Ryan Harvey

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Veterans March on New York Stock Exchange, Port of Oakland

In News on November 4, 2011 at 1:09 am

Coordinated Actions Show Growing Power of Veterans in “Occupy Movement”

Photo: Democratic Underground

“Corporate profits are on the rise,” a crowd of forty mostly uniformed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans chanted during a march on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, “Soldiers have to bleed and die.”

The march, called for by the New York chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, (IVAW) was a response to the October 28th attack on Iraq veteran Scott Olsen, whose skull was broken when Oakland police fired a tear gas canister at short-range directly into his head.

Wednesday morning’s march also drew attention to the economic and social conditions faced by active-duty service-members and veterans across the country: disproportionate rates of sexual assault, a broken veterans’ health care system, unemployment, homelessness, and a country lacking in decent-paying jobs. “I’m worried about how I’m going to feed my daughter and put her through college,” former Army medic and Iraq veteran Eli Wright told reporters. “I’m basically out here with everybody else, fighting for economic justce for all of us.”

Later in the evening, a dozen veterans helped lead a 1,000-strong march to New York Police headquarters to protest police brutality both against participants in recent “Occupy” protests and around the country in general.

As night fell, a line of twenty-five veterans, mostly in full or partial uniform, stood at attention to help blockade entrances to the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest in the country. Photo by Jeff Patterson.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Bay-area chapters of IVAW, of which Scott Olsen is a member, coordinated a contingent of dozens of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for the “General Strike” march that brought tens of thousands to the streets and shut down the Port of Oakland.

Wednesday’s marchers were an attempt to catalyze this force and to show to the rest of the movement that veterans, especially those who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are with them.

“I am a two-time Iraq war veteran, and this is the only occupation I believe in,” IVAW organizer Joseph Carter said in a post-march speech at New York’s Zuccotti Park, site of the Occupy Wall Street encampment. “For too long our voices have been silence, suppressed, and ignored in favor of the voices of Wall Street!”

In a message from Occupy Wall Street’s veterans to other veterans and active-duty service-members, Carter urged them to join and support the movement. ”Show your support openly!“ he said. “Raise your voice and say: I am a veteran. I am the 99 Percent!”

IVAW has over 2,000 members and has been on the frontlines of the movement against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004. The organization will be hosting nationwide events on November 11th, Veterans Day, to focus on sexual violence in the military and the situations faced by female veterans both within and after the military. See their site for more information.

Occupy Brings Foreclosure Defense Movement To Baltimore

In News on November 2, 2011 at 3:05 am

Deutsch Bank Proceeds With Eviction

Originally published by the Independent Reader. Casey McKeel and Spencer Compton contributed to this article. Originally published January 12, 2012.

The movement to physically stop evictions and foreclosures made its debut in Baltimore on Tuesday, January 10th outside of the West Baltimore home of Lila Kara. Nearly 100 people associated with Occupy Baltimore assembled early in the morning to stop a Deutsch Bank foreclosure order against her house.

Those assembled included neighbors, some facing foreclosure themselves, and participants from Occupy Our Homes, a working group of Occupy Baltimore. They were joined by representatives from various labor unions and community organizations including the National Nurses Union, Unite HERE, Good Jobs Better Baltimore, and Occupy DC. The crowd had been anticipating the arrival of the Sheriff’s office, upon which participants would link arms and attempt to block the eviction.

Though initially proclaiming victory after a no-show, Sheriff’s officers and a representative assumed to be with Deutsch Bank who refused to identify herself proceeded with the eviction process on Wednesday morning, arriving unannounced. Workers changed the locks on the property and took inventory of Kara’s belongings, while about 20 people assembled in protest.

Kara’s home had been foreclosed after GMAC Mortgage advised her to refinance by defaulting on her payments so that she would qualify for modifications. After the papers were signed, Kara defaulted on her payments and GMAC moved to foreclose her home, which was subsequently auctioned to Deutsch Bank.

Kara’s paperwork was “robo-signed” by GMAC, a practice that the notorious mortgage company has come under fire for before. In January 2011, GMAC was forced to drop over 250 foreclosures in Baltimore alone when it surfaced that they had used similar methods on homeowners throughout the city.

Knowing that action was needed, Kara got in touch with Occupy Wall Street organizers in New York, who directed her to the Occupy Baltimore encampment at McKeldin Square. “I saw something on McKeldin Square but because I’m always in a hurry going to work when I pass by, I never paid any attention,” Kara said about finally coming to talk to organizers at Occupy Baltimore’s encampment at McKeldin Square.

At McKeldin, conversations led to organizing, and organizing led to action. “Lila came to us, and she asked for help,” says Occupy Baltimore organizer Athena Tsakos. “We did a lot of research and asked her a lot of questions, and we decided to fight alongside her. The banks railroaded her into this illegally.”

“It took almost every day making phone calls, talking to community leaders,” Tsakos says of the organizing for Tuesday’s action. Occupy Baltimore participants knocked on doors throughout the neighborhood and had conversations with residents.

“We have a nice turnout here from the community,” says Saba Nazeer, who helped knock on doors in the areas around Kara’s Union Square house.  “There are other people in this neighborhood who are in this situation, and some of them are here today.”

With the help of Occupy Baltimore and others, Kara has been able to rally her community to support her struggle, opening avenues to support the struggles of other neighbors in the future. “I feel like I have support,” she says, “I’m not scared.”

Kara’s next door neighbor Ebony was among those who stood with her throughout the day. “I’m excited that so many people are coming out to support her. I believe that citizens should stand up when there’s injustice,” she says. “A lot of elderly residents are going through the same things. The mortgage companies are telling them to stop making their payments in order to qualify for these modified loans, and then they foreclose on them. It should be illegal.”

“Everybody needs to stick together and come out for things like this,” said another neighbor of Kara’s. “If you put somebody on the street, you’re just opening up more problems,” he said. “If people ain’t got no home, that’s leading to trouble.

“It has hit Baltimore pretty badly,” Ebony continued. “You walk around and see homes that are abandoned that have been foreclosed on… I think it’s an issue of values. I don’t think [the mortgage companies] value people enough to keep them in their homes.”

The Baltimore action comes amid a wave of anti-foreclosure demonstrations around the country, most notably in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Rochester, and New York City. Though recent Occupy movement groups have taken center stage in the media for their participation, a number of community organizations have been crafting the tactic for a number of years, long before the Occupy movement emerged.

Boston-based CityLife/Vida Urbana has done everything from legal battles to locking themselves to properties facing foreclosure. The group claims a very high success rate in keeping people in their homes, and their organizing methods and tactics have been influential across the country.

Take Back The Land, which started in Miami but soon spread to other cities, specializes in “reclaiming” abandoned homes for people experiencing homelessness. They have recently sent organizers to various locations throughout the country to do trainings and talks with organizers working on launching similar campaigns, and were working with the group in Baltimore last week.

Occupy Baltimore has stressed that this is only the first action in what they hope will become a broader movement of physically defending homes from eviction and foreclosure.

“Don’t give up. Fight!” Kara says to those hearing her story. “This is the only way to make them open their eyes and ears.”

Photos, video, and more context to this story can be found at http://www.occupybaltimore.org

“I Risked My Life To Come Home To This?”

In News on October 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Veterans Respond To Attack That Critically Injured Former Marine

Scott Olsen served two tours in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps before coming home to a country lacking in jobs but thriving with high-level corruption. He “thought the banks pretty much run free and unregulated and are never held accountable for their actions,” his roommate and fellow veteran Keith Shannon told reporters.

Olsen was shot in the head Tuesday night with a tear-gas canister fired by Oakland police, fracturing his skull and causing his brain to swell. He had been marching with 2,000 others from Occupy Oakland after a brutal attack that morning ended with 100 arrests.

A participant of the Oakland protests who asked to remain anonymous told me over the phone Wednesday night that the march “was unbelievably peaceful” and that the attack “was totally unprovoked.”

“The police just let loose with teargas and flash bombs,” he said. “When [Olsen] was hit, the police were aiming their weapons directly at the crowd.”

Olsen’s friend and fellow veteran Aaron Hinde was at the Occupy San Francisco General Assembly when he heard that a veteran had been critically injured in Oakland. When he realized it could be Olsen, whom he described as “one of the nicest and warmest people I’ve met in a while,” he and organizers from the Civilian-Soldier Alliance began calling local hospitals until they found Olsen at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

Hinde, 29, served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003, told me that two off-duty EMTs who had been participating in the protests were said to have dropped Olsen off at the hospital.

“Now we are just waiting to hear from the neurosurgeon on if he’s going to need surgery or not,” Hinde said. “On top of that we are just waiting to see what kind of damage there is when he wakes up.”

Graphic footage of Olsen’s injuries spread quickly around the Internet; the second high-profile story of veteran participation in the “Occupy Movement”. Last week, a video of a fellow former Marine chastising a line of cops in New York for beating unarmed, peaceful people went viral.

The image of the 24 year-old with his camouflage jacket being carried bleeding through the streets by frightened strangers may well be one that is remembered for decades as a snapshot of this moment in time.

Unfortunately, Olsen is not the first Iraq veteran to sustain potentially life-threatening injuries from a police attack while peacefully demonstrating. In 2008, former Sergeant Nick Morgan was crushed by a police horse in New York as veterans and allies protested the Iraq-war and the treatment of veterans outside of the presidential debates.

Morgan, who served in Iraq from 2004-2005 with the 1st Cavalry Division, was peacefully demonstrating outside of Hofstra University when Nassau County police attacked the crowd with horses and batons. As he was pulled to the ground, a police horse’s hind legs came down on Morgan’s face, crushing his cheekbone and orbital, breaking his nose, and giving him a concussion. Police pushed those trying to protect him away and dragged him unconscious across a large intersection where he was arrested.

A week after the attack, Morgan underwent surgery to keep his eye from sliding into his sinus cavity and to hold the shattered bones in his face together.  Absorbable plates were inserted under his right eye to reconstruct his shattered lower orbit and a titanium plate remains screwed across his cheekbone. For over a year his vision was impeded until a second surgery removed the scar tissue that was causing the complications.

Similar to the police attack on Morgan, when a crowd rushed to aid Olsen after he was knocked to the ground on Tuesday, a police officer lobbed a Concussion grenade into the crowd to disperse them, possibly furthering Olsen’s injuries.

Morgan and Olsen are both members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, whose members have been participating in occupations around the country. Morgan says that many veterans have been and will continue to participate in this movement because “we have offered to put our lives on the line for this country just to come home and see that our rights are being blatantly disrespected.”

Indeed, there is a special sense of betrayal that veterans experiences when they realize that the political system they risked their life defending is prepared and willing to attack them for voicing opposition to its policies.

“I have lost all trust in the ‘dignity and integrity’ of the government and their police forces,” Morgan continues. “I don’t feel safe in the presence of politicians or cops, I feel the opposite.”

In a press release sent out Wednesday, Iraq Veterans Against the War condemned the attack on Olsen and the Occupy Oakland march: “It’s ironic that days after Obama’s announcement of the end of the Iraq War, Scott faced a veritable war zone in the streets of Oakland last night.” The organization has also established a fund for Olsen’s recovery.

It’s not going to be an easy thing to deal with,” Morgan says of Olsen’s recovery. “The mental ramifications of this are difficult to deal with, I can attest to that.”

Morgan filed a lawsuit against the Nassua county police in 2009 for violations of his 1st, 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments rights, as well as a litany of New York State and civil rights, and he is currently awaiting a January conference to set a trial date. The Nassau County Police Department has refused to settle out of court.

“We need to hit them on as many fronts as we can, including in the courts,” he says of both his lawsuit and the current wave of “occupy” protests. “The only way these people will listen is when you start breaking down their modes of power.”

Hinde says that it should not be surprising to see more and more veterans and service-members getting active in this movement. “As veterans and active-duty service-members we are very aware of the national and world politics at play,” he told me. “We are aware of what’s going on, we are on the streets with the occupy movement, and we are the 99 percent.”

Wednesday night, as 3,000 people marched back to Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland to tear down the fence and reoccupy it, a moment of silence was held in Chicago for Olsen and others injured by police violence, a solidarity march to be held in Tahrir Square in Cairo was announced via Twitter, and in New York, three marches snaked through downtown Manhattan chanting “New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York!”

Later, the Occupy Oakland general assembly voted 1607 to 46, with 77 abstentions, to call for a general strike of workers and students next Wednesday, November 2nd. Cities around the world are planning solidarity events as well.

Protests Grow in “Europe’s Next Greece”

In News, Thoughts & Analysis on October 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Hundreds “Occupy Dublin” As Wall Street Tactic Spreads

“What are you protesting against?” asks a man walking home from the pub last night. “Is this about the IMF?”

When I answer that yes, this is about the IMF, he gets excited. “Fuck the IMF,” he says as he starts to walk further into the crowd. For another hour, he enters conversations with various people at the camp site set up in front of the Central Bank of Ireland the day before after an internet call went out to “Occupy Dublin.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is hated in Ireland for their role last year in a major round of austerity measures that cut social services while bailing out Irish banks with over €85 billion. “The State has sold itself completely to the financial cartels,” a 42 year-old unemployed construction worker tells me.  “They are transferring more wealth out of Ireland than British landlords ever did, and these are Irish people doing it!”

With this anger, it is no surprise that the protest-camp, inspired by a similar camp outside of Wall Street, is quite popular here. A consistent stream of passersby and people who have heard about the camp on the news are stopping by day and night to lend support, talk politics, share stories, or find out how they can help.

Most people here heard via Facebook about the call for the camp and responded quickly. A man who helped put out the call says it is extra exciting because the camp is breaking with the media image of an Ireland that doesn’t protest or raise a fuss about the recession. “When I saw the videos from Wall Street,” he says, “I thought, ‘finally, people are waking up!’”

Many of those interviewed believe that this will not be ending anytime soon. “This is going to be a long thing,” Ashman says of the camp, adding that he and many others are willing to risk arrest to hold the space.

“We have to resist,” the unemployed construction worker mentioned earlier tells me. “Resistance means that power understands that there are consequences for their actions.”

“Europe’s Next Greece”

Along with the recent IMF takeover of major areas of Ireland’s economy and a major sell-off of natural resources in the energy sector to multinationals, the situation here has also been exacerbated by a decade-long “building bubble” that recently burst.

“The Dublin you are looking at today is not the Dublin of ten years ago,” says a man in his early 30s who has stopped by the encampment. He points out that a large amount of development projects, backed by Irish banks and pushed by EU economic concepts, remain empty years after development. From office parks to condominiums, these projects helped push Ireland into the debt crisis it has now entered.

A 17 year old secondary school student chimes in. “They were giving people loans for things that they knew they couldn’t afford,” he says. “Everyone saw it coming… It was just a matter of time.”

With this crisis emerging, former IMF chief economic Simon Johnson dubbed Ireland “Europe’s Next Greece” as he advocated last year for the government to “convert the liabilities of private banks into debts of the sovereign,” or in other words, to make the people pay for the crisis.

“That’s the main issue when we’re talking about housing Ireland,” a 22 year-old participant of the camp tells me. “Basically, tax-payers are now paying for all these empty buildings, so the banks can have money.” She blames large property owners and banks for colluding to make large profits on risky business, and then coming to the government to bail them out.

Like the subprime loan crisis the precipitated the recession in the U.S., risky investments by banks looking for “expanding” markets almost brought the whole economy down after the reality hit them that these loans would not be paid back. So, like in the U.S., they looked to the state for help, who then went into the pockets of tax-payers to subsidize their adventurous partners.

“They have socialized the debt of the bankers onto the people,” a participant at the camp tells me. “The people are angry… There is a significant anger at the situation that has not yet manifested, and the government knows this.”

Another area facing cuts has been the healthcare sector. 26 year-old Ashman, from Limerick, originally came to the encampment to lend his support but ended up joining it. He tells me in calm anger how the IMF situation has led to the closing of emergency units in hospitals surrounding Limerick, in which many of his relatives work. Now, he says, people may have to travel up to an hour to receive emergency care.

“And on top of that, the government has turned around and taken the retirement money of people like my family, who have paid taxes their whole lives.” In fact, the Irish state agreed with the IMF to loot the pension funds of public workers to help pay the IMF back for their loan. “They gave the pensions of these hard-working people to the banks,” Ashman says.

One of the organizations backing the Occupy Dublin call is the Enough Campaign has called for a referendum on the austerity measures, a move that was defeated by the government last year. They point out that in Iceland, a similar referendum exposed the reality of the public’s position on austerity for the people and bail-outs for the banks; “Last year the people of Iceland demanded the right to have a referendum on their IMF deal and in March 2010 a massive 93 percent of the people rejected the deal,” their website reads. “There is an overwhelming democratic case for putting an agreement with such profound implications for the economic and social future our country to a referendum of the people.

In a sense, what the sub-prime loan sharks did is what the IMF and its partner organization the World Bank have done consistently throughout the world; large-scale lending for infrastructural projects in the name of “economic development” that have more than often failed to bring about the economic changes promised. The result is further debt-burden, followed by IMF-introduced austerity measures to reallocate public money to paying the debt back.

Now that same tactic is turning around on Ireland and many other European countries. “The American dream has become the Irish nightmare,” an unemployed former IT manager tells me, “or rather, the global nightmare.”

Only two days into it, one can see that if this protests gains momentum, it could create a very big political situation for the Irish state.

Democracy on Hold in Benton Harbor

In News on May 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Michigan emergency financial management law “a violation of constitution,” say residents.

Originally published May 3 at Truth-Out.

While the country watched the protests in Wisconsin spill into the State Capitol Building, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was passing a controversial bill that many consider a direct attack on the constitutional rights of the citizens of Michigan.

Public Acts 4-9, also called The Emergency Financial Management bill, gives already existing “Emergency Financial Managers” (EFMs) sweeping new powers, allowing them to literally suspend the entire elected bodies of municipalities they deem to be failing, and suspend collective bargaining agreements with unions for up to five years.

Immediately after the bill passed, an EFM took complete control over the city of Benton Harbor as well as Detroit’s public school system. EFMs are also in power in Pontiac and Ecorse.

As many as 400 accountants, lawyers, school employees and city workers are taking classes as part of the new law, studying corporate-sector strategies for municipal application. One class, “Dealing with the Unionized Workforce,” alludes to union-busting techniques.(1)

Having studied, these teams are ready to attack the local governments of Michigan to restructure their finances. “A SWAT team is an OK way to look at this,” Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone told Bloomberg last week of the trainees.(2)

Many Michigan residents, especially those experiencing poverty or hanging on to medium-income jobs, are outraged. Protests, lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and local municipalities and calls for Governor Snyder to be recalled have unfolded with the bill’s passing.

“It’s a dictatorship,” Marian Kramer of the National Welfare Rights Union in Detroit says. “They are restructuring the government to protect the interests of corporations, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about us.”

“They have violated the constitution for the residents of Benton Harbor,” says Rev. Pinkney of Benton Harbor. “This is a constitutional issue.”

He and hundreds of others have been organizing and participating in demonstrations, lawsuits and other forms of protest against the bill.

Benton Harbor residents say that Whirlpool, the world’s leading manufacturer of major home appliances, and which once employed many in Benton Harbor in manufacturing jobs, might have a role in the EFM law as well; State Rep. Al Pscholka, who introduced the bill, formerly sat on the board of a Whirlpool-funded nonprofit in Benton Harbor now behind a controversial development on the town’s beach. And his former boss Rep. Fred Upton is a Whirlpool heir who owns property near the development.

Sucked Down the Whirlpool

Benton Harbor has long dealt with abject poverty, job loss from outsourcing and low-level corruption.

Earlier this month, former City Manager Richard Marsh settled a $192,000 lawsuit accusing other city officials of conducting fundraisers in the name of the city, but not turning over the money, and of burying a report on the city’s financial situation.

The city government has been profiled for government accountability lapses in the past as well. But many residents say that appointing an EFM with no legal accountability whatsoever will only makes such problems worse.

“You as a citizen have no rights,” Marian Kramer says. “The EFM only responds to the governor and his committee, not to the people.”

Benton Harbor residents point out the state government’s two-faced approach to their community. They see Whirlpool as the real criminal, overshadowing anything a city commissioner could do in a lifetime.

Whirlpool, which has its global headquarters in Benton Harbor, has long controlled the city. In 1986, at the behest of business leaders, Benton Harbor was designated as an “Enterprise Zone” to give tax exemptions to the private sector. Whirlpool quickly ate up the exemptions.(3)

At the same time, the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor area was losing over 5,000 jobs.(4) Whirlpool continued layoffs into the ’90s, until in 1996 they laid off half of the workers at their Evansville, Indiana, plant.

Today, less than one-third of Whirlpool’s workforce is inside the country.(5)

In 2003, as anti-police brutality riots broke out in Benton Harbor, Whirlpool was complaining that further tax incentives in a proposed energy bill were not enough to keep them from moving more jobs overseas. Apparently, the $17.40-an-hour jobs at Evansville were too pricey.

“A tax credit that creates a benefit for our refrigeration business is certainly welcome, but isn’t sufficient to eliminate the need for us to consider the possibility that we move some production to Mexico,” Tom Catania, Whirlpool’s vice president of government relations, threatened at the time. (6)

The threats worked and more favorable legislation passed in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Thanks in part to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it poured into lobbying, Whirlpool has since received over $500 million dollars in tax breaks.(7)

After the new tax incentives started, Whirlpool announced it would soon be moving its Evansville and Fort Smith, Indiana, plants to Mexico, laying off another 1,200 workers(8) and leaving up to 1,500 more out of jobs through the overall “ripple effect.”(9)

This year, the job-exporting mega-manufacturer will receive multiple government handouts once again, including over $300 million in energy tax credits from the federal government – which will account for one-third of its annual profit(10) – a $19.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, $19 million in tax incentives from the Michigan Economic Growth Authority(11) and almost $1 million from the State of Ohio.(12) The company has also received over $500 million in tax credits in the last six years from the Brazilian government.(13)

And, like General Electric, Whirlpool’s effective tax rate for 2010 will be zero percent.(14)

Subsidized by these tax incentives and government handouts, Whirlpool last week announced a three-percent rise in first-quarter profits, up from $164 million to $169 million.(15) Whirlpool’s sales last year topped $17 billion.

Residents See Whirlpool Role in EFM Law

Whirlpool has often used the “job-creation” myth as a mean of getting government handouts and calming Benton Harbor residents. But, according to the Detroit Economic Club, Whirlpool’s Michigan workforce is almost 100 percent white collar. Benton Harbor is a blue-collar town. (16)

Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig exposed this recently, describing the new Whirlpool headquarters project for which the company has been promised $19 million in tax breaks from the state. “We have historical reasons [for staying in Benton Harbor], as well as having 4,000 good people here,” he told a crowd in March. “All that could change that equation for us is whether in the future we can continue to attract talent to the state.”(17)

So, the “knowledge economy” jobs for which Michigan is paying are being marketed to people outside of Michigan.

To keep a clean public image, Whirlpool funds and largely controls a nonprofit in Benton Harbor called the Cornerstone Alliance, which has a revolving door with Whirlpool and the Whirlpool Foundation for its staff members and employees.

Cornerstone has long served the interests of Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, creating a façade through which the company can pass off its actions as being in the interests of “the community.”

“They’re an arm of Whirlpool,” says Carol Drake of Friends of Jean Klock Park.

Carol has been fighting for the preservation of the historic park against a consortium of developers led by Whirlpool. Her organization has tracked the evolution of developers’ plans to seize the public park, which she says have been in the works for decades.

Their current project is called Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf resort to include luxury homes, a water park, high-end condominiums and other similar upscale amenities.

Both Whirlpool and Cornerstone are partners in this development, which will span Benton Harbor’s public beach. Jean Klock Park was deeded to the people of Benton Harbor almost 100 years ago, but the central area of it was turned over to developers in 2008.While the city government of Benton Harbor was complicit in this deal, newly elected commissioners have officially withdrawn the city’s support. “I don’t think any good government would show their support when we’ve given much more than any other entity,” Benton Harbor City Commissioner Duane L. Seats II said.(18)

But those commissioners no longer have any power due to Joe Harris’ recent suspension of all local government activity through the Emergency Management law.

This has led some to believe that the EFM bill is being used here to ensure that the Harbor Shores project continues.

“The true intent of the Emergency Management law here is so that the Whirlpool Corporation can complete what they started long ago,” Carol says, “the takeover of the park and of the City of Benton Harbor.”

Residents point out that Pscholka, who introduced the bill, was vice president of the Cornerstone Alliance’s Chamber of Commerce from 1996 to 2004.

“To say that there’s no connection between Harbor Shores and this legislation is absurd,” says Julie Weiss. “They are the ones who need to explain themselves.”

Julie has been active for many years in the fight to protect the park. Her organization, Protect Jean Klock Park, was founded in 2008 to support federal litigation against the National Park Service, The Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Benton Harbor.

“Pscholka was also a staffer for U.S. Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI),” Julie says. Representative Upton owns over $1 million in Whirlpool stock and pushed hard for the privatization of Jean Klock Park. His grandfather was a co-founder of Whirlpool.

For its part, Whirlpool has donated former factory land appraised at $20 million in anticipation of development at Harbor and has offered over $15 million in economic assistance and loans.

Meanwhile, the state of Michigan has offered up to $120 million in tax breaks for the project.(19)

The Harbor Shores plan is being run through a nonprofit called Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment, Inc., a collaboration among Whirlpool, Cornerstone and a new formation called The Consortium for Community Development.

The company in charge of developing Harbor Shores, Evergreen Development, was formed in 2005 in anticipation of the project. Evergreen’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffery Gilbertson is the former senior director of Financial Operations, International at General Growth Properties (GGP), one of the largest mall owners in the United States.

While Gilbertson was joining up with Evergreen in 2008, his former employer, after amassing $27 billion in debt, was filing what has been called the largest real estate bankruptcy in US history.(20)

Meanwhile, workers at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor were announcing a major campaign against GGP, which parallels the fight in Benton Harbor in many ways. A new report released this week shines light on these issues and perhaps puts the Harbor Shores project in Benton Harbor under a new light.

“The Inner Harbor,” the report reads, “has become a glaring example of poverty zone development, with low-quality jobs and abusive wages and conditions. As in other poverty zone developments, the private developers – General Growth Properties and Cordish Companies – and their investors insisted on secure profits through access to public subsidies and advantageous leases with the vendors who run the businesses in the development.”

That might sound all too familiar to the residents of Benton Harbor.

Development vs. Fair Development

It was recently announced that the 2012 and 2014 Senior PGA Tournament, brought to you by Whirlpool’s own KitchenAid, would be played at Harbor Shores.

“The Senior PGA, KitchenAid brand and Whirlpool Corporation’s alliance presents an opportunity to show how business and golf can help to strengthen and transform lives and communities,” said Jeff Noel, corporate vice president of Whirlpool Corporation.(21)

Instead of hiring locals whose taxes have helped fund the golf course’s development to work the tournament, the PGA is asking for 1,500 volunteers.(22)

This is a bit ironic since one of the big promises with the Harbor Shores development is that it will, according to their numbers, create 4,739 jobs. This number has been used in both the media and in the community as the great defense of the project.

The figure was first announced in an impact study conducted by students from the Kelley MBA Sports & Entertainment Academy with assistance from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

But there’s a catch. When the W.E. Upjohn Institute conducted their own in-depth study afterwards, they found that the previous study’s numbers were skewed. The authors had computed the employment numbers as “job years,” which, according to the new report, “is not a reporting technique generally used by professional economists.”

“In essence, a ‘job year’ is one year of employment,” the report states. “By this measure, a solitary individual who works at the same job for 10 years would be reported as 10 ‘job years.’” The Upjohn Institute reports all employment impacts in terms of conventional jobs or employment levels, which is compatible with standard, publicly-reported employment statistics.”

It turns out the numbers were off by as much as 3,123. The second report puts the total employment count during the highest employment year (which in the report is 2012) at 1,616 jobs. That includes projected tourism employment and development construction.

These numbers also don’t account for how long those jobs will last, how much they will pay and how much skill they will involve. What we do know from the reports is that the majority of the jobs created will be in construction, meaning they will only last a few years.

Again, the Baltimore report describing working conditions at the Inner Harbor gives insight into what these kinds of developments mean when they talk about jobs: “The vendors, many but not all extremely powerful and wealthy companies themselves, maximize their profits by minimizing their unfixed costs (in particular labor), which creates a downward pressure on wages and working conditions for the vendors’ employees who work at the very bottom rung of the economic ladder.”

“In short,” it continues, “the development’s profits do not trickle down, but are instead squeezed upward from the workers.”

The promise of low-paying jobs and temporary employment will not lift Benton Harbor’s current residents out of poverty. Residents say they have been hearing similar things for years, but little has changed.

“They aren’t going to bring any jobs that are going to sustain a family,” Carol says.

Though there have been some improvements since the harsh years of the late 1970s, unemployment rates in Benton Harbor are still far above the national average (15 percent today with unofficial claims as high as 70 percent) and almost half of the city’s residents are now living at or below the poverty line. While the unemployment rate is lower than it was when the 1986 tax incentives started, almost half of the city’s residents have moved out since then, which helped bring that percentage down.

“They had to run the city down as far as they possibly could so [Whirlpool] would qualify for all the state money,” Carol suggests, “so they could create this development.”

One typical pattern with this type of development is that, after completion, property values rise and renters must move on to cheaper areas. For instance, while Fred Upton and Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig will see their property values rise in St. Joseph, the 60 percent of Benton Harbor residents who rent their houses will not.(23)

If poor residents are priced out and forced to other places, the result on paper will be that the overall income of Benton Harbor rose as a result of the Harbor Shores development.

“They want us to leave here as soon as possible,” says Reverend Pinkney.

As the Baltimore model has shown, developers in positions like Harbor Shores often masquerade as an economic engine for a city while leaching public money to make big profits.

“Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a sad example of what broken promises for economic prosperity and jobs can do to a community,” says Ashley Hufnagel, a leadership organizer with the United Workers.

“It is workers and the community who end up paying the price for poverty-zone developments through poverty wages, lack of healthcare, barriers to education and more. That’s why harbor workers in Baltimore are holding the developers accountable and calling for Fair Development, an alternative model that respects human rights, maximizes public benefits and is sustainable.”

A demonstration has been called for in Benton Harbor on June 18, the anniversary of the 2003 riots. Another larger demonstration will take place during the 2012 PGA Championships at Harbor Shores.

Footnotes:

1. See here.
2. See here.
3. See here.
4. See here.
5. See here.
6. “Good Jobs First, Layoffs at Whirlpool: Costs to the Evansville Metro Area and Indiana Taxpayers.” Commissioned by IUE-CWA Local 808 and AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council Washington, DC. April 2010.
7. See here.
8. See here.
9. “Good Jobs First, Layoffs at Whirlpool: Costs to the Evansville Metro Area and Indiana Taxpayers.” Commissioned by IUE-CWA Local 808 and AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council Washington, DC. April 2010.
10. See here.
11. See here.
12. See here.
13. See here.
14. See here.
15. See here.
16. See here.
17. See here.
18. See here.
19. See here.
20. See here.
21. See here.
22. See here.
23. See here.

Photos from Madison, WI – April 4th MLK Commemorative

In News on April 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Also see my video page and my photos from March 12, February 27, February 26February 25 and February 24!

Photos from Mass Rally in Madison, WI – March 12

In News on March 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Also see my video page and my photos from February 27, February 26, February 25 and February 24!

Dispatches from the Madison Fight: #4

In News on February 28, 2011 at 10:45 pm

For my latest updates, follow me on Twitter and visit Defend Wisconsin’s website!

Also see Dispatch #1, Dispatch #2, and Dispatch #3.

Sunday, Feb 27 (Day of Civil Disobedience)

Sunday was the first day I felt nervous about the situation inside the Capitol.

A lot of folks slept elsewhere Saturday night, as the wet day of marching in the snow had left many without warm, dry clothes. Our numbers were likely around 100 or 150 when we first got moving.

Some folks slept in to prepare for what was anticipated to be a possible night in jail. Others busily got preparations together for 4:00pm. That was our deadline to leave the Capitol or risk arrest by refusing.

The night before many had vowed to stay after 4:00 and do various actions. Others would be arriving throughout the day to stay with us after 4:00.

As noon approached, the nervous feelings affected peoples’ faces. There was an unspoken fear that we might not have the numbers we needed to pull off a successful civil disobedience that would have the political impact we desired. We couldn’t fall short this far into the occupation.

Organizers texted and made calls to make sure folks were going to turn out. Others got the open-mic started and began beating away at the circle of drums in the atrium. Others just relaxed and tried to prepare for arrest.

Around 12:00, numbers started to pickup, to our relief. Like the other days, marches came and paraded through the atrium. Firefighters, teamsters, teachers, steamfitters, and more. When the firefighters came upstairs, many with their helmets on, anxiety started to ease. We we’re gonna be fine.

A steady stream of people came in the doors from two directions after noon, and by 1:00 the police had shut the doors due to the overflowing crowd. There were 2,500 people inside with us according to the police.

Many headed outside as 4:00 approached, to stand in solidarity with those risking arrest.

Inside a huge group stood listening to speakers until the Capitol loud-speaker crackled at 3:30: “The Capitol is now closed,” a voice announced. “Those who wish to leave should go downstairs.”

Slowly, a few dozen folks headed for the ground floor, but to the surprise of some of us, most stayed: firefighters, the head of the police union, steel workers, hundreds of students, teachers, folks from the AFSCME union, and more. I estimated that at 4:00 we had up to 600 or 700 people inside with us.

4:00 rolled by without incident, and a festive atmosphere emerged with drums, dancing, a 100-person sit-in, and a 200-person human chain linking around the entire second floor balcony. We just partied and enjoyed what could be the end of the transformative space folks had created inside the Capitol.

Sometime around 6:30 or so, word came to organizers that Republican Rep. Dane Schultz had announced he would switch his vote to stand against the anti-union bill. A massive cheer went up followed by a long session of dancing, music, cheering, hugs, and phone calls.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a rumor. Schultz’s office today denied the Senator made a statement, but Schultz remains silent about how he will vote, leading many to think he may stand with labor.

Still festive from what would have been amazing news, at 7:00 we got official word from the police: We would not be arrested, we could have dinner delivered, and we would move to the ground-floor to allow cleaning crews to do their job upstairs. A huge party followed that didn’t end until 9:00.

$2,000 worth of pizza was waiting for us as we moved sleeping materials, bags, random belongings, and organizing materials downstairs. Exhausted and perhaps absurdly calm following all the preparation for the worst, most folks just laid back and talked.

Shortly after dinner I was moved to perform some of my songs to a crowd of folks in the atrium, which was one of my goals for the weekend! The show was lovely, a very meaningful setting for me to offer my words and music in exchange for the massive amount of leadership, commitment, and sacrifice that so many in the room embodied and displayed in the work they had done in building this movement.

Folks slept shortly after my performance, laying all over the atrium and hallways of the Capitol.

I said goodbyes to new friends as I left the next morning for my trip back to Baltimore. It was sad to say goodbye to this creation, this community of massive energy and spirit. What was created inside was truly a beautiful thing, a temporary home that really grew on me.

As I sat on the plane, a laid-off school teacher and friend of mine, texted me. “They are not letting anyone into the building, State Police are blocking the doors.” A crowd gathered outside, reaching up to 1,000 people by the afternoon.

Governor Scott Walker’s big budget announcement is on Tuesday, and a massive march has been called for to confront it. And though the Fab 14 have still not returned, this week could yield huge results for the better or worse.

For victory in Wisconsin, and for a revived U.S. movement for justice and human rights!

Videos from Occupied Capitol, Madison, WI.

In News on February 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Follow-up interview with the officer who made the speech below. He discusses the situation facing police today, both those risking arrest and those possibly making them.

A Wisconsin Teacher Speaks in Occupied Capitol, Feb 26.

Firefighters Union marches through the occupied state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. February 26, 2011.

Iraq Veterans Against the War members, from Wisconsin and surrounding states, express solidarity with movement to defend Wisconsin unions!

Iraq Veteran Aaron Hughes talks to the crowd in the occupied State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Aaron also reads part of Iraq Veterans Against the War’s statement urging members of the Wisconsin National Guard to resist orders if they are mobilized to repress massive strikes that may come in the next few weeks.

Police Union announces solidarity with students, workers, and Wisconsin residents occupying the State Capitol in Madison. February 24, 2011.

Dispatches from the Madison Fight: #3

In News on February 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm

For my latest updates, follow me on Twitter and visit Defend Wisconsin’s website!

Friday, 25 and Saturday, Feb 26

Also see Dispatch #1 and Dispatch #2.

It is hard to remember which events happened on which days. Inside the Wisconsin Capitol Building everything was always dimly lit and coated with a strange mix of complete exhaustion and wild adrenaline.

I am now heading home from the amazing situation in Madison, inspired, energized, and hopeful. My nervousness about the outcome of the movement here is comforted by my first-hand experience with the commitment, creativity, broad-scope, and power of the movement that has coalesced in the 2-week occupation of the State Capitol Building of Wisconsin

I arrived Thursday night, as I wrote in my previous article, where house Republicans rushed through a vote on the controversial anti-union “repair bill” without hearing all the testimonies of Democratic lawmakers.

Instead of taking this as a defeat, we celebrated our power, taking the vote as an expected event. We let the anger at the way the vote was forced through inspire us to greater energy, to larger crowds on Saturday, and a large turn-out for civil disobedience on Sunday.

Friday saw an all-day open-mic in the center atrium of the Capitol. Speakers from various labor unions included auto-workers, steelworkers, teamsters, police, firefighters, teachers, and students.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War addressed the crowd, urging the National Guard to refuse any orders given to them by the Governor to act against strikers in the event that the anti-union bill passes the Senate.

Folks from all over Wisconsin came to spend the weekend in the occupied Capitol, and many spoke to the crowd. A public school teacher with 20 years on the job told the people assembled Friday she had worked for three other employers over her summer break to pay her bills. “And now I want to say to you: Don’t give up! Don’t give up at all!”

When the firefighters union and then the police officers union marched through on Friday, they were received with massive applause and chants of “thank you!”. The significance of their presence was two-fold. For one, having the police on your side is helpful when you have been sort-of breaking the law for two weeks, and it consistently helped the movement maintain its presence in the Capitol.

But perhaps more significant to the other unions present, both the firefighters and police unions were exempt from the legislation’s most opposed policy: taking away collective bargaining rights for all public sector unions for everything except minor disputes over wages.

So the firefighters and police officers who marched were not being affected, but they were standing with the others everyday, many after working 12-hour shifts, to fight to defend other workers facing assault by the Governor and Republican lawmakers.

Also sticking their necks out were the Democrats in the State Government. Their support of the movement and defiant speeches in the debates around the bill were celebrated universally by those occupying the building and by those who came to march. They were folk heroes of a sort, but they often were seen joining the crowds, coming down to make speeches, or allowing us to use their offices to coordinate the occupation.

Then there was the legendary “Fab 14”, the 14 Democrats of the Senate who have been in Illinois for over 2 weeks now to delay the vote on the anti-union bill, all the while devising a strategy to officially challenge the legality of the tactics used to ram it through.

I have never seen such a dynamic relationship between politicians and peoples’ movements. It perhaps bares similarity with the “dance” of power we read about in recent Latin American democratic states.

Friday night was a little quieter than the previous night, as folks caught rest in preparation for the major march on Saturday. Many worked on signs and banners, further decorating and personalizing, or rather, movementalizing, the Capitol.

Every wall in the entire Capitol was covered in posters, signs, notes, and decorations. Notes to those using the space were everywhere, telling folks where to find food, where to charge their phones, where to get medical aid, and where to find childcare. I came across a bottle of hand sanitizer that someone had taped to a wall, which accompanied the many signs urging folks to wash their hands and keep them sanitized to help maintain a healthy crowd.

Food was delivered constantly, much of it coming from Ian’s pizza, now a global legend of sorts. Ian’s somehow went viral via Facebook, and donations came literally from all over the world to them to support the occupation. They brought in tens of thousands of dollars in donations, several from Egyptians who were watching the movement unfold after overthrowing dictator Hosni Mubarak last month.

Other food was donated or paid for by the many organizations that were supporting us. Coffee was almost always available, as were granola bars, cereal, tea, and bread.

A medical station had been set up by a group of action medics (street protest/activist medics) and local EMTs and paramedics. The medic station was always packed with cold/flu medicine, vitamin C, sanitizer, and pretty much anything you’d need to treat basic to intermediate medical problems.

A childcare station was housed in a quiet area on the second floor of the Capitol, where volunteers hangout with young folks whose parents were participating in almost endless speeches, marches, meetings, interviews, and conversations. The childcare area was germ-free and kept very clean. You had to remove your shoes to enter and no photographs were allowed without permission from a parent or guardian. The walls were lined with drawings and posters, ranging from the quite political to fun, creative images.

Above the childcare area was a media room, where correspondents from major papers like the LA Times and Al Jazeera worked alongside folks from local papers and the activist press (such as myself). In the week before, organizers from the Teachers Assistance Association (TAA), who were more than instrumental in the background workings of the occupation, had setup a sort-of command center/situation room in one of the Fab 14′s offices. It was cleared out however and their operations shifted to a corner downstairs.

The second floor was the real center of the occupation, with many people’s sleeping areas covering the floor. Impromptu drum circles, concerts, speeches, and performances would occur almost constantly, but a relatively quiet period would be respected when folks started to turn in for the night.

At the center of the 2nd floor was a huge circle that looked down on the first floor atrium, where the open-mic was. At any point, one could see almost everyone who was in the building, as most spent their time looking over an edge down onto the atrium.

A typical day started with a few hours of relative quiet, followed by the beginning of music/speaking on the open-mic. Then around noon marches would spontaneously arrive to the doors, marching through the center of the atrium to massive cheers. This would happen almost every half hour.

Saturday started with trickles of people coming to the Capitol, and by noon thousands had packed the building, with many more thousands outside. The marches through the atrium Saturday were gigantic, with hundreds of firefighters, police, teachers, steamfitters, plumbers, and teamsters marching through.

Outside snow had started to fall, and a massive AFL-CIO rally was being held on the steps. Crowds marched in huge circles around the massive Capitol, both on the inner sidewalk and on the streets and sidewalks across the lawn. Estimates from the police and media suggested the crowds reached from 70,000 to 100,000 people, making it possibly the largest protest in Wisconsin history.

I can’t express enough the level of energy one felt everywhere they went. Every 3 minutes inside there was a massive roar, followed by clapping, cheering, horns, drums, and yelling. This went from 11:00 am until almost 9:00 pm every night. A constant celebration of social power. No one could escape that feeling.

Saturday night ended with a smaller crowd than anticipated staying the night inside, as many went home to dry up after hours in the cold snow.

Around 9:00 p.m.,  a major meeting was held by the TAA, student organizers, union reps, and others who were interested in making a plan for the next day. Meetings often lasted late into the night.

Others rested up: Tomorrow would be a big day, the day we had been told that the orders would be given to the Chief of the Capitol Police to move us out of the building. However, the police had already expressed their total opposition to moving us out, and had stayed inside with us the last night to ensure this. Some of their strongest spokespeople would stay with us again Sunday night.

Many were unsure if we would be moved or not, and a mild anxiety crept over the room. But we were powerful and confident that no matter what happened, it would be a victory. Plans were being drawn to ensure that result.

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