Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Court sends message to Springfield Police: you CAN be found guilty of abuse!

It's not like the criminal injustice system is ever off-duty in Springfield, but sometimes it runs in the background; people don't say much and organizing falls off   But former police officer Jeffrey Asher kicked us into high gear in December of 2009, when he beat Melvin Jones to a pulp.  On Wednesday, Asher was found guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery.  Sentencing will take place on March 28.  Here's a link to an excellent summary of the case by Buffy Spencer at the Republican.   The article reminded me that former DA Bill Bennett refused to convene a grand jury to investigate the conduct of officers in the Jones beating; victim Melvin Jones had to file an application for a criminal complaint himself.

It seems necessary to say here that most Springfield police don't go around assaulting members of the public with flashlights-- but also that no officers seem willing to speak out against misconduct by a fellow officer.  We saw that in play yesterday when Michael Ververis' lawyer, Luke Ryan, called officers to the stand to ask if it was unusual for a cellphone that might be a critical piece of evidence in the criminal case against Michael-- which very well might have exonerated Michael-- was released to the cellphone's owner without a sign-off by the DA.  Nothing to see here, move along.  I haven't heard a report back yet from Arise and Out Now members who were in court with Michael yesterday as to whether the judge agrees that this destruction of evidence-- a video of Michael's arrest which disappeared from the cellphone, apparently while in the evidence room -- is sufficient to dismiss charges against Michael.

Momentum is increasing in the case of Charles Wilhite.  From his website:

On September 17th, 2009, Charles Wilhite was arrested and interrogated as a murder suspect in the shooting death of Alberto Rodriguez that occurred on October 14th 2008. On December 6th, 2010, a jury delivered a guilty verdict against Charles Wilhite, for murder in the first degree, sentencing him to life imprisonment without parole.
As a community, we have significant concerns about the way the case was prosecuted and the way the verdict was reached:
  • There is no physical evidence linking Charles Wilhite to to the shooting.
  • The testimonies presented at trial were contradictory, including the initial testimony linking Charles to the shooting.
  • During the trial, one of the Commonwealth’s key witnesses recanted her testimony.
  • After the trial, another key witness, immunized for his testimony, recanted his statement, including his identification of Charles. He cites police intimidation as one reason for his falsehood.
  • Jury deliberation lasted only three hours, despite the need to examine over fifty exhibits.
Charles has not known freedom since September 2009. Charles pleaded his innocence then, as he does today, and will continue to do until he is freed.

The campaign to free Charles will kick off on March 3, noon, at Spring of Hope Church, 35 Alden St., Springfield.  The concerned community is urged to attend.  On Thursday, March 8,  Judge Peter Velis will hear the motion to discharge after jury to set aside Charles' guilty verdict.

Last but not least, we've simply got to mobilize against the proposed Three Strikes legislation.  Not only is the bill unnecessary (we already have a Habitual Offender law), not only will it cost the state a fortune, we have to remember that innocent people are convicted every day.  Tell the Governor, NO! Print Friendly and PDF

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Next steps in fighting Three Stirkes legislation

 We had our panel on the Three Strikes legislation Thursday.  The more I learn about this legislation, the worse it gets.  Gov. Patrick proposed Three Strikes after the murder of a Woburn police officer, John Maguire, in December, 2010, by a parolee-- a parolee who still would have been released from prison even under the proposed bill.

 Patrick attempted to sweeten his harsh legislation by including two needed reforms: reducing school zone drug violations to 100 feet instead of 1,000 feet, and ending mandatory minimums for drug convictions.  But for all the harm this bill would do, it's not worth the trade-off.

I have rarely seen such a racist piece of legislation.  Only four white legislators had the guts to vote against this,  and it was voted against by every member of the Black and Latino legislative Caucus-- except for Springfield's Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera.
You can get all the info you need in this special edition of the Blackstonian-- or you can pick up a copy at the Arise office, 467 State St., Springfield.
Although this bill has tremendous momentum (it's an election year, after all), there is still a strategy to kill it.  First, massive numbers of calls to the Governor's office, telling him to veto the bill and send a message back to the Legislature that he will not sign anything that does not include school zone and mandatory minimum drug sentencing reform.  Then, real pressure on our legislators to rethink their support for the bill.  If Patrick will do what we ask, chances are good that the bill will die before the end of the Legislative session.
A rally is planned at the State House on Thursday, March 15.  You can reserve a free seat by calling EPOCA at (508) 410-7676 or / (617) 606-3580.  If you want to go as part of an Arise contingent, call Ruben at 734-4948.
A statewide network of community organizations and supporters will be holding a major demonstration and lobby day in opposition to the 3-strikes bill being considered at the State House.  The rally will highlight a diverse group of speakers who will warn of the economic and social consequences of these regressive criminal justice policies.
State House Steps (Beacon St.)
The Rally and speaking portion will run between 11-12pm.  Between 12-1pm, participants will visit the offices of legislators and deliver signed advocacy cards.  The goal for the action is to show the breadth
of opposition to the misguided policies and add power and media attention to the resistance effort.
We are calling on our allies to join the growing movement against 3-Strikes.  Please complete the endorsement form by following and completing this link:

More resources from the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition: Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Police brutality: Jeffrey Asher finally on trial-- and don't forget Michael Ververis!

Ellen, Holly and Dan dashed off to Chicopee District Court for the first day of former Springfield  police officer Jeffrey Asher's trial yesterday.  He's charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon against Melvin Jones.

Getting police accountability in Springfield is a battle many activists, including Arise and the NAACP, have been working on for years.  Last year Ward Four City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs held public hearings in an attempt to change the form of police oversight to a police commission or a civilian review board, only to be stymied by the terms of Police Commissioner Fitchett's contract.

Last year, Michael Ververis was beaten by the Springfield police but of course at the moment, all of the charges are against Michael.  this Monday, Arise members will gather at 8:45 am. at Springfield District Court for a short solidarity stand-out, and at 9 am., we'll watch the motions to dismiss that Michael's lawyer, Luke Ryan, has filed.  Turn up and support Michael!  Here's his website, Justice for Michael.

  Following  are some of Holly's observations and a link to Buffy Spencer's coverage for the Republican.

so, i was there for the tail end of the questioning of the woman who released the cell phone video tape...dan said she had been in sheer panic prior to testifying - though she did it.  i think it went ok.  then melvin jones came (after a court break).  the da's attorney went through all of her questions to him.  then for the defense....that lawyer (older white man, whose name i do not know)....was just like a gross lawyer would be trying to win his case.  went through every single solitary past crime (one by one, and unfortunately there were many) of melvin's. then focused a lot on melvin's attempting to run, and his "not remembering" things (because his head was bashed in) - and the lawyer kept on with, the questions like --- so, you don't remember kicking at the officer?"  so, you don't remember attempting to grab at the officer.."  etc....then there were a ton of objections and calling of the lawyers to the judges bench (which i don't know enough of the law to know what it was all about), and then lunch break- at which time dan and i had to leave.  melvin continued thereafter. 

it was, though, the truest display of the racist prison industrial complex so much in front of us - an all white jury (of melvin's 'peers'); all white lawyers- on both sides, from the DA's office to the defense; white judge; and then the all white press surrounding them all.  yikes is about all one can say...

dan and i are going to hold signs at 8:30 am tomorrow if anyone wants to join us.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter (?) photos from Arise

On December 21st, we honored homeless people that had died in the past year.  Two dozen of us gathered at the condemned River Inn with Rev. Charla Kouadio.  "Pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living."  Mother Jones.

Our quasi-homeless cat, Pretty Girl as we call her, Hobo as the guy upstairs calls her, so sometimes she is P.G. Hobo, has, in three months,  gone from keeping her wary distance to running over to our cars when we pull into the parking lot in the morning. The way to a cat's heart.....  

Ruben made a rainstick as a raffle prize for our Black History Month potluck.  His artwork is fantastic and his next rainstick will be even better.  A beautiful sound..... Print Friendly and PDF

Stuff like this keeps us going

We've been organizing around an issue that is important to the community and that also affects a local family.  Yesterday Holly got an email from one of the family members, which I'm sharing here.  We don't do our organizing so we can get accolades, but wow, it's nice to be appreciated every now and then.

Hope you're well. I've been thinking about you guys lately and I talk about you all the time to my friends, you all inspire me. You stand up for what's right and fight for it. Most people when they see something bad happen they feel bad but don't want to get involved, they stand on the side lines or maybe even walk away and turn their back on it. Not you guys you get right in there and speak up and protest until the right thing is done. It's people like you that have made this country great if it wasn't for people like you there would still be black slaves,women with no rights, and so on and so on. You guys are amazing and my heroes!   I want to be just like you!

Photo from Cheerytomato's photostream at Flickr.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mother Tongue Day

Today, February 21, 2012, is International Mother Language Day, or Mother Tongue Day, first observed by the international community in 2000. 
5 Things You Can Do to Observe Mother Language Day:
1.  Send an audio postcard in five Native American languages at to introduce others to America's first languages via email or Facebook.  Speakers and learners at the Alutiiq, Crow, Eastern Cherokee, Lakota, Navajo (Diné)and Yuchi (Euchee) language programs offer beautiful images of cultural events and practices dependent on future generations speaking today's endangered tribal languages.  Show your support, thank your speaker mentor, or just help spread the word about Native language endangerment in the Americas. 
2.  Help language advocates in Wisconsin reach their goal of 20,000 signatures!  Sign the petition in support of a 7th grade student from the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin who was punished by teachers and coaches at her parochial school for "attitude problems" after teaching a fellow Menominee students how to say "hello " and "I love you" in the Menominee language, an endangered tongue spoken in North America for thousands of years. Learn more.
3.  Watch scenes from WE STILL LIVE HERE (Âs Nutayuneân), celebrate the power of dreams, "leaving children possibilities," and meet the nearly twenty year-old Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project, which is "bringing language home" to the Wampanoag Nation of southeastern Massachusetts after many generations passed without fluent speakers.  Order copies of the film for personal, institutional, or activist use at Makepeace Productions, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting WLRP.  Read more. 
4.  Watch extended scenes from Kanien'kehá:ka:Living the Language at Our Mot her Tongues, to witness how one of the oldest tribal language schools in North America links classroom, home-based, and ceremonial education in a Mohawk community spanning the U.S.-Canada border in upstate New York. Then visit Mushkeg Media to purchase the  language revitalization film profiling the Akwesasne Freedom School, and explore several seasons of the international television series Finding Our Talk: A Journey Through Aboriginal Languages, featuring Mi'gmaq, Mohawk, Algonquin, Huron, Attikemekw, Innu, Cree, Inuktitut, Ojibway, Michif, Saulteaux, and Sencofen tribal communities and many more.    
5.  Connect the dots. Value all languages and participate in language learning.  "I think people are passionate about language because it's about sovereignty and nationhood," says Ojibwe scholar and historian, Jean O'Brien, author of Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790. "A language is not just words," says scholar Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "It's a culture, a tradition, a unification of community all rolled into one."  Visit Cultural Survival's and Makepeace Productions' companion website to WE STILL LIVE HERE,, to hear more from Drs. Chomsky and O'Brien, and to hear community leader Earl Mills, Sr., in Why Learn Your Mother Tongue?  video clips. Also look for additional Found in Translation video clips about the precision of the Navajo language in describing positions of the moon, and meet a young family intent on restoring the chain of language transmission, connecting a grandmother and grandson through the educational opportunities available at the Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'ólta' Immersion School in Fort Defiance, Arizona.
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Monday, February 20, 2012

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free - Nina Simone

Billy Taylor, you will be missed forever.  (Put up with the ad until you can skip it because this is a great recording.) Print Friendly and PDF

Sunday, February 19, 2012


MON. FEB. 20
• DR. CARY COSTELLO will be discussing his publications, “Professional Identity Crisis: Race, Class, Gender and Success at Professional Schools,” and the legal requirement of a dyadic sex on forms, such as, birth certificates.
• REVEREND CHARLA KOUADIO will discuss her experiences as a lesbian of African-American descent within the context of her religious beliefs and as a local activist.
• DRU LEVASSEUR is currently the Transgender Rights Attorney for Lambda Legal. Dru co-founded the Jim Collins Foundation which is a non-profit that funds gender-confirming surgeries.
• JENNIFER LEVI is one of our nation’s leading experts on transgender legal issues. She will be discussing the legal language chosen in recent legislative changes aimed at protecting gender identity and expression.
• COLE RIZKI is a Fulbright Scholar of Pakistani and Italian decent. Cole will discuss the transgender aesthetic and his participation in the round-table discussions on the formation of the first gender-identity laws in Argentina.
Presented by: OUTlaw Print Friendly and PDF

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Had enough? Housing and Homelessness Rally on April 2


Day of 


for the 

Right to 



April 2, Noon,

Square, Springfield
(rain date: April 4th)

End the Criminalization of Homelessness & 


Without Housing, We Will All Be Criminals!

¨      Everyone deserves a home!!
¨      People are suffering!!
¨      We need to end laws criminalizing homelessness & poverty!!
¨      Springfield needs to prioritize replacing housing lost in tornado!!
¨      Springfield—and all of our surrounding communities-- need a housing plan for all people!!
¨      Renters need to build political power, so our voices can be heard!!
¨      The state must stop limiting access to shelter!!
¨      Federal cuts in HUD and housing programs must stop
¨      Without the people, nothing can happen!!!
Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) and USA-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants (USACAI) are calling on our members and allies throughout the United States and Canada to join us on April 2 for a bi-national day of action to protest the ongoing criminalization of poor and homeless people in our communities.
Just since 1995, the U. S. has lost over 290,588 existing units of public housing and 360,000 Section 8 units, with another 7,107 approved for demolition/disposition since March of 2011. At the same time, 2.5 million foreclosures have taken place since 2007, an additional 6.9 million foreclosures have been initiated, and 5.7 million borrowers are at risk.
In those same 15 years, over 830,000 new jail and prison cells have been built, draconian immigration laws and eligibility screening criteria have been implemented in housing, healthcare, education and jobs programs, and America's three largest residential mental health facilities are now all county jails (Los Angeles, Chicago, & New York).
Contact Arise for Social Justice, 734-4948

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Voter Suppression in Springfield

I couldn't explain the issues facing Springfield voters any better than this short video of Aron Goldman of the Springfield Institute at the 'Occupy...Disrupt...Reinvent" Ignite Amherst event does.

With voter suppression being institutionalized in many states across the country, you'd better recognize we're in a fight for our democracy.

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panel on "Three Strikes legislation - Feb. 23

I wish I could reproduce the flyer I was sent that lists all the panelists, but I've had no luck-- but this is a very important event, because this legislation is a move in the WRONG DIRECTION!  

THURSDAY,. February 23, 2012
6:006:00–– 7:30 p.m.
Rebecca Johnson School
55 Catharine Street
Springfield, MA 01109
 Moderator: Reverend Talbert Swan,
President, NAACP Springfield Chapter

For more information, please contact EPOCA: 508-410-7676 Print Friendly and PDF

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Enforcing the law could have saved their lives

Along the banks of the American River, adjacent to the Highway 160  bridge in Sacramento, reside a few dozen homeless men and drifters.  Nylon tents sprawl across the grass. In one of them lived Kevin Moore  and Ray Sletto, whose bodies were found on the afternoon of Jan. 17.
The two men were the closest of friends for more than 10 years,  taking care of each other and Baby Girl, the pit bull mix they adopted.  Kevin Moore, 38, was a jeweler with a goatee and an easy smile and Ray  Sletto, 44, sleepy-eyed and mustachioed, was a chef with a bad back.  They had been homeless for many years after losing their jobs. Though  the weather was mild, they enclosed their tent within another tent for  extra warmth and lit a small camp stove. As the fumes quietly filled the  air while they slept, they died of carbon monoxide poisoning sometime  during the night of Jan. 16.
Just slightly more than a mile away from where Moore and Sletto's  tent stood is the state capitol building in Sacramento. Four days before  they died, lawmakers from around the state met to discuss  the crisis of homelessness in their communities. Over one-fifth of  homeless Americans live in the streets, park and shelters of California,  which has been hit hard by the lingering effects of the recent  recession, from high unemployment to rising foreclosure rates.  California's tally in 2011 was estimated at 135,928, according to the  National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Across the country, women and children are the fastest-growing  segment of the homeless population, the alliance says. And shelters  across the state have only enough beds for a small fraction of the  dispossessed: The St. John's Shelter for Women and Children in  Sacramento turns away hundreds of people each night for this reason and  leaves them to fend for themselves.
But one of the state's most powerful tools to assist this vulnerable  population is hardly being used. Buried within California's legal codes  is a 25-year-old statute  that allows counties and municipalities to declare a state of emergency  when a "significant number" of homeless people exist in a community,  allowing them to convert public facilities into shelters and even to  change zoning codes to site shelters in most neighborhoods.
Yet since the law was passed in 1987 -- and as the homeless  population increased -- few communities have invoked the statute, and  when they do, it is almost always just to set up temporary winter  shelters. As a result of a lack of political will, neighborhood  resistance and budget constraints, this law has rarely been tapped to  ease the suffering of the dispossessed.
"It is almost unparalleled in its potential," National Coalition for  the Homeless executive director Neil Donovan said about the statute.  "But it's a challenge [for California] because of the financial crisis  that they're in. Other communities use similar statutes far more  effectively. I'm thinking of Boston, which opens up its armories when  overcrowding happens."
The reluctance to take action frustrates advocates for homeless  people. "It's a very powerful statute in the sense that once a shelter  crisis has been declared -- it could be done on a statewide level by the  governor or on a county level -- there are just about no restrictions  to housing the homeless anywhere," said civil liberties lawyer Mark  Merin. "But there are very few instances where it has been invoked. Any  mayor or board of supervisors which has not declared a shelter crisis  should be asked, Why not?"
Read more at Huffington Post. Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dear Homeless Couple: Yes, there IS something you can do for me!

This is a longish story that leads to exactly where it needs to go, so bear with me.

Yesterday afternoon we get a call from a guy in a panic-- he and his wife have been renting a room in a friend's house and that morning, the city showed up, boarded up the house, and told him and his wife they had an hour to get out!  Could we help?  Where should they go?  How could this happen? His wife was three months pregnant and he didn't want to be out on the street.

Fortunately for them, they'd found a way back into the house and were going to spend the night there, but he knew it was only good for that night.

I ask the guy-- let's call him Mike--  a couple of questions.  Are they legal tenants?  Well, they've been paying $100 a week to their friend, who isn't around much, but they have rent receipts.  Is the house in bad shape?  Had it been condemned for conditions?  Well,  some broken windows, and the utilities got turned off last week, but their friend said he'd be getting them turned back on in somebody else's name.  My heart sinks a bit on that one, knowing that just the fact of a house being without utilities is enough to get a placed condemned, if only temporarily.

"The guy from the city said that the city owned the house! And we had no notice-- didn't know this was happening."

"Hate to say it, but your friend-- if he's really the owner-- has probably gotten plenty of notices.  He's been taking your money knowing this was coming.  And if he's not the owner, he's just been robbing you."
I get the address of the property, and the owner's name, then ask Mike guy if I can call him back-- want to try to reach a lawyer..

"The last time I called the Office for Housing about a condemnation, they said they didn't have any money to help tenants,  but let me check on that, too," I say.

I reach Bernie Cohen in his office, describe the situation, and Bernie says that the city is obligated to give notice to legal tenants.

"OK, that might help," I say.  Then I call the Office for Housing, and hear the same sad story as before: gee, sorry, no money to help with relocation.

I call Mike back.

"Look," I say, "I think your best shot is going to Housing Court tomorrow morning, going before the judge, and telling the judge your story.  Maybe there's some legal angle I don't know."

"We've got what we could take of our stuff with us."  (I just picture them trying to get through the courthouse metal detectors with all their bags.)  "My wife Peg is tired."

"She can come and hang out here while you go to Housing Court," I say.

So this morning, Peg comes in.  She is a slight, slender woman with sandy hair.

"Is Mike at Housing Court?" I ask her.

"No, not yet, he's a recycler, and he's bringing his scrap metal to Chicopee first so we have some money."

Later, we're trying to scrape some money together so one of our members, Jackie, who is volunteering for the day, can get a dollar item from the Burger King menu.  We find $4.55 in various drawers and pockets.

"Want to get a sandwich?" I say to Peg.

"No, that's OK, you don't have to give me any money."  But Jackie takes her in hand.

"Come on, let's walk over together," she says, and finally Peg goes with her.

Mike comes back.

"Are you going to Housing Court next?"

"Will it do any good?"  He doesn't outright say no, but I can tell he is scared.

"I don't know," I say.  "but it's worth a try.  Look-- let me try to see if I can get a lawyer to help you," I say, knowing it will be almost impossible.

I call Joel Feldman, and he's too busy, but he tells me there's a state law that requires the city to provide relocation funds, and he cites me Chapter and Section of the Mass General Laws.  I call Marion at Community Legal Aid, and get a little more of the picture, but they can't take the case on, either.  Finally I call Bernie back.

"Bernie, is there any chance at all you can help out this couple?  They're scared to go to Housing Court."

"Actually, I have two cases down there this afternoon, and if they come down, I can talk to them."

"Oh, My God, thank you so much," I say, and then I tell Mike and Peg.  Their faces light up; I describe Bernie so they can find him, and they immediately set out.

I call the Office for Housing back.

"I've been looking into the situation for you," the woman says, "and you should talk to the chief housing inspector.  He says the place has been condemned for months, the water was turned off months ago, and your couple aren't legal tenants but squatters."

"Well, they certainly thought they were legal tenants," I say.  "And look-- I just found out that the city is legally required to provide relocation benefits for families displaced because of condemnation."

 "Yes, but the city has no money."

"Well, I don't care if the Mayor has to take a pay cut," I say, and we both laugh, "the next time the city condemns a building you'd better be ready to help the tenants, or I'll take it to court."  I'm trying to be cordial and dead serious at the same time.

I call the building inspector, who seems to be expecting me.  He has the weary attitude of a cop who's been on the street too long.  He explains the situation of their house to me, says the house was boarded up once before, and that my couple are not legal tenants.

"But where are they to go?  They're very poor. And there's not much out there.  So much housing has come off the market since the tornado, and even before, and nothing's coming back on. What are people like them supposed to do?"

"Relocate," he says. " Have they looked in Westfield? South Hadley?  Chicopee?  Housing is cheaper there."

So we go on like this for a while, not really getting anywhere, me talking about the Rainville, 44 units of affordable housing for formerly homeless people, and him talking about the River Inn, where people lived in squalor and which he happily condemned, him talking about the elderly people who cleaned debris from their homes after the tornado instead of waiting for people to help them, me talking about tenants who don't have that option.
"Look," he says, "it's only going to get worse.  I've condemned 31 properties just since the first of the year, and what with foreclosures, I've got a lot more planned.  What am I supposed to do?  Let some homeless drug addicts burn themselves to death in a building with no heat, maybe killing some kids?  Remember the eight fire fighters in Worcester who died?

"You just don't know what I see.  I see whole families sleeping in basements, children right next to the boiler.  people in attics. People living without water, without heat and lights.  Addicts taking over buildings."

"I do know what you see," I say, my eyes closed, visualizing the children in the basement. "I see the same thing, only from the other end, when people come here to Arise."
Mike comes back from Housing Court to pick up his bags, and his eyes are smiling..

"We've got a week in the Bel-Air Motel in West Springfield," he says, "after that we're on our own. My wife's down at the bus station waiting for me.  We have to be there by six."

"That's what the judge said?"

"No, we never even got to the judge, Bernie and this lawyer from the city worked it out with us in mediation.  The city lawyer, she was really unfriendly."

"About my age, with long gray hair?"


"I know who you mean," I say.

He starts to leave then turns back and gives me an awkward hug.

"Thank you so much," he says.  "I can't believe how much you've helped us.  I'll be back tomorrow, but I just want you to know, if there's anything I can ever do for Arise, ever, I will."  He runs to catch his bus and I'm alone for the first time in a long day.

Now I can be as pissed off as I want, without feeling like I might scare Mike and Peg away.  I think about the city's de facto housing plan-- relocation?-- and the Governor's plan to limit access to family shelter even more.  I think about the brutal cuts in HUD funding looming over our heads.  And now I know exactly what I want Mike and Peg to do for Arise-- and for themselves.

I want them to get angry.

On Monday, April 2, we're having a rally against the criminalization of homelessness and poverty.  We'll be joining dozens of cities in the U.S. and Canada in the National Day of Action for the Right to Exist.  I want hundred of Mikes and Pegs to stand up and say, Enough is enough!  If the city and the state don't have the will to find solutions, then the people will.  There is no answer to anything that plagues us without housing. Print Friendly and PDF

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Announcing the Community Invest Initiative!!!!

               For many people, this last year has been filled with uncertainty.  Unemployment in the greater Springfield area is over 12%; evictions and foreclosures have dramatically increased and concerns for the health and safety of the local community have been devastated by large corporations.

                 In addition to the economic struggles, natural disasters have taken their toll. In June, a tornado touched down in Western Massachusetts, tearing through some of the poorest areas in West Springfield and Springfield. Hundreds of units of affordable rental units were lost.  As of today, less than 50 homes have been rebuilt and no apartments have been replaced.

                We at Arise are uniquely suited to work in the Springfield Area as we have had a presence in the community since 1985. When we first organized ourselves, we were just one of many.  Today, there are just a handful of organizations that focus on poverty and we are one of the only ones dedicated to organizing among the low income residents of the greater Springfield area. As a member driven organization, we work every day to speak out and stand up for our basic human rights.

                On February 1st, in order to better serve the community, we launched the Community Investment Initiative. The CII is a special fundraising initiative with a focus on developing a long term partnership with the people of the Pioneer Valley and Arise. Our goal is to find 200 people who are willing to partner with Arise as sustaining donors by donating $20, $35, or $50 a month.  If those 200 people are regularly able to give just $20 a month, we will be able to raise $48,000 to help the people of the Springfield area have a voice in the recovery efforts. This would be about 50% of our entire budget!

               "But Jenn," you say, "I'm not sure I can afford to help!" Please allow me to break it down to demonstrate how affordable it really is to contribute to Arise.  If you choose to donate the $20 a month level, that means just $0.67 a day or about 5 minutes of your working day if you make minimum wage, and mere seconds if you earn more. Many of us have regular coffee habit - we might spend $5 a day in coffee from a shop - If you take one day and make your coffee at home, you can donate the savings to Arise :-) (Or you can just go without the coffee for one day a week and tell your co-workers that you're getting cranky for charity ;-) The ways to save $5 a week are literally endless! 

                I would personally ask that you take the time to think about how you can partner with Arise and help our communities come together and help those who have been mostly deeply affected by disasters, poverty and oppression. Over the next few weeks, I and other Arise Volunteers will be calling and sending out mailings asking for your participation in this amazing new program! Please consider what you might contribute to help change the world! 
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Saturday, February 4, 2012

National Priorities Project Founder Greg Speeter passes away

I just want to say that Greg Speeter was one of the first people to take Arise seriously-- endlessly patient with our ignorance and one of the most truly kind people I've ever met.

Gazette, by  BARBARA SOLOW, Staff Writer 
HATFIELD - Friends and colleagues say Greg Speeter, founder and former director of the Northampton-based National Priorities Project, was a rare combination of visionary and everyman, a person whose legacy is an organization that brings the reality of the federal budget home.
Speeter, who died Thursday at age 68 after a long battle with cancer, was "just a force for good in all of our lives," said Northampton City Councilor Pamela Schwartz, who was the project's communications director for 10 years. "He had the intelligence and commitment and determination to make change, and we all got to benefit from that."
Speeter, a Minnesota native and longtime Hatfield resident, founded the nonprofit research group in 1983 as a way to help community groups better understand and respond to federal budget policy. The project's inaugural report, "In Defense of the First District," highlighted the loss of $54 million in social spending in the late U.S. Rep. Silvio Conte's district during the early years of the Reagan Administration.
The report - which was credited with changing how Conte voted on the budget - was also the first to explore the impact of federal spending at the congressional district level.
When the Bush administration launched the war in Iraq in 2003, Speeter's organization once again broke ground by calculating the cost of the conflict in terms of dollars diverted from local communities. The group's website offered a cost-of-war counter that helped visitors calculate how much their towns paid for the war in lost spending on health care, education and energy.
"That data was used in City Council resolutions and in national and local media reports from CNN to Democracy Now," Schwartz said. "It played a significant role in bringing the cost of that war home."
The NPP's ongoing research into how federal tax dollars are spent remains a powerful tool for activists and ordinary citizens, said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, who met Speeter in the early 1990s when she was a keynote speaker for his group's annual dinner.
"His legacy is that people across the country working on issues from housing to health care to ending wars can all do our jobs better," Bennis said. "Greg understood far earlier than anyone else the importance of truly understanding the budget."
Boundless optimism
Despite his keen interest in budget figures, friends and former co-workers say Speeter was the opposite of a dry statistician. A former organizer for Volunteers in Service to America in Springfield and for the Citizen Involvement Training Project in Amherst, he had a wry sense of humor and a boundless store of optimism, they say.
"Greg was the kind of person who loved talking to people, and could convince almost anyone to come over to his way of thinking," said Philip Korman of Northampton, NPP's development director for seven years.
"He could also tell you what the weather was on any day of any year," added Korman, who is now executive director of Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. "He just had that kind of memory."
Co-workers say Speeter brought humor and creativity into his work with the National Priorities Project.
Jo Comerford, who took over as executive director when Speeter stepped down in 2008, recalls him dragging enormous rolls of pennies onto airplanes and trains while traveling to speak at policy conferences and training sessions. The pennies were used to illustrate exactly how federal dollars were being allocated - how much for military spending and how much for social programs.
"I still remember how he looked carrying those huge rolls of coins," she said with a smile.
"I never saw him get discouraged about anything," Comerford added. "He always had a funny story."
"His passion was contagious," Schwartz said. "And he never lost faith."
Friends and family say Speeter doted on his grandson, 2, and reveled in the joys of life on his farm in Hatfield.
"He just made the most of that time," said Betsy Speeter, his wife of 36 years. The family is planning a memorial sometime in the next few months.
Speeter's commitment to helping ordinary citizens understand complex budget issues is more important than ever, say people who have used his organization's research.
"Here we are fussing about the very thought that we might reduce military expenditures at the same time we're being asked to reduce funding for all kinds of social programs," said U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst. "Greg's greatest effort was at showing, in extreme detail, how the enormous military footprint affects everything."
People interviewed Friday suggested Speeter's legacy may lie in creating a model for providing information in a way that activates as well as informs.
"He believed that the federal budget had to be understood by every single person," Comerford said, "so they could change it."
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