Thursday, July 18, 2013

3 Days of Marching....What Happens Next?

Just one hour before the Zimmerman verdict came in I found myself filled with a mix of fear, guilt, and sorrow. I ended up posting the following thought on my personal Facebook page:

 “When I think about all the punk ass, pot smoking, underage drinking, prank pulling, sneaking out at night type behavior (and worse) I pulled when I was a teenager it can be a little embarrassing. To think that a cell phone picture of a kid smoking pot, mean mugging for his own camera, or a little pot plant is somehow real legitimate evidence that somehow justified his murder fucks with my soul. I'm not excited about the coming riots that are almost sure to go down if Zimmerman is found not guilty, but I certainly understand, and I hope some constructive organizing comes out of this rage and confusion that can begin to deconstruct this cancer infecting our minds, bodies, and communities. We have a long way to go ya'll.”

Well it turns out my prediction of, “coming riots” was wrong, instead there has been mass nonviolent action all over the country, with this Saturday looking to be bigger than anything we’ve seen yet. 

After the verdict was announced a number of conversations started on social media which resulted in an unplanned March that started in Troy Davis/Woodruff Park and went down Auburn Ave, around Edgewood Ave, and eventually back to Troy Davis/Woodruff Park. The crowd that night ebbed and flowed between 20-100 people, each time the marched stopped by a popular gathering point people came outside, mostly supportive, took pictures, joined the march, and folks were invited to participate in a much larger action the next day at the West End Park.

The next day around 1000 people gathered in the West End Park. It was interesting watching the event build on facebook. Very high percentage of folks that showed were not connected to any organization, had not been very politically active, they simply sought out a place to feel safe and express their concern/sorrow/rage with others.

The rally turned into one of the longest, energetic, marches I’ve participating in. Hundreds marched from the West End Park to Peach Tree and Andrew Young in the heart of down town. A Thousand flyers promoting a march the next day were passed out to folks on the street. Streets were totally shut down during the march which went on for over 5 miles and at one point through a thunderstorm.
As sheets of rain covered us, and thunder cracked in the distance our voices rised even louder, loud enough to draw out folks from their apartments, from their offices, from the restaurants.

Close to where the march ended a small group of about five self-described revolutionary white kids attempted to start a riot by knocking over a trash can, which ironically belonged to a group of supporters who were cheering on the march from their porch. Immediately after dumping a community member’s trash can over they smashed a police car window, at which point folks that lived in the community confronted the small group and chased them out of the space. I was especially upset because I was marching alongside an 11 year old youngster who was just a few feet away from the unwelcomed failed attempt to incite a riot.
Attempts to incite violence have, for the most part, be rejected in favor of more focused, inclusive nonviolent action that has seen lots of families marching together demanding justice.

Monday’s action was significantly larger, easily more than 5,000 people spilled into the street. At one point one, before the march began, a speaker asked folks that were at their first march to raise their hands and over half the crowd raise their hands.

Monday’s march was significantly tamer than Sunday’s for a few reasons. There were so many people that it was difficult to get steady chants that caught on, but maybe more than that the lion share of folks participating had never done anything like this in their life.

So far the only tangible change these actions around the country seem to be directed at is Stand Your Ground Laws in Florida and Georgia and or course the desire to see George Zimmerman brought to justice. While both of those things make sense can more be pushed for?

Is the verdict that has brought people into the street, or is it the underlying knowledge that black life is less values in America as demonstrated not only by the outcome of the Zimmerman trail but unemployment rates, arrest rates, prison sentences, wages, homelessness, wealth disparity, ect?

So as we likely see even larger crowds around the country comeout this weekend I think the question that’s going to dominate my mind is where does this energy go? Is this a moment, or a movement? Jesse Jackson once said that if it’s a moment, you go home, if it’s a movement, you go to war. What does a nonviolent war against racial profiling and institutional racism look like?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

From Atlanta to Minneapolis

Today we delivered almost 10,000 petition signatures to a local Chase Bank Branch demanding Chase stop Minneapolis resident Sergio Ceballos' eviction and negotiate with him.

Last week a judge granted Chase Bank's request to evict Sergio Ceballos, even as they were considering him for a loan modification. That's called "dual tracking" and it's illegal under the national mortgage settlement--but that's not stopping Chase.

Sergio could be evicted as soon as next week--and cases like his are distressingly common, especially in communities of color. Chase, which played a key role in causing the crisis in the first place, is now flagrantly violating the terms of the new settlement--and STILL no bankers have gone to jail for their role in this mess.

It's clear the laws aren't enough to hold the banks accountable. If we want them to change their ways, we'll have to take action ourselves. So today solidarity actions were quickly organized all over the country.  We were happy to have Sergio’s back here in Atlanta and will take bolder action should Chase decide to move forward with eviction by force.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

One Minute For Monoca Lamb

The last 3 months have been a nightmare for me. Not only have I been living for long periods without heat or air conditioning, I was recently verbally harassed and intimidated by property owner Jeffrey Brown, who is an attorney with the Department of Justice.

After requesting that the AC be fixed several times I was told by Jeffrey Brown that no more repairs would be made even if the temperature went over 90 degrees and that I needed to move out in 12 days! Mr. Brown used his position to intimidate me verbally and my neighbor listened as I cried on the sidewalk as this man commanded me to move out.

After that, I never felt safe in this house again. I just want to leave now, but I don’t want to accept abusive treatment from a land lord or a negative mark on my credit report when I didn't do anything wrong except stand up for my rights. I’ve asked that Jeffrey Brown and LIT properties do the right thing and return my security deposit in person the very day I move out.

Can you make one phone call on my behalf? It will take less than a minute and might make all the difference for me.

Please call Jeffrey Brown at 404.808.8289 and ask him to do the right thing.

Sample script:
Hello, my name is______________ and I am concerned about the unfair, abusive treatment of Monoca Lamb. Return her security deposit as promised so she can move out and she will. Thank you for your time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Rally for Jaye in Her Community of 20 years!

Jaye Crawford has been a visible, vibrant and active member of the Candler Park / Lake Claire / Kirkwood communities for more than 20 years.

As a small business owner, Personal Fitness Professional and Candler Park Boot Camp instructor, Jaye has touched the lives of many in the community, serving hundreds of clients over 15 years. Folks who know Jaye know she is dedicated to to serving her community. Jaye is also a veteran of the United States Army Reserve. She is loved by many for her wide-range of community service, involvement and contributions.

This past Friday the community came together for a rally for Jaye at the Candler Park retail district to increase visibility and awareness about Jaye's Occupy Our Homes Atlanta Housing Justice campaign.

The rally received a lot of supportive honks and thumbs up from folks driving and walking by.

 The rally was followed by "Community Power! A Community Discussion" at Jaye's Warehouse Lofts home. We explored tenant / landlord issues, shared stories about how evictions have touched our lives.

More about Jaye’s Story:

Occupy Our Homes Atlanta member and community activist Jaye Crawford has lived in her zoned-commercial unit for 14 years, which serves as both a living and work space for her personal training studio. When Jaye took a neighbor to court over incessant noise violations (and WON) property owner Henry Finkbeiner and manager Hugh Trotti refused to renew her lease. Mr. Trotti’s stated his reason: “No one reason in particular.” Mr. Finkbeiner nor Mr. Trotti has yet to address the law-breaking tenants. We want Henry Finkbeiner and Hugh Trotti to renew Jaye’s lease, immediately.

Should Jaye be forced to move, she will lose her business and income, and her straight A student daughter may be forced to change schools. Jaye and her daughter deserve to stay in the place they call home. Landlords shouldn't be arbitrarily throwing their most-loyal renters onto the streets like trash.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Figaro's were ripped off, and they want their wealth back

Yesterday Mike and Patrice Figaro, along with several members of Occupy Our Homes Atlanta and myself, met with Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards 

More than 60 days ago the Figaro's met with the Fulton County Commissioner to discuss fraud the county had let slip by them that ended up costing their family hundreds of thousands of dollars. At that meeting Commissioner Edwards said he and his staff would look into the forged documents and unpermitted wiring and have a report in 60 days.

It's had been more than 70 days and still no report has been issued. Last time the Figaro's met with the commissioner he had two Occupy Our Homes Atlanta advocates escorted out of the building under threat of arrest. 

Yesterday we made sure to multiple our numbers and make it clear that we would not tolerate being shut out of meeting that was set up by our members. The commissioner also invited lawyers from John Wieland's office.

Patrice and Mike both were able to really present their case, maybe for the first time, uninterrupted by the county or John Wieland's lawyers. As they presented evidence it became clear, even to Commissioner Edwards, that there was wrong doing on John Wieland's behalf and maybe event the Fulton County. 

Although the Figaro's were hoping for totally resolution, wrong doing was acknowledged and  clear next steps were put into motion at the close of the meeting. Now it's our job, our mission to hold those next step commitments from Commissioner Edwards to some level of accountability.

The Figaro's case is really like no other Housing fight we have been involved with. At first look it can seem complicated, it's really not though. After building wealth in their California home they decided to move to Georgia. They invested everything into building a home they could pay cash for. Mike made sure the house was built custom for Patrice, as she is handicapped. They essentially hired John Wieland homes to build their house. 

Shortly after they moved in everything started going wrong. There we water faucets that spilled out water, a sink hole showed up in the yard, the foundation cracked, there was an electrical fire. Turns out proper permits were not only not obtained, it appears they were forged.

John Wieland sold a bad product, and the Figaro's bought it in good faith. Unlike most people these days they purchased the home in full, upfront. The home was faulty and quickly became a hazard. The Figaro's were ripped off, and they want their wealth back.

Sign the Figaro's online petition.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Solutions Not Punishment Coalition Moves Forward

 American Friends Service Committee was proud to provide our space this week for the Solutions Not Punishments Coalition's community meeting. A member of the Group, Misty Novich, put together this write-up which we are happy to publish.

On July 1st, 2013, the Solutions Not PunishmentsCoalition (SNaPCo) convened a group of stakeholders for a “Coalition and Community Meeting” to discuss an alternative proposal to address street-level prostitution/sex work in Atlanta.

This progressive proposal and community meeting came after SNaPCo and a wide range of diverse groups came together to stop the medieval “banishment ordinance” in February of this year. The Atlanta City Council and Mayor Kasim Reed attempted to pass this inhumane, ineffective ordinance without any input from those most directly affected, or from those most connected to those affected. This ordinance would have further punished alleged street-level sex workers by banishing them from certain areas or the whole city, even if they live in that area where they work.

Street-level sex workers already face a disproportionate amount of violence, abuse, and other struggles. Street-level sex workers have mortality rates 200 times those of other women of similar age and race. They are 18 times more likely to be murdered than their counterparts and have a workplace homicide rate 51 times higher than the second most dangerous profession, liquor store clerks. About 75% meet criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 46% have attempted suicide, and one in five has had a police officer demand sex acts from them in exchange for not being arrested. When jurisdictions increase arrests and punishments for sex workers, their risk of harm increases significantly, and they are less inclined to report abuse.

The Atlanta City Council knows that arresting, fining, banishing, or otherwise further punishing street-level sex workers will not reduce prostitution – it will, in fact, increase prostitution. Instead, they are likely responding to the demands of the vigilante group Midtown Ponce Security Alliance (MPSA), some members of which are ex-cops. This group has been known to go around shining flashlights in the faces of trans and gender non-conforming people around Midtown, take pictures of them and post those pictures online or different businesses, like gas stations, calling them “trans gangs.” Trans and gender non-conforming folks report similar harassment by police, whether they are engaging in survival sex work at the time or simply being who they are, as well as hiring discrimination generally, which is one reason given for doing sex work in the first place – to generate income, or in exchange for shelter and to meet other basic needs.

After defeating the banishment ordinance, Mayor Reed was forced to start a Working Group on Prostitution (WGOP), which has met monthly three times and will meet again on July 12th, 2013 at 9-11am at Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave. This WGOP is supposedly meant to come up with a good alternative to banishing people to deal with street-level prostitution, but so far community members are unsatisfied with the progress, the emphasis on law enforcement, and the lack of community input (as these meetings are usually on Friday mornings, when many people are at work). SNaPCo and allies decided not to wait for the WGOP to come up with a good alternative proposal, as a significant number of people on the WGOP supported banishment originally.

Given that most street-level sex workers engage in sex work as a means of generating income and surviving, SNaPCo and others wish to offer an alternative proposal that addresses the needs and motivations of sex workers instead of trying to push them away or lock them up. SNaPCo came up with the draft proposal, “Pre-Booking Diversion Program for Street-Level Sex Offenses.” This proposal calls for connecting alleged sex workers, if they choose, directly with case managers for individualized services and treatment instead of arresting or booking them at all.

Next steps for the city in the proposal include halting the ineffective arrest sweeps of street-level sex workers, accepting Ford Foundation money for travel to visit Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program to learn from them, and officially networking and mobilizing service providers and case managers to begin formalizing an infrastructure for a solutions-based policy. This proposal’s implementation would likely cost much less, have much greater impact on reducing prostitution, and help some of the most marginalized people in society access what they need to improve their lives.

At the Coalition and Community Meeting, representatives from many different groups, organizations, and perspectives met to discuss the proposal - what we agree on and what we would add, clarify, or change. All ideas and feedback were recorded and we moved closer to a great ordinance that the whole community would support. SNaPCo and our allies will continue to work together to ensure that our decision-makers make the right choices on what policies around street-level sex work will replace the current outdated, ineffective ones.

If you would like more information about SNaPCo or to get involved with our work, please visit

(Pictured: Ms DeeDee Chamblee, founder of LaGender, starts off the Coalition and Community Meeting by giving background on this struggle.)