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Wisconsin meets Egypt, in Woodlawn

At a community forum here Sunday, a Wisconsin state senator asked a human rights activist in Egypt to thank the Cairo demonstrators who’ve carried signs of support for Wisconsin workers.

“If you find out who that was, we want to know, because we want to give them some love,” said State Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, speaking to Atef Said (who appeared via internet connection) at at panel discussion at the Experimental Station, 61st and Blackstone.

Taylor traced her commitment to her background as the daughter of two union members.  She criticized the uncompromising stance of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as autocratic:  “Walker thinks he’s a government of one, with the legislature acting as a rubber stamp for whatever he wants to do.”

She said Walker’s new budget eliminates reading specialists for schools in her district, which she said has the lowest reading levels in the state.

Said described media depictions of the Egyptian revolution as an 18-day revolt of youth and technology as a “misconception,” saying its roots went back 30 years.  He cited labor strikes going back to the 1990s, as well as protests supporting Palestinians and opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the past decade which challenged the Mubarek regime’s status as U.S. client.

The relevance to Chicago and its recent election was taken up by Salim Muwakkil of In These Times and WVON and Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative and New Chicago 2011.

Muwakkil said “African American leadership went to an old paradigm of racial solidarity” but “it’s not operational any more” in part because “class divisions [in the African American community] have been exacerbated,” particularly by “a rapidly growing underclass created by the criminal justice complex.”

Patel argued that “economic justice issues transcend race.”  She said the multiracial coalition of New Chicago 2011 realized mayoral candidates were going to make racial appeals but “the color that concerns everybody is green, the green of money.”

Media coverage of the election was “all about personalities, not about substance at all,” she said.  When the citywide coalition of community and labor organizations drew thousands to a candidates forum focused on community issues in December, mainstream print media made no mention of the event.  “The fact of 2,500 Chicagoans getting together is apparently not a big deal,” she said.

The forum was sponsored by ARC (which stands for A movement Re-imaging Chicago), which issued a document of “principles for a humane city.”  The principles included a commitment to public schools, environmental rights, a comprehensive fair housing standard, public clinics and hospitals, and community efforts to prevent violence.

Presenting the document for ARC, University of Chicago historian Adam Green stressed the importance of framing policies that address the central problem of massive, growing inequality in American society.

South Siders demand emergency care

Friends, family and neighbors of a Woodlawn youth activist will gather tomorrow for what would have been his 18th birthday, marching from the spot where he was shot last month to the hospital two blocks away, where they say he should have been treated.

Damian Turner was shot just after midnight on August 15 at 61st and Cottage Grove, driven past the University of Chicago Medical Center and pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m. at Northwestern Hospital.

Damian Turner

He’s one of hundreds of people shot on the South Side but taken to hospitals on the North and West Sides, according to Southside Together Organizing for Power.

“It is wrong for a hospital so close to where I live at to turn someone away so they have to drive many miles away,” said Sheila Rush, Turner’s mother.

Turner was a founder of Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) and worked on affordable housing and on human rights issues at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, according to a release from STOP.

Activists from STOP and FLY are calling on UCMC to reopen its trauma center.  UCMC dropped out of the city’s trauma network in 1988, citing financial losses.

They’ll gather at 61st and Cottage tomorrow (Tuesday, September 28) at 3:30 p.m. and march to UCMC at 58th and Maryland, with a press conference scheduled for 4 p.m.

Last year the American College of Emergency Physicians said UCMC “is failing in its obligation to treat emergency patients” with policies that are “dangerously close to ‘patient dumping.'”

UCMC’s reduction of emergency care access to the local community “is a dangerous precedent that could have catastrophic effects in poor neighborhoods across the county,” said Dr. Nick Jouriles, president of ACEP.

Protest Monsanto in Haiti

Supporters of Haitian peasants will burn hybrid seeds and plant heirloom seeds at a community garden in Woodlawn tonight to support a similar action in Haiti protesting a shipment of Monsanto seeds by US AID.

It’s sponsored by Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti and takes place at the new Woodlawn Community Garden, 65th and Woodlawn, tonight (Friday, June 4) starting at 6:30 p.m.

The event will feature spoken word artists, reports from Haiti, and speakouts about food security and access to fresh produce on the South Side.

According to reports, the Peasant Movement of Papay will burn Monsanto seed at a march in Haiti today, World Environment Day, to protest the seed shipment.

Monsanto’s hybrid corn doesn’t produce usable seed the way traditional varieties do, thus potentially “forcing the now-indentured peasant to buy seeds from Monsanto or one of the other hybrid/GMO seed monopolies in perpetuity….

“Since gaining their independence from France more than 200 years ago in a bloody slave uprising, Haitian farmers have wisely protected their seeds and nurtured native crop varieties,” writes Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association at Huffington Post. “They know that true food security is maintained by farmers who save, trade and breed indigenous seeds using traditional organic methods.”

The Monsanto seed requires intensive water, pesticides and herbicides. And it’s treated with a toxic fungicide, which the US EPA has banned for the home garden market.  The EPA requires farmworkers handling fungicide-treated seed in the U.S. to wear protective clothing.

Via Campesina, a worldwide federation of farmer organizations, has called Monsanto “a principal enemy of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.”

According to Cummins, food justice activists opposed President Obama’s appointment of Rajiv Shah to head US AID due to his work promoting GMOs with the Gates Foundation, which works closely with Monsanto.

In the event of rain the program will take place in the Backstory Cafe at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone.

Thrown out of the garden

With Chicago Theological Seminary set to break ground for its new building (60th and Blackstone) today at 2 p.m. – and with demolition of the 61st Streeet Community Garden slated for next month —  a recent seminary graduate who served on the building’s design committee writes the Hyde Park Herald, saying “the board of trustees and administration of CTS had the opportunity to use their influence to stop [the garden’s] destruction” but “they chose not to, despite alumni pressure.”

“Throughout this decision-making process, CTS has acted as a silent accomplice,” writes Rev. LeAnne Clausen de Montes.  “Here is a seminary that is about to reap enormous gains from the neighborhood’s loss, earning fame for preaching its concern for creation and the world’s oppressed, and saying nothing about destruction done in its behalf in our own backyard.”

Clausen adds that while the building is designed to meet green standards, it overlooks the LEED rating requirements that it “contribute to the overall quality of life for its inhabitants and location.”

Final harvest

Jamie Kalven is posting videos of conversations with members of the soon-to-be-demolished 61st Street Community Garden at the Invisible Institute.

The University of Chicago recently confirmed its plan to demolish the garden, insisting it was necessary for purposes of staging construction of a new building for the Chicago Theological Seminary a block away (CTS sold its historic building to the university to house a new Milton Friedman Institute).

The gardeners have insisted that alternative staging sites were available; there is much frustration with the university’s refusal to consider options which would allow the garden to remain near associated institutions including the Experimental Station on Blackstone and the 61st Street Farmers Market.

According to reports, CTS had asked that no harm be done to the garden as a result of the new construction; the university is said to have unilaterally withdrawn from that agreement.

The gardeners are planning a final barbecue and potluck on November 1.

Blackstone bikes

At Medill’s Academy for Alternative Journalism, Vy Pham does a very nice job of capturing Blackstone Bicycle Works — the swarm of enthusiastic kids, the laid-back mechanics/trainers, and the value for young people of a little structure, responsibility, and reward.

Grove Parc tenants respond

The Grove Parc Tenants Association has issued a response to a June 27 Boston Globe article on presidential candidate Barack Obama’s housing policies.

The article casts Grove Parc as a “symbol of the broader failure of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing — an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing”; and as one of a number of affordable housing “failures…developed and managed by Obama’s closest friends and political supporters.”

The 504-unit development was acquired from HUD by the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp. in 1999, and fell into serious disrepair under management by the Habitat Co., headed by close Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.

But, as the Globe article fails to note, in January — following months of organizing culminating in a sit-in by tenants at the local HUD office — foreclosure on the property was halted, and a new tenant-selected nonprofit management company took over the development.

From the GPTA statement:

“The Globe article, while rightly raising concerns about the failure of the private sector to adequately provide for the housing needs of the poor, unfortunately leaves out half of the story.

“Grove Parc is not just an example of the failures of past policies, but a beacon of hope for the way forward. Tenants have not only stopped foreclosure and the displacement of some 500 low income families, but also brought in new management committed to working with the tenants to rebuild affordable and quality housing for all residents.

“In so doing, we have highlighted two fundamental principles that both presidential candidates would do well to heed as they finalize their housing policy platforms — first, the full participation of tenants, who have the biggest stake in housing policy, and second, the guarantee of quality housing for all as a human right and social responsibility.

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Foreclosures and subsidized tenants

Low-income tenants with Section 8 rental subsidies are increasingly facing eviction from properties going into foreclosure — often with no warning, and with fewer protections than other renters have.

Often they’ve been paying rent throughout the foreclosure process, with no knowledge that their tenancy was threatened, said Andrea Button of the Legal Assistance Foundation.

“In many cases they don’t know anything until a foreclosure notice is posted on the door, or they just get eviction papers,” she said. “In some cases the landlords have just skipped town.”

A new state law gives tenants up to 120 days from the time they receive notice of foreclosure (less if their lease expires earlier) before they have to vacate a foreclosed property. But they have to continue paying rent.

The problem is that Section 8 renters’ subsidies are provided through a contract with the building owner. When a bank or mortgage company takes possession, the subsidy ends, and the new owner has a right to demand market rent. “And there’s no way (tenants) can afford that,” Button said.

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