlando, drawing between several hundred and a couple thousand participants, depending on who you ask.

Beth Johnson Park is just a quarter-mile or so down the street from Boom Art Gallery, a shop showcasing the brilliant hand-crafted work of Glenn and Sandy Rogers, which they describe as “the fusion of functional furniture and nostalgic art”. Their client list is awesome, and includes Ann-Margaret, Jay Leno, Paul Shaffer, Jeff Foxworthy, Mandy Moore, Robert Plant, Carrot Top and Shaquille O’Neal.

The art is must-see, and the artists are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Glenn’s dual backgrounds in fine art and as an International Flooring and Home Furnishings Designer led to a diverse career that included technical work on Broadway, shows, art exhibits in SOHO, storyboarding the “Mr. Whipple” commercials for Charmin, acting credits in Hollywood and the New York stage; he also helped create the Yellow brick Road used in The Wiz. The Rogers met and married during their 15 years spent touring together as clowns in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Sandy was, for seven years, Director of it Clown College, in which capacity she helped train Steve-O. Unsurprisingly, they offered full support for Occupy Orlando.

“This is redress of grievances, not a wedge-issue protest,” said Matthew, a 23 year-old student and musician part of a group of young people sitting on blankets in the park one day. His group included several people who’d been part of the OWS group, but were reticent about sharing further details with a journalist.

Over 2,000 people had taken part in the occupation, over 200 of whom spoke at the General Assemblies; and another 10,000 people had expressed support online in just the first five days, and those numbers spiked in subsequent weeks as Occupy caught steam nationally and Occupy Orlando started getting mainstream attention.

Like many of their fellow Occupy operations, the Orlando group maintained a camera streaming content directly to UStream.tv. Depending on the size of the crowd and the amount of activity in a given city at any given time, most full-time occupations run live video 24/7, while others fill the “dead” time with video of earlier activity; some cities have more than one feed, in addition to whatever is being done by individuals. This type of instant connectivity isn’t just great for outsiders (advocates and critics alike) to watch what’s going on directly and interpret for themselves. It is crucial for the actual occupiers in each of those cities, who can now learn from each other in real-time, share knowledge, adjust their methods, streamline tactics and goals, as well as networking.

Maybe no other city in Florida has brought in as much money from multinational corporations than Orlando, but there are many ways to quantify it. But its public image is tied-in with Disney and Universal Studios in a way no other city is with the many large companies doing business in them. Theme-park money spurred tremendous growth, and the landscape reflects it, especially compared to the relative bleakness and desolation of the outlying areas like Winter Park, Casselberry, Maitland and Ocoee. (The blank-yet-knowing looks on the faces of the kids working at the Walgreens and Steak and Shake in Apopka made me want to adopt them all, or at least write them recommendation letters to the UNF.) Mass-transit out there sucks, putting the lower-income families living out there at a persistent competitive disadvantage for jobs and schooling, the youth in particular.

The reader has probably seen the video(s) from Zucotti Park, where those three wee lasses felt the hot stuff (which really hurts, by the way). Note that at least one officer was already conducting a discussion with the ladies related to their refusal to get up and leave. While not exactly cordial, it was civil until his colleague imposed his own will upon the proceedings. The original cop’s agitated response, directed toward the one who deployed the burning, stinging mist into a group of civilians and fellow NYPD officers, presaged later confirmation of prior complains against the same guy at political events.

The nefarious action of one cop means little compared to the historic reputation of a department that saves and improves the lives of people every day, nor does it mean that the women sprayed that day were necessarily right. But the incident was recorded from a number of angles, and the targets were highly intelligent, well-connected members of a well-organized protest operation that was already ongoing in New York, with affiliated groups already starting elsewhere. The hardest part of civil disobedience is to not fight back when violence is used; that’s why most people generally want no part of it.

NYPD handed Occupy an image to, for lack of a better word, brand their movement, and like all good brands, it has staying power: young people being pushed around for engaging in political protest. Thanks to cell-phone cameras, YouTube and streaming video sites, a huge portion of the thousands of Occupy-related arrests have been documented, replete with scores of clear-cut incidents of abuse. The situation in Oakland alone could fill a book; surely a number of student protesters will apply their field experience directly to the classroom.

It only took a few good squirts of poorly-aimed pepper-spray to transform Occupy Wall Street into a national movement, and Florida is doing its part

 Beth Johnson Park sits at 57 S. Ivanhoe Blvd. It curves off the I-4. Whether approaching from any angle, the first thing one will see is the American Flag. Currently, Beth Johnson Park closes at 11pm. All citizens must vacate by then, but the sidewalk is not subject to those rules. As such, Occupy Orlando adopted what’s called “Sidewalk Solidarity” by standing on the sidewalk in shifts, 24/7. However, the law does prohibit sleeping on the sidewalk, sitting down on it, or sitting in a chair (all activities that are allowed in the actual park when it’s open). Sleepyheads make use of a privately-owned parking lot across the street, 20 feet away. Although trespassing charges was raised by police, they did not occur because the lot’s owner either refused to make a complain, or was otherwise not present.

This is just among the many examples of how, despite the anti-capitalist talking points and the alarmist rhetoric of commercial media, sizeable portions of the business community around the country are exerting subtle forms of support for Occupy activities. Another is that the nearby Doubletree Hotel offers its bathroom facilities for the occupiers. (Note also that Zucotti Park, the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street, is itself owned by a billion-dollar corporation that clearly has no issue with their presence, as long as they clean up after themselves.)

Most occupiers have chosen to heed those rules, but as expected others forced the point. Occupy Orlando took a huge, risky step forward on the night of October 22, when a small group of activists chose to openly defy city rules and remain in the park after 11. They, as individuals, chose to stage their own independent action without the approval of the General Assembly; some 200 people were doing Sidewalk Solidarity at the time. Some allege it was a blatant publicity stunt, others that it was an attempt to be more aggressive in the face of political power.

This civil disobedience resulted in Trespassing arrests for 19 people, including two women and a juvenile. By all accounts, the police were entirely professional in doing their job. (It’s always worth noting that law-enforcement has very little actual influence on the crafting and implementation of our nation’s laws, and citizens are worse off for it.) If it was a publicity stunt, it worked perfectly by forcing the occupation into commercial media, thus helping to grow the numbers. Another 13 arrests were made a few days later, as activists refused to vacate the park following the teach-ins on November 5—Guy Fawkes Day, incidentally, and also a day after the epochal success of Bank Transfer Day.

 

Among those 19 arrested that night was a wheelchair­-bound young man who had been doing unpaid volunteer work for President Obama’s national reelection campaign, similar to his activities in 2008. His disability leaves him unable to do most types of work, so he lives at home with his family, on a fixed income, while he pursues his studies. Like many people in his position, he’s felt the heat of price increases and the pressures exerted on many Americans as state legislatures around the country clip strategic holes in the social safety net; those concerns manifest as political action.

His involvement with Occupy Orlando was as a private citizen, not as any type of representative for an Obama campaign that many critics allege the Occupy movement is designed to help, much as the Tea Party ultimately served Republican interests. However, after the news of his arrest became public, he was dismissed from his official duties and rendered persona non grata, on the pretense that his arrest brought negative publicity to a campaign that hasn’t even been officially declared yet.

Further, the fellowship that made the delicate balancing act of his student life possible was immediately pulled, throwing his educational future into some doubt. The crushing news was delivered by telephone, by a supervisor who was either unwilling or unable to say exactly who made the decision, or to delineate the process by which his life was ruined. He was still emotionally wrecked, visibly and palpably so, as I spoke to him ten days later; the police who arrested him were downright kind, compared to the allies who shafted him, over a petty charge that will most be dropped.

Yet, despite this life-altering humiliation, the young man was insistent that his name not be used here, because that’s how strongly he feels about reelecting Obama. That, in a nutshell, in what the Occupy movement is about: Young (and not-so-young people doing what they think is right, despite the extreme consequences that may result. His plan now is to hit the road, visiting and collaborating with other Occupy operations in places like New York, DC and Chicago, culminating with the ongoing actions in the city of his birth, Philadelphia.

Many activists on the scene gave vocal credit to students from the University of Central Florida. Many of those UCF “Knights” have lived up to the moniker, in terms of their contributions to the effort, from logistics to publicity.

           

            October 25 saw 15 Occupy Orlando activists expanding outreach efforts even further by sitting in to show support for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1596, which was negotiating with the Board of Directors for LYNX, Orlando’s bus system. According to a press release, “Drivers have not seen wage increase in three years and are being offered only a 0.5 percent wage increase at a time when inflation for food is forecast to rise as much as 4.5 percent.” They had no obvious effect on negotiations, which remain calcified, but it made for valuable experience.

            Such action has become a worthwhile habit.      The day before, Occupy Orlando sent  27 people in business clothes to the Orange County Legislative Delegation meeting, where they had meetings with state representatives from both parties. Occupy has also become a regular presence at meetings of the Orange County School Board and the Orlando City Council.

November 1 was Day 18 of the occupation, and coincided with the “Awake the State” rally. The day’s most popular whipping boy was the local Chamber of Commerce. It operates out of a large multi-story building adjacent to the park, yet reportedly pays only $1 in property taxes per year. Spicing the brew, Mayor Buddy Dyer had apparently, a couple days prior, made the astoundingly absurd claim that there was no corporate money at all in Orlando. 

A low makeshift stage was laid out near the entrance to the park, placing the Chamber building (and the sunset) behind the speakers. Their modest PA was sufficient. Speakers included an older activist whose rights to vote had been forfeited via felony; he copped to his mistakes, and urged everyone else to cast the votes he could not. The owner of Dandelion talked about the wildly disproportionate environmental impact fees that undermined profitability and her ability to hire new workers. A member of the teachers’ union noted that Florida teachers haven’t received a cost-of-living wage increase in three years; “Education cuts don’t heal”, she said. The delightful Sundrop Carter brought glad tidings from the United Auto Workers, who are stepping up organizing efforts in Florida, a state basically built around the automobile.

Although no elected officials made their presence felt on Day 18, the crowd did include a number of veteran political insiders, as well as a couple of candidates. Mike Cantone, 28, is seeking to unseat mayor Buddy Dyer in next year’s elections (scheduled for April 4, 2012). He comes off as a smart, earnest young man who’s quickly developing a certain facility with the lingo of leadership. Having myself run for Jacksonville City Council in Jacksonville earlier this year, I was curious about how his new-reality based, grass-roots approach would fare against an entrenched incumbent like Dyer.

 He began smartly, with a streamlined and systematic approach to his platform. He broke it down into seven key components; for each he created quick, one-line synopses of his vision, then identified a number of forward-thinking proposals he would implement in order to methodically each component of the larger agenda. Listed alphabetically, they are: Clean Energy (4), Coordination (3), Education (4), Innovation (10), Public Safety (7), Quality of Life (6). As a Jacksonville resident, I appreciate the catchphrase “A Bold new Vision for Orlando” even more than his slogan, “I Like Mike!”

As one might expect, he’s fully-synchronous with social media, and his promo materials are well-done; they’re also union-made. The aesthetic centers on soothing blues and greens, reminiscent of the city’s waters and lush plant-life. The candidate’s picture is good, with a nice sunset background, but it can be improved upon.

We both agreed that the non-partisan, “unitary”-style elections held at local levels offer the best chance to get new progressive talent into office, as opposed to the standard process, which allows Democratic gatekeepers to freeze out any dissenting voices. As we have both noted repeatedly, the great efforts made by Occupy so far will be wasted unless they translate to serious political gains in that epochal year of 2012.

Occupy Orlando has a lot of electoral activity they can exert potential influence on. Senator Bill Nelson is up for reelection, and the popular Democrat will have several marginal Republicans chasing his rear bumper; a strong progressive turnout helps bolster what looks so far to be an fairly easy win, and be crucial if conditions change. All seats in the US House are up for grabs next year, and those are always volatile; Occupy’s exact place amidst is impossible to guess..

Locally, besides Dyer’s seat, four of the seven School Board seats in Orange County are up for grabs, as well as three of six seats on the Board of County Commissioners and three of five seats on the Soil and Water Board. The offices of Sheriff, State Attorney, Public Defender, Clerk of Courts, Comptroller, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections are all on the ballot in 2012, so the stakes are huge. This election will decide the future of their city.

In real terms, a guy or gal like Cantone would need a massive groundswell of progressive activity statewide, the rising tide to lift all boats. He (or any other, similarly-inclined candidates elsewhere next year) can probably build a formidable street team, but to keep them all activated at full efficiency, it takes money. 2012 will be the most expensive election cycle in history; to win in that environment does not necessarily require more money, but it does require a substantial amount of ready cash. My campaign, for example, did not result in victory because I was not an effective fundraiser, and could not find anyone who was. Cantone and his ilk must be a lot better, a lot faster, and it’s quite possible.

I also met a fella named Curtis Southerland, also from Jacksonville. His path into the realm of political activism was neither planned nor voluntary. His obscure, outsider campaign to unseat Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford as a write-in candidate in 2011 was motivated by his desire for redress after his brother Mark[?] was killed in a one of those “police-involved shootings” that have now become an unfortunate trademark of the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office. He lost, of course, but that’s fine because the fix was in from the start; former JSO Public Information Officer Ken Jefferson had an excellent chance to win, but regional Democrats stymied his fundraising, for unknown reasons. Southerland’s campaign was more of a protest against the system and a means of telling people about the tragic death of his brother.

Local media coverage was generally fair, though laced with the same snarky cynicism typical of Occupy reporting in general. Leading the pack, surprising, was the nominally liberal Orlando Weekly, which functions in the case as a gatekeeper for an Establishment Left that has been uncomfortable with Occupy from the get-go. In its October 27 issue, staff writers Billy Manes and Jeff Gore flog the standard commercial media talking points: That Occupy has no “list of demands, a chief goal or an overarching political philosophy”. While conceding their sidewalk strategy to be “brilliant”, they repeatedly note the “(ostensibly) leaderless nature of their organization” and keep the focus squarely on the negative aspects, like arrests and shady characters.

Granted, this was published only 12 days into the Occupation, and surely there is more left for them to say on the subject. But as a visitor to the city, I was disappointed to see its leading liberal publication projecting a generally dismissive attitude toward young people whose political views are basically consistent with the values of alt-media in general. It’s the sort of reductionist thinking that has essentially tanked political-based print media in general, in particular an alt-weekly market that has become aggressively corporatized and unresponsive to the needs of their audience.

Ironically, that issue’s cover features a snarling, broken-toothed Tea Party caricature as part of a series of poorly-done humorous Halloween masks. Occupy gets a nod, too, with a cut-out version of the now-ubiquitous Guy Fawkes mask adopted from “V” For Vendetta, which is now a universally-recognized symbol of Occupy and the larger (and more amorphous) Anonymous movement. “Initially dismissed as iPad-wielding hippies, the occupiers leered and groaned in the face of authority, anxiously anticipating police brutality and pepper spray,” writes Manes.

“The very notion that this leaderless movement had come to life as a pseudo-political monster is enough to cause apoplexy and anxiety among those in power [including, apparently, OW itself]. ‘Give us your list of demands!’ they screamed at the occupiers in a panic, only to realize that there really wasn’t a list of demands.” Imagine, two completely contradictory ideas coming from the same writer, in the same publication, just nine pages apart. This kind of cognitive dissonance certainly helps explain why the mainstream media still struggles to comprehend the depth and complexity of Occupy.

http://www.occupyorlando.org

http://www.occupythehood.org;

othorlando@gmail.com 

http://www.mikecantone.com

http://www.ocelections.com

http://www.HomegrownCoop.org

http://www.stores.ebay.com/boomart

sheltonhull@gmail.com; November 7, 2011

Interview: Kathleen Hanna

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[The piece below is for Folio–runs Tuesday. But, since Ms. Hanna’s birthday is today, it made sense to preview it now, for the one-half of one-millionth of the world who actually checks this thing out–and thanks, by the way. I should also note that the section of downtown Jacksonville with MOCA and the newest Main Branch library are the best investments made in local public infrastructure in the past decade, a decade with many nice moves made.

The library’s music section is probably the best in Florida, in part because the collection is old, and in part because their acquisitions game is tighter than the Carlyle Group. The record collection alone was worth perhaps $100,000 before it was sold off piecemeal; WJCT did the same thing, and the cognoscenti worldwide sez “Thanks!” The zine collection is the most recent addition, and it touches on an aspect of regional culture crucial to its current leviathan status.

And next time you’re in Gainesville, make sure your visit includes a) the Butterfly Museum, b) Hear Again Music, and c) the legendary Civic Media Center, of which I could never say enough. Etc. and so forth, here ya go.]

Leader of the Pack
Kathleen Hanna on zines and scenes and feminist things.2011 Zine Symposium
“Zines: The Personal Is Political”
Jacksonville Public Library, Hicks Auditorium
Panel Discussion, 11am; Keynote Presentation, noon
Back when people wrote actual letters, I sent one to Kathleen Hanna, former singer for Bikini Kill, whose three imperfectly perfect albums in the ’90s set a sonic standard whose emulators have dominated the 21st century. Between her sound and their fury, Hanna (who turns 42 on the 12th) helped establish the continuity that ensured “girl singers” could do what they want, however they want to do it. What was next? I wondered. She sent back a package with some of the zines she was doing then; soon, Julie Ruin emerged, followed by Le Tigre. The original Rebel Girl is now an established veteran of all aspects of media, and one of the most influential women of her generation. She’s recorded eight albums since 1991, three EPs, seven singles featured on nine different compilation albums and, most tellingly, appeared on 17 different albums by other artists. She’s also the subject of two documentary features: The Punk Singer and Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour. (And, of course, her cameo in the video for “Bull In the Heather”!)

Hanna’s first visit here comes this Saturday, November 19, by invitation of the Jacksonville Public Library, where she’ll sit on a panel convened by curators of the library’s game-changing zine collection. Panelists include author, musician and FSCJ art professor Mark Creegan; artist/author Adee Roberson (http://www.pineappleblack.blogspot.com–very nice!); zine writer Travis Fristoe (whose credits include Maximum RocknRoll, Library Journal and Gainesville’s legendary Civic Media Center); and myself, a big fan of all their work. Hanna will then deliver the keynote address for the 2011 Zine Symposium. For adepts and adherents of the art form, this cannot be missed. Folio caught up with the ever-busy Hanna via Internets:

FW: Did the Internet kill the ‘zine trade, or somehow make it better?
KH: I think the internet gave certain obscure zines a place in the modern landscape they never would’ve had without it. Having said that, it is annoying to me when people buy older zines and then scan them and put some pages up on the internet without the author’s permission. They lose their original context that way, and often zines that were written in a specific time and place come off as overarching and ahistorical when, really, they were responding to specific things that were going on in local scenes at the time. Zines kind of were our blogs before blogs existed; they were meant to be quick and rough and
local and not overworked.If we wanted to write books, that were more permanent, we would’ve, but we didn’t. They were meant to be ephemeral and function in a specific time period.

FW: Have you ever worked with the Future of Music Coalition(futureofmusic.org)?
KH: I know Jenny and Kristin but I’ve never worked with FMC. [Note: Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thomson co-founded the band Tsunami.] They were, I believe both at the first Riot Grrrl meeting and were verysupportive and involved early on. I went to Junior High with Jenny Toomey.

FW: What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street? [Note: OccupyJax has
been in Hemming Plaza since Nov. 5]

KH: I think it’s great. I am pretty inspired by what young people do in general (not like it’s all young people, but it seems like quite a few young people were the instigators). It is interesting to me when people criticized it in the beginning, claiming it was all young, middle class people, and I was like “They are the ones who can manage to physically be down there sleeping on the bricks, and so they are, and that’s awesome, not a bummer!”FW: How do you feel about the “SlutWalk” trend?
KH: I am always happy when women are taking it to the streets and starting discussions.FW: What are your thoughts on the late Slits singer Ari Up?
KH: She was an innovator and I can’t believe she is gone. We lost her and Poly [Styrene] in a 2 year time period [note: both to cancer] and I think many of us are still reeling from this.

FW: Tell me about Lydia Lunch?
KH: LOOOVE HER. There are many spots on the album I am working on with my new band The Julie Ruin where my vocals are totally influenced by her style. She has influenced culture on such a deep level and never really been given her due.

FW: Is it possible for women to take positions that contradict the larger feminist community, while retaining feminist credentials? What must she say or do to be “expelled” from the movement?
KH: There are so many different ways to enact one’s own feminist ideas that it is pretty hard to come up with a unified list of feminist do’s and don’ts, and I personally hate that way of thinking. I am way more into allowing women to define feminism for themselves and keep on stretching its meanings. More arguments, more questions, more disagreements, this is what leads to a vital movement, not lists and rules.

FW: What’s it like seeing yourself on film?
KH: Um. Weird and embarrassing pretty much sums it up, but I have a distance from it now. After Who Took the Bomp? came out, I started being filmed for an upcoming documentary called The Punk Singer and my main thing is that I don’t really care if I come off like a jerk. I just want the movie to be engaging so people will go off on their own and check out my work and the stuff me and my bandmates made together.  I mean, on one hand I have a huge ego and love attention and all that, that’s why I’m a performer, but on the other hand I don’t take any of it too seriously, cuz I really am just an ant on anthill like everyone
else and my time here on earth is finite.

FW: Which of your recordings stands out as most representative of your aesthetic?
KH: I am most proud of the Rebel Girl 7″ Bikini Kill did and the first Le Tigre album. The song “Hot Topic” on that album is very much indicative of my aesthetic. Poppy yet still DIY with a big nod to the past.

FW: Who are the “Riot Grrrls” of today?
KH: Brontez Purnell of The Younger Lovers is my favorite modern riot girl. Also the women who run the website http://www.girlgangunderground.org/.

FW: Why have you never appeared in Jacksonville before?
KH: I don’t really know why, it was always hard to book stuff in Florida for some reason. Le Tigre played in Gainesville and Miami, but BK never played Florida at all.