Friday, December 21, 2012

Glossary of terms and phrases

Here are the words used during the news broadcast which may be new to you.
(update: 2016-02-22) Definitions may be updated, and words added if requested.
Many of the words are not included in the usual dictionaries because, unlike words from academic disciplines such as science and language, it is the political jargon which is censored or distorted according to security regime dictates of the era. For example, look up the definition of the word "fascism" according to publicly available dictionaries published from decade to decade.


Captive Nation
A nation encaged within a state dominated by another nation which itself is guided by a nationalist ideology against captive nations.
see: Nation

A population transmitting a cohesive self-identity with a culture, historical narrative and/or language.

New Afrikan Nation
A descriptive phrase used by millions in place of the phrase "Black" when describing the African-American as a captive nation within the USA.

An entity chartered with a transnational administration to administer a jurisdiction imposed on a region.

An adjective used relating to commonly-used phrases to note the limited descriptive nature of the phrase used. Examples:
- "So-called Christians", describing those who ignore the teachings of the Rabbi Jesus against capitalism. See: Prosperity Gospel; "Dominionists".
- "So-called Leftists", describing a phrase used to describe anybody a state-security regime views as anti-capitalist, including victims of capitalist death squads who are not "Leftist".
- "So-called Conservatives", describing those self-identifying as of a conservative nationalist political tendency yet follow the programming produced by media owned by monopolist trans-national capitalists and their fellow-travelers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"In defence of America's informal settlements" by Martha Bridegam from "The Global Urbanist"

Street sleepers under a shopfront awning in Seattle. Photo: Steve Wilson/American Street Philosophers

Overlooking a corner of Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Steve Wilson/American Street Philosophers

Returning to their prototype cabin in Cesar Chavez Park, Safe Ground Sacramento found this person sleeping against the shelter, an ironic reminder of the need for transitional shelter in the Californian capital. Photo: Steve Watters/Safe Ground Sacramento

A prototype cabin placed in Cesar Chavez Park demonstrating Safe Ground Sacramento's proposed transitional housing solution for the city's homeless. Photo: Steve Watters/Safe Ground Sacramento

2012-11-20 "In defence of America's informal settlements: the campers of San Francisco"
by Martha Bridegam from "The Global Urbanist" []:
[intro] We tend to believe that wealthy countries like the United States don't have informal settlements. Not only is this false, but it allows western governments to further marginalise an already misunderstood community. In the first of three articles on America's informal residents, Martha Bridegam meets two residents of one such harassed community in San Francisco.
Martha Bridegam is a lawyer and writer in San Francisco with a history of volunteer advocacy for informally housed city residents. She tweets @MarthaBridegam.
In August this year, city and state authorities in San Francisco raided a camp of makeshift homes under a freeway ramp and beside a commuter rail yard near the downtown area, destroying some residents' property and evicting them from the site.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Kevin Fagan described the camp this way []: 'a sprawling mini-city of tents, suitcases and makeshift Conestoga wagon-style trailers, and a 50-strong homeless population that had been there for years. It was the biggest street camp in San Francisco.' One resident has denied it was so large, but it was certainly substantial for a town that discourages group camps.
Residents were given 72 hours' notice to vacate but some were offered and accepted temporary city-rented hotel rooms. The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness (SFCOH), an activist group largely staffed by precariously housed volunteers, reported the eviction proceeded relatively respectfully [] but later posted complaints about promised rooms that didn't 'pan out' [].
Respectfully or not, campers who didn't leave were ordered out. Some of their property was taken to maintenance yards for later claiming; some was destroyed, in part by workers wearing paper suits and masks []. After the raid the camp re-formed, but smaller and under heavier weekly harassment. From past experience as a volunteer advocate for informal campers (in part through SFCOH) I expect the size of the camp may be ratcheted down over time.
San Francisco is dotted with small clusters of makeshift homes, especially under elevated freeways and in the remaining warehouse districts. The housing may be tents, shelters built around shopping carts, or vehicles, especially older recreational vehicles ('RVs', American English for 'caravans'). Police and public works staff regularly disperse these unauthorised communities and destroy portions of their property as waste. The campers regroup. The cycle repeats.
I think our officials justify clearances of camps, and conventionally housed neighbours accept them, out of civic perfectionism. They presume informal housing can't really be necessary, not in the prosperous United States. Taking comfort from the existence of government and NGO services for homeless people, they assume these services can meet all homeless people's needs — hence that informal housing is a choice made by people who refuse to be helped.
They are proven wrong by the quiet ubiquity of makeshift housing in San Francisco and across the United States. When thousands of Americans make the same housing decision, and stick with it through cold nights and police harassment, they can't all be suffering defects of character or logic. For them, informal housing must be the best bad deal available.
There are indeed chances to stay indoors. San Francisco's aid program for indigent childless adults provides accommodation for up to 27 or sometimes 33 months, though many initial placements are in shelters rather than hotels []. The program typically uses old-style downtown residential hotels built during San Francisco's post-1906 earthquake recovery. Solid shelter despite the risk of crime, noise and bugs. To keep a hotel or shelter placement, though, residents must meet paperwork requirements, follow rules on matters such as dogs, clutter and visitors, and, in most cases, pursue either paid employment or federal disability benefits.
People easily fail or bolt out of that system. Other forms of subsidised housing have long waiting lists. The city's nightly shelters, though disliked, turn people away regularly. That leaves informal housing.

Two residents of San Francisco -
The Chronicle spoke of conventionally housed people as 'residents' but of informally housed people as 'homeless'. That phrasing reflects an established asymmetry: campers may see conventionally housed people as neighbours, but property owners and neighbourhood associations tend to discuss campers as inarticulate elements of a category, 'the homeless'.
When I visited the camp site in October the man who welcomed me was a lifelong San Francisco native. He introduced himself as Sticks ('I shoot pool'). Now 56 years old, he said he had lived in the camp much of the past seven years. I asked him what people called it. He said, 'we call it home.'
Highway workers had fenced off only one small camping area. Tents and shelters had returned, though fewer than in August. (Later I met more residents: some seasoned campers, some recently homeless.)
Sticks found the August eviction less worrying than the new severity of weekly sweeps by the state highway agency, Caltrans. One such raid had destroyed his own property. 'They took all my clothes and everything and just put it in that big-ass truck that crushes everything.' He meant a garbage compactor truck, the kind that breaks and compresses property and takes it to the landfill, beyond recovery.
City and Caltrans policies require property of value that is not abandoned to be stored for later claiming — rules reinforced this September by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Lavan v. City of Los Angeles []. But Sticks said, 'they don't give us no option. Whatever they take, whether it's personal or what, it's going to the garbage.'
For water and restrooms he said the camp relied on a public park nearby. It has an outdoor drinking fountain and an indoor restroom that closes overnight. Sticks said an unguarded tap nearer the camp had been shut off. Had residents asked for portable toilets or other amenities? He said, 'we've talked to them about a whole lot of things,' mainly through an ex-schoolteacher spokesman, but they claimed to be 'having too many complaints.'
It's a circular problem: there will always be complaints about crime and sanitation at an informal community if authorities approach these problems not as governance and civil engineering challenges common to every human settlement but as proof that the camp must be removed.
Sticks believed the harsher weekly sweeps were reactions to a series of maliciously set fires that followed the August eviction. Sticks and his friend Rashan, who joined us mid-conversation, said the fire-starter was not part of the camp: he was a resident's bitter ex-boyfriend.
Rather than discuss guarding the community from further attack, Bevan Dufty, lead official on homelessness in the office of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, responded to the worst of the fires by telling the Chronicle, 'an incident like this can make people more accepting of services, and it also sets off bells that this is not a safe place to live.' []

Rationalising the eviction -
Public rhetoric surrounding the eviction reflected support from a liberal-conservative consensus. Expressions of solidarity on the left and objections from the Coalition on Homelessness represented minority views.
Bevan Dufty is a popular liberal figure, formerly an elected member of the Board of Supervisors (similar to local council). Speaking to the Chronicle before the eviction, he portrayed the freeway camp as dangerous to its occupants and said city employees were reaching out to provide appropriate services and housing instead. He told the paper [], 'we're going to say, "this change is coming and you need to think about what you want to do and can we help you figure that out." The worst that could happen would be for 50 people to be kicked out onto the streets.'
A representative of the less liberal California Highway Patrol interviewed by a local television station spoke more bluntly []: 'mainly, it's to remove garbage, excrement, rats, that kind of thing.' A Caltrans spokesman told the Chronicle of plans to bar returners with a stronger fence. His comments were consistent with other Caltrans statements that portray 'encampments' as a problem of trash removal. (Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said the commuter rail system does not own or police the freeway camp area but does remove campers from its own land, offering services when it does.)
Right-wing anti-homeless messages bloomed in the Chronicle's online comments. One commenter used the rhetoric of addiction recovery, which holds the addict responsible for self-improvement []: 'Enabling the homeless lifestyle is not compassion. When you make it comfortable for people to be homeless, they will stay homeless. The cops need to be tearing out these homeless encampments as soon as they crop up. The only money we should be spending toward the homeless issue are [sic] in drug rehabilitation and psychological services. That way the homeless have two options: Get treatment or move.'

Learning from the developing world -
Although unauthorised settlements have legitimacy problems everywhere, it's inspiring to consider that in some parts of the developing world, informally housed people count as 'residents'.
Rashan responded warmly when I suggested the freeway camp might elsewhere be understood and respected as a town. He mentioned people he had seen invoking squatters' rights during his childhood in Jamaica. 'They would just plant a little food and put up a little shanty or whatever they could use — bamboo or wood or whatever they find … not just thrown together, I mean, well-knit, you know, I mean, well done … some people just have to live like that, you know? And a lot of them had kids and stuff and their children were always the brightest in school, just, I mean, incredible, you know?'
In San Francisco I do think formally and informally housed people may yet learn to negotiate with each other as neighbours — not beloved neighbours, just neighbours who admit to sharing the same plane of existence.
As I'll discuss next, hard times in the United States are drawing attention to informal housing. Some punitive raids and legislation have followed, but there's also a current of sympathy, especially for newly homeless people living in their cars. With that, I think, comes hope for improvement.

2012-12-04 "The criminalisation of homelessness and informal settlements in US cities" by Martha Bridegam []:
 [intro] Why do "squatters" in houseboats become residents, but campers in tents and caravans remain "homeless" and unwanted? In her second of three essays on America’s informal residents, Martha Bridegam describes a recent increase in criminalising legislation and policing against homeless and informally housed Americans but asks, is this a short-term backlash against changes in the nature of US housing?
The United States has seen a recent striking increase in local laws and clearance campaigns against visibly "homeless" people — a category that, to Americans, includes residents of makeshift housing such as those I introduced here last month []. Infomal shelters were not the sole targets of these campaigns but group camps and some organised "tent city" communities did suffer raids and removals.
Headlines about backlash measures suggested that poor people had become more visible as users of public space. On the other hand, with mainstream news reports full of no-fault misfortunes, such as evictions of foreclosed borrowers' tenants, it seemed Americans might be attaching less moral blame to the loss of housing. There were hints of selective sympathy, especially for recently displaced people, those living in vehicles, and residents of orderly "tent cities".

Campaigns against visible poverty -
As the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) reported in 2010, uses of public space by homeless people have been contested for decades through criminalising legislation and civil rights litigation. Civil rights precedents on the use of public space require that arrests be made only for discrete prohibited acts, not for characteristics such as lack of housing that were formerly defined as "vagrancy". To get around this, modern anti-homeless laws criminalise acts such as sleeping, sitting, trespassing (including sleeping in doorways), begging, drinking alcohol, erecting shelters, or sharing food.
But mid-2012 produced a special hail of punitive local ordinances and eviction sweeps against people described as "homeless". In May the city of Denver passed an ordinance against camping on public or private property. Camping bans are common nationwide, but Denver's ban was especially strictly worded and represented a sharp break from the city's prior level of tolerance. It banned "eating, sleeping, or the storage of personal possessions" in conjunction with any "shelter" consisting of tents, bedding, or "any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing." Although arrests had not been made under the law as of October, just its threat was said to be clearing usual camping areas, with homeless people being "driven underground" [].
In June USA Today reported on a national trend of punitive ordinances []: the Denver law, talk of public space restrictions in upscale Ashland, Oregon, and a Philadelphia ban on food sharing programmes in parks — a ban defended in let-them-eat-cake style by Philadelphia mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald: "We think it's … much more dignified … to be in an indoor sit-down restaurant." From the Tampa Bay Times []: laws were passed against sitting or lying on sidewalks and rights of way in parts of Clearwater, Florida.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed a law prohibiting the parking of large vehicles on specified streets, ironically including some where inhabited RVs (caravans) have traditionally been herded by police. (A friend has described her first-hand experience [].) Nearby Berkeley came close to passing a ballot measure in imitation of San Francisco's largely unenforced 2010 ordinance against sitting or lying on the sidewalk [], but the proposal was narrowly defeated in the left-tending November 2012 election.
California's state highway agency, Caltrans, demolished camps in the towns of Vallejo [] and Los Gatos [].
In Sacramento residents have been evicted from generations-established campsites along the American River [], in one case displacing approximately 150 people [].
A "cleanup" campaign on Los Angeles' notorious Skid Row included both much-needed waste disposal as well as destruction of campsites, sometimes including arrests [] [,0,4179225.story].
But the September court ruling Lavan v City of Los Angeles, which arose from property destruction in prior Skid Row raids, presented a major advance by protecting campers' rights to possess "unabandoned" property left on the sidewalk, though the city still can and does dismantle campsites []. And this October, activist attorney Mark Merin won payments for 1,143 past residents of Sacramento encampments who lost property in evictions dating back to 2005 [].

Compassionate demolition?
At the national level, responses to criminalisation vary substantially and, surprisingly, by agency. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), spokesman Brian Sullivan chose words carefully about local measures directed at homeless people. He said he didn't know if HUD had a policy on "sanctioning" or on "depopulating camps", but "the law enforcement approach doesn't answer the fundamental question about how are you going to house homeless people".
The Department of Justice (DOJ) contributed to a recent report on alternatives to criminalisation but has also funded a policing think tank, the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing [], that provides an intelligent but prejudice-skewed guide to removing "the problem of homeless encampments". It presumes that camps pose crime and safety hazards by and to "transients" and must be removed [].
Given that the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) participated in the report on avoiding criminalisation, it was surprising to see the mayor of Fresno, California quoting approving comments from USICH director Barbara Poppe in a press release about a November 2011 camp removal [].
The statement attributed to Poppe apparently responded to local officials' assurances that many displaced people had been or would be housed. It reads: "I applaud the City and its partners for focusing on the housing-first approach to addressing this issue and getting the public, private and nonprofit sectors aligned to services and housing to the men and women living in the encampments … The City and its partners have shown true leadership in energizing the community to respond in a way that is compassionate to individual needs and also makes sense for the greater community."
I heard about Poppe's comments from Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), who headed the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness when I volunteered there as a lawwyer. He told me USICH confirmed the quote and provided further material from Poppe saying in part: "The costs associated with trying to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of people in encampments would be more strategically spent on housing."
At that, Boden's customary fluent profanity deserted him: he emailed a photo showing men in paper suits kicking down makeshift plywood homes (see photo gallery). He wrote: "Has she even looked at the HUD budget lately?"
That is, Poppe's comment presumed it is possible to get all campers into conventional housing — except it isn't. As Boden and WRAP point out persistently [], HUD spending on housing construction and subsidies has been steadily far below the level of need since the cuts of the 1980s [].
The man who took the demolition photo, homeless-rights campaigner Mike Rhodes, writes that Fresno authorities and NGOs have created some housing meant for homeless people, but nowhere near enough. During late 2011 his activist Community Alliance Newspaper chronicled an especially heavy series of multi-site demolitions in which bulldozers destroyed residents' structures and property []. He wrote to me about Fresno authorities: "They see providing any public services to the homeless in these encampments as helping them to live in these degrading conditions, therefore they refuse to help."

Why the sudden visibility?
"Tent cities" became discussed as a rising US trend as long as three years ago []. The National Coalition for the Homeless reported extensively on West Coast examples in 2010, calling them "America's de facto waiting room for affordable and accessible housing" []. Meanwhile its Twitter feed (a source for several items reported here) has been monitoring the nationwide backlash — including for example a Talent, Oregon, report about a sudden "homeless problem" [].
Homelessness isn't new since the global financial crisis. It had a long remission in the US from the Great Depression of the 1930s through the 1970s but substantially reappeared in the 1980s with the Reagan Administration's cuts in social support programmes. It became institutionalised a quarter-century ago: July 22, 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first federal law to dedicate major spending to homelessness, though it spends less than was cut from welfare and housing programmes [].
City populations are now presumed to include a stratum of unhoused and underhoused people, described as "homeless", circulating among weekly-rental hotels, shelters, subsidised housing programmes and campsites. Homelessness is understood as a condition of life, even a quasi-ethnic social status or, in the case of "chronic homelessness", a housing status elided with medical diagnosis.
What is new is that homelessness has overflowed into public view from a system of services that, while they didn't end homelessness, managed for a generation to partially contain and routinise it.

Waiting rooms or living rooms?
It is beginning to seem optimistic to view informal communities as "waiting rooms". Moves toward legalisation of makeshift housing are already appearing as cities admit to the need. Unfortunately, some combine substandard conditions with the paternalism of traditional US shelters.
Rhodes is a long-term critic of one such complex in Fresno, Village of Hope, run by an NGO called Poverello House []. It provides sleeping space in tool sheds without utilities. His 2004 photos of closely spaced sheds behind a wire-topped fence induce a slight shudder []. Poverello House's website states the village is self-governing but Rhodes has written that homeless people tend to dislike the strict rules, which include a requirement to leave the site in daytime [].
Similarly, town governments have experimented with legalised parking "programmes" for RVs. One in San Luis Obispo is limited to "only those people who commit to case management and remain drug-free and alcohol-free." In nearby Arroyo Grande the police reviewed applications for spaces in a small parking area. The police chief of Nevada City, California, began to issue permits to sleep in public [].
A few camps of the autonomous type are hanging on, offering valuable chances to prove that people without money have no special need to be told how to live. After many past evictions, the large self-governing Nickelsville community in Seattle is being allowed to remain at a site on appropriately named Marginal Way []. However the organisation still seeks legitimacy. A resident said the community is allowed to contract for portable toilet and garbage pickup service but the city will not help with those costs nor provide utilities — yet city service programmes sometimes refer people there to stay. Last year the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found 130 residents including children and pregnant women [].
In Sacramento, the uniquely sophisticated and reportedly democratic Safe Ground initiative seeks refuges for campers on both public and private land []. It has drawn national and international human rights attention []. Significantly, a news report on City Council skepticism toward Safe Ground led with the question: "Should a group of homeless people be allowed to camp together in Sacramento without outside monitoring?" [] Currently lacking a main campsite, the organisation continues to search.
Better, but more elusive, is the possibility that unauthorised communities could become regularised as neighbourhoods, with residents accepted simply as townspeople. A heartening model is available in San Francisco: the houseboats along Mission Creek, a frequently polluted but picturesque channel in the same urban renewal area as the freeway camp I've described previously. Formed in the 1960s, the houseboat group has outgrown a past semi-squatter status that at one point saw an abrupt threat of 30-day eviction notices []. The community has become more conventional in legality and lifestyle over time []. It's now viewed as a chic bohemian enclave with no questions asked about residents' trustworthiness, though the group had to campaign fiercely for a while to stay put amid development [,_1987-2010].
Unfortunately, the houseboaters are distinct from poorer residents of RVs who parked around that shore until gentrification drove them out. A recent article on the colony underscored the class difference between houseboat residents and RV campers by saying of the houseboaters, "until recently, they were the only people out there." []
As I'll discuss further in the next article, it remains to be seen whether informal community legalisations can be a means for residents to escape the irregular, second-class status of "homelessness" or whether such places risk becoming institutional holding areas where people wait for a chance at conventional affordable housing.

2012-12-18 "Accepting each other as neighbours: the settlements demonstrating the dignity of informal US housing" by Martha Bridegam []:
[intro] In her third piece on homelessness and informal settlements in the US, Martha Bridegam describes Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, and other settlements across the country which are setting out to prove that informal housing can be just as peaceful, lawful and neighbourly as any other residential area.
In this third article on American informal housing, I'm glad to turn from accounts of a group camp's repeated decimation in San Francisco and of other criminalisations of homelessness to more hopeful talk about progress eroding the all-or-nothing view of housed status that I earlier called "civic perfectionism".
The visibility of informal housing in the US is a new factor that may reduce social exclusion of people defined as "homeless". An archipelago of encampments has formed — "movement" is too definite a word — where residents are inching toward acceptance with conventionally housed neighbours.
Such acceptance is needed because Americans will not all be in formal housing any time soon. Those without it need recognition in the meantime as community members with their own goals and rights.

Homeless Safer -
Arguably informal communities reduce housing-based social exclusion by creating a visible middle layer of housing between reductive stereotypes of "housed" and "homeless". The new prominence of "tent cities", groups of cabins sharing washhouses or kitchens, or groups of RVs (caravans) parked together, can encourage a view of housing quality as a continuum from worse to better. The continuum approach keeps the focus on improving people's real circumstances — what Jane Jacobs called "unslumming". That's healthier than the too-common official practice of destroying makeshift housing on the principle that it's not good enough to be real housing.
I've drawn some of these thoughts from a post about Giorgio Agamben and American homeownership by Aaron Steinpilz [] and much more from political scientist Leonard Feldman's 2004 book Citizens Without Shelter: Homelessness, Democracy, and Political Exclusion.
Feldman writes that Americans have been taught, in ways that feel apolitical but aren't, to see "the homeless" as victims or criminals, but not as political actors nor as townspeople. Drawing on Hannah Arendt, Agamben and others, he suggests Americans over-idealise the "proper home" and view the house-dweller as the archetypal solid citizen. He argues that such nostalgic respect has a harmful side: it tends to make conventional housing a prerequisite for acceptance as a fully fledged person with rights, therefore defining "the homeless" as incomplete people without rights. Campaigns for acceptance of informal housing are a way for people defined as homeless to claim the rights and social significance of "complete" people.

Legitimacy in tent cities -
Tent cities and other encampments have made progress winning legitimacy, perhaps because the public now believes residents who say they have nowhere else to go. By living openly and unremarkably in informal housing, and appearing as civic participants in their cities, residents prove that "homeless" people are real Americans, not figures waiting to resume life as Americans if or when they return to conventional housing.
Mitch Grubic, elected CEO at the uniquely self-managed Dignity Village camp in Portland, Oregon, knows that potential []. Having lived in his car, he understands the hassling and contempt. "That attitude of 'omigosh, a homeless person coming into my neighbourhood, omigosh' — I don't know what it's going to take for that attitude to change." He said the subject comes up constantly in his community of 50 cabin-dwellers, which has contracted to use space on the edge of a city recycling yard. He said "we have game plans" to change public perceptions: to say "we are empowered people, we're not what you think we are … That's going to come from the camps. The shift in paradigm is going to be coming from camps like us."
Photojournalist Steve Wilson, who for five years has been documenting Dignity Village [], calls some villagers "upper-class homeless". He defines them as "those complete enough within themselves to succeed in America's decades of 'more than my share is my share' but have opted out." He wrote: ''Upper-class homeless' are experimenting with minimalism: villages responsibly sharing, environmentally aware and self-governing by choice, not economic necessity."
Grubic says many people in Dignity Village are around his own age of 50 and fed up with a society that rejects older workers and demands too much striving to reach a too-high standard of living. Their minimalism seems a virtue created by necessity.
Working tent cities aren't utopias. The strongest ones enforce membership standards and conduct rules. Grubic imposes sanctions at Dignity Village, appealable to a resident council, ranging from one-day expulsions to permanent banishment. During our phone conversation he broke off repeatedly to judge a dispute: "Larry, you go back to the commons, Jerry, sit down, OK? … Don't fight with him, OK? I appreciate it … Larry, let me just deal with it, OK?" He was promising to impose a 24-hour expulsion on a resident. "I'm gonna get him out of the camp. But you cool off too, OK? How about that?"
So nobody's claiming to resolve the eternal tension of community versus individual rights. But at least tent city communities are starting to claim the equal protection of the laws: when police are called to Dignity Village, it's not to arrest the group for camping, but to address a crime on behalf of the group.
Grubic spoke warmly of the possibility that US encampments might form a national organisation. It's natural: they are starting to seem numerous and they're starting to find each other. In this regard Grubic pointed out the work of Andrew Heben, a researcher and activist now working on the Opportunity Village project in Eugene, Oregon []. Heben maintains an impressively crowded if not comprehensive wiki map of U.S. tent cities online []. His online PDF book and web site, both titled Tent City Urbanism, build on the 2010 west coast tent cities report by the National Coalition for the Homeless to describe a nationally extending world of voluntary encampments and makeshift homes [].

Plumbing as acceptance -
To a surprising extent, encampments' levels of acceptance are indicated by the infrastructure allowed to them. Even clean water is something not always offered to campers, since to offer water is to recognise that campers have a right to exist. Sanitation arrangements seem to represent the next step upward, then formal permission to remain on sites. With full utility hook-ups, an encampment is on its way to becoming a neighbourhood.
San Francisco provides many services to individual homeless people but does not directly serve informal housing areas except through antagonistic "clean-ups". The park restroom pictured in my first article, a block from the freeway camp mentioned there, is comparatively one of the most convenient and welcoming to campers. It's sad to remember that in 1998 the Vehicularly Housed Residents' Association, assisted by SFCOH, nearly created an authorised parking area for RVs and other inhabited vehicles. It would have had a washhouse and formal self-governance; there were architectural drawings. Then apparent support evaporated at City Hall; the plan collapsed. (A local news feature conveyed the possibilities though it understated police harassment and offended several interviewees [].)
This year, in passing a parking ordinance directed against RV dwellers, some members of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors (similar to local council) called for an authorised RV parking or storage area. However, the site suggested was remote Treasure Island; the purpose sounded like containment, not empowerment. Supervisor Carmen Chu told the San Francisco Chronicle [], "Traditionally, vehicularly housed individuals have been very difficult to get into city services … We are hoping that this will get these people to them."
In Sacramento, members of the Safe Ground Sacramento tent camp in 2011 secured a fact-finding visit from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the violation of their human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. (I've discussed this on my own blog [].) However, Steve Watters, director of the Safe Ground Sacramento NGO, said his group has given up assisting unauthorised tent camps because local elected officials would not stop the police from repeatedly evicting campers. Instead, the group is serving immediate needs with indoor shelter arrangements. Later members hope to create an authorised "transitional housing" site with solar-powered cabins surrounding a community centre with utilities. Residents would stay one year. Ideally they would move up in life, but in case not, the group was struggling with "what do you do at the end of the year?"
Mike Rhodes, the embattled Fresno, California advocate I mentioned in previous articles, has managed to contract for portable toilets at camp sites without city objections. For six months he contracted for a Dumpster (skip) to remove residents' trash regularly from one large camp. He says Fresno is unique in that camps tend to remain for six months to two years, sometimes with solid wooden structures, between city demolition campaigns. Rhodes is involved now, for at least the second time, in a federal lawsuit over such demolitions.
In Seattle, in addition to Nickelsville (also mentioned previously), the SHARE/WHEEL local NGO supports two tentatively authorised tent camps []. Since my own past advocacy experience in San Francisco has involved frustrating efforts to protect formerly tolerated RV campers against gentrification, I'm glad to see academic researcher Graham Pruss winning respect and empathy for vehicular residents in Seattle [], recently as lead author of an advisory report to the Seattle city government that explains hardships of vehicle camping from the inside and calls for "safe parking" arrangements in the city [].
Dignity Village is one of several sites with groups of cabins. Residents have shared water taps, portable toilets, propane heat in cabins, hot water at central showers with authorised drain hook-ups, a computer room, electric coffeepots, and a microwave oven. Grubic regrets, however, that permits haven't come through for a real kitchen: "We get low marks on cooking." And he hopes for a better location: the current site gets leaf mould smells from the city composting facility and noise from the nearby airport.
Of course there's always room to improve, to "unslum". But it's great to see these sites steadily improving conditions on low budgets without waiting for someone to raise the absurdly high costs of conventional subsidised "affordable housing".
I have one more storehouse of knowledge to recommend on informal housing. Significantly, it's the guide offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to counting "unsheltered" people in HUD's controversial "point-in-time" enumerations of homelessness []. The document's authors are required by laws and rules to define nearly everyone in informal housing as "unsheltered," yet they provide knowledgeable introductions to cases that ought to be viewed as exceptional, some third thing other than "unsheltered" or conventionally housed: "snowbird" RV-dwelling retirees; the "off-the-grid" community in California known as "The Slabs" []; the "colonias" near the Mexican border, where houses are formally owned or rented but lack proper utilities; other substandard rural housing []; trailers in rural areas whose residents count as "housed" or "unsheltered" depending largely on where they are parked with what level of permission.
It begins to seem that official knowledge unofficially includes significant awareness of informal housing; officials simply need to bring that knowledge out in the open and admit that it concerns housing.

Other encouragements -
Informal housing could benefit from a trend begun when the state of Rhode Island passed a Homeless Bill of Rights protecting, among much else, the right to exist and possess property and privacy rights in public space []. WRAP is now campaigning for a recently introduced California legislative bill that would grant rights similar to the Rhode Island measure [] [].
Another hopeful development is that Occupy encampments introduced middle-class demonstrators to homelessness in fall 2011 and 2012. As Barbara Ehrenreich explained [], voluntary and involuntary campers together faced the hounding and property destruction that police use against the poor in ways viewed as apolitical. News reports suggested Occupy campers who had nowhere else to live were not real protesters — illustrating Feldman's theory that homeless people are viewed as outside politics []. Maybe fellow demonstrators learned otherwise.
There's always danger that tent cities or parking areas could become places of enclosure rather than welcome. But it seems possible that democratic governance can emerge or persist in voluntary encampments.
The "homelessness" state of exception is an internal exile more populous than many US states. For most, the way out of this virtual prison isn't past formal gatekeepers into formal housing, but by blurring the lines drawn around people called "homeless" — and that requires people inside and outside the lines to contest their absurdity. People are starting to do that. And in the process, more Americans may be recognising each other as neighbours.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fascism at UC Davis

"UC Davis Surveillance Scandal" []

"Internal UC Davis emails Reveal Officials' Surveillance and Infiltration Tactics During Campus Tuition Increase Protests" []
"UC Davis Docs Reveal Officials' Surveillance and Infiltration Tactics During Campus Fee Increase Protests in 2010 "
* (Part 1 of 3) []
* (part 2 of 3) []
* (part 3 of 3) []

"UCD Police lie to create case against student they injured in UC Davis pepper spray incident?" []

"Report On UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident Finds Police Conduct ‘Objectively Unreasonable’"[]
"Students Sue UC Davis for Constitutional Violations Over Pepper-Spraying Incident"[]

After being arrested and injured during the university's brutal enforcement of tuition increases using pepper spray, in addition to charging Tomás with 21 misdemeanors as part of the Davis Dozen, the University is trying to take yet more from our dedicated comrade. They have requested and have been awarded more than $5000 restitution for a vandalism charge that should never have been brought. In addition, Tomás will be required to pay court fees for the privilege of being prosecuted.

Looking for local artists to support Tomas, one of the Davis dozen. If you have any work you can donate to a silent auction please do so!
Tomás is a student in the Art department at UC Davis. On November 18th, he was arrested along with nine other student protestors in what is now known as the infamous “pepper spray incident” on our campus. The police zip tied Tomás' wrists causing permanent radial nerve damage.
As a painter and a printmaker, this news should have been devastating to Tomás. Instead, he continues to humbly make artwork illustrating the myriad of voices and movements incorporated into his practice as an artist.
During finals week in March, UCD PD arrested Tomás, confiscating his art supplies, cell phone, and computer. He was thrown in jail and prevented him from contacting his family, friends, or a lawyer. It was only after he had been missing for several days that his friends were able to locate him and bail him out. Tomás was charged with multiple counts of felony vandalism.
With little evidence, the university administration and the UCD PD pursued him for virtually all graffiti found around the campus, especially graffiti that was explicitly political in content. His involvement in a lawsuit against the same police department and administration regarding the events of November 18th makes these charges highly suspect.
Tomás is being politically targeted for his involvement in student activism in the latest tactic of legal repression by the university. The brutality of the police was surpassed only by the injustice of the court system. Tomás was forced to accept a plea bargain in order to stop the damage the legal process was having on his life. This experience drove him deeply into debt, as all available time was devoted to his legal defense.
Now the university is demanding $6,000 in restitution money. We hope to send a clear message to the university that political repression will not be tolerated. We stand with Tomás and all of those who are active in creating a culture of resistance.
1) Donate and spread the word. We hope to raise the money ourselves, with the help of our friends, and the support of our communities. Every bit helps!
2) Friends of Tomás are organizing a silent art auction. If you have artwork or other items you wish to donate, please contact
3) If you have any other creative strategies, please get in touch!
Free Tomás!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Campaign to Save City College of San Francisco

Save CCSF: We Are City College!
Two campaigns that need funds – Please donate! 
Cartoon by Anthonty Mata for CCSF Guardsman   

We are working to ensure that the ACCJC’s authority is not renewed by the Department of Education this December when they are up for their 5-year renewal. Our campaign made it possible for over 50 Third Party Comments to be sent to the DOE re: the ACCJC. Our next step in this campaign is to send a delegation from CCSF to Washington, D.C. to give oral comments at the hearing on December 12th. We expect to have an array of forces aligned on the other side who have much more money and resources than we do.    So please support this effort to get ACCJC authority revoked!   

Save CCSF members have been meeting with Attorney Dan Siegel since last May to explore legal avenues to fight the ACCJC. After much consideration, and consultation with AFT 2121’s attorney as well as the SF City Attorney’s office, Dan has come up with a legal strategy that is complimentary to what is already being pursued. In fact, AFT 2121’s attorney is encouraging us to go forward.    The total costs of pursuing this (depositions, etc.) will be substantially more than $15,000. However, Dan is willing to do it for a fixed fee of $15,000. He will not expect a retainer, i.e. payment in advance, but we should start payments ASAP. If we win the ACCJC will have to pay our costs.   

Checks can be made out to Save CCSF Coalition with “legal” in the memo line and sent to:   
Save CCSF Coalition   2132 Prince St.   Berkeley, CA 94705   
Or you may donate online: []

"Saving City College of San Francisco; Stakes high in faculty contract negotiations"
2013-10 by Bob Price, PhD from "Freedom Socialist" newspaper []:
Bob Price, a chemistry professor at City College and member of AFT 2121, can be reached at
Like David fighting Goliath, City College of San Francisco (CCSF) faculty are in a pitched battle to protect their union, their students, and their school from destruction. They are up against big-business forces pushing to downsize or close community colleges so that profit-making schools can take over. Corporate foundations have lobbied to bring the California Chancellor for Community Colleges, and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) on board with their “reform” agenda.
 Faculty contract negotiations are now the critical front in a fifteen-month war to undermine the acclaimed college that serves 80,000 students. To win, it is imperative that faculty members mobilize their union, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121, to take militant action, including striking if necessary.
Attack spurs fight-back. Privatizers put the school and the union in a stranglehold in July when the ACCJC declared it would yank CCSF’s accreditation in summer 2014. The statewide chancellor followed this with a coup — dismissing the elected Board of Trustees and appointing a Special Trustee — a czar with unlimited power. The Save CCSF coalition, in which FSP and Radical Women representatives have played a key role, organized a rousing response. Students, faculty, staff and community members marched 3,000-strong to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) San Francisco office.
 After months of agitating with rallies, pickets, teach-ins, sit-ins, and press conferences, the tide began shifting against the corporatists. In response to a complaint filed by the union, DOE announced that the ACCJC is operating in violation of its own rules, with possible conflicts of interest. A state legislative committee ordered an audit of the accrediting agency and its practices. The San Francisco City Attorney filed lawsuits against the ACCJC and California Community College Governors to halt revocation of the school’s accreditation.
 Meanwhile, the faculty contract expired in December 2012. In July, the administration implemented a 5 percent permanent pay cut without negotiation. The last time AFT members got a raise was 2007 — accounting for inflation, their wages are down 19 percent. So, it’s no surprise that negotiations have reached impasse. Besides the slashed wages, administrators demand new contributions to retiree healthcare and the right to cancel any class without explanation.
Union key to maintaining quality public education. Management’s demands have far-reaching ramifications for students. A selling point of CCSF has been its strong faculty. Now, with the lowest salaries among San Francisco Bay Area community colleges, CCSF can no longer attract or retain the most talented and committed educators. Handing administrators the ability to cancel any class for any reason would leave registered scholars in the lurch and lead to a downward enrollment spiral. State funds, based on student numbers, would shrink, reducing class offerings even more. By rejecting concessions, AFT 2121 can maintain access to excellent courses and teachers.
 Victories would also build steam for winning back classes and services already axed for thousands of undergraduates. Last winter’s firing of dozens of academic counselors and part-time instructors has especially affected adult education classes, including English as a Second Language. Ethnic studies have been hurt by cuts to department chairs’ hours. Although AFT’s contract doesn’t directly address these areas, a strong stance sends a message to the privatizers to back off.
 Union-busting tactics are key to any attempt to privatize public institutions. By standing for strong contracts and organizing mass student and community support for pickets, job actions, and strikes, faculty locals like AFT 2121 can build an effective resistance for the long haul. This is what the Chicago public school teacher strike accomplished last year.
 AFT 2121 has taken some important steps to defend its members, the college, and students. The local’s leaders invited members to a round of negotiations in August. A hundred faculty members came in a show of strength against concessions. It was the union’s complaint with the DOE last spring that goaded the agency to cite the illegal behavior of the ACCJC. This was a good tool to push back against the corporate agenda, but the fight cannot be won solely through government agencies or the courts. Now is the time to keep up the pressure. As negotiations wend their way through the final stages of impasse mediation and fact-finding, college management and the corporate raiders are unlikely to back down. At that point, the union may be left with few choices — accept concessions or organize job actions or a strike.
 AFT leadership has discouraged strike talk, and many faculty members may be following their example. But the failure to confront management with a strike, labor’s strongest weapon, would be tantamount to giving up without a fight.
 Local officers also present the battle at CCSF as simply a struggle with the ACCJC, when it’s ultimately about privatization. This obscures the big picture and undercuts militancy. And AFT’s top officials, as in most unions, have close ties to the Democratic Party — a major advocate of corporatized education. So, from national and statewide leaders the word is out to toe the line and put a lid on militancy.
 Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents staff, is certainly no help. It has links to the pro-corporate Campaign for College Opportunity, and has thwarted efforts to involve its members in defending the school.
Rank-and-file and community activism needed. Union members are crucial to building the fight. Those who stand to lose the most from the take-aways are part-time, or adjunct, faculty members, often women and people of color. They, along with their full-time allies, urgently need to mobilize for job actions and a strike if necessary.
 If they are strong and link their demands to promoting student success, San Franciscans stand ready to support them. A neighborhood-based campaign can galvanize support.
 CCSF is a crucial test case. AFT’s battle for a good contract is a front in the whole fight for public education. It’s a struggle that can and must be won.

"CCSF Students Occupy City Hall, 26 Arrested"
2013-08-21 []:
After a rally and sit-in of several hundred students on August 20, at midnight 26 students were arrested for occupying City Hall, after Mayor Ed Lee refused to meet with them or support their demands:   
1) Drop All ACCJC Sanctions Against CCSF  
2) Fire Bob Agrella – End the “Special Trustee” Dictatorship   
Despite the fact that the Department of Education has severely criticized the ACCJC and is threatening to pull its accreditation [], the Mayor has refused to call for the immediate reversal of the ACCJC decision to close the school. The sit-in was prompted by the refusal of Mayor Lee over the past month to meet with students — and during the sit-in the Mayor and his representatives again repeatedly refused to come and meet with the students.   
While the Mayor claims to support City College, in fact he has sided with the corrupt ACCJC institution trying to shut down/downsize the school. Instead of siding with City College, Mayor Lee has openly supported the imposition of a “Special Trustee” dictatorship of Bob Agrella to force through cuts in the name of meeting the demands of the illegitimate and corrupt ACCJC commission. On August 19th, “Special Trustee” Agrella announced he has “chosen not to use the DOE letter in our request for review” of the ACCJC decision, claiming that “the best path to maintaining CCSF’s accreditation is to follow the Commission’s rules, regulations, and directions.” In other words, Agrella is protecting this illegitimate rogue body by not including in the college’s appeal the information most likely to overturn the ACCJC decision (which can only be cancelled on the basis of a failure to follow rules and procedure.) In the name of imposing cuts, Agrella is sabotaging the fight to repeal the ACCJC decision to close City College.   
The struggle against privatization and gentrification continues. Students, teachers, staff and their community allies will continue to mobilize until all sanctions against CCSF are lifted and all cuts stemming from this imposed crisis are reversed. All students are invited to a General Assembly at 4pm this Thursday (8/22) at the Student Union Lounge of the Ocean Campus. Defend Public Education. Save CCSF. Join the Movement. 
To get involved, contact
For text updates send “follow saveccsfnow” to 40404 
Links to More Press Coverage: 

"CCSF trustee turns fiery in retorts to accreditors"
2013-08-14 by Nanette Asimov from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Don't argue with the umpire.   
That's been the mantra of City College of San Francisco trustees for a year as they have struggled to satisfy the requirements of a stern accrediting commission without back talk or complaint.      
But now that the commission has said it will revoke the college's operating license next year and state officials have stripped the elected trustees of their decision-making powers, one trustee has broken ranks and decided it's time to get in the umpire's face.  
"The failure here is not City College's but the accreditor's," Trustee Rafael Mandelman wrote Monday in an opinion piece in The Chronicle, in which he argued that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is causing "real harm" to City College with its requirement that the school come into full compliance with all accrediting standards or lose its right to operate.   
He argues that City College has made substantial progress on its many deficiencies and therefore should not be threatened with the loss of its accreditation. To the commission, however, a college is either in compliance with accrediting standards or not. There is little in between.    
Other college trustees may share Mandelman's views, even showing up at Save City College rallies. But only Mandelman has joined faculty and student activists in freely criticizing the accrediting commission, to the consternation of college officials who are still trying to cooperate with the commission that holds their fate in its hands.  

Removed from committee -
He has already been removed from the committee searching for a permanent chancellor by Robert Agrella, the state-appointed "special trustee with extraordinary powers" who has run the college since July 8 instead of the trustees. (Agrella also removed student Trustee Shanell Williams, who has spoken out against the accrediting commission, and Trustee Anita Grier, who recently told the state college system's Board of Governors that City College didn't need Agrella's help. Trustee John Rizzo has encouraged cooperation with the accrediting process and will remain on the committee.)   
Mandelman, 39, ran for the Board of Trustees last fall on the promise of making the "real and decisive changes" demanded by the accrediting commission. He was the only newcomer elected to the board, which has seven voting members.    
But his views have changed, he said. "I'm now much more sympathetic to the critics" of the accrediting commission. He not only published the opinion piece Monday accusing the accreditors of damaging the college, but also traveled to Sacramento to deliver the same message to the college system's Board of Governors and to its statewide chancellor, Brice Harris.    
"When the institution you care about is struggling for its life, you go into battle mode," Mandelman said.   
He said a turning point for him came in April when a visiting accreditation team quizzed him extensively about an earlier opinion piece he'd published in March rebutting another piece by a former federal education official defending the accrediting commission's strict approach. 

Independent voice -
The visiting team's "take was that my piece was a troubling violation of the accrediting standard that the trustees speak with one voice," he said. (The standard for college governance says, in part: "Once the board reaches a decision, it acts as a whole.")     Mandelman said he understood the standard was meant to encourage effective governance, which he acknowledged was often lacking among the bickering trustees.    But he said he was amazed that the visiting team suggested his essay violated the standard.    "I don't think accreditation requires elected officials to give up their First Amendment rights," he said. "And if that's what the standards require, there's a problem with the standards."    Mandelman said the incident only inspired him to be more outspoken - especially after the commission's surprising verdict on July 3 that it will revoke City College's accreditation next summer.    But it's the kind of talk that has state community college officials on edge.    
"Mr. Mandelman's approach is a little like the auto accident victim on the emergency room operating table arguing with the doctors and nurses over who regulates the hospital. It does nothing to improve the chances of the patient pulling through," said Paul Feist, a spokesman for Harris, the state chancellor who previously served on the 19-member commission composed mainly of educators.  

The wrong message -
Harris has told activists "to take their fight with the accrediting commission somewhere else," because protesting at City College sends the message that trustees, faculty and staff can't be trusted to carry out the changes needed to bring the college into compliance with accrediting standards.     
"I think it's unfair of them to use City College as the sacrificial lamb in this process," Harris said.    
Almost as soon as the accrediting commission announced its decision, Harris and the Board of Governors took over college operations, hoping to achieve what the trustees and two interim chancellors could not.   
Harris replaced the trustees with Agrella, whose unilateral decisions may accelerate improvements and, they hope, win City College the right to stay open. Agrella is also overseeing efforts to get the accrediting commission to reconsider its decision.    
Mandelman has become skeptical.   
"I don't think anyone - including the state chancellor - knows how to solve this problem," he said.

SF Mayor Ed Lee, of the Democrat Party, Appoints an actual Fascist to SF Community College Board
2012-08-22 report by John Coté from "San Francisco Chronicle" []
Making waves: Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday appointed Rodrigo Santos, a structural engineer who has served on three different city commissions, to fill an open seat on the embattled City College Board of Trustees.
Santos, who was already the top fundraiser out of a field of 10 candidates vying for four spots on the board of trustees in the November election, now holds the seat left vacant after Milton Marks III died earlier this month from a brain tumor.
The appointment gives Santos the trappings of incumbency for about 2 1/2 months before a pivotal election for the college, which faces the threat of losing its accreditation in June because of poor financial management.
Lee said Santos' business background - he co-founded the engineering firm Santos & Urrutia in 1988 - was part of his draw as a trustee to help turn around California's largest public school, with its 85,000 students.
Santos has been criticized by some on the city's political left as a conservative and polarizing figure.
He was registered as a Republican for years before changing his affiliation in 2008 to the American Independent Party, according to the San Francisco Department of Elections. He switched to the Democratic Party in December.
Santos came under scrutiny in 2005 for a potential conflict of interest when he headed the Building Inspection Commission but was also hired as an engineer to help get approvals for a construction project that the city department overseen by the commission had shut down.
Lee dismissed the idea that Santos was a polarizing figure, saying, "The business background that Rodrigo brings to this is really a huge asset for City College."

Note from Dr.G.: The American Independent Party is Christian-Supremacist, and White-American Nationalist, according to their website []. Fascists hate public programs such as public education and public libraries. They want these public resources to be inefficient or privatized, and expensive for the majority of the Public, so that only the wealthy can access knowledge, and everybody else are relegated to being uneducated wage-slaves. Knowledge is Power. Power in the hands of the wealthy... That's fascism.

2012-08-24 "SF City College board takes first step toward scaling back its mission" by Joe Fitzgerald from "San Francisco Bay Guardian"
The first step was taken in changing City College of San Francisco’s educational mission at last night’s Board of Trustees meeting, a decision that would drastically alter what programs the college funds and who it serves.
The college’s mission statement is an overarching funding guideline, according to Gohar Momjian, the college’s accreditation liaison officer []. She presented the mission statement workgroup’s findings to the college’s board and a packed room of faculty and students last night.
Momjian oversees the 15 workgroups responsible for addressing the major areas the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges told the school it has to rectify. A failure to do so by March 2013 could result in the revocation of the school’s accreditation, which is necessary for the college’s degrees to be recognized and for the school to receive federal funding.
Simply put, City College was tasked by the ACCJC to gets its mission in line with current fiscal realities. The workgroups, tasked with brainstorming ways to reshape the college and meet the criteria of the accreditation team’s findings, will use the new mission statement as a guide for what programs are viable, said Momjian.
So what was cut out of the new mission statement? Completion of adult high school diplomas, GED’s (which help students test out of high school), active engagement in the social fabric of the community, lifelong learning, life skills, and enrichment courses were all dropped from the revised mission statement.
In their place was a statement making these things “conditional” on available resources. “In addition, the college offers other programs and services consistent with our primary mission, only as resources allow and whenever possible in collaboration with partnering agencies and community-based organizations,” reads the new draft statement of the college’s mission.
Essentially, the college promises to enrich the community only if the resources are available to do so. Students and faculty from classes geared towards older adults and also disabled students came out to oppose changes to the mission statement, and a loss of their funding.
“We have students that will wait 40 minutes in the rain in a wheelchair for a bus to get to class,” Disabled Students Programs and Services faculty Katherine Brown said to the board.
Shelly Glazer, faculty in the older adults program, left the board with a warning. “Here are the almost 2,000 letters written to the Student Success Task Force when they tried to cut our dollars,” Glazer said, dropping the huge stack of paper on the top of the podium. “They need your support, and you need theirs.”
Importantly, English as Second Language classes and basic skills classes were preserved in the primary mission guideline. “There are compromises made in the mission statement. There are things we can do under [better] conditions,” said Momjian in her report to the board. “That was our compromise.”
The board made a motion to approve the new draft mission statement, and voted unanimously in favor. The board will look at a second revised mission statement on Sept. 11, and take a final vote to amend the mission statement on Sept. 27. The draft mission statement can be read at the City College website here.
Forty-five problem areas were found in City College’s financial structures by a financial consulting group at the same college board meeting last night. The findings left the college board nearly speechless once the report was complete.
The Financial Crisis Management Team, known as FCMAT, was paid for by the state community college chancellor’s office and assigned to City College to help it review its finances. This was good timing with the recent accreditation troubles, but officially has no connection to the recent accreditation team visit or with any direction from the state chancellor’s office, FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told the college board.
Plumbtree and her associate Mike Hill made the presentation to the board on behalf of the four members of the “financial SWAT team,” as they’ve been dubbed by the board in the past. The report it gave to the board that night was only the tip of the iceberg.
“The report itself is going to be in the realm of 65 pages. There are about 45 specific recommendations,” said analyst Mike Hill. “But we do want to give you a sense of some of our observations first, and some of our recommendations grouped together.”
The hit list was read in a bullet point fashion, and as he rattled off each of the findings, the silence in the room deepened:
* The district has made a cost structure over time that can't be sustained in this economy.
* The district opted for short term solutions.
* Employee contracts have been made without long-term analysis.
* Decision making has been made by power and political whim rather than logic and fairness.
* The conduct of key leaders and the culture within the district have greatly diminished the role and the effectiveness of the management team.
* The district lacks data to assess sites.
* The district supports much more faculty than its closest peers.
* There's a history of maintaining a small fund balance, with 90-92 percent of the budget being committed to salary and benefits, the college needs to make adjustments.
* The department chair structure is not cost effective nor administratively sound.
* We're recommending a reduction in full time faculty through attrition.
* We're recommending the district not subsidize categorical programs, and that current subsidies be reassessed (the state cut funding for some categorical programs, like the second chance program, and City College has been eating that cost to the tune of around $20 million a year, according to AFT 2121 president Alisa Messer).
* Consider either elimination of department chairs or diminish them while empowering deans and giving them the ability to act.”
“There's a lot there, it covers a lot of territory, and you need to see the context and data and analysis in order to have informed questions, or else you'll be spinning our wheels,” Hill said to the stunned board.
Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree concluded by cautioning the board against inaction. “The circumstances the district found itself did not happen overnight, decisions made over many years brought you here,” she said. “You're going to have to move quicker than you want to, but that's what's needed.”
“Some of these things are new to me, but some of these things have come up in work groups. Some of these things are things we've known for years,” board President John Rizzo said after the report concluded. Financial administrators at City College declined to comment before the release of the full report. The 65-page final report will be made public on Sept. 18, and given to the college board a few days before that, Plumbtree said.
The City College Board of Trustees motioned to delay one of their most controversial votes at last night’s board meeting.
The board hopes to bring in a “special trustee,” who would be provided by the state, to help guide them through their recent accreditation woes. A special trustee is not simply a guide. A special trustee has veto power over the college board, giving the trustee unilateral decision making powers, according to college officials that night.
Most of the board welcomed the notion of outside help. The board has asked for $1.5 million dollars in cuts that never got made, Rizzo said, arguing for the need for the special trustee.
“It’s an enormous wealth of expertise that we do not have...We need someone from the outside to tell us where that mistake was made,” Rizzo said.
Trustee Chris Jackson wasn’t sure that the board had full knowledge of what it was asking. “I support a special trustee, but I have questions...How long would a trustee be here? What’s the process of asking them to leave?” Jackson asked, to the applause of the audience.
It was student Trustee William Walker who clarified the students’ position. He had a meeting with students the previous day, and they strongly disagreed with bringing in a special trustee to help run the school.
Given the history of special trustees in college districts, it's not surprising why. A report by the LA Sentinel [] shows the discord brought by one special trustee to the Compton community college district, also facing accreditation woes. To read a report of Compton College’s and how it mirrors City College, check out the Guardian report “Saving City College.” []
Special trustee Dr. Genethis Hudley-Hayes, was removed from her position as special trustee by State Community College Chancellor Jack Scott last September, according to the Sentinel article. The article cites multitudes of complaints against her by the community, who wrote a six page letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and Scott asking for Hayes’ removal.
“Who do you serve and why are you here?” Associated Students President Shanell Williams said to the board during its public comment session. “It’s shameful... If you can’t make decisions without a special trustee, then we need a new board.”
Student Kitty Lui said that the board’s decision to bring in a special trustee would undercut the democratic will of the community.
“If you don’t know how to move forward, I don’t know why you’re still here,” she said.
Despite students’ objections, if the board does not choose a special trustee, the likelihood is that one will be imposed on them, Jackson said. The board ultimately decided to shelve the decision until a special meeting on Sept. 11.
Interestingly, the “financial SWAT team,” FCMAT, thinks that a special trustee is a good idea. “To have an outside expert is always good,” FCMAT Chief Analyst Michelle Plumbtree told The Guardian. “Sometimes, you’re just too close.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Oakland is Rising against Fascism

2012-08-10 "NY Times Underestimates Oakland’s Radicals" by Davey D
A protester speaks at a rally for Oscar Grant. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Thomas Hawk.

Last week The New York Times published a piece called “Oakland, the Last Refuge of Radical America” that pretty much had everyone in Oakland, including some of the folks they interviewed, scratching their heads and mouthing a collective WTF?  Reporter Jonathan Mahler seemed more interested in crafting a fictional piece to rival famed writer Jack London, whom he referenced, rather than telling the truth and putting the subject matter he highlighted in its proper context. His article basically paints Oakland as a seedy, dangerous, impoverished Wild West where anarchy abounds, crime is rampant and where folks (mostly white) are flocking to exercise and keep ‘radical’ politics alive. Keep in mind this is all coming from the same New York Times that earlier this year declared “Oakland as the 5th Best place in the World to Visit,” where they penned glowing reviews citing all the new restaurants, cultural activities, abundant nightlife etc.
I don’t know how much longer Occupy Oakland will survive. But I do know this: its disappearance wouldn’t end radical politics in Oakland. That’s because there’s something The New York Times forgot to mention. Oakland has a large community of astute, determined, political activists who pre-date Occupy. And I’m not just talking about people who were active in the 1960s.  This is a city where folks are simply not content to sit back and wait for a messianic leader to come along and make things happen.
‘Radical politics’ — in Mahler’s world — are those who like to throw rocks at windows, fight the police for the notoriety and recapture the hey days of the Black Panthers and rowdy rebellious spirit of the Hells Angels who have a chapter here. That in no way describes what people are all about here in Oakland. It diminishes the true grind that organizers put in day-in and day-out to improve their community and better this city. Those who take direct action in the face of oppression do so because they have little or no choice. It’s not something to be romanticized, it’s not a game, even if this writer came across a few individuals who thought it was.
So let’s put a couple of things on the table that The New York Times and Mahler omitted, starting with the Movement to win Justice for Oscar Grant. For those who don’t know, Grant was a unarmed 22-year-old man who was shot point-blank by a BART police officer on New Year’s morning 2009, while he lay face down, restrained on the Fruitvale station platform in Oakland. His killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced in November 2010 to two years in prison. To not mention the intense, well-heeled organizing efforts that took place for more than two years around Grant and how it was a direct precursor to the Occupy Movement in Oakland that enabled it to flourish is akin to someone doing a piece on police brutality incidents in New York City and not mentioning Sean Bell or Amadou Diallo.
Simply put, the Occupy Movement found a home in Oakland, not because it was this mythical  ‘last place on earth for radicalism‘. It flourished because it was preceded by an intense, well-heeled movement for social justice that addressed many of the overarching issues that eventually were raised by the Occupy Movement. Occupy had a nice way of framing things, 99% vs 1%. But economic disparities, the prison industrial system, school spending relative to money spent on prisons and the dominance of corporations and their influence on legislation and politicians were all issues that were unavoidable and vigorously tackled as folks struggled to get justice for Grant.
To be completely honest many of those aforementioned issues were being addressed by various organizations even before Grant. If we did a complete history of the Oakland and Bay Area social movements you could write a book as some already like SF State Professor Andreanna Clay, The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back: Youth, Activism and Post-Civil Rights Politics where an in-depth run down of political battles in Oakland post civil rights is accurately chronicled. If you look at the history, one would have to name check everything from the Free Speech Movements, Anti-War Movements and the Black Panthers to the Anti-Apartheid Divestment Movement which was recognized by Nelson Mandela, to the Chicano Moratorium, to the fights around Prop 187 (anti-immigration), Prop 209 (anti-affirmative action) and later Prop 21 (juvenile crime Bill), which were all assaulting pieces of legislation that politicized the last few generations.
To read this New York Times piece and see how the writer leap frogs from the heyday of the Black Panthers and activism in the late 60s and 70s to Occupy, overlooking the few movements I mentioned above and the many more I haven’t is to erase history and paint a false narrative. He makes it sound like there was nothing cracking off in Oakland before the Occupy. He makes it sound like all the organizations putting in work just folded up and went home.
In the past 10 years, most of it under former Mayor Jerry Brown, we’ve seen the city of Oakland be forced to spend a whooping 58 million dollars in police brutality settlement claims. All this money has been spent while the city claims to be broke resulting in all sorts of school closures. We’ve seen record numbers of foreclosures in Black and Brown communities resulting in the city losing almost 25% of its African-American population. We’ve also seen a substantial number of ICE raids targeting brown and Southeast Asian communities even as Oakland has declared itself a sanctuary city. The Oscar Grant murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back and brought everyone together.
This is extremely important to note, because for 2 years leading up to the Occupy Movement, folks from various ethnic backgrounds, and political persuasions and stripes found ways to work together and at the very least co-exist, as everyone pushed hard to get justice for Oscar Grant. It was unprecedented. You had everyone involved from suit and tie church-goers to blue-collar labor folks to longtime grassroots youth activists to traditional civil rights leaders to white t-shirt wearing cats off the block to longtime police reform advocates to students both in college and high school. You had revolutionary and anarchist types working alongside folks from the Nation of Islam working alongside immigration reform folks working alongside teachers and professors.
It wasn’t always easy to organize and there were more than a few days in which folks butted heads when deciding on tactics. Some wanted direct action while others wanted to give things a chance to work its way through the system. Many of the debates that came up under the Grant Movement and even movements prior to Grant are the same debates we saw eventually emerge about Occupy: diversity of tactics, reforming the system versus overturning the system, people of color and white privilege, the role of women etc. Such topics are decades old and have long been debated in movements above and beyond Occupy. They will continue to be debated and that’s not a bad. At the end of the day, it makes your movement stronger.
In Oakland because of the Oscar Grant Movement, everyone came away knowing each other. Even if you didn’t agree with folk’s politics you were very aware who was whom and what they stood for and what was their political ‘get down’. The Occupy Movement was the beneficiary of those hard-fought battles and lessons learned, giving them a running start build upon and take the fight for social justice to other levels, including getting tens of thousands of folks out for November’s General Strike, shutting down ports along the West Coast and feeding folks up to a thousand meals a day…
It was a big miss and journalistic dishonesty by The New York Times not to mention any of these radicals. With or without Occupy, the issues will continue to be aggressively addressed.
Is Oakland the last refuge for Radicalism where outsiders are invading the city? No, Oakland is a city where people are not shy about fighting for a demanding justice. The real outside agitators are the police where 75% of its members don’t live in Oakland, yet their insidious activities of brutality have cost the city tens of millions of dollars.
We been lucky to have a strong media justice movement with a lot of independent media to tell our story regardless of what outlets like The New York Times says or doesn’t say. There are scores of other places around the country where folks fight hard for similar things — from Detroit to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Jackson, Mississippi to Tuscon, Arizona to name a few. This article didn’t illustrate Oakland, instead it highlighted just how out of touch and desperate traditional news outlets are to drum up traffic and keep themselves relevant using half-truths and controversial statements as fodder.

Protest of the Oscar Grant verdict. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jonathan McIntosh

2012-08-01 "How Oakland became the spiritual capital of Occupy Wall Street" by Jonathan Mahler from "New York Times Magazine"
Jonathan Mahler is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and the author of “The Challenge” and “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning.”
The Anti-Capitalist Brigade started gathering early on May Day at Oakland’s Snow Park. There was free coffee, oatmeal, doughnuts, fliers with the day’s agenda and plenty of pot. A “street medic”—“I just finished a wilderness first-aid course,” he told me when I asked about his training — tended to his first case of the day, a man in his 20s whose leg had been beaten to a purple hue with a metal rod in an overnight fight in the park. Nearby, an organizer reminded protesters to take down the toll-free number for the National Lawyers Guild: “This is important. Do not put it in your cellphones, because if you get arrested, the cops will take those away. Write it on your bodies. In indelible ink. There are Sharpies on the table.”
No central action was planned. A coalition of labor unions had asked Occupy Oakland, with its proven ability to turn out large numbers of militant activists, to blockade the Golden Gate Bridge, but then withdrew the request at the last minute. Instead, thousands of Occupy protesters met at various “strike stations” and fanned out into the streets with shields and gas masks (or the homemade alternative: bandannas soaked in vinegar), transforming downtown Oakland into a roving carnival of keyed-up militants of every shape and size: graduate students, tenured professors, professional revolutionaries, members of the Black Bloc, dressed like ninjas, their faces obscured.
Joints were passed, but this was not a mellow crowd. A barefoot man known as Running Wolf grabbed an American flag from outside a popular cop bar and dragged it behind him. Packs of protesters charged into businesses, overturning tables, shattering windows and smashing A.T.M.’s. An activist spray-painted vulgarities on the window of a Bank of America branch.
The Menace was loose again, as Hunter S. Thompson wrote about a different group of rabble-rousers, the Hell’s Angels. This riot had a soundtrack, too, a cacophony of chants—“Strike! Take Over!” and “Take Back Oakland! Kick Out the Yuppies!”—overlaid with beating snare drums and the rhythmic thump-thumping of the police and news helicopters hovering overhead.
Many businesses were closed, less in solidarity with May Day than out of fear of reprisal from protesters. The rumored targets weren’t just the big corporations, but smaller shops that were the quarry of the so-called antigentrification brigade. In an Occupy Oakland twist on the “Soul Brother” signs that shopkeepers used during the race riots of the 1960s, Awaken, an upscale cafe and art gallery, had plastered its windows with signs reading:
“We are Oakland. We are the 99%.” As the swarm made its way down Broadway, shouting, pounding on windows and throwing bottles at stores, two Asian immigrants hastily boarded up their small, sad-looking beauty-supply store. When I tried to talk to one of them, he shooed me away —“Too busy”— and reached for another board.
A few blocks away, I spotted Phil Tagami, a real estate developer who has taken to standing guard in the lobby of his downtown office building with a shotgun during protests. Dressed in black fatigue pants and combat boots, he was scuffling with a group of activists who were trying to force their way into another upscale cafe called Rudy’s Can’t Fail.
Clusters of cops in riot gear stood impassively outside a few strategic locations. Others jogged around the city in formation. At one point, a few officers knocked a protester in a black hoodie off her bicycle, pushed her facedown on the ground and roughly zip-tied her hands. An angry crowd quickly converged, chanting, ‘‘Pigs go home!’’ Then there was a pop — the firing of a tear-gas canister — and a cloud of chemical smoke quickly swept across the block, temporarily dispersing the protesters.
As the activists collected at the intersection outside City Hall, Scott Olsen, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran who was shot at close range in the head last fall with a beanbag round by the Oakland Police, rolled a cigarette and calmly observed the chaos through glazed blue eyes, his long, stringy blond hair protruding from beneath a protective helmet. He looked less like an ex-Marine than a stoned, skinny teenager who had gotten lost on his way to the skate park. I asked him what brought him out. ‘‘I can’t stay home on a day like this,’’ he said.

LAST SPRING, as the Occupy movement struggled, vainly, to recapture its lost energy in New York and elsewhere, in Oakland it remained vital. Occupy Oakland was the show that wouldn’t close, complete with its own cast of celebrities, including Olsen, the movement’s Ron Kovic; Tagami, the city’s Charles Bronson; its mayor, an ex-radical herself; her countless critics; and Oakland’s infamous police department — O.P.D.
In a sense, Oakland is the last place you would expect to find the most stubbornly active outpost of the Occupy movement. It’s a city almost entirely devoid of financial or corporate institutions, a city that “capital” fled decades ago. The shimmering skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco, packed with Pacific Heights investment bankers and venture capitalists, are all of 12 minutes away. Silicon Valley, bursting at the seams with dot-com millionaires, isn’t much farther. Why not take the fight there, to a more plausible surrogate for Wall Street?
Maybe because Occupy Oakland, whether its leaders have articulated it or not, isn’t a protest against what Oakland is, but rather what it’s in danger of becoming. Oakland may be broke, but all of the wealth being generated in its immediate vicinity needs someplace to go, and some of that wealth is already beginning to find its way to Oakland, to a place that has long been the catch basin of America’s radical energies and personalities.
Why are radicals so inexorably drawn to Oakland? The cheap rents don’t hurt (free, if you’re willing to squat in an abandoned house or industrial space, and hundreds apparently are). Oakland is urban, dangerous and poor—fertile social conditions for inciting revolution. What’s more, it has a long, easily romanticized history of militancy. America’s last citywide strike, in 1946, took place there; the Black Panthers were born in Oakland; and David Hilliard, a former Black Panthers chief of staff, still gives three-hour tours of the movement’s local landmarks and sells his own line of Black Panthers hot sauce: “Burn Baby Burn.”
Running parallel to this history of political militancy is a history of lawlessness. In the early 1970s, when the Hell’s Angels were scandalizing America, their most infamous clubhouse was located in East Oakland. The Oakland native Felix Mitchell was one of the first to scale up corner drug dealing into a multimillion-dollar, gang-controlled business. On his death—he was stabbed in Leavenworth in 1986 —the city gave him a hero’s send-off: thousands came out to see his coffin borne through his old East Oakland neighborhood by a horse-drawn carriage trailed by more than a dozen Rolls Royces and limousines.
In Oakland, the revolutionary pilot light is always on. At the dawn of the 20th century, the Oakland writer and social activist Jack London said this to a group of wealthy New Yorkers: “A million years ago, the cave man, without tools, with small brain, and with nothing but the strength of his body, managed to feed his wife and children, so that through him the race survived. You on the other hand, armed with all the modern means of production, multiplying the productive capacity of the cave man a million times—you are incompetents and muddlers, you are unable to secure to millions even the paltry amount of bread that would sustain their physical life. You have mismanaged the world, and it shall be taken from you.”
It’s a dream that still exists in Oakland — that the world can be taken from the haves and delivered to the have-nots. Like all dreams that are on the brink of being extinguished, its keepers cling to it with a fierceness that is both moving and an extreme exercise in the denial of the reality that is at their door.
“I’m not afraid to call myself a Communist,” the rapper and activist Boots Riley told me one morning last spring in the kitchen of his weather-beaten yellow Victorian house in Oakland’s Lower Bottoms section. “I think some people call themselves everything but, because they don’t want to associate themselves with the failures and mistakes that other folks who have called themselves Communists have made. But Christians don’t stop calling themselves Christians just because some other Christians made some mistakes.”
 Riley was getting dressed as we talked, combing out his black-power Afro with a cake cutter, a once-popular African-American grooming accessory that he now has to order from online cooking sites. He covered his face unevenly with shaving cream and carefully sculptured his prominent sideburns — tapered muttonchops that stretch to the corners of his mouth like a pair of giant peninsulas. Virtually anywhere else, Riley would look and sound about as out of place as someone speaking Old English in colonial dress. But in Oakland, a kind of Amish village of retro-radicals, he makes perfect sense.
 When Riley first visited Occupy Wall Street’s encampment in New York, it didn’t do much for him. “It bothered me that there was no agenda,” he said. “Just a lot of folks saying, ‘I don’t have an answer.’ ” But Occupy Oakland felt different. “Our strategy is not just to get people to say, ‘We don’t like the banks,’ ” he said. “This is about getting folks to confront the system where they are.”
 In Oakland, Riley is radical royalty, which in hard-left circles helps offset the somewhat credibility-undermining fact that he’s also a legitimate hip-hop star, albeit one with a mostly cult following. His father was an N.A.A.C.P. pioneer, militant organizer and civil rights lawyer who met Riley’s mother at a 1968 student strike at San Francisco State University. Hanging in Riley’s kitchen is a picture of him as an infant, clutching a copy of Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth,” an anti-colonialist manifesto that was required reading for radical ’60s activists.
 Many local radicals come to Oakland via a nearby U.C. campus: Berkeley, Davis or Santa Cruz. Riley is Oakland-bred. The first action he ever led, at age 15, was a strike to protest budget cuts at his predominantly black public high school. The rapping came later, after the rise of politically conscious, militant hip-hop. There’s a long history of popular musicians taking up revolutionary causes. Riley inverted the equation: He was a revolutionary who turned to music to get his message out to more people. His band is called the Coup — as in coup d’état.
 Riley’s politics are extreme. He doesn’t want to see capitalism reformed; he wants to see it toppled. “We need a system that’s not based on profit, but that’s based on helping people, that’s based on some sort of mutual control of resources,” he says.
 Recently, Riley has been trying to channel the radical energies that Occupy Oakland unleashed. He’s less interested in smashing windows — “that’s a tactic that . . . immediately draws a line between you and the people” — than in gathering new circles of supporters. This can be a challenge given the movement’s local record of vandalism and destruction.
 Later that spring afternoon, I joined Riley as he canvassed a strip mall to let people know about an upcoming protest at a home-foreclosure auction.
 “There’s this woman Nell who’s getting her home auctioned off from underneath her, and we need to go and stop that from happening,” he told an African-American man inside a Starbucks. “What do you think? Do you want to come through and help us save this woman’s home?”
 “I don’t know,” the man replied. “You guys have been doing a lot of parading around, tearing stuff up and just getting people upset. It’s against the law to shut down the auction.”
 “So was integrating coffee shops,” Riley said. “Should we not have done that? This would be a whites-only Starbucks if that hadn’t happened.”
It’s strange to think of Oakland, with its 19 miles of coastal waterfront, as a rust-belt town, but that’s exactly what it is. In the late 19th century, Oakland Point was the western terminus for the transcontinental railroad, which, coupled with the city’s access to the sea, made it an ideal destination for factories, canneries and warehouses.
 During World War II, Oakland’s factories and shipyards churned out warships at a furious pace, providing jobs to tens of thousands of black migrant workers from the South. From 1940 to 1945, Oakland’s African-American population more than quadrupled. The influx of blacks ultimately drove many white residents either to the suburbs or north into the hills. Over the course of the ’60s and ’70s, the jobs disappeared, and the city spiraled downward.
 Oakland is now a sprawling and diverse but segregated city of about 400,000, a real-life Monopoly board that operates on a de facto economic principle of urban design: it gets poorer and more dangerous as you descend from the eucalyptus-scented hills into the urban flatlands. Its downtown is still lined with architectural masterpieces, decaying reminders of the city’s haute bourgeois past amid unmistakable signs of a diminished present — like grand prewar hotels that have been converted into Section 8 housing.
 Oakland’s civic core, such as it is, is shrinking. The city has three professional sports teams. One team, the A’s, are trying desperately to relocate to San Jose. Another, the Raiders, may wind up in Los Angeles soon — again. (The city continues to pay about $20 million a year for the deal that brought them back to Oakland.) The third, the Golden State Warriors, who conspicuously refuse to include “Oakland” in their name, are preparing to move to San Francisco.
 Oakland is $2 billion in debt and counting. To balance its precarious budget, the city has been reduced to crude accounting tricks like selling the Kaiser Convention Center — shuttered in 2006, when the city could no longer afford to maintain it — to its own redevelopment agency for $28 million.
 A couple of years ago, in an effort to shore up the city’s eroding tax base, members of Oakland’s City Council voted to allow the industrial-scale cultivation of medical marijuana and grant permits for four indoor pot plantations of unlimited size before Washington intervened. The city still receives millions in tax dollars from its medical-marijuana dispensaries, but that income stream may be in jeopardy. In April, federal agents descended on downtown Oakland and raided a dispensary and Oaksterdam University — the so-called Princeton of Pot, which offers classes in cannabis cultivation. (This being Oakland, as the agents filled a U-Haul with confiscated computers and enough pot plants to get much of the city stoned, a crowd gathered outside chanting: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”)
 When Oakland officials leave the city government, they tend to not go quietly. Last year, Oakland’s departing attorney, John Russo, said he was resigning because he had “moral objections” to the way the city was being run. “The government is led by people who have spent their whole lives fighting authority,” Russo told me. “Now they are the authority, and they don’t know how to deal with that. It’s a uniquely immature and narcissistic leadership group, and that’s why they’re always fighting with each other.”
 For a few weeks last fall, Mayor Jean Quan could look out her third-floor office window and into Occupy Oakland’s teeming encampment, where, among other goings on, Running Wolf was living in a tree house in an old oak, lowering his waste down in a bucket.
 The encampment was equal parts revolutionary base camp and modern-day Hooverville. Its kitchen was a popular destination for the hungry, homeless and mentally ill, many of whom were already sleeping in the plaza when the tents appeared. Others weren’t far behind. One homeless man, who has since become a prominent figure in the movement, first visited the camp with the intention of stealing pot from the hippies who were living there. It turned out that the pot, like everything else, was free. “We spent a lot of time counting people to see if we could move some of the mentally ill people out, but a lot of them didn’t want to move,” Quan told me recently. “These kids were giving them free food, free wine and free dope. I’d stay here, too, if I were them.”
 Quan’s first instinct when the tents rose on Oct. 10 was to let the protesters stay. There were just a few issues that needed addressing: the illegal open fires, the unauthorized and possibly dangerous use of City Hall’s power outlets, the 911 calls reporting incidents of violence and sexual harassment inside the camp.
 Arturo Sanchez, an earnest young deputy city administrator, was dispatched to serve as Oakland’s liaison to the movement. His brief was to both express the city’s concerns about the camp and to listen to the protesters’ complaints. He quickly learned that the protesters wanted nothing to do with him or anyone else representing the city. “It’s a shame,” he says. “If they had come to us with an agenda, we’re probably one of the few cities that would have written resolutions and lobbied our state legislators and sent a message along with our mayor when she went to the White House.”
 Oakland’s government mistakenly treated an insurrectionist movement as a progressive one. Occupy Oakland’s organizers weren’t disenfranchised liberals but committed anarchists operating from a revolutionary playbook that prohibited all negotiations with government officials. In fact, government officials were at the top of their target list. As one Occupy Oakland blogger put it, the goal was to launch “unmediated assaults on our enemies: local government, the downtown business elite and transnational capital.”
 Once Quan decided later in October to dismantle the camp, everything that could possibly go wrong did. The police moved in on the morning of Oct. 25, a day before she was expecting them to, and while she was on her way back to Oakland from Washington. During the raid, they injured an Iraq war veteran, of all people.
 Quan is not on the best of terms with her own Police Department. She was herself named in a police report shortly before she took office in January 2011 for her conduct at a police-brutality protest, and the police union spent thousands of dollars backing one of her opponents. “The theory among some of my left friends and among some members of my family was that I was set up,” she said. “You know, I was out of town, they closed down the camp a day early and then overreacted. Certain people in the police had tried to set me up before. I mean, my car got booted right after the election.”
 “Why?” I asked.
 “To send the message that they can do what they want,” Quan said. “That I better watch out.”
 Quan’s efforts at damage control only compounded the mess. After the first eviction, she permitted the protesters to return to the plaza in front of City Hall and set up a second encampment. Days later, thousands of people — estimates range from 7,000 to 100,000 — participated in a strike that shut down most of the city’s businesses and the port of Oakland, a vital source of jobs and revenues, prompting Quan to label them “economic terrorists.”
 The police union, for its part, publicly criticized the mayor for sending “mixed messages” about Occupy. On Nov. 14, she kicked the protesters out of the plaza for a second time.
 By that point, Quan’s popularity was in free fall. In December, her approval rating dropped to 19 percent, and she became the target of two recall efforts (both of which have been abandoned).
 When I met with her in March, Quan told me that she didn’t want to waste too much time talking about Occupy. “It was just a blip,” she said. “It came and went.”
 Several weeks later, on May Day, the protesters were again rampaging through Oakland.
 By the time Riley and I arrived at the home-foreclosure auction at the Alameda County Courthouse, dozens of protesters were already trying to push their way into the building via a side entrance. The crowd parted for Riley, and he wove his way toward the metal detector in the entryway. A muscular African-American police officer blocked his path. Riley grew annoyed.
 “I respect your frustration,” the officer said. “I also respect your artistry. I’m a big fan of your music.”
 The officer started quoting from one of Riley’s early songs, “Fat Cats and Bigga Fish,” the story of a small-time hustler who sneaks into a black-tie party planning to steal anything he can. It’s a comic narrative that builds to an ironic, political twist: the hustler winds up getting a lesson in real hustling when he overhears his city’s mayor talking to a corrupt real estate developer. (“Ain’t no one player that could beat this lunacy/Ain’t no hustler on the street could do a whole community.”)
 “ ‘All right then, let’s begin this,’ ” the police officer rapped, picking up midway through the song. “ ‘Nights like this is good for business.’ ”
 “You didn’t listen to any of the lyrics,” Riley interrupted.
 “Yes I did,” the officer replied.
 “The lyrics are talking about the people being able to express their power and control their environment,” Riley said. “And you’re stopping that.”
 “That has nothing to do with what I’m doing right now.”
 Word quickly spread that the auction could be taking place around the corner on the steps of the courthouse. “That’s perfect proof of why this movement has to exist as opposed to just art,” Riley told me as we followed the crowd around to the front of the building. “Because you can listen to my music and just still be manipulated by other things and end up becoming a cop.”
 Hundreds of protesters soon gathered on the courthouse steps, chanting: “Hey, hey! Go home! Our house will not be sold today!” No one was quite sure what was going on. Was that the auctioneer they had seen walking to his car? Had the auction been postponed?
 A few protesters spotted a man in khaki shorts, a red Titleist baseball cap and sunglasses, clutching a clipboard with a list of addresses — a prospective investor, they surmised, who had come to the courthouse to snatch up a foreclosed home or two. A large circle of activists rapidly closed in on him, moving within inches of his face, chanting: “Scumbag! Scumbag! Scumbag!”
Oakland’s chief of police, Howard Jordan, a 23-year member of the force, had the misfortune of taking over the department three days after the first Occupy Oakland encampment went up. “Our chief goal has always been to facilitate people’s right to assemble and give them a right to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he told me shortly after May Day in his office at Police Headquarters, which overlooks a medical-marijuana dispensary, Oakland Organics.
 That’s not exactly how it has looked in viral videos of flash grenades and police-baton beatings at Occupy Oakland protests. In February, the federal monitor charged with overseeing the Police Department said he was “thoroughly dismayed” by some of its behavior. In particular, he criticized the department’s “overwhelming military-style” response to the Occupy protesters. The clashes that took place the night Scott Olsen was injured triggered a record number of internal-affairs complaints. The department has since missed its court-imposed deadline for investigating these complaints; to expedite the process, it outsourced the cases to law firms and investigators, an added expense of $750,000.
 Jordan was not going to be unprepared for May Day, calling in hundreds of mutual-aid officers from neighboring towns, including SWAT teams. The day proved to be a relative success for the Police Department. Considerable damage was done to the city, and one police car was set on fire, but tear gas and other so-called nonlethal munitions were used only sparingly. There were no serious injuries, and only 39 protesters were arrested, compared with 400 at the last major Occupy action.
 But Occupy is just the beginning of Jordan’s problems. On the most basic level, his department can’t protect its citizens. Budget cuts continue to reduce the size of the force — to 640 today from 800 officers in 2010 — even as incidents of violent crime continue to rise: Oakland’s murder rate is up 5 percent over last year, when 110 were killed, and robberies are up 24 percent.
 Oakland’s police force already consumes more than 40 percent of the city’s general-purpose fund. Clearly, this is not enough. After a round of layoffs in 2010, the department announced that it would no longer respond to burglaries and break-ins that were not in progress. (They have since amended the policy so officers will now respond to home burglaries “when possible.”) Officers have not discouraged store owners in especially dangerous neighborhoods from arming themselves.
 The department’s every move is scrutinized by federally appointed independent monitors, a result of a settlement agreement reached with the city in 2003, when four Oakland police officers were accused of planting evidence, falsifying reports and using excessive force. It gets worse. The department’s efforts to comply with the settlement agreement and implement reforms have cost it millions in extra payments to independent consultants. And that’s in addition to the $57 million the department has paid over the last decade to settle various police-misconduct lawsuits.
 According to the city’s former police chief, Anthony Batts, the federal scrutiny has, perversely, hurt the department’s ability to fight violent crime in Oakland, forcing the department to assign more detectives to internal affairs than to homicides. “You wind up with tons of police officers inside a building counting data so you can check off boxes,” Batts told me. “Meanwhile, people are dying in the streets.”
 Batts resigned abruptly in October after just two years on the job, taking the customary potshots at the city on his way out the door. (He told a reporter that Oakland treats its Police Department like “a necessary evil.”)
 His successor, Jordan, now finds himself dealing with a demoralized force, only 15 percent of whose officers actually live in Oakland, according to Quan. Jordan is also dealing with a community that doesn’t trust the men and women sworn to protect them. Like everything else in Oakland, the negative perception of the department is entangled with the city’s history: in the aftermath of World War II, Oakland’s municipal leaders recruited white Southerners to police their increasingly black city.
 Jordan’s department is running out of time to comply with the reforms mandated by the settlement agreement. In a matter of months, the O.P.D. could be placed in federal receivership. I asked Jordan how the federal government would go about running a municipal police department. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a police department that has gone into receivership. It’s not something that I want to be the first to do.” He paused for a moment to give the matter a little further thought. “I imagine that I would become an assistant chief.”
“Why is this happening to Oakland?” Ignacio De La Fuente, a city councilman, asked me, gesturing toward his office window in the midst of the May Day chaos. “It’s our fault. The mayor failed to recognize that this was a problem that if we let grow would have a detrimental impact on the city. The mayor failed miserably dealing with Occupy, and she’s failing miserably now.”
 We were sitting on the second floor of Oakland’s deserted City Hall, a gorgeous, cream-colored, Beaux-Arts wedding cake of a building — America’s first government skyscraper — that rose from the rubble of the Great Earthquake of 1906. Downstairs, police officers in riot gear stood guard in front of the building’s entrance. Their presence was by no means a symbolic gesture: when Occupy protesters turned out en masse for an action in late January, City Hall was ransacked. Windows and glass display cases were smashed, flags stolen and burned, an architectural model of City Hall itself toppled.
 De La Fuente, a small, tough-looking man with a raspy, Spanish-inflected voice, sneaked across the Mexican border in 1970, unable to speak a word of English. He started out as a dishwasher, then became a machinist and labor leader. He was elected in 1992 to Oakland’s City Council as part of a wave of left-wing political reformers fighting for impoverished neighborhoods devastated by unemployment, crack cocaine and municipal neglect in the ’80s.
 As he ranted, De La Fuente sounded more like a law-and-order Republican than a former illegal immigrant and militant union organizer. “This incredible amount of money we have spent baby-sitting these people,” he said, referring to the protesters. “It should be absolutely unacceptable.”
 Oakland can have a peculiar effect on progressive politicians. In 1999, the corporate-America-bashing former-and-future California governor Jerry Brown swept into the mayor’s office and promptly set about undertaking an ambitious, aggressively pro-business agenda for the city. Brown, who had a Labrador named Dharma, was soon cozying up to real estate developers, lobbying the state to loosen its environmental review process on urban construction and conjuring visions of a new Oakland, with a downtown ballpark for the A’s and a luxury resort hotel and casino. The centerpiece of his redevelopment plan, the 10K Project, was to lure 10,000 well-off residents to gleaming downtown condominium towers, establishing a new tax base and driving the growth of retail stores and restaurants.
 De La Fuente was now straining to be heard over the protest raging outside. An aide closed the window, but the noise continued to seep in. The councilman went on, almost shouting: “The national and international bad reputation, the perception and the reality unfortunately that Oakland is a place where they can do things that they cannot do anywhere else, that it’s a magnet for troublemakers — we’re seeing that here again today.”
 As if on cue, a loud bang rang out — the detonation of a flash grenade from the Oakland Police.
Manifesto Bicycles is a boutique bike shop in downtown Oakland that specializes in single-speed and fixed-gear bikes, or “fixies,” and also sells a small selection of Oakland-made apparel, like a T-shirt featuring a bicycle tire, a razor blade, a syringe and the words “Welcome to Oakland.” Its owners are the husband-and-wife team of Sam Cunningham, a 44-year-old former professional skateboarder and herpetologist, and MacKay Gibbs, who describes herself as a “music fanatic with a passion for vintage everything and a nose for business.”
 Their small capitalist enterprise — named to evoke the famous anti-capitalist tract — represents another side of Oakland, albeit one that’s still in its infancy. Think of it as a less twee, more D.I.Y. version of artisanal Brooklyn. Oakland even has its own take on the Brooklyn Flea, known as the Art Murmur, a sprawling hipster street fair, cultural bazaar and gallery-and-pub-crawl. At the Flea, you can buy refurbished manual typewriters; at the Murmur, you can buy Sharpie-on-foam-cup drawings by a local artist.
 The collision between Oakland’s growing cadre of small-business owners and the local Occupy movement has produced some memorable moments of low comedy. In November, 30-year-old Alanna Rayford, who owns a showroom for local fashion designers in a Gothic Revival building downtown, closed up shop to join the march to the port. She returned the following morning to find the windows of her store smashed and some artwork missing. One of the paintings, a gorilla smoking a blunt, had been placed on prominent display at the entrance to the Occupy encampment.
 Investment money tends not to flow into cities with soaring violent-crime rates and large numbers of militant nihilists for whom revolution is less a branding opportunity than an active, ongoing goal. And Governor Brown just eliminated the state’s economic redevelopment agencies, which will make it much harder for small businesses to open in Oakland.
 Like pioneers in an unsettled urban frontier, Oakland’s small-business owners have had to band together. They are talking about creating an emergency fund for those who can’t cover their payments in a given month and are experimenting with the reseeding of neighborhoods. Recently, a “pop-up hood” appeared in Old Oakland, the city’s original downtown. Six small businesses temporarily operated rent-free in order to test the viability of adding retail stores to a quaint enclave that has been experiencing a boomlet in bars, restaurants and residential conversions and construction.
 For all its fragility, a transformation is clearly under way in Oakland. The tent poles of the new American city have already arrived — the urban bike shops, the restaurants with locally sourced fare, the cafes with fair-trade coffee, a Whole Foods. There is a distinctly Oakland character to many of these businesses — Awaken, whose menu includes a Santa Cruz-brewed ginger ale at $3.50 a bottle, says its mission is to “bring people together and launch movements” — but it’s an unmistakable part of the same trend that has been taking hold across urban America for years.
 It is, in a word, gentrification, and what’s most striking about its arrival in Oakland is that it’s just now getting there — that the city has existed for so long as a kind of living museum of 1970s radicalism, its culture of militancy, poverty, crime rates and dysfunctional government all conspiring to delay what now seems inevitable. “For years, Oakland has been the black hole in the middle of the great galaxy of Northern California as it shimmered its way into the electronic age,” says Richard Walker, an urban-geography professor who recently retired from the University of California, Berkeley.
 In this context, May Day — and Occupy Oakland, more broadly — looks less like an expression of the city’s indomitable radical spirit than the last gasp of a protest movement overmatched by the encroaching forces of capitalism. Oakland is simply too geographically well positioned and financially underexploited not to absorb the creative, professional and entrepreneurial overflow from more expensive places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Berkeley. And as it continues to develop its own gritty-chic cachet, there’s a good chance Oakland might become more than just a default option for some of the Bay Area’s nouveau riche.
 What will this transformation mean for Oakland? It should produce a bigger tax base that can help improve city services and maybe even create a more effective police force. But gentrification is not a recipe for job creation. In the end, Oakland’s income inequality can only grow, making it not so different from so many other American cities. “You will still have poverty, decay and decline in the midst of immense plenty,” Walker says.
 The utopian vision for a post-capitalist Oakland clung to by Boots Riley and the rest of the city’s revolutionaries will soon be dead. But radical Oakland will live on, awaiting its next opportunity to rise up, even as the city itself evolves. For every young tech worker moving into a downtown condominium tower or entrepreneur gobbling up cheap, deserted retail space, there’s sure to be a militant graduate student drawn to a city that has just added another chapter to its long radical history.
Ever since its encampments were dismantled, Occupy Oakland has been talking about reoccupying a public space and establishing a new beachhead for the revolution. Earlier this year, the protesters tried, unsuccessfully, to take over the abandoned Kaiser Convention Center.
 On May Day, rumors were rampant that after the protests wound down, they would take back the City Hall plaza. As dusk fell, thousands of activists converged on City Hall, dancing, drumming, distributing leaflets for their various revolutionary movements.
 But when the sky darkened, the number of officers on Broadway multiplied. The familiar warning followed: “I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly and . . . command all those assembled to immediately leave. If you do not do so, you may be arrested or subject to other police action . . . which may result in serious injury. . . . If you refuse to move, chemical agents will be used.”
 The threat worked. Soon, just a few hundred determined protesters remained, rattling their metal shields, hurling obscenities and glass bottles at the police. The Menace’s last stand. Only this group was small enough to manage. The police charged the crowd, pushing it north up Telegraph Avenue. People raced past Awaken, with its “We Are Oakland. We Are the 99%” signs. The cafe’s tattoo-covered owner hastily unlocked the door to let a few fleeing protesters in as the riot cops chased the retreating herd from downtown.

A chalk drawing from Occupy Oakland (Peter Bohler /The New York Times)