Saturday, November 23, 2013

Georgians Converge on Fort Benning

To our count well over 60 Georgians visited our table at the School of the Americas Watch in Columbus Georgia, they were joined by thousands more from around the country. American Friends Service Committee worked with Georgia WAND and the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition to staff a table at the gates of Fort Benning. We gave out hundreds of our "One Minute for Peace" handouts and had lots of great conversations about our work. I was very grateful for youth at Quaker Volunteer Services who helped staff the table.

In the afternoon we had a really well attended Georgia Activist meet-up, it's the 10th one AFSC has organized. It was wonderful to have space for Georgians doing work around a variety of issues(from nuclear disarmament, to housing, corporate accountability, and more) from different parts of the state together in the same room with the intention of building bridges between issues and making connections with folks around the state. It is in making these important connections that we create the potential to be more than the sum of our parts; to change the political landscape of Georgia!

There's still more to come for the years SOAW, and there's still time to come! Click here for details!

The Road to Columbus!

This weekend Thousands will gather at the gates, with speakers, music, street theater, workshops and networking with people from across the Americas. We come together at the gates of Fort Benning for the School of the Americas Watch(SOAW) - where the killers are trained - to demand an end to US militarization and to impunity. The Vigil weekend is an opportunity to connect your communities with those across the hemisphere who are resisting Empire. In addition to the main funeral procession on Sunday, November 24, there will be rallies, concerts, and over 70 workshops.

To Learn about the movement, it's purpose and history click here.

Every year American Friends Service Committee works with the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition to organize housing and transportation to SOAW. We also staff a table and organize a Georgia Activist meet-up. This year 13 of us left Friday afternoon, and met even more folks once we arrived in Columbus. We'll be here all weekend, it's certainly not too late to join us!

Click here for details on the Georgia Acttivist meet-up details!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Heavy Police Force Breaks Up Candlelight Vigil For Homeless Veteran

For the past  15 weeks, supporters of Veteran MarkHarris, who was evicted at gunpoint by Fannie Mae, have been holding a candlelight vigil in front of Fannie Mae VP, Candy Lasher's home. Tonight, over 15 DeKalb county police officers, many in tactical gear, were sent to break up the peaceful vigil, threatening everyone with citations and arrest. American Friends Service Committee has been involved in Mark's campaign for the last year and has had a presence at every candlelight vigil. It was a truly horrifying scene to experience first hand, there was a feeling that anything could happen to us in what seemed like a militarized zone.

They cited an obscure ordinance aimed at stifling union organizing, claiming that the solemn, silent candlelight vigil was actually a picket that potentially blocked An entrance, threatened people, or encouraged a boycott of some sort. The simple fact is that in all of our research we have found no law which prohibits candlelight vigils on public property. Below is an open letter to DeKalb County Police chief Cedric Alexander by Mother and Homemaker Kathy Akcer who was present and traumatized by last night’s police action. Kathy is pictured in this photo, she's wearing the green dress and the blue jacket:

Dear CEO Mays and Police Chief Alexander,

In 1984 we moved to DeKalb County and bought our first home. My baby was born in this house; he attended public school from kindergarten through high school;  and he is now married and a mathematics teacher.

My DeKalb County police officers have always been there for me;  from protecting the children at school to patrolling my house when I was out of town to going door-to-door to check on our safety the night a  neighbor was violently assaulted in her home. They even counseled us after the young hiker was murdered by a horrible serial killer who frequented our neighborhood park.

As moms, we always told our children that if they were ever in trouble they should run to the Policeman.

Tonight I attended a candlelight vigil for Army Veteran Mark Harris. I met
Mark after Fannie Mae evicted him from his home of eighteen years.
After meeting Mark, how could I not attend the vigil for this brave Veteran
and father?

Imagine how I felt when standing in a cul de sac, out of the mist of
headlights fifteen "action figures" - fully armed and dressed in black skull
caps and bullet-proof vests - converged on us. It was like a scene from
"Zero Dark Thirty" when the black helicopters dropped the SEALS and
under cover of darkness they closed in on Osama Bin Laden. Only
the homemaker and mother in the autumn-yellow tights and a dress
was no Osama Bin Laden.

The very idea that in economic hard times for working folks - and with
DeKalb County strapped for police officers - tax-payer dollars would be
spent to send fifteen officers, five squad cars, and a prisoner transport
vehicle to intimidate seven citizens (three of them seniors) is an outrage.
As stated above, there are real criminals in the county - murderers and
sexual assailants - for the police to stop.

Tonight I feel so disappointed by the police officers I have always trusted.
I feel scared of the officers I thought would protect me.
I am still shaking.

CEO Mays and Chief Alexander, why does Fannie Mae - one of the chief
culprits in the Great Recession - deserve more protection from you than a
regular person like me or an honorable Veteran like Mark?

Mrs. K. Acker
Mother and Homemaker
DeKalb County, GA

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"It's My Life" 2014 Youth Film Festival Officially Launched!

Yesterday organizers of last years, "It's My Life" Youth Film Festival met last night to discuss how to move forward. Last year's event was an experiment to ended up going really well. The decision was made to book the Plaza theater again and move toward building a bigger better film festival!! 2014's festival will go down April 29th, with the deadline for submissions being April 16th.

One big change is that we have changed the age requirements  to 23 years old and below, which opens things up a bit. Last year was a lot of fun and sparked a lot of really important conversations across high school campuses all over the metro area.

We need help to pull this off. If you want to help us make 2014's "It's My Life" film festival a success please join us Tuesday December 3rd at 7pm at American Friends Service Committee!

Read about 2013's "It's My Life" Youth Film Festival here!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Supporting Nonviolence In Action Here In Georgia!

In the last 24 hours two very principled, brave, young men decided to put their freedom on the line to expose an injustice and create public pressure for policy makers to do the right thing. The two courageous undocumented students - Yovany Diaz and Eduardo Samaniego - were removed from the Georgia Board of Regents' meeting in Atlanta and arrested. They were standing up against the Board of Regents decision to ban undocumented student's from paying instate tuition and attend college in Georgia.  They were detained in Fulton County Jail, the same jail where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was held in October 1960. 

Happily both of these young men are out of jail because of a very supportive legal team, a strong base of community support, and a little help from the Georgia Civil Disobedience Support Fund.

The fund was created during the successful campaign to defeat 2012 Senate bill 469, which would have made it illegal to picket in front of a non-public building and it would have made it almost impossible for organized labor to exist in the state. A broad coalition was created to defeat the bill, and over 50 people publicly committed to nonviolent civil disobedience if the bill passed. This commitment prompted some of use to prepare to cover bail costs. In the end the bill was defeated!

What were we to do with the money we raised to cover bail costs? It would have been almost impossible to give it back to people, as it was collected in at events, and small contributions online from all kinds of different people. We could have split it up between groups that anchored the campaign, but that seemed messy and in the end wouldn't have amounted to that much once the split was made.

After much discussion the decision to create a new piece of infrastructure to support principled nonviolent direct action and victims of politically motivated targeted arrests was made. 

Representatives from the Atlanta Economic Justice Program for the American Friends Service Committee, Atlanta Jobs with Justice, and the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition have taken custodial responsibilities for the fund. It's a fairly new infrastructure piece in Georgia and a process for applying to use the funds is still being developed. As we take time to figure out the best way to promote the fund, replenish and grow the fund, and have a clear simple application process, we continue to make the fund available for crisis situations.

The fund has been used several times in the last few years and we hope that it continues provide support for those engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience.

To contribute to the fund simple click here.

Housing Justice Academy Sparks a Fire!

For the last several months the American Friends Service Committee has been working hard alongside Occupy Our Homes Atlanta to bring struggling homeowners, tenants, and housing justice organizers from around the south east together for a crash course in how to spark local housing justice groups.

Leading up to the academy there were several visits to communities all over Florida and Tennessee to build moment for the academy and build capacity to do housing justice work in the South.

The Academy was held last month and brought folks from all over the south to participate in an intensive three day curriculum designed to arm people with all the tools to build a thriving  housing justice movement in their communities. It was especially exciting to have multiple residents prepared to launch local campaigns around their own housing struggles.

On day one we focused mainly on political education and leadership development through storytelling exercises. We also facilitated an amazing interactive step by step tour through the  housing justice campaign model we've developed over the last two years that has lead to dozens of local victories.

On day two we focused on nonviolent direct action training and took a field trip the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Day there was on the job training as we took to Senator Johnny Isakson's office to demand that he not block a vote to confirm a permanent director for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Read more about the action here.

After the action we had a graduation ceremony. Since the academy there has been a lot of exciting of developments with graduates. There's been a recent launch of Occupy homes Florida, Occupy Our Home Orlando, and Occupy Chattanooga continues to build momentum around their multiple housing justice campaigns, they also had some great press converge of the academy; click here to see!

As we continue to see thousands of people in our communities left behind in a housing recovery that sees the overwhelming percentage of empty homes, homes lost by real people, bought up by private equity firms with the intention of securitizing the rental market, it's exciting to see new energy organized to take back our homes one house at a time.

We simply can no longer afford to allow the same small group of people to treat the most basic necessities of survival as a way to extract wealth from those that have so little. We simply can no longer afford to see the ratio of homeless people to grow far beyond the number of abandoned housing units. We simply can't afford the ever decreasing number of affordable housing dwellings in our communities. We know there are enough resources in this country to provide a place to call home for all of us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Get Sick, Lose Your Home

Zannie Jackson bought a home for his family in 2005, he invested countless dollars in fixing it up only to see the market crash as a result of irresponsible and fraudulent bank practices.
More about Zannie's story here

In 2012 Zannie was diagnosed with renal kidney failure.

Zannie's story is sadly not a new one, get sick, lose your home.

This past Tuesday Zannie had to undergo surgery on his arm to fix a valve that goes yo his heart. Zannie is currently in recovery from the surgery, and while he is on a kidney transplant list, Zannie's life is at serious risk.

Despite Zannie's dire situation Bank of America has been unwilling to return his calls and work with him. Today a group of us marched to Bank of America and asked to speak with the manager. We informed the manager of Zannie's condition and expressed our concern that the bank had no communicated with Zannie about his mortgage issues. We made it clear that we were there to simply deliver a letter to Bank of America and make it clear that we were not going to sit back and watch a dying man tossed onto the street.

The branch manager, who seemed prepared for our visit appeared very nervous and stern. She refused to accept the letter despite our assertions that Zannie is in the hospital and might not survive the year.

We left the letter and picketed outside the branch until it closed, distributing flyers that told Zannie's story. We hope that Bank of America decides to do the right thing  and work with Zannie, our communities don't need more empty houses and our streets don't need more homeless people.

Sign Zannie's online petition.