Yesterday as I was purchasing my afternoon coffee, I saw a copy of the New York times at the local coffeehouse, featuring an article on its FRONT PAGE entitled, “With Advocates’ Help, Squatters Call Foreclosures Home.” Check out the short article. Thanks to folks like Take Back the Land’s Max Rameu, the Miami Workers Center, Women in Transition, sheriffs in Ohio who refuse to evict people from their houses, the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign, and others working together in their communities to preserve a little human dignity in this recession. It reminds me of the question that Travis Koplow brought up about a Los Angeles neighborhood council meeting and foreclosed houses:

Is it so important that we protect capital itself? Is the protection of property is more important than the safety and protection of people?

My friend Saba shared a comment on that previous post, with the website for Take Back the Land. Here’s the latest video, an interview on CNN.


Check out this powerful and moving plea for healthy development and environmental justice, from Majora Carter — an inspiring and courageous activist and organizer in the South Bronx. This talk, entitled “Greening the Ghetto” was given at the TED conference in 2006.

“Environmental justice goes something like this: no community should be saddled with more environmental burdens, and less environmental benefits, than any other.”

Carter links unjust urban development to health problems, talks race, and discusses the potential and the imperative for Americans to move towards REAL and just sustainable development.

She ends with a bang, stating that communities affected by environmental injustices must be at the decision-making table regarding local and national strategies. Check it out in the video, here’s here ending paragraph, it is SO absolutely true, whether the issue is environmental justice, health care reform, city planning, or schools:

“I spoke to Mr [Al] Gore, the other day after breakfast. I asked him how environmental justice activists were going to be included in this new strategy. His response was a grant program. I don’t think he understood that I wasn’t asking for funding; I was making HIM an offer. What troubled me was that this top down approach is still around. Don’t get me wrong, we need money. But grassroots groups are needed at the table DURING the decision-making process. Of the 90 percent of the energy that Mr Gore reminded us that we waste everyday, don’t add wasting OUR energy, intelligence, and hard earned experience to that count.”

(Below is cross-posted a post I wrote over at LAist.com)

Human Rights
Photo by tao_zhyn on Flickr

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The 30 articles of this declaration were written after the Second World War and represent the first global expression of human rights worldwide. The UHDR is the most translated document in the world and has inspired many international treaties and laws.

Now is as good a time as ever to remind ourselves of the human rights issues prevailing abroad, in the US, and here in Los Angeles. Violence and human rights abuses exist around the world, currently in Zimbabwe, Mumbai, Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other regions. Millions go without clean water or enough food. And a global financial crisis is ever present.

It is easy to focus on human rights abroad, but here in Los Angeles we have our own slew of human rights violations, including a housing crisis, homelessness, ICE raids, police brutality, displacement of communities in the name of development, health care access problems, unprocessed rape kits, and an increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. At the same time, there is much reason for hope.

One shining local example of this is in South Los Angeles, the area formerly known as South Central LA, where a unique coalition of health care providers, promotoras, and dedicated community organizations recently teamed up to address “The Perfect Storm” – the combination of homelessness, the housing/credit crisis, public health, and law enforcement issues. The coalition, known as the Homelessness Prevention and Intervention Collaborative, conducted an exhaustive survey of homelessness in South Los Angeles. And in October, they announced the findings of a report — Taming the Perfect Storm — written by Dr Rishi Manchanda, Director of Social Medicine at St. Johns Well Child and Family Center and the coordinator of the collective. In addition to describing the problem, the report presents recommendations for human-rights based solutions to the crisis in South LA. The report is well worth reading and concludes with:

In the nation as a whole, persistent widespread homelessness and the health care crisis offer compelling evidence of a collective disregard for human rights. Few places exhibit the ill effects of this disregard like South Los Angeles. Conversely, no other community stands to benefit as much from a community-based human rights approach to health. With a firm understanding of the links between critical determinants of health like housing, public and community health resources, and law enforcement policy, we commit to build the political will and skills needed to tame this perfect storm of homelessness and poor health. In short, we commit to reclaim and redefine our community guided by the practical application of fundamental human rights principles. As an important stage of community dialogue on the right to health, housing, and security begins, we welcome all constructive comments and critiques of this report.

On a national level, our President-Elect Barack Obama has stated a commitment to shutting down Guantanamo, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, strengthening the United Nations, improving diplomatic relations with other countries, and paying attention to the global crises of poverty and HIV/AIDS worldwide. And on this 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the official website of the United Nations notes:

“Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and ‘to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.’”

On that note, I encourage you to read the 30 articles of the declaration. Aloud. To friends, family, anybody who will listen. In declaratory fashion. Try it. It’s quite compelling and a quick read. (idea inspired by my friend Linda who suggested this to me and 4 other friends as we were building and dreaming, during a break at a conference in El Salvador last year).

First, check out an amazing Democracy Now! interview with the founders of the Common Ground Collective.

Now, I share with you, a reflection by G Bitch, who’s been living in and blogging about New Orleans for a long time (thanks to BFP for introducing me to GB’s blog):

I was fine yesterday, really I was. Today, I’m pissed, shaking, ready to spit fire and nails full blast, all day, at anything. What is it? Oh, yeah, the minority of voices like the Usual Fuckateer Commenters on national sites (I avoid reading comments for many good reasons and managed to forget them yesterday long enough to read a handful and on The Day of The Floods) and the sometimes willful, usually well-intentioned shifting of the conversation and the focus to the individual, to volunteers and church groups and bright young college-educated 20- and 30-somethings and earnest nonprofits. I love all that and all those people and we need the insight they take away with them to the rest of the country but no amount of volunteer action can fix levees badly designed or maintain them if they are ever fixed, assess taxes and evaluate tax rates, or create an actual workable, understandable, desegregated and at least somewhat fair school system (without quotation marks). Volunteers and individuals can only do so much. And in thanking and congratulating and singing the praise songs of them we cannot, should not forget the larger picture, the larger problems–urban somewhat-malign neglect, testing instead of educating, writing off the poor and brown, blaming victims, sidestepping malice-laced ignorance behind public policy and grants, the twisting of a region’s arm with their children held at gunpoint, a bureaucracy built to fail and thwart instead of serve, the delusion that folks who aren’t home yet aren’t needed, the bullshit idea that we are the blank slate/experiment/testing ground for whoever flies in and says s/he’s got ideas, people’s lives toyed with like shit-stained old domino pieces in the street somewhere.

It’s nice y’all are coming but we need our people back, the people who worked full-time and paid their taxes and shopped at whatever grocery store it was that week while it was still the fuck there, teachers (they weren’t all incompetent or evil), nurses, social workers, x-ray technicians, psychiatric aides, maids, cooks, lawnmower repairmen, college graduates, high school dropouts, the people who were here before and at least made it look like this broken fucking city worked half the time. We held it together. Now we’re unimportant?

So the jury’s out — Huffington Post’s “Fundrace 2008” — fascinating and creepy? or voyueristic and creepy? or friends now, enemies after you find out your neighbor voted for giuliani? or the next best thing in online technology for election 2008? in any case, it’s pretty damn revealing. and powerful. I absolutely love location-based technology, including local community blogging (otherwise known as “place blogging) and muckraking “hyperlocal” tools. But the most interesting findings come from hanging out on the site a bit, and exploring the money/power/respect issues inherent in our “democratic” elections. This, from the huffington post:

The zip code search engine on FundRace provides concrete evidence of how much more influence the rich exercise than the poor. Look at such upscale communities as Greenwich, Conn., 06830, Beverly Hills, 90210; or a swath of Manhattan’s upper east side, 10021.

If money is power, the folks in these zip codes have got it in spades — and they use it by the bucketful. In Beverly Hills, for example, there have been 543 donations totaling $1,212,014 to 2008 presidential candidates, including 326 contributions of $2,300 or more. (Primary contributions are limited by federal election law to $2,300 per candidate.)

Across town, in contrast, in dirt-poor South Central Los Angeles, zip 90011, a grand total of three people have given $4,250 total. This is 0.2 percent of what Beverly Hills gave.

Similarly, eastside Manhattan’s 10021 – the single best source of campaign cash in the country, ranking first or second with every major presidential candidate — has produced $4.3 million in 2056 donations. A couple of miles away in the Bronx’s 10056, there have been, to date, no contributions whatsoever.