Recent local blog posts

Firefly Yoga Offers Classes for Every Body

Thurston Talk - Wed, 02/10/2016 - 6:00am


As I lengthen my spine and twist to look up toward the sky, I am deeply connected to all that surrounds me. I am in the moment, simultaneously grounded and infinitely expansive. I haven’t a worry in the world. Moments like this, of mindfulness and connection, keep me coming back to my yoga mat time

Earn-a-Bike Program Prepares Young Cyclists for Road Ahead

Thurston Talk - Wed, 02/10/2016 - 6:00am


Intercity Transit means more than a bus ride to the middle school Earn-a-Bike graduates who bring home a refurbished bike to call their own. What started as a small group of friends and neighbors interested in bicycling and repairing bikes to give to kids is now Intercity Transit’s Earn-a-Bike program. The after-school program, now in

Kari and Gene Bond are a Team for Capitol Little League

Thurston Talk - Wed, 02/10/2016 - 6:00am


On opening day of any youth sports season, big brown cardboard boxes arrive at the field or gym with stacks of shirts in every hue from bright orange to muted maroon. The shirts are bundled by team with numbers and names nicely imprinted. The excitement is palpable as the players claim their shirts, pull them

Olympia Sea Level Rise Report: An Undeniable Challenge

Janine's Little Hollywood - Wed, 02/10/2016 - 2:52am

Above: City of Olympia staff briefed city councilmembers on the implications of sea level rise in downtown Olympia at a study session on Tuesday evening. With a four foot sea level rise, portions of West Bay, all the way to south of Union Street, and the I-5 interchange near Plum and Henderson will be inundated.
Councilmember Gilman Questions Saving Downtown
By Janine
A brutal, sobering report on the implications of sea level rise in downtown Olympia was delivered to Olympia city councilmembers by staff at a study session Tuesday evening. 

Mayor Cheryl Selby and Councilmember Jeannine Roe were excused from the study session and council meeting.
Councilmembers asked questions after the half hour report, but were mostly faced with the undeniable, daunting fact that downtown Olympia is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and has little time to protect itself.
“This year’s work feels a little bit different from past years….We are increasingly concerned and we’re suggesting a more heightened sense of urgency in our response to this dynamic….We feel we are currently vulnerable to flooding downtown and we suggest that the long term implications for what we’ve reported to you are higher than what we’ve reported to you in the past,” said City of Olympia public works planning and engineering manager Andy Haub.
Since the last Ice Age, sea levels have risen more than 400 feet. This process has occurred in spurts, and at times, has risen more than one foot per decade, most likely the result of ice sheets melting. Over the past 5,000 – 7,000 years, sea levels have been stable. The Industrial Age and the use of fossil fuels have accelerated climate change, and in the last 20 years, the rate of sea level rise has nearly doubled that of the previous 100 years.
“….We should develop a vision and a plan to begin adapting to sea level rise sooner than later….We can’t go it alone and we’re only going to be as strong as the weakest link in our defense,” said Eric Christensen, City of Olympia water resources planning and engineering manager.

Staff urged active community engagement, and engineering and financial partnerships with the State of Washington, the Department of Enterprise Services, the Department of Natural Resources, the Port of Olympia, LOTT Clean Water Alliance and the Squaxin Tribe.
Sea level rise information was derived from the UW Climate Impact group and the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). The last IPCC report was produced in 2013, however, new information is released on a weekly basis.
According to the IPCC, sea level rise is projected to occur at a rate of 11 to 38 inches by the end of the century. These are global averages, and Christiansen said Olympia’s tides come in 1.28 times higher than Seattle’s.
Adding to sea level rise concerns, according to data via the Washington State Reference Network which monitors land movement, downtown Olympia is subsiding nine tenths of an inch per decade. Monitoring stations are affixed on regional stations throughout the state, and one is located on top of Olympia city hall.
“We have acted very responsibly to date, and we’re in a very admirable position with our knowledge of both Budd Inlet and downtown,” said Haub, who urged that the city create codes for minimum floor elevations for new construction to protect downtown assets. He hopes to propose those this year.
Staff showed several scenarios to illustrate the impacts of sea level rise and climate change in Olympia’s downtown combined with the “nuisance flooding” that already occurs as a result of tidal events. The frequency of this flooding would increase.

Along with a one foot sea level rise, flooding would occur 30 times a year; two feet of sea level rise would flood downtown 160 times a year, and four feet of sea level rise would flood downtown 440 times a year, which is more than once a day.
With a four foot sea level rise, portions of West Bay, all the way south of Union Street,  and the I-5 interchange near Plum and Henderson will be inundated.
Above: High tides of 17.6 feet and low atmospheric pressure created a flooding situation in downtown Olympia on Sylvester Street adjacent to the Oyster House in December 2012.  
The City of Olympia has acknowledged and responded to sea level rise concerns since 1990. Since 2007, staff has been providing city council with annual updates on current climate change and sea level rise research, proposed work plans for addressing sea level rise, and reporting on their accomplishments regarding those plans.
The city set a policy in 2010 to protect downtown and sea level rise is reflected in goals and policies of the city’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan.
Immediately following the report, newly appointed Councilmember Clark Gilman asked how the decision was made to protect downtown and questioned the assumption that it should be saved.
“Looking at the two foot map (indicating sea level rise), you start to see the historical (shoreline)…It’s an interesting choice… To me, downtown is a collection of businesses and public spaces and it could be anywhere within the city limits….My initial gut (reaction) is that, I would much rather invest those resources in creating a more…resilient economy than trying to stop the floodwaters,” he said.
City manager Steve Hall said that the city made its commitment to protect downtown, rather than abandon it, in 2010, adding that a half billion dollars of investments are downtown, most notably the regional LOTT Clean Water Alliance wastewater treatment system.
Councilmember Jessica Bateman asked about Capitol Lake and how its reverting back to an estuary would impact downtown. She also asked about local and regional efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Without the dam, we would currently flood more frequently….the dam definitely helps control flooding downtown,” said Christiansen. He suggested that Heritage Park could be raised to prevent flooding downtown.
Rich Hoey, City of Olympia public works director, said that there will be study session scheduled in July regarding a plan to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next three years. The city adopted an ambitious plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions of 80 percent by 2050.
“Quite frankly, we’re going to need regulatory help from higher levels of government to get there….” said Hoey.
Councilmember Jim Cooper said he would like to see the city produce a guidebook of simple adaptations and technical assistance for businesses. He also expressed a desire for downtown buildings to accommodate an eight foot sea level rise, and had concerns regarding the implications of contamination and the ability for underground utilities to deal with sea water inundation.
Cooper also requested that staff model what Olympia would look like if Moxlie Creek were daylighted, and asked if that would help stormwater holding capacity as a functioning estuary. 

Staff said they would look at that scenario. Moxlie Creek is currently 15 – 20 feet below ground, and runs more than a mile through downtown Olympia from Watershed Park to East Bay.
“An incremental adaption, initially preparing for a one to two foot sea level rise - whatever we do - should build the foundation for, and not preclude measures to address four to eight feet of sea level rise,” said Christensen.
Above: The city has 36 stormwater outfalls connected to Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake that are susceptible to backflow flooding. City staff and state Department of Enterprise Services staff prepare for more flooding the afternoon of December 10, 2015 at Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia. Earlier, tides came in 30 inches higher than predicted and caught staff off guard. Water came to within four inches of Olympia Supply's doors. With climate change, El Nino events will become greater in magnitude and flooding will increase in frequency. 
Other planning ideas included elevating the grade of Heritage Park and some roadways, placing planter boxes in strategic locations, and the building flood walls or gates that automatically rise when needed.  A barrier across a waterway, called a barrage, is being used in Venice, Singapore, on the Thames River in England, and the Netherlands.
The city plans to complete ongoing, current capital facility projects, work with the city’s Utility Advisory Committee to develop a multi-year sea level rise response plan, and coordinate its efforts with the council’s Land Use Committee.
Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones admitted that while progress has been made on data, local agencies do not have the capacity to do the kind of work that needs to be done on this issue.
Coming back around to Councilmember Gilman’s suggestion about abandoning downtown, Jones said the scenario of not making all the investments to protect downtown needs to be on the table and weighed into the overall conversation.
“That alternative is there and it should be respected.”
For past City of Olympia sea level rise reports and high tide events, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

The Peanuts Movie Entertains Kids for Free at Capitol Theater

Thurston Talk - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 9:57pm


Submitted by Olympia Film Society Families throughout the area will be smiling on Saturday mornings through the month of March. The Olympia Film Society and Captain Little are bringing the animated-classic, The Peanuts Movie, to the Historic Capitol Theater on Saturday mornings at 11:00 a.m. The Olympia Film Society is proud to team with Captain Little,

The Gift Gallery Announces Store Closing on March 31

Thurston Talk - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 3:10pm


Submitted by The Gift Gallery LLC  We want to begin by thanking the Tumwater community (and beyond!) for your support as customers of The Gift Gallery. It has been a privilege to provide our community with an assortment of unique gifts and handmade items for the past eight years, as well as a location for

Support Your Local Bookwriter

South Sound Arts - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 10:28am

Last night I went to a book launch party for William Turbyfill’s Field of Turbyat B Sharp Coffee House in Tacoma. Graciously, Turbyfill honored friends and fellow writers Christian Carvajal, Jack Cameron and Melissa Thayer by inviting them to read from their own works, and then he read a few selections from his newly published book—his first, and hopefully the first of many. It was a wonderful event. It is good to see locals coming out to support local writers. There are many more outstanding local writers than I can begin to enumerate. Most of them are published by independent, small-budget publishers, or are self-published. There used to be a stigma to that, but not so much anymore. Despite not being well known beyond friends and relatives, many of these local, independently published authors are just as good as, and often better than, more famous authors whose books sell in the millions.The difference is Random House and HarperCollins and Simon&Schuster can spend huge fortunes on advertising and promotion; they can provide every bookstore in America with return-guaranteed books; they can send their authors on worldwide book tours. (I’m not about to spend a thousand dollars to fly across country for a book reading where I might sell half a dozen books.) Marketing is impossible beyond readings in local bookstores (and only independent bookstores like Kings Books and Orca will even put these books on their shelves) and at events such as Creative Colloquy. Steven King’s latest novel, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams has 767 customer reviews on Field of Turbyhas seven, which is phenomenal for an independently published book that’s been out such a short time. My latest book has four. The most I’ve ever gotten for any book so far has been 19.Like your local food co-op and neighborhood schools, local writers need your support. Please buy their books and read them. But don’t just read them. Post customer reviews on amazon and Goodreads, and recommend them on Facebook. These reviews help more than you can imagine, and they’re not hard to write. They don’t have to be polished or even skillfully written. Just write what you think, and be honest. If there are things about the book you don’t like, say it. If you just gush about how great it is, readers will sense you’re being dishonest; they might even suspect you were paid to write a glowing review (that does happen, and amazon watches for it and will refuse to publish reviews they suspect are dishonest). Here are some local authors in the Olympia-Tacoma area whose books I recommend, plus a couple from other parts of the country whose books are outstanding and who could use your support:William TurbyfillMelissa ThayerJack CameronNed HayesChristian CarvajalRicker WinsorS.R. Martin Jr.Jack ButlerLarry JohnsonJoshua SwainstonRuth TigerDianne Kozdrey Bunnell
Categories: Arts & Entertainment

4 Romantic Outdoor Getaways Near Thurston County

Thurston Talk - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 6:26am


Love is in the air. Birds are chirping, spring bulbs are starting to become more visible and the gray and cold is slowly fading away. Spring is coming, and that means that it is time to take your hiking boots out of the closet and start planning a romantic outdoor adventure with your special someone.

Refresh Your Home All Year Round with DKB Restoration

Thurston Talk - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 6:11am


  The changing seasons are a good time to get organized. Whether you’re boxing summer clothes for the winter months or digging out bright spring pastels, why not take a few extra minutes to deep clean and organize? gets excited when the seasons change. “Around the house, the calendar turns…so make it an organized

John Theine Teams with Lacey Parks and Rec to Offer Community Taiko Drumming

Thurston Talk - Tue, 02/09/2016 - 6:00am


Currently enjoying their eighth season, the River Ridge High School Taiko Ensemble has earned quite a reputation. Their music is literally heart-pounding: its raw power shakes the sternum, while its sheer beauty stirs the soul. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to hear them play while strolling through the Lacey Spring Fun Fair. Or maybe you’ve admired

The role of truth telling in the quest toward social justice in the United States

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:15pm

Acknowledgment of the truth is essential for wholeness and healing

After reading Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness, I think about the state of our nation, particularly the events and decisions that led to its status today. For example, I contemplate on the desire of the Founding Fathers to leave a tyrannical country like Great Britain to create a nation where equality, justice, and freedom would prevail. More specifically, the freedom to practice one’s religion while living out one’s faith; that all persons would be treated justly; and that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. However, these tenets have not upheld in its intent. The institution of slavery began a legacy of racial and economic exploitation. Jim Crow laws were implemented to reaffirm the fear and hostility that White people had for Black people. Furthermore, those actions streamed their way into the churches, where racism was justified biblically and theologically. Even though slavery and Jim Crow laws are nonexistent, injustice is prevalent. Therefore, in order for our country to move toward forgiveness, it is from Tutu’s book that I found an important aspect that is required in the quest toward social justice, particularly in the United States:  the role of truth telling,

It is important to note that Tutu agrees with the significance of truth telling in order for the process of forgiveness to begin. He contends that:

Those who were negotiating our future were aware that, unless the past was acknowledged and dealt with adequately, it could put paid to that future as a baneful blight on it. To accept national amnesia would be bad for another telling reason.  It would in effect be to victimize the victims of apartheid a second time around.

In other words, sincere knowledge of the truth for a nation is essential toward wholeness and healing. It is also imperative for this step to take place so that a brighter future can loom, especially for the next generations. Yet, such an acknowledgment comes at a huge cost. The question is whether the United States is ready to pay the price for such admission.  Is it ready to admit its guilt for citing and distorting religion and the Bible to support the status quo? Will the historians of our beloved country willingly re-write our textbooks to state that our Founding Fathers, according to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “were so enmeshed in the ethos of slavery and white [male] supremacy that not one ever emerged with a clear, unambiguous stand on Negro rights?” Moreover, will the churches of the dominant culture give up their false sense of superiority by ridding themselves of the disease that causes judgment based on one’s skin color, acquirement of material goods at the expense of the greater good, and discrimination based on one’s zip code? Hence, the failure for our nation to concede its mistakes in its past and begin the progression of healing will cause it to continue the habits of oppression, inequality, and disenfranchisement.

Tutu continues to argue that “to dehumanize another inexorably means that one is dehumanized as well”. His statement affirms the intersection of mutuality and community that, on the one hand, when one hurts, we all hurt.  When one suffers, we all suffer. On the other hand, when one rejoices, we all rejoice.  Unfortunately, since we live in a dominant, patriarchal, blaming society, we are comfortable not correcting the problem. Reginald Davis, author of The Black Church:  Relevant or Irrelevant in the 21st Century, cites Andrew Hacker, writer of the book Two Nations Black and White, who makes the case that White conservatives claim reverse discrimination:

This helps to explain why white conservatives so vehemently oppose programs like affirmative action.  They simply do not want to admit to themselves that the value imputed to being white has injured people who are black. Nor is this reaction surprising.  Most people do not like feeling guilty. It can be an unpleasant, even painful, sensation.  Hence the tendency to turn, often angrily, on those who stir us in this way.  Rather than do something substantial to help people who have been treated unfairly, we find ourselves saying that they brought their afflictions on themselves.

In other words, I restate my earlier inquiry as to whether the United States is ready to pay the price for the role it has played in incorporating racism in its daily practices.  Admitting such guilt would mean the redistribution of resources, the relinquishment of its reputation as a world superpower, the modification of societal behaviors, and the revision of biased and discriminatory interpretations of historical and biblical texts. Again, in order for forgiveness to become a diet we adopt, truth telling is necessary.

Without it, ubuntu cannot live, which Tutu describes as the following:

A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured, or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.

He continues to elaborate:

In the spirit of ubuntu, the central concern is the healing of breaches, redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator, who should be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense..

It is from this meaning of communal and sacrificial love for all of humankind that Tutu proposes the following recommendation to the minority in power:

And then I said that Afrikaners imagined that they had only two options in South Africa’s political, social, and community life—either to be top dog, domineering, or to be underdog, subservient, the doormat of others. I said there was an exciting third option, that of embracing the new dispensation enthusiastically and using their enormous resources in money, skills, and experience to help make the new ordering of society succeed for everyone’s sake.

As South Africa had a choice to steer its horrific past into a positive future, the United States has that same choice to make today. It can become honest and make a public apology to all who were (and are still) subjugated under its rule.  It can also prepare to offer meaningful remedies from such pain (i.e.: reparations). Finally, the United States can slowly change its mindset and actions in how it addresses other people, other nations, other cultures and religions by intently becoming open-minded and open-hearted to endorse inclusion, not assimilation (supporting the qualities of all instead of dismissing some while encouraging other qualities for the benefit of the American Dream).

It is from these arguments that truth telling is required for the United States to move toward a just, liberating, and forgiving nation. It is true that, historically and presently, racism plagues our land. So if we do not address racism, how will we expect to confront other issues?  Regardless of the reality that women make up the majority of our population, pay inequity still exists, unfair body and beauty images dominate the media, tensions of becoming ordained continue in many of our denominations, and more. In addition, the never-ending struggle persists for our brothers and sisters who do not have access to clean air and water, safe neighborhoods, high-quality schools and affordable health care to become recognized as human rights problems in our society. Based on these conditions, we have much more work and dialogue to do to heal the world around us.

Reverend Lerone J. Wilder is a minister-educator-scholar from Greenville, SC and a doctoral learner at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, OH. 

The post The role of truth telling in the quest toward social justice in the United States appeared first on Works in Progress.

Needless barriers to housing

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:14pm

Policy changes are necessary to address the situation of those homeless

January 28 was this year’s annual Point in Time homeless census to track the number of people living unsheltered at the end of the coldest month of the year. This year’s data have not yet been released, but numbers in Thurston County have been dropping over the last several years in a trend attributed to coordinated efforts by social service providers.

The downward trend is positive. But with 476 people sleeping in the January cold in 2015, our community had more people without shelter last year than in 2006, when the county established a ten-year goal to halve homelessness by 2015.

Social services providers as well as people experiencing homelessness are working hard to make the most of limited public funds and alleviate the crisis. While some people experiencing homelessness need intensive mental health and substance counseling to enjoy stable, permanent housing, others are already waiting in line ready to move in. But people that have fallen on hard times face a litany of structural barriers keeping them from permanent housing, and advocates say policy changes are needed to address the situation.

Jeffrey’s story

Jeffrey Williams is a client seeking permanent housing through the rapid rehousing organization SideWalk. A veteran, he encrypted submarine codes at a naval base in Australia during the Cold War. Right now he is staying with a fellow veteran while he waits for a placement, but for the past ten months, he was living out of his car up and down the I-5 corridor. Jeffrey has suffered from untreated PTSD and bipolar disorder, as well has substance addiction, which together have led to his current situation.

He kicked the hard drugs over a year ago, and he has a reliable service benefit coming in every month to support himself, but basic housing stability continues to be out of reach.

Jeffrey’s efforts to secure stable housing have been complicated by a felony conviction in 2003. In order to apply for housing, tenants need to pay $30 or more for a background check. With the low vacancy rates in Thurston County as well as up and down the I-5 corridor, people with a criminal record are routinely denied housing. This problem is two-fold. In addition to leaving him homeless, he has had to put up cash for screening after screening only to be turned away at the door.

Another problem has been Jeffrey’s limited income. He earns a veteran service benefit of $651 per month, but many landlords require a tenant’s income to be twice the rent or more, leaving Jeffrey and others like him out of the cold.

Across the state, many people like Jeffrey are denied housing because of this rigorous screening process, which often roots out applicants on the basis of income requirements, credit ratings, employment history, or a criminal record.

Source of income discrimination

Some landlords refuse to rent to someone because they’re receiving housing subsidies or other public benefits. Source of income discrimination, as advocates call it, is a substantial problem in Thurston County.

Meg Martin, who runs the Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter, sees this frequently in her work. She attributes the prevalence of the discrimination right now to the low vacancy rates in Thurston County, which have resulted in competition over a small number of apartments.

Chris Lowell, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Thurston County (HATC) which oversees the Section 8 voucher program, has also seen this practice in her work.

“Don’t get me wrong—we in this community have a great deal of wonderful landlords that we work with,” Lowell said, referring to the 1200 landlords HATC works with to house their approximately 2200 clients. “It is not an everyday occurrence, but it does happen.”

The full extent of the problem is difficult to measure in light of the compounding variables in the screening process, but cases of outright animosity toward Section 8 and the people who depend on it are clear.

HATC has gotten angry calls from landlords merely for proposing to build a housing facility near their property, because the landlords don’t want clients living in the vicinity.

Lowell has seen landlords not only refuse to rent to new applicants receiving the subsidy, but also force out current residents who became eligible for the voucher during their tenancy. This destabilization has far-reaching implications for households with children, who often need to change schools when their families relocate.

“We’re trying to avoid them moving two or three times a year as they’ve done in the past being homeless,” Lowell said. “So to have a source of income problem on top of the screening criteria is very difficult.”

This type of discrimination is one of the reasons the Section 8 waiting list is so long. HATC brings in approximately $15.4 million annually from HUD to cover subsidies for beneficiary households, but the hard part is finding landlords willing to rent to their clients. The rigorous screening criteria coupled with the high cost of rent and low vacancy rate in Thurston County all factor in, but the fact that many landlords simply refuse to rent to beneficiaries exacerbates the problem.

A policy fix

The City of Tumwater already has an Unfair Housing Practices ordinance on the books banning source of income discrimination, but other cities in Thurston County have yet to follow suit.

State legislation introduced last year would prohibit this practice across the state, but rental associations have pushed back. In a public hearing, lobbyist Chester Baldwin testified on behalf of the Washington Rental Owners Association that many landlords choose not to take Section 8 because of the hassles associated with the home health and safety inspections that are required as part of the housing subsidy.

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, sees this rhetoric as a cover for deep-seated stereotypes about households that benefit from public assistance. It can also be a proxy for other kinds of discrimination, allowing landlords to sidestep fair housing laws. People with Section 8 are disproportionately people of color, seniors, or single parents. Additionally, eighty-three percent of Section 8 clients have a disability, rendering them more likely to require accommodations to make their home accessible.

Thomas does not see that as an acceptable reason for turning someone away. “If you’re in the business of something as precious as putting a roof over someone’s head, you should be asked to make accommodations,” she said.

Last year, source of income discrimination legislation failed to make it out of committee. This year, advocates are trying to sweeten the deal. Two provisos in the Governor’s budget would help soften resistance from landlords and support local efforts to end the practice. The Rapid Housing Improvement Program would invest $1.5 million to support landlords in making health and safety upgrades required by HUD inspections if the landlord commits to renting to tenants on Section 8. It would also reserve $125,000 to mitigate landlords in the event that a voucher-holder caused damage beyond their deposit. Landlords would only be eligible for the second fund in jurisdictions prohibiting source of income discrimination, a factor that could encourage more communities to address the issue at the municipal level or to move forward with the statewide ban.

These proposals would not solve the broader issues of housing affordability and barriers to rehousing, but advocates say they would address an important part of the situation. One way or another, they are determined to move the conversation forward.

“If we’re going to rely on the private market to provide the vast majority of [housing],” Thomas said, “then we need to make sure that the private market is accessible and affordable to the whole range of people who need it.”

Michaela Williams is a former legislative staffer. She lives in Olympia.

The post Needless barriers to housing appeared first on Works in Progress.

Movie review: The Big Short

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:13pm

The devastation of the Great Recession cost seven million working people their homes, almost nine million their jobs, and ushered in a new era in which poverty wages and job insecurity are the new normal.

Against that background, it is a strange choice to base a story about the housing crash on a sympathetic cinematic portrait of hedge fund whiz kid managers. Yet through its narrative of greedy mortgage bankers, Wall Street speculators, and bond agencies, The Big Short brings an understanding of the collapse to a mass audience, while exposing the underlying corruption of the financial system.

We follow Michael Burry, Mark Baum, and Ben Rickert (Christian Bale, Steve Carroll, and Brad Pitt) as they investigate the subprime loan bubble and the securitization of those loans which will eventually take the economy off a cliff. And as that happens, we see the role played by the big financial firms and commercial banks in this debacle.

In an interview about the film, Director Adam McKay, summed this up by saying, “…these banks put so much into portraying themselves as rock solid…project(ing) stability and cautious foresight, just to find out that they were selling products that were filled with garbage and ended up selling them to each other, and bringing each other all down, and then going to the taxpayers after preaching free markets and asking for a handout, and then taking the handout, and going back and acting like they are still kings of the world — it’s ridiculous.”

The movie, based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, of Liar’s Poker fame, presents a story of people who made enormous sums of money by “shorting” (that is, gambling on a drop in value) of the subprime mortgage market in 2006-2008. A line from Brad Pitt may be the most honest assessment of these sharks, when he tells them, “You just bet against the American economy, and if you win, hardworking people will suffer, so try not to celebrate.”

Mortgage speculation runs rampant

There are really two stories here. The first is the amazing orgy of speculation on real estate that replaced the tech and “dot com” sectors as the favorite place to make obscene amounts of money. This meant selling mortgages to buyers which the banks knew would be at considerable risk of defaulting on them, many of them working class and people of color. As the film explains, one widespread and cynical method by which this was done was through the infamous “adjustable rate mortgage” (ARM) which could double or triple payments after an initial period. Then as people began to fall behind on their payments, the same banks that had given them ridiculously easy terms at the outset now swooped in and foreclosed on their homes.

The second story is in how by securitizing these mortgages, they made a bad problem much, much worse. Part of the drive to push as many mortgages as possible was so that they could be “bundled” into a “Mortgage-Backed Security” (MBS) and then sold on Wall Street as a bond. Once the banks started selling ARMs by the thousands to people they knew couldn’t afford them, these bonds became a mix of a thin layer of good mortgages covering over these subprime mortgages. The result was the bonds became essentially worthless, as there would be no payoff. Although ratings agencies were supposed to assess these securities for the garbage they were, they essentially colluded with Wall St. to hide the actual state of affairs.

The big banks ignore the problem

The tension of the movie is sustained by the realization by hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Bale) and others that these securities are junk, and that the second the housing market starts to slow down, the inability to pay investors will cause a complete collapse in the financial markets that handle them. Burry became obsessed with analyzing the minutiae of mortgage agreements. His analysis tips him off to the actual phony nature of the securities.

While trying to sound the alarm, the protagonists are repeatedly astonished and disgusted with the incompetence and venality of day traders, investment managers and ratings analysts at various Wall Street institutions. As the story unfolds, the incompetence, corruption, and complacency is shown at every level all the way up to Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve. Baum in particular grows disgustedagainst ordinary people.

Yet once Burry, Eisman, Baum and the other investment managers realize the catastrophe facing the subprime mortgage market, their actual role is finding a way to earn huge amounts of money off the collapse. The major device they used, developed initially by Burry, is the credit default swap. In a credit default swap, the buyer of the swap pays the seller any payments due up to the bond’s maturity date. In return, the seller agrees that if the bond defaults, the seller will pay the buyer its full value plus interest. Burry and friends use this method to buy up securities they know will default, and wait for the inevitable payoff.

Although we are clearly supposed to be sympathetic to these fund managers, they are in fact making a fortune, and for them the inevitable human suffering is essentially an afterthought. The film pays little attention to this, with just one wrenching sequence of families living out of their cars. Although supposedly anguished by the collapse they know is coming, the film shows the parties pocketing a handsome payoff.

The movie is at its best when portraying the complex financial instruments and their effect on the markets. It uses celebrities as “experts” who explain the situation while dropping the formal terminology in favor of layperson’s language. Selena Gomez, sitting in a casino with an economics professor, is particularly effective in explaining “synthetic” swaps. As credit default swaps spread, even more arcane financial instruments, essentially bets place on bets placed on bets, become the norm.

The movie is entertaining and yet appalling given its subject matter, and it’s likely to draw a mass audience, especially those who want to understand how this series of events happened. There is a level of critique, however, that the film really does not achieve. Sure, plenty of people were greedy, blind, benefitting from the financial casino Wall St. had become. But there is something else, and that is a core element of capitalism itself: the constant drive for more profit at any cost. If that is achieved by ignoring risk and turning people’s hard-earned mortgages into commodities and then foreclosures, so be it.

In one of the final scenes, the narrator spins a fantasy montage of banks being broken up, Wall Street execs going to jail, and regulation being put in place to prevent further crashes, only to say at the end, “just kidding.” That’s not just a case of politicians being bought by bankers. The profit imperative of capitalism itself drive both Wall St. and the government to keep the financial casino open for business.

As the film hints, nothing has really changed today, as unsustainable debt levels, mortgage backed securities and too big to fail banks are still in place, showing the complete inability of capitalism to regulate itself.

Originally published  January 15, 2016 in the Socialist Alternative.

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Olympia alternative education options abound

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:12pm

Olympia is an alternative hub—home to the Procession of the Species, The Evergreen State College, and an amazing alternative music scene—so it makes sense the community would house over 20 alternative public and private schools. These schools share many values such as multi-age classes, hands-on learning, celebrating each child’s unique qualities, outdoor and nature experiences, collaboration, field trips, and differentiated curriculum.

Kids are encouraged to provide input regarding their education and are helped to understand how they best learn. An alternative education fosters creativity and inclusiveness. The schools also encourage parent participation, who often volunteer in ways that support their values.

Though all the schools share many of the same principles, they each are unique in how that plays out.  Here are a few examples:

Lincoln Options, a public elementary school, offers project-based learning with themes. For example, a class that is studying ancient civilizations does not only read about the topic, it may also learn math skills necessary to calculate the immensity of the pyramids. Students may conduct scientific experiments that test different materials for papermaking, learn to read world maps, and participate in ancient crafts. The class might publish or demonstrate their learning in a report, a model or a play.  Each year, all-school themes are selected to further integrate curriculum and develop community.

Olympia Community School (OCS), which hosts the fair, is an independent progressive elementary school.  Students at OCS are each provided the opportunity to learn at their own levels. The school’s low teacher to student ratio of 1:14 fosters deeper connections and allows teachers to meet the learning needs of each student. Teachers assist students in identifying individualized learning goals and these goals are routinely revisited. They also integrate instructional strategies and techniques from multiple educational philosophies, rather than adhering strictly to one specified learning approach.

The ALKI Program at Reeves Middle School is a public alternative program. Middle school is a tough time in most kids’ lives and ALKI focuses on community and belonging, providing a learning community based on collaboration and inclusiveness. At the beginning of the school year, students participate in a two-night trip during which they build friendships and community that will support them through the year as they work on projects as groups such as presentations and frequent field trips.

The Olympia Waldorf School is an alternative kindergarten through eighth-grade private school. Throughout its grades, students encounter a stimulating depth of experience through the arts. This includes movement, foreign language, handwork (knitting, crochet, and sewing), painting, beeswax or clay modeling, music, drawing, games and drama. The arts are integrated into the entire academic curriculum, including math and science.

These schools, and many others listed, will be at the Olympia Area Alternative Education and Pre-school Fair to share their stories with the local alternative family community. The fair is free with kid activities at each table. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about all of the alternative school options in one place and to find the right school for your family.

Participating schools

Alki Alternative Program
Avanti HS
Bird Song Children’s Garden
Dancing Rainbows Preschool
Eastside Cooperative Preschool
Hands On Children’s Museum Preschool
Heartlight Preschool
Lacey Coop Preschool
Lincoln Options Elementary
Marshall CSI Alternative Program
Nature Nurtures School
NOVA School
Olympia Community School
Olympia Waldorf School
Phoenix Rising School
Roots and Wings
Sequioa’s Treehouse
Steamboat Island Preschool
(and more to come!)

For more info: 360-866-8047 or or or you can find us on Facebook.

Teresa Eckstein is mom to Owen & Jacob who have been raised in alternative education.

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Book review

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:10pm

Gaia Conspiracy: The Last Days of Homo Rapiens
2010 / 377 pages

With any press exposure to thinking people, Don Richardson’s Gaia Conspiracy—The Last Days of Homo Rapiens should be a bestseller.  Exposure to non-thinking people will make them thinkers. Though this is a work of fiction, the facts, discussions and enlightenments brought out make this an especially valuable book that all of our citizens should read. Our nation, and the whole world,  are in dire peril. Political corruption of our governments, destruction of our environment, pollution of the land, sea and air and economic inequality brought about by the greed of the 1% through their corporations are leading us to total destruction. Most scientists and thinking Americans realize and acknowledge the forces of climate change are putting human life and the planet at grave risk. Business and government leaders ignore the facts and continue on their quest for wealth and power. They do not give a thought to the perils faced by humankind all over the globe.

The book

A group of Americans of varying backgrounds and education embark on a canoe trip in Alaska. It is their desire to experience its beauty and wilderness before global warming brings about its destruction. Their guide is a sincere and knowledgeable American who dominates the narrative on climate change.

Richardson introduces each of those who have applied for the trip by way of an interview. In this manner he can decide the merits of each applicant and their affinity for group cohesion. The author’s use of the interview is an effective way of giving the reader insight into each of the characters.

The guide is sincere in his belief that climate change presents a real threat to all life. He provides narrative on the subject while the group takes a rest break each day and in the evenings when they stop for the night. The group members add their own opinions and feelings to the narrative. These narratives are written in a direct style, which are easily understood and  initiate further discussion.

The author’s examination of the events of 9/11 and the causes of global warming are right on and demand some kind of response. As the days pass, the group members develop close relationships and they begin to feel that something must be done about climate change.

The decisions they eventually make will not be what the reader might expect. Although this is a work of fiction, one may be disturbed by the group’s actions.  I expect readers will undergo some soul searching on the ethical implications.

Richardson’s characters decide they want to share their lives with each other. Other decisions they make carry a huge risk to their lives. The tension mounts as they decide on who and what. Their actions come like a bolt out of the blue rejecting a logical or an expected development. But in the context of the story and of our times, the measures taken carry entirely different associations. The seemingly ghastly events disturb the balance of emotions and thought.

Through the discussions by the characters in this book one becomes aware of the total disaster with which we are confronted. They create a wake-up call for all responsible people in the world in order to bring attention to the late hour. They set out, at great personal risk, to make selected abusers pay a personal price for their crimes against humanity and Mother Earth and to serve as a warning to others. Change their ways or they will no longer need the great wealth that they have accumulated.

The book is excellent entertainment as well as waking people up to the problems we face. Talking and petitions can no longer be depended upon to bring results fast enough. This is a book that all concerned citizens should read. We all need to take personal responsibility to do what we can to bring corrective change, even if it is just to wake people up. We can no longer wait for Joe to do it. We must take action, too, even if what we do is not quite as dramatic.

J. Glenn Evans is a founder of PoetsWest and Activists for a Better World, hosts PoetsWest at KSER 90.7FM, a nationally syndicated weekly radio show, and is author of four books of poetry: Deadly Mistress, Window in the Sky, Seattle Poems and Buffalo Tracks, author of three novels, with The Last Lumber Baron as a works in process. Evans has been a resident of Olympia since December 2014.

Copyleft 2016 


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Two vignettes and the totalitarian rhetoric of Donald Trump

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:09pm

Views from without and within

Vignette # 1: Bad eating habits 

A few decades ago in Latin America, depending on considerations of class and culture, it would have been Chinese, Indian, or African kids who served as the ethnic group chosen by parents to be the signifier of distant commiseration, the psychological instrument used to persuade their kids—through guilt—to finish the food served at the table. At my grandmother’s house, kids were similarly the chosen demographic signifier, but not just any young member of a stereotypical “third world country” would do. No, she was always precise, my grandmother, creating a map in my mind of the specific distant nation where injustices occurred, and which, in some way, in spite of geographical distance, had immediate localized consequences in my life.  “Eat all your food,” she would say, in a pleasant voice the tone of which was dissonant with the ominous message that followed,  “because in the United States there are hundreds of thousands of starving kids!”

I don’t remember whether my grandmother’s gastro-social announcements caused the expected effect on me, and whether—in a precocious act of Pharisaism—I ended up eating all the food on my plate as expected. I do remember, though, having an intransigent position against certain colors in foods (green mostly) that gave my grandmother plenty of opportunities for exhorting me to think of the distant children in the U.S., and just as many opportunities for me to listen to her epicurean dictum. Back then, as a child, food wasn’t necessarily a source of pleasure; rather, it had the flavor of a somewhat forced and remote solidarity mixed with compulsory labor, a feeling that well meaning American food servers sometimes evoke in me in restaurants when they ask, gesturing to my plate, “are you still working on that?” as if the act of eating itself was marked by toil and effort, inverting the reality of the situation, in which I pay to be served food and am allowed—even expected—to overlook for a minute the real work incorporated into my meal, beginning with  the food production process, the labor of farmers and pickers and processers and transport drivers, to its arrival at the restaurant, and the labor of cooks and dishwashers, and indeed the very labor of the server her or himself.

I don’t remember reflecting on the validity of my grandmother’s statement about the United States.  The image I had in my mind of the U.S. had been created by watching cowboy movies in the cinema across the street from my parent’s house, and browsing the toy section in the Sears Catalog, which certainly showed no “niños” starving to death on its pages. All these “niños” seemed to be white, happy, well fed, and surrounded by wonderful possessions.  Nonetheless, regardless of the contrast between my image of children in the U.S. and my grandmother’s, as it is still, food encaged politics as a skull encages ideas, and this happened independently of my age, my annoying palate, and my age appropriate political ignorance about how the world’s wealth and food supply was created and distributed.

Later in life—and this I regret—I never asked my grandmother why she focused on the United States as the place where young kids experienced hunger. I knew her politics were not particularly radical—she was a Catholic and she was a conservative, although not a reactionary. She liked the United States, and overall she was democratic in something close to the Greek sense of the word, but I doubt whether she had time to follow closely the politics and social statistics of either Eisenhower or Kennedy’s administrations. She wanted me to finish my food and she appropriated the name of one country with that purpose. I’ll never know her real reason for choosing the U.S. Was it ideology? Did she secretly like the Soviet Union? Was it a mischievous linguistic game? Was it just a normative motivated utterance in which she was trying to alter my bad eating habits, with no ulterior motives whatsoever?  I’ll never know for sure, but it turns out that she was basically right.

In the U.S., there are serious limitations on kids access to food. In their 2014 report, “Income and poverty in the United States”, the U.S. Census Bureau states that 15.5 million or approximately 21 percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty. In their 2015 book Household Food Security in the United States, Coleman-Jensen, Rabbit, Gregory, & Singh point out that 15.3 million children lived in ‘food insecure households’—food insecurity being the euphemism used by the Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture to describe the condition of having limited or uncertain access to food. According to various reports from UNICEF, it is now a well-known fact that the U.S. record on child poverty is one of the worst in the developed world.

Vignette #2: A caustic post on Facebook

It was with certain surprise and disbelief that I read a comment written by my mother on Facebook, in response to a post of mine urging MoveOn.Org to endorse Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton. Given the generational and geographical differences between us (she lives in South America), I must admit I did not expect—wrongly so, as it turns out—this level of social media participation on her part, nor had I anticipated the caustic tone of her words:

“The United States… without political future, without good candidates, one worse  than the other. It is a pity that this continues to be the way it is, a vicious circle of shameful administrations … and the people do not protest”.

This political indictment of the United States, made by a Latin American woman in her mid-eighties, broke some tacit (and slightly embarrassing) image I held of the maternal octogenarian who is my mother. Her post represents an understanding of politics both as a mean of communication in the traditional way (using Facebook in this case), and simultaneously as the expression of collective will, in the form of protest and open discontent. My aim here is not to scrutinize the accuracy of my mother’s indictment nor the exactitude of her representation of the United States, but rather the intentionality behind the message, broadly speaking, which contains the same pessimism about the U.S. as was expressed by her mother (my grandmother) decades ago around the dining room table.

Donald Trump’s representation of America

Given that these are, after all, electoral times, I think it’s relevant to examine and contrast my grandmother and mother’s representations of America with the one being developed by Donald Trump’s campaign for presidency. Needless to say, the Republican candidate was born and has spent practically all of his life in the U.S.  My two ancestors were born overseas, and one of them—my grandmother—never visited the United States. While Trump is constructing a representation of his nation of origin, my maternal forebearers were and are constructing a representation of the nation of “the other.” As we know, Trump is building what he expects to be a winning electoral representation of the future of his country, a “Strong America” with him at the center as “The Strong Man”. This political picture is expected to buy him new real estate in DC, and also help him project a different image of the United States internationally. Different though they might be, Trump’s representation and those of created by my relatives are also similar in that any representation must suggest some kind of meaning and significance. By examining the meaning and implications of the complex agglutination of symbols that are being manipulated and sold to the American people, we can discern the true political content of Donald Trump’s electoral campaign.

Most political analysts have pointed out three main characteristics of Trump’s so far successful political style: his cavalier relationship with facts (from domestic to international politics); his anti-immigrant stands (mainly against Muslims and Mexicans); and his ability to agglutinate discontent particularly among white, economically poor, and not well educated segments of the electorate. However, according to a recent study conducted by Matthew McWilliams for “Politico Magazine”, there is a new, more significant variable that sheds light on Mr. Trump’s popularity: Authoritarianism.

In fact, the national poll that served as the basis for the article suggests that most of Trump’s supporters are not conditioned by issues of race, economics, or educational level, but by their attraction to an “Authoritarian Personality.” According to McWilliams:

“Trump’s electoral strength and his “staying power” have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will  continue to grow”

The article points out that the study of the “Authoritarian Mind” is not a new topic within political theory; in fact, it has been a constant theme related to the emergence of fascism in Nazi Germany (see authors such as Theodore Adorno, and the most recent, Bob Altemeyer, on this topic). But what has immediate relevance for the future of this nation is to notice the following: First, authoritarians rally to and embrace submission to strong leaders; second, they express high levels of aggression against outsiders or minorities; and finally, the are inclined to embrace the values endorsed by the followed leader.

The previous panorama is not necessarily good news for those who believe that democracy and authoritarianism are somehow antagonistic values. As McWilliams indicates:

“So what does this mean for the election? It doesn’t just help us understand what motivates Trump’s backers—it suggests that his support isn’t capped. In a statistical analysis of the polling results, I found that Trump has already captured 43 percent of Republican primary voters who are strong authoritarians, and 37 percent of Republican authoritarians overall. And in a general election, Trump’s strongman rhetoric will surely appeal to some of the 39 percent of independents in my poll who identify as authoritarians and the 17 percent of self-identified Democrats who are strong authoritarians.”

The Trump phenomenon has altered traditional primary expectations within both political parties, and others have pointed this out. What’s emerging now, and perhaps my mother was picking up on this from afar, is that its authoritarian content is also altering the potential images and political representations available to us to describe America, its body politic, and the form of life we choose to live under.

Enrique Quintero, a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.


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From constitutional rights to human rights

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:00pm

The King I wish I had known

The representation of Martin Luther King Jr. that I grew up with, being only 10 years old when he was murdered, was very similar to the image portrayed in the powerful film, “Selma”, and like most people I know, I grew up reading and discussing the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

But what happened after Selma, after the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed? How far-reaching were King’s dreams?

Turns out, King’s analysis of what needed to happen next has yet to be fulfilled. As we march through an election season, listening to candidates pitch their visions of the future to the electorate, I strongly recommend that readers pick up the collection of his essays called “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” The clarity of King’s vision usefully illuminates the issues before us today.

In his introduction to the essays, Vincent Harding suggests that in these later pieces, King was attempting to speak to white allies whose support had begun to diminish as the campaign shifted from working on constitutional rights (like the right to vote) towards fundamental human rights (like the right to adequate housing and income). For instance, in  his essay “Where Do We Go From Here” King put it like this: “So far, we have had constitutional backing for most of our demands for change, and this has made our work easier, since we could be sure of legal support from the federal courts. Now we are approaching areas where the voice of the Constitution is not clear. We have left the realm of constitutional rights and we are entering the realm of human rights”

Continuing in a vein that will resonate with readers today, King wrote:

“The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet, in a nation which has a gross national product of $750 billion a year, it is morally right to insist that every person have a decent house, an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family. Achievement of these goals will be a lot more difficult and require much more discipline, understanding, organization and sacrifice.”

Ending “economic strangulation” for all who are poverty-stricken

Just as mass nonviolent action led to constitutional changes, so too, King argued, was mass nonviolent action necessary to move the human rights agenda forward. King acknowledged that many, especially in the North, believed that demonstrations and overt and visible protests could be replaced by the use of legislation along with welfare and anti-poverty programs. King disagreed, arguing that change would only come through mass-action movement. He also argued that the movement for human rights needed to be grounded not only in ending the “economic strangulation” of the Negro, but of other poor people as well:

As we work to get rid of the economic strangulation that we face as a result of poverty, we must not overlook the fact that millions of Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Indians and Appalachian whites are also poverty-stricken. Any serious war on poverty must of necessity include them. As we work to end the educational stagnation that we face as a result of inadequate segregated schools, we must not be unmindful of the fact, as Dr. James  Conant has said, the the whole public school system is using nineteenth-century educational methods in conditions of twentieth century urbanization, and that quality education must be enlarged for all children.

To get where we need to, King argued, we need a “radical restructuring of the architecture of American society.” Such a restructuring depends on overcoming the evils of racism, poverty and militarism, King wrote, and in their place, he wrote, “our economy must become more person-centered than property- and profit-centered.”

How we become responsive to the needs of the poor

According to Harding, in addition to mass action, King’s theory of change depended on two key components: a “coalition of Negroes and liberal whites that will work to make both major parties truly responsive to the needs of the poor” and the recognition that “the larger economic problems confronting the Negro community will only be solved by federal programs involving billions of dollars.”

In this time of election build-up, it’s helpful to re-read King’s farseeing analysis and ask ourselves his questions in a literal way, e.g., where is the multi-racial coalition working to make either or both of the major political parties truly responsive to the needs of the poor? Based on the presidential debates, only those running for the Democratic nomination are responding to the needs of the poor in systemic ways, proposing reforms of the tax code to redistribute wealth and an increase to the minimum wage (though their positions vary). Still, a strong and focused multi-racial coalition focused on economic justice and basic human rights has yet to become the dominant voice in the Democratic party.

King also argued that we need to seek radical change, not minor reforms. As he put it, let us “not think of our movement as one that seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society. Let us be those creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.” The “revolution” proposed by the Republican candidates does not lead to a more noble expression of our humaneness, and in fact, as many have pointed out, it does just the opposite. That leaves the Democrats, and in the last debate, in and out of the tussles over policy proposals, and questions about what the candidates said about each other, there was a call for a revolution, a reframing of the questions we are asking. And at the heart of that revolution lies the need for campaign finance reform. The need for it would likely not have surprised Dr. King, given earlier efforts to limit people’s participation in elections, nor would the ferocity of the Supreme Court’s protection for wealthy elites in the Citizens United decision.

We need a revolution that begins in the place King landed, where racism must be addressed by making our economy person-centered, rather than profit- or property-centered.

Emily Lardner lives and works in Olympia, Washington.

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The truth must be told

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 7:59pm

The in-custody death of Raymond Eacret

Raymond Eacret, 34 years old and a proud Yurok Tribal Member from Trinidad Rancheria, of Eureka, CA, died “in custody” in the Humboldt County Correctional Center on Friday, June 26, 2015.  Raymond was held on a misdemeanor charge and was due to be released that evening. Then something went horribly wrong. Just hours earlier his mother, Sheila Eacret, received a message telling her ‘not to worry and charges were dropped,’ her son would be released around dinner time, 4pm,  that very day.  Relief would soon turn into deep sorrow, grief and outrage. The next time Sheila would see her son would be after his death, framed as a “suicide” by Humboldt County officials, his lifeless body bludgeoned.

“I was refused to see my son until after the autopsy which was against all Native rights,” Sheila Eacret said, “I had every right to prepare him spiritually due to his being Native American with a roll number. Denied that right, I was angry and confused.”

A number of conflicting reports have surfaced, including the police narrative, which was amplified via most news outlets.  Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said in a press release that Raymond was found by an unnamed Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) correctional deputy “hanging from a makeshift noose that was wrapped around his neck” in the medical section of the Humboldt County Jail.  There is also a conflicting report in which another officer is stated to have said Raymond was laying in his bed when he was discovered dead.

Another person, who was in the medical department at the time Raymond was brought there, told Sheila Eacret there is “no way someone could take their own life in medical.”  This person also said that when Raymond was brought to medical he had been horribly beaten and that he was unconscious.  The Sheriff’s press release states “life saving efforts were immediately initiated…This incident is currently under joint investigation by the HCSO and the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO).” Or, in other words, Humboldt County is investigating itself on this matter.

When Sheila Eacret was finally able to see her son Raymond, she was horrified.  Raymond was covered in bruises–he had two black eyes and his nose was broken.  His torso also appeared to had been kicked multiple times. Raymond’s back was broken. Sheila described ribs that stuck out with swellings around the wounds the “size of  watermelons.”  There was a cut about three inches deep in Raymond’s neck and whatever was used to caused this deep cut was also used to strangle him. It did not go all the way around his neck.  One of Raymond’s ears was bleeding and bruised.  Clearly, he was the victim of a horrible, violent assault.

“Our Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, the County Jail and Coroner’s office are one in the same, they run all three, they are in it together,” said Shelia Eacret.  “To get any kind of justice or truth you have to get at least one (entity) away from here.”

Sheila took pictures of her son’s injuries and demanded an independent autopsy and secured a lawyer.  She is fighting for justice so that no other mother has to go through what she is experiencing.  She doesn’t believe the Humboldt County system should be investigating itself.

“My son wasn’t the first young Native American to mysteriously be hung in this jail and die, there was a 25-year-old Native American from Hoopa that was also killed in there on a misdemeanor and was going to get out.  Our system is flawed and allows authorities and deputies to kill anyone in that jail and get away with it. I think officers should have to obey the same laws they are suppose to uphold and should be held accountable for murder like anyone else. A badge and key does not give them the right to take someone’s life. They will be held accountable for this crime.”

That 25-year-old Native brother from Hoopa is a Yurok man named James “Hans” Peters, who was brought into the Humboldt County Jail in late June 2007.  According to the Sheriff’s Office,  in August 2007, James Hans Peters was being held in a solitary cell after he had “assaulted a correctional officer” and was waiting to be transferred to Napa State Hospital for a court ordered psych eval. It was on August 29, 2007 that James Hans Peters was said to have “hung himself with torn bed sheets” from a vent in the ceiling. Officers did not inform Hans’ family (he was called Hans by those close to him) of his death.

After hearing the news from an anonymous hospital employee, the family went to the Humboldt County Jail in search of their son and demanding answers. The Sheriff’s Office responded sternly and threatened to have the family arrested.  Hans’ mother and relatives were not allowed to see Hans’ body for over 20 hours.  James “Hans” Peters was killed/died in custody in Humboldt County Jail within three months of two other victims, Peter Stewart and Martin Cotton.  All three men were disabled, all three had been diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Raymond Eacret is one of many Loved Ones to die violently while in police custody in the United States.

On July 13, 2015 a 24-year-old pregnant Lakota Woman and mother of two, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, was being held in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She was complaining of excrutiating pain.  She was denied medical care, told to “quit faking,” and was dragged to a holding cell so officers and other inmates would not hear her screams.  She died shortly after.

In November 2015 it was reported that in that year there have been at least 550 in-custody deaths in Texas alone so far.  Five hundred and fifty human beings, just in the state of Texas.

One of those 550 people managed to make it to the forefront of national media.  Just one, and she was a woman.  She died the same day as Sarah Lee Circle Bear, on July 13, 2015.  And she was Black.  Her name is Sandra Bland.

Raymond Eacret’s violent death also happens within a greater context of in-custody deaths caused by law enforcement in the state of California.  Deaths like 23 year old Victoria Arellano, an HIV-positive Transgender woman and migrant from Mexico, who had been detained at a mens’ Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in May of 2007 in South Los Angeles.  Victoria started showing signs of illness and pleaded (along with other male detainees) that she receive medical care. Her request for medical care was denied and Victoria died on July 20, 2007. There’s also the recent mysterious in-custody deaths of Kristen Hamilton, 51, of Antioch who died in West County Jail in April 2015 and Elizabeth Gaunt, 56, of Santa Rosa who died at Lake County Jail in August of 2015.

Almost every single victim of in-custody deaths in California—and nationwide—have at least one of these things in common:  being Indigenous, Black, Disabled and/or Poor. Recently, the Idriss Stelley Foundation (ISF) has organized an action called #IdidDIEinSanFranciscoCustody, which includes formal demands for the treatment of Disabled detainees and transparency regarding recent in-custody deaths at the San Francisco County Jail.  One demand being no more in-custody deaths.  In the past two years, the ISF has advocated for the families of those killed in-custody and investigated  the violent wrongful in custody deaths of five men: Alvin Hayes, Alberto Petrolino, Antolin Marenco, Brette Robinson, and Darnell Benson.  All five were Disabled, and each are Indigenous, Black and or Poor.  These violent deaths are far from isolated, and they are all related.

Since the death of her son Raymond Eacret, Sheila Eacret has been grieving.  She has also taken a stand. She is demanding justice so that no other Mother has to experience what she is going through.  In being vocal in a rural area, Sheila is being harassed and terrorized by members of law enforcement in and around Eureka, CA.  She is being profiled, singled out, and threatened for fighting for justice for her son.  The press and police are in it together, vilifying her family.  One of the officers acknowledged knowing her son, Raymond, as a scare tactic.

Raymond’s Mother, Sheila Eacret, who is grieving the loss of her son, does not feel safe. She fears for her life.

Lisa Ganser is a white Disabled genderqueer artist from the Mission District of San Francisco recently transplanted to Olympia, WA.  They are the daughter of a momma named Sam and this is their first story as a writer for POOR Magazine.

This article was originally in POOR Magazine, based in Oakland, CA. The organization is a poor people led/indigenous people led non-profit, grassroots, arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, arts, education and solutions from youth, adults and elders in poverty across Pachamama (Mother Earth).

The post The truth must be told appeared first on Works in Progress.

In memory of the great Rosa Luxemburg

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 7:58pm

Rosa Luxemburg [1871-1919], the Polish-born revolutionary and writer, was one of the most original theoretical minds of the early twentieth century. Her work stands as a testament to the great social of upheavals of the time and a life lived in struggle for a better world.

She ultimately suffered for her convictions, spending time in jail between 1904 and 1906 and again for three and a half years for opposing the First World War, before her brutal and untimely death in 1919 at the hands of the proto-fascistic Freikorp.

[Below is] an extract from The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg that shows her characteristic mix of astute political and social analysis and incredible compassion for her fellow creatures.

 The letter, written around Christmas 1917 from her prison cell in Breslau to fellow SPD-member Sophie Liebknecht, relates an incident in the prison courtyard between a guard and a buffalo carrying piles of torn and bloodied clothes sent from the frontlines.  –John Merrick / 15 January 2016

The letter

Oh, Sonyichka,

I’ve lived through something sharply, terribly painful here. Into the courtyard where I take my walks there often come military supply wagons, filled with sacks or old army coats and shirts, often with bloodstains on them … They’re unloaded here [in the courtyard] and distributed to the prison cells, [where they are] patched or mended, then loaded up and turned over to the military again.

Recently one of these wagons arrived with water buffaloes harnessed to it instead of horses. This was the first time I had seen these animals up close. They have a stronger, broader build than our cattle, with flat heads and horns that curve back flatly, the shape of the head being similar to that of our sheep, [and they’re] completely black, with large, soft, black eyes. They come from Romania, the spoils of war. …

The soldiers who serve as drivers of these supply wagons tell the story that it was a lot of trouble to catch these wild animals and even more difficult to put them to work as draft animals, because they were accustomed to their freedom. They had to be beaten terribly before they grasped the concept that they had lost the war and that the motto now applying to them was “woe unto the vanquished” [vae victis]…

There are said to be as many as a hundred of these animals in Breslau alone, and on top of that these creatures, who lived in the verdant fields of Romania, are given meager and wretched feed. They are ruthlessly exploited, forced to haul every possible kind of wagonload, and they quickly perish in the process.

And so, a few days ago, a wagon like this arrived at the courtyard [where I take my walks]. The load was piled so high that the buffaloes couldn’t pull the wagon over the threshold at the entrance gate. The soldier accompanying the wagon, a brutal fellow, began flailing at the animals so fiercely with the blunt end of his whip handle that the attendant on duty indignantly took him to task, asking him: Had he no pity for the animals?

“No one has pity for us humans,” he answered with an evil smile, and started in again, beating them harder than ever.

The animals finally started to pull again and got over the hump, but one of them was bleeding… Sonyichka, the hide of a buffalo is proverbial for its toughness and thickness, but this tough skin had been broken.

During the unloading, all the animals stood there, quite still, exhausted, and the one that was bleeding kept staring into the empty space in front of him with an expression on his black face and in his soft, black eyes like an abused child. It was precisely the expression of a child that has been punished and doesn’t know why or what for, doesn’t know how to get away from this torment and raw violence. …

I stood before it, and the beast looked at me; tears were running down my face—they were his tears. No one can flinch more painfully on behalf of a beloved brother than I flinched in my helplessness over this mute suffering.

How far away, how irretrievably lost were the beautiful, free, tender-green fields of Romania! How differently the sun used to shine and the wind blow there, how different was the lovely song of the birds that could be heard there, or the melodious call of the herdsman. And here—this strange, ugly city, the gloomy stall, the nauseating, stale hay, mixed with rotten straw, and the strange, frightening humans—the beating, the blood running from the fresh wound. … Oh, my poor buffalo, my poor, beloved brother!

We both stand here so powerless and mute, and are as one in our pain, impotence, and yearning. —All this time the prisoners had hurriedly busied themselves around the wagon, unloading the heavy sacks and dragging them off into the building; but the soldier stuck both hands in his trouser pockets, paced around the courtyard with long strides, and kept smiling and softly whistling some popular tune to himself. And the entire marvelous panorama of the war passed before my eyes.

Write soon. I embrace you, Sonyichka. Your R.

Sonyichka, dearest, in spite of everything be calm and cheerful. Life is like that, one must take it as it is, [and remain] brave, undaunted, and smiling—in spite of everything. Happy Christmas.

… R.


Letter and introduction courtesy of Verso Books, a left wing publishing house in the UK, and the graphic is provided courtesy of FCIT.

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Remembering Joel Nelson

Works in Progress - Mon, 02/08/2016 - 7:57pm
Joel Nelson

From the vigil for Joel Nelson. Photo: Lisa Ganser

Joel Nelson, a graduate of North Thurston High School and school athelic, was a son, brother, and lover.  His life struggles were brought to a sudden end January 5, 2016.

He is one more victim of the War on Drugs, which has fueled the ongoing militarization of local police departments across the nation and is focused on punishment rather than providing mental health services for those in need.

A gofundme page was created in memory of Joel Anthony Nelson and all proceeds will be donated to little league baseball.

Our heart-felt condolences to his family and to his friends. —WIP staff

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