Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Friday at the U.S. Social Forum

Another Hot, Depressing Day in Atlanta

Things were a little quieter at NEOCH heading into a pre-holiday weekend. I got a call from the Mayor's office that they want to meet to talk. Laurie Rokakis at Dennis Kucinich's office put a fire under HUD to get us the Continuum of Care contract. More and more people called wanting to come to the meeting with the foundations. We have asked for letters instead. Friday was the first day that we began to see people sending in funds to help. The staff of NEOCH are optimistic and the Board have scheduled a series of meetings to work through this crisis.

I finally got to see the main shelter in Atlanta. This is a huge facility at least twice as big as 2100 Lakeside shelter in Cleveland. Anita Beaty, a friend from the Civil Rights struggles and a fellow NCH Board member, showed me around the Metro Atlanta Task Force building. They have an emergency shelter, transitional facility, offices, a drop in center, a 24 hour help line, national service offices, and an art gallery all in the same building. They have big plans for the building with huge renovations and very little support from the power structure in Atlanta. Emory, the City, Coca Cola, and SunTrust are not big supporters of homeless people, and this makes Anita's job all the more difficult. There are these offensive signs on the streets around the shelter basically saying "Don't even think about talking to anyone or you will be fined" as part of the anti-panhandling ordinance that was passed. They regularly ticket homeless people for jaywalking around the shelter, and have tried to move the shelters outside the City limits.

The shelter is very hot and of course overcrowded. It is amazing how they have made due with so many obstacles. People always say that I am too confrontational with people and institutions in Cleveland. I would love to change places with Anita or the people from San Francisco or New York or Los Angeles for a month, and then the power structure in Cleveland would see that I am one of the more easy going homeless advocates in the country. I think 2100 Lakeside is nicer than the Task Force shelter, but they are much older and they have a lot more room to grow than Lakeside.

On the third day of the US Social Forum, I went to a workshop by the Bush Crimes Against Humanity Commission, which met last year and found President George Bush guilty of violating the Geneva Convention and violating other mandates of the UN Charter. This was conducted by lawyers using the binding treaty that the US signed when they joined the United Nations. Treaty law is binding on the United States, but seems to be ignored today. Anyway, they investigated five areas of crimes:
  1. Katrina/Gulf Coast Recovery
  2. Iraq War and Reconstruction/Governance of Iraq
  3. Torture/Detention/Extraordinary Rendition of prisoners to torture countries
  4. Global Warming
  5. Global AIDS
They took testimony and had a panel of left and far left judges who found Bush and the Administration guilty. The group was pushing a DVD that is available about the commission. They had very persuasive evidence on the first three, but anyone with any sense could see that Bush has overstepped his authority and has severed our relationship with the rest of the world. It is sad that the rule of law has broken down and the checks and balances that are the foundation of our government were toppled with the destruction of the World Trade Center. They did not talk about the last two crimes. I missed the political prisoner and homeless people organizing themselves discussion, because it was on the other side of town.

The next workshop was by a group in New England called the Freedom Center called "Who's Calling Who Crazy? Psychiatry and the Oppressed. This workshop was way overcrowded for such a small room. The presenters were very opposed to psychiatric medicine and the DSM IV. They used acupuncture, therapy, and yoga as an alternative. The presenters felt that most people have issues at one point in their life that could all fall in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders IV. It does not help that homosexuality, PMS, and other common traits have all been listed as mental disorders in the past. One of the women had been diagnosed by the U.S. Military as mentally ill and discharged. She was given heavy psychotropic drugs that changed her personality and had bad side effects until she found the Freedom Center. This was a two hour attack on the NAMI and the American Psychiatric Association and the large number of people including kids who are on very strong brain altering medicine in America. I liked it, but it was just too crowded. I am sorry that I stepped on that woman's hand as I was leaving. Hope you feel better.

Finished up the day over at the Civic to hear Indigenous Voices Native Americans from the Cherokee Nation, the native Alaskans as well as Native Hawaiians. This group has fought water, oil and mineral rights all over America. The Hawaiians want a return of their independence and a reduction in the military presence in Hawaii. The Inuit and the other 200 some nations in Alaska do not want to be lumped together into only a handful of groups that receive recognition from the US government. They just want to be left alone to use the land and resources for their own survival. The Native American population has good reason not to trust any of the rest of the country. They have 500 years of broken treaties, theft of land and resources, and forced migration. There was some talk of genocide of the Native American population. We just did not have the heart to stay through the immigrant rights plenary with the raids in Northeast Ohio and all that has happened with the immigration debate our depression quota was full by 8 p.m.

I got to talk to Larry Bressler, Priscilla from STOP, and Steve Cagan again. I also got to see Nicole formerly of Merrick House, Annette from May Dugan, as well as Heather West from the Deaf and Deaf Blind group. It was an interesting day, but again little hope. Maybe I am just picking the wrong workshops or not doing enough networking, but I did not feel uplifted. I saw more corruption, exploitation, greed, and hostility. The people attending the forum were great, and are the best and the brightest visionaries we have to offer, but we have huge hurdles to overcome.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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