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Remembering Big Mike: Line Dance Instructor and Inspiration

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 19:02

I met Michael “Big Mike” Ballard four years ago when Grassroots DC moved into the Potomac Gardens Public Housing Complex.  He made regular use of our Community Resource Center creating flyers for the dance classes he taught and using the computers and the Internet access working for his church and the nonprofit he was involved with Sistahs with Purpose.  He taught at Knox Hill, Turkey Thicket Recreation Center and Potomac Gardens.  He passed on October 10.  He is survived by his mother Linda, sister Theresa and dozens and dozens of students and friends.  He was a kind and compassionate person who will be missed.  What follows is an article I wrote about him in 2015.

Kids can be mean. Few know this better than 36-year-old DC native and Potomac Gardens resident Michael Ballard. Michael Ballard was heavy all of his life. The kids called him Fat Mike. His mother suffered from weight problems also so she understood what it was like to be teased and humiliated at school. It was only natural that they would become extremely close.

Michael continued to put on weight throughout school. By the time he graduated high school he weighed 300 pounds. Many people assume that anyone that weighs that much can’t do anything. Michael proved them wrong by going to work right out of high school. From 2000 to 2005 he worked for Goodwill Industries in housekeeping, a job he enjoyed. In 2005 Goodwill lost their contract with the Armed Forces Retirement Home and Michael went to work for Melwood, a nonprofit that creates jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities, in their housekeeping department.

At Melwood, Michael faced discrimination. His co-workers claimed that he had body odor; that he took up too much space; that he moved too slowly and was unable to complete his tasks because he couldn’t fit into the bathroom. It was high school all over again. Within just a few months Michael had left Melwood and returned to Goodwill Industries. But the stress at Melwood had caused Michael to put on more weight.  He had a different project manager at Goodwill, one who didn’t know him well and he faced discrimination at Goodwill as well.

He was accused of sitting on and breaking Goodwill’s second-hand chairs. To address the problem, the Government Service Administration brought a bench to his job site exclusively for Michael to use. Unfortunately, his project manager, unwilling to find ways to accommodate an employee of Michael’s size, threw the bench into the trash.

Besides the stress of the hostile work environment, Michael developed an upper respiratory infection from working in Goodwill’s Garage. Despite all this, Michael continued to work at Goodwill from 2006 until 2013, when he was let go.

After losing his job, Michael’s health deteriorated. Due to his extreme weight, Michael had for years suffered from lymphedma— a condition that causes swelling in the arms or legs as a result of a blockage in the lymphatic system that prevents lymph fluid from draining well—on the bottom of both his legs. Michael also developed cellulites—a noncontagious bacterial skin infection—which spread from the bottom of both of his legs to his pelvis. This condition landed him in Washington Hospital for a ten-day stretch in March of 2013. From there he was transferred to Saint Thomas Moore Rehabilitation Center where he was bed bound for two months.

Two months of having to eat in the bed, having the bed made while lying in it, having his body turned and cleaned in the bed was more humiliating than years of being teased. Michael’s weight had made him a target for mockery but now it was risking his life. Michael knew that the only way to escape the derision and to save his life was to control his weight.

In May 2013, he went from being bed bound to being wheel chair ridden. Once in the chair, he was able to begin participating in physical therapy. Soon he was able to move around with a rollator. In December of 2013, Michael was well enough to move back home to Potomac Gardens but not without the use of two portable oxygen tanks.

By this time, his mother was in trouble. Being overweight herself, she had a hernia that had grown to the size of a soccer ball. In 2014, Michael’s mother had surgery at Georgetown Hospital. Terrified that he might lose his best friend, Michael’s stress levels soared along with his eating. While his mother was recovering, Michael’s weight ballooned. At 700 pounds, hospitalization was inevitable.

This time, Michael was offered the option of a sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that removes all but twenty-five percent of the stomach and greatly limits the patient’s food intake. The operation was performed by Dr. Paul Lin at George Washington University Hospital in March of 2015. Seven months later, Michael had lost 301 pounds.

How did he do it? In addition to the gastrectomy, Michael started exercising with regularity and intensity. For three hours, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he does water aerobics. His real passion is line dancing, which he does from 6:00 – 8:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center. In fact, Michael has been line dancing for five years, but this December 1st will be his one-year anniversary line dancing at Turkey Thicket with a group that calls themselves The Line Dance Addicts. Michael no longer needs to use the portable oxygen to get around, although he still uses it at home. He is well on his way to full recovery from a lifetime of weight-related issues.

He is grateful for his second chance and is working to spread what he’s learned to the community around him. He has begun teaching line dancing to Potomac Gardens’ and Hopkins Apartments’ residents. Classes cost only $2 and it’s already proven popular with those of all ages and all sizes. Line Dancing with Big Mike teaches you more than the Nae Nae and the electric slide; line dancing with Big Mike teaches you that overcoming even extremely large obstacles is possible and easier when your community has your back.

The community that has Michael’s back as he continues to lose weight includes but is not limited to: Cheryl Thompson Walker, Kembal Bonds, Russell, Jordan, Miss Rita and Rita from Turkey Thicket, as well as Miss Paula Allen, Miss Reshida Young and the entire Line Dance Addicts family; Dee, Reggie, Adrienne Jenkins and Dr. Cristina Schreiber from George Washington University Hospital; Sisters With A Purpose and the entire Master’s Child Church Family under the leadership of Bishop Melvin Robinson junior and his wife and church co-founder Erma Robinson-Fitzgerald; and last but not least the Lord, his mom and grandparents.

The post Remembering Big Mike: Line Dance Instructor and Inspiration appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Many Languages One Voice Community Day

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 14:09

On September 24, 2017, Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) held an Emergency Planning & Community Defense Day (Día de Planificación de Emergencia y Defensa Comunitaria).

The event was designed to bring the community together to learn about our rights as immigrants in DC, prepare together, and celebrate our communities’ strength and resilience!
¡Nos reunimos para aprender nuestros derechos como inmigrantes en DC, prepararnos juntos, y celebrar la fuerza y la resiliencia de nuestras comunidades!

Workshops included:

– Know Your Rights in DC / Tus Derechos en DC
– Emergency Preparedness Plan Against ICE / Planes de Emergencia en Contra de ICE
– Legal Advice / Consejos Legales
– Community Defense / Defensa Comunitaria

Video byBen Parisi  with subtitles byJuan Carlos Vega.

According to MLOV Executive Director Sapna Pandya, “It was an incredible day, grounded in Puerto Rican and Mexican resilience & music, with opportunities for dance, joy, and important discussions of the threats to our communities & how we will combat them together organizing towards #ExpandedSanctuary in DC. We built a beautiful community altar, answered questions about immigration and employment abuse, and got folks connected to needed services.”

MLOV’s next community event, Dance in the Round: Circle As Sanctuary, is scheduled for Sunday, October 8, starting at 2:30 pm at the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza.

The post Many Languages One Voice Community Day appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Metro Service Meeting: Make Your Feelings Known

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 09:43

Tired of Metro fare hikes with no real improvement in service? Even if you appreciate the fact that Metro service allows many within the DMV to get by without the hassle and expense of a car, you may still wish their service were better. Now is the time to make your feelings heard.

The post Metro Service Meeting: Make Your Feelings Known appeared first on Grassroots DC.

DC State Fair (Who Knew?)

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:25

Sunday, September 24, in Southwest Washington, DC, will see the arrival of the eighth annual DC State Fair from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. At Waterfront Station, the public is invited to enjoy contests that crown the city’s best growers, crafters, and cooks; performances from local musicians and dance troupes; and more than 55 food, art, and craft vendors showcasing and selling their wares.

This daylong celebration of all things homegrown is unique among local fairs and festivals: it is run entirely by volunteers, is free to attend, and is held in different neighborhoods from year to year, making the Fair accessible to all DC residents and visitors. This year, the DC State Fair is located at the Waterfront Metro Station at 375 and 425 M Street SW.

The post DC State Fair (Who Knew?) appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Free Computer Classes

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 15:15

The post Free Computer Classes appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Many Languages One Voice Defends DACA and Beyond

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 10:42

Written by Ray Jose
MLOV Youth Justice Organizer

On Tuesday morning at 11 AM, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump and his administration has decided to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  This means that the Department of Homeland Security will stop accepting new DACA applications (i.e. from people who are eligible but do not already have DACA).  Individuals who already have DACA and whose work permits will expire between now and March 5, 2018 will be able to apply for a two-year renewal if they apply by October 5, 2017.

This news has obviously been devastating as we remain concerned about the pending uptick in immigration enforcement & raids that this announcement foretells. We also must remain vigilant that any calls for policy change (i.e. DREAM Act, etc.) do not use undocumented youth as pawns for a white supremacist agenda that calls for border militarization or walls, military service requirements, furthering the Muslim ban or expanded cooperation between police and ICE. In fact, we are already feeling the immediate impact of this announcement – just hours ago, workers from Matchbox came in to MLOV’s offices to say that 40 of their colleagues had been forced to resign yesterday due to their immigration status.  Following the announcement from Jeff Sessions came DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s statement, “[calling] on Congress to quickly pass the Dream Act so that DREAMers across our country can continue to build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous country for all…Washington, DC will continue to stand with our nearly 800 DREAMers and the thousands of immigrants who live in the District. We are proud of our DREAMers and our support will be unwavering.” While Mayor Bowser says she “stands unequivocally with DREAMers,” in the same breath she is complicit for not holding Trump accountable for terminating DACA. At the same time that Mayor Bowser says she and DC are “standing with the DREAMers,” the District continues to tolerate dangerous loopholes in policies that have led to our immigrant residents being deported, police violence on Black and Brown communities, abusive employers who continue to engage in wage theft, displacement of long-term residents, and an education system that is failing our youth of color. In this moment, words are not enough.  We need a real #SanctuaryDC that keeps all DC residents safe, and MLOV will hold all politicians accountable for their actions or lack thereof.  

LOOKING FOR WAYS TO SUPPORT DACA YOUTH AND OTHER UNDOCUMENTED YOUNG PEOPLE IN DC?

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY: 1. Donate to support three of MLOV’s undocumented immigrant youth organizers by clicking here. These youth participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program but didn’t receive stipends because they are undocumented. When we reach our donation goal, extra funds will go to DC youth needing help paying for DACA renewal (cost is $495) and related costs.  2. Encourage DACA youth and their families seek mental health support through local agencies:
  • Mary’s Center
    202-846-8053
  • Latin American Youth Center
    (202) 319-2229
  • La Clinica del Pueblo
    (202) 462.4788
3. Join upcoming trainings provided by SanctuaryDMV to be trained in providing Rapid Response to ICE raids and ICE surveillance, which we are fearful may increase in DC and the metro area. .
Click on this link to register for an upcoming Rapid Response training by SanctuaryDMV! 4. Follow Many Languages One Voice on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on how you can support our members’ demands for Sanctuary in Schools. This summer, MLOV trained 15 mostly undocumented immigrant youth to  be community organizers – preparing them to protect themselves, their peers, and their families.  As a result of holding local politicians like Mayor Bower accountable, funding for these youth participants’ stipends has been in jeopardy.  You can support our immigrant youth organizers by clicking here to donate.  Despite this threat, our youth have developed five critical steps that educators and administrators in the DC school system can take to keep them safe and support their education.  LEGAL SERVICES FOR DC IMMIGRANTS

As a result of organizing by MLOV in November 2016, Mayor Bowser released funds enabling local community organizations to provide pro bono legal services for DC immigrants. Refer individuals needing to renew their DACA or with other questions about their immigration status to the following MLOV partners:

  • AYUDA
    202-387-4848
  • Catholic Charities
    202-772-4352
  • DC Immigrant Rights Project (collaboration of Ethiopian Community Center & Lutheran Social Services)
    (202) 844-5430
  • Whitman Walker Health Legal Services
    (202) 745-7000
  • CARECEN
    (202) 328-9799
  • CAIR Coalition
    (202) 331-3320
To my undocumented family, to other DACA recipients, and to any community under attack by this White supremacist administration: we have been here before and we will continue to protect our community and resist.  Trump and politicians on both sides are deflecting the responsibility onto Congress to create a legislative solution, but we know that protecting only some immigrant youth is not enough. This moment is meant to divide immigrant communities into who is “deserving and undeserving,” it is meant to put the blame on parents of undocumented youth, it is meant to uphold the criminalization of Black and Brown immigrants who are disproportionately targeted by police, ICE and the criminal justice system.  This moment is meant to break us, but we are resilient people and we will fight for a liberation that goes beyond documentation or any legislation.

The post Many Languages One Voice Defends DACA and Beyond appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Black August Finale

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 09:20

Black August is almost over.  What is Black August?  I found the following at The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement:

“Each year officially since 1979 we have used the month of August to focus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters disappeared inside the state-run gulags and concentration camps America calls prisons. It is during this time that we concentrate our efforts to free our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and all other captive family and friends who have been held in isolation for decade after decade beyond their original sentence. Many of these individuals are held in the sensory deprivation and mind control units called Security Housing Units (S.H.U. Program), without even the most basic of human rights.” – Shaka At-Thinnin Black August Organizing Committee from “THE ROOTS OF BLACK AUGUST”

If you haven’t made it to any events yet this month, here’s your opportunity to make it to one final event.   

The post Black August Finale appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Charlottesville and It’s Aftermath: D.C. Alternative News Round Up

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 10:41

A quick search revealed no reports from local television news of last weeks events in Charlottesville or the solidarity marches that followed.  Fortunately, the District also has reporters who routinely imbed with the activists and organizers at these events.  Here is reporting from two of them.  

One Dead After Car Plows into Anti-Racist March in Charlottesville

Written by John Zanga
DC Media Group

Charlottesville, Va. — Anti-fascist and anti-racist counterprotestors confronted a planned white nationalist gathering in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday. Multiple angry clashes between groups in the morning resulted in many injuries.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and Virginia State Police moved in to end the protest. The Virginia National Guard was deployed and began patrolling Charlottesville.

But, in the early afternoon, a silver Challenger driving at high speed plowed through a march of anti-racist counterprotestors forming on 4th Street, tossing several people into the air like rag dolls before ramming into the rear end of another car. It appeared the car was driven deliberately into the crowd, then reversed and sped backwards.

One person was killed and 19 people were injured.

Charter said that moments after the car backed up, medics were on the scene helping the inured. He was shaken up by the incident.

As many as 30 right-wing groups, led by Alt-Right personality Richard Spencer and accompanied by known supremacist David Duke, rallied at Emancipation Park over city plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The clashes erupted almost from the start of the permitted protests, which began at 10 a.m. Elements from the KKK, Neo-Nazis and the Alt-Right, were met at every turn by about 1,000 counterprotesters.

Mace and tear gas was sprayed with bottles, sticks and smoke grenades thrown by White Nationalists toward Antifa. Antifa returned volleys as White Nationalists waded into the Antifa to attack them with sticks and smoke grenades.

Police formed lines between two rows of barricades, separating Nationalists from counterprotesters. But for an unknown reason police pulled back as more Nationalists arrived, marching in a column down Market Street to confront Antifa. It was at this point that the confrontations saw their most bloody moments.

White supremacists have descended on  Charlottesville since City Council voted to take down a statue of General Lee in an effort to remove Southern Heritage symbols of the Civil War. On Friday night, Neo-Nazis carried torches through the Grounds of the University of Virginia, chanting Nazi Germany slogan “Blood and Soil.” They attacked, beat and maced anti-racist protestors. Conflict also broke out when anti-fascists confronted White Nationalists at the Lee statue.

Update:  A police helicopter which had been monitoring the protests crashed following the dispersal.  Initial reports are that two died in the crash.

 

DC Remembers Charlottesville with march from WWII Memorial to Confederate statue by MPD

written by Luke
DC Independent Media Center

On the 13th of August, DC area residents protested the Nazi outrages in Charlottesville, VA. What began as a medium size march from the WWII Veterans Memorial to the White House mushroomed into a huge march from the White House past Trump Hotel to the Albert Pike (Confederate) statue by MPD. https://archive.org/details/DCCharlottesville8132017540p

Yes, DC has it’s very own statue commemorating a man who loved slavery and the Confederacy so much he moved there from the north to become a Confederate general. A similar statue of Robert E Lee in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, VA has sparked a controversy over its pending removal blocked by a court. This has been the excuse for ever-larger KKK and Nazis rallies there that culminated in the death of one counterprotester and serious injuries to 19 more on August 12, 2017.

One demand of the protesters here in DC is that a staute commemorating slavery and murder be removed. This should be done before it becomes a magnet for neo-Nazi torchlight parades and terrorist attacks. Oddly, two videographers were nearly run down by a car driving on the sidewalk near 7th st about a half hour after this DC protest ended, but preliminary indications are this incident was only a “normal” drunk driver rather than another terrorist attack.

The deliberate and deadly, ISIS-style vehicle attack on anti-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville by comparison cannot be called anything other than terrorism and murder. All that hate came from somewhere. There seemed to be a consensus in the streets that it comes right from the top. The crowds in DC responded to Trump Hotel with massive boos and chants of “Shame shame shame,” holding Trump himself responsible for the river of hate that has inundated the US since he began his campaign.

In nearby Alexandria, VA, protesters marched on the home of notorious (and notably punched) neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer. The IWW showed up there with their flags and remembering Heather Heyer, though DC IWW reports that (contrary to earlier rumors) she was not an IWW member. Richard Spencer hid on his roof, with just his cellphone camera peeking over the side.

Video of the massive DC marches for Charlottesville Includes bonus footage from Charlottesville providing 1 min synopsis(0:31 to 1.38)

 

The post Charlottesville and It’s Aftermath: D.C. Alternative News Round Up appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Lobbying on Behalf of District Children and Youth

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 20:04

Beyond voting or joining a well publicized march or rally, many citizens are unsure how to become politically engaged.  One of the most effective ways to have an impact on public policy is to tell your local representatives what you want.  Lobbying is not just for professionals paid by corporate interest groups.  In fact, government and the institutions they regulate are far more fair, just and equitable when regular citizens like you and me show up at their office and insist that they listen to what we have to say.

With that in mind, the DC Alliance for Youth Advocates (DCAYA) will meet with Councilmembers and staff to advocate for a more youth-friendly District budget for FY2018 at the Wilson Building on Thursday, May 11.  According to the DCAYA, the District’s proposed FY2018 budget leaves significant funding gaps for a number of key programs that could better address the needs of  children and youth.

Council markup on the mayor’s proposed budget is scheduled for May 16-18, so May 11 is a critical time to reach out to members and remind them of the importance of our budget asks for DC’s youth, which include:

  • Transportation: $2 million to extend transportation subsidies to adult and alternative learners through the School Transit Subsidy Program
  • Youth Homelessness: Up to $3.3 million more to fully fund the Year One objectives of the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness
  • Expanded Learning: An additional $5.1 million to fund the new Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and better meet the need for quality youth development programming
  • Youth Workforce Development: A comprehensive implementation plan for coordinating and funding youth workforce development initiatives to build on the progress of DC’s WIOA State Plan
  • Per-Pupil Funding: A 3.5% increase in per-pupil funding in the FY18 budget to bring DCPS closer to an adequate standard for education funding next school year
  • Proposed Tax Cuts: Ensure revenue is available to fund these and other critical priorities by delaying the $40 million in estate tax and business tax cuts slated for 2018

For more information, contact Jamie Kamlet Fragale, Director of Advocacy and Communications for Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School, or CLICK HERE.

 

The post Lobbying on Behalf of District Children and Youth appeared first on Grassroots DC.

D.C. Seeks to Improve Its Comprehensive Plan

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 19:49

Cross-Posted from Street Sense
by Ashley Clarke

The D.C. Office of Planning is amending the Comprehensive Plan, a long-standing document that outlines priorities for D.C.’s future growth and change. In a statement from the Office of Planning, Director Eric Shaw encouraged residents to read the Comprehensive Plan and make suggestions for changes.

“‘Planning an Inclusive City’ is the guiding vision for the DC Comprehensive Plan. An inclusive city is one where every member of the community feels welcome wherever they are in the city, and where everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity to live a healthy, successful and fulfilling life,” Edward Geifer, associate director of the Office of Planning, wrote in an email to Street Sense.

A heterogeneous coalition was born out of the Office of Planning’s call to the public.  Community organizations, for-profit and nonprofit developers, faith groups, tenant advocates and other local organizations have formed a loose coalition of interested parties to identify priorities for creating more affordable housing and community support for under-resourced communities in D.C.  The coalition met over several months to reach an agreement on a series of priorities that are listed on their website at www.DCHousingpriorities.org.

According to the 2016 annual census done by the D.C. Council on Homelessness,  8,350 people experience homelessness on any given night in the city.  Coalition members want to see growth in the city but also want the Office of Planning to know that growth does not mean pushing marginalized people further to the margins.

“It is possible to build new housing, including a good measure of affordable housing, and grow the District’s tax base in a way that makes business sense and advances the public good. The result can be a combination of new housing and amenities for residents and increased revenue for the city so it can continue to enhance quality of life,” said Aakash Thakkar in the a news release. Thakkar is the senior vice president of EYA, a real estate development firm that is part of the coalition.

Coalition  members believe that more affordable housing and targeted support for D.C. communities should be in the Comprehensive Plan.  Philip Stump-Kennedy told Street Sense that Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) joined the coalition in hopes of using the Office of Planning as a tool for their mission. Stump-Kennedy is the regional tenant organizing manager at LEDC. He said he is tasked with the preservation of affordable housing in D.C, which is one of the priorities the coalition wants addressed. He referred to the lack of affordable housing in D.C. and said it is important that subsidized housing like Section 8 housing is maintained in the District.

Stump-Kennedy also believes rent control is an important part of affordable housing preservation. The rest of the coalition agrees and lists the protection of tenants as a priority. Stump-Kennedy said that the LEDC focuses on organizing tenants, connecting them with attorneys and other tenant associations. Stump-Kennedy said there is strength in numbers and organization.

“We need policies that preserve the affordable housing we already have as the District develops. It’s clear the city needs more units to meet the demand of the people coming here, but we also need strategies to protect tenants who are struggling to stay in the city. Those goals don’t have to be in conflict,” said Rob Wohl, a tenant organizer for the LEDC, in a news release.

The coalition members believe that the development of affordable housing and equitable economics requires the participation of all D.C. communities in order to move toward a solution. A full list of organizations and businesses in support of the D.C. housing priorities can be found on their webpage.

Residents can get involved by signing up for updates at plandc.dc.gov and submitting proposed amendments during the open call period for amendments.

The post D.C. Seeks to Improve Its Comprehensive Plan appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Inauguration Day Blues

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 18:47

It seems like it’s been years since January 20, 2017.  A lot of people, many of them devout moderates, said that we should give Donald Trump a chance.  He’s not really going to do the things he says he’s going to do.  He’s not a true conservative.  He’s just saying those things to get elected.  Others preferred to heed the words of Maya Angelou:  “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

Candidate Trump showed us who he was throughout the campaign.  President Trump didn’t hesitate to tell us how he feels about his constituents during his inaugural address:

“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

Me, my daughter Joshua and her friend Nicole took a camera to the inauguration, but alas we missed the speech.   Although we tried at several locations, we never made it past security.  In what seemed like symbolism, we found anti-Trump protestors north of the mall, all of them in Maya Angelou’s camp.  South of the mall, we found many more pro-Trump attendees, also trying to get through security.  There were also a number of protesters on the south side of the mall whose motivations I still don’t understand. The video is below:

Within hours of the inauguration that so many of us missed, the pages on LGBT rights, civil rights, climate change, and health care were removed from the “issues” section of the official White House website.  Like icing on a mostly Styrofoam replica of Obama’s real inauguration cake, the video below popped up on my daughter’s twitter feed as we were making our way home.

Amazing. This brave woman stood against anti-Muslim protesters at the Islamic Center in Washington D.C. That’s a true ally. #Inauguration pic.twitter.com/bp2DycFL9m

— sarah amy harvard (@amyharvard_) January 20, 2017

I fear that the anti-Trump enthusiasm will wane as the long days of the Trump Administration stretch into weeks, months and years.   On the whole, I’d have to say that January 20, 2017, was not a good day.

The post Inauguration Day Blues appeared first on Grassroots DC.

DCMJ Inauguration Day Protest

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 20:50

What will the Trump Presidency mean to the District of Columbia?  With its status as a federal district, all laws passed by the City Council are subject to Congressional approval. Legislation like needle exchange programs and gun control have been held up and denied all together by Congress.  We can blame the conservative members of the House of Representatives for spear-heading these efforts but even a majority Democratic House and Senate have failed to uphold the laws that District residents and their representatives have passed when they cross the sensibilities of the Right.

With rumors that the Trump Administration plan to disrupt the District’s pro-choice and anti-gun legislation as well as the relatively new Death with Dignity Act, what can the many residents in favor of the legalization of Marijuana expect?

Local marijuana advocacy group DCMJ tried to get ahead of the issue with a pro-marijuana demonstration.  On the morning of the inauguration, DCMJ planned to distribute 4,200 joints.  This video below, shot by Joshua Rose Schmidt, shows how things went.

The post DCMJ Inauguration Day Protest appeared first on Grassroots DC.

See Ya, Kaya: ‘Legacy of Progress’?

Fri, 10/07/2016 - 15:26

Cross-Post from The Fight Back
written by Pete Tucker

This is the first in a three-part series on Kaya Henderson’s time atop DCPS.

After six years as head of D.C. Public Schools, Kaya Henderson is calling it quits Friday.

According to the Washington Post, her biggest booster, Henderson is leaving behind a “legacy of progress.”

Not everyone agrees.

Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee. Photo: Washington Post

Before ascending to chancellor, Henderson served three years as top deputy to her close friend, Michelle Rhee, known for mass teacher firings and school closings.

Henderson has continued in Rhee’s footsteps, albeit with less bombast.

Throughout the Rhee and Henderson years, the Post has played the role of lead-cheerleader (even collaborating on coverage). Now the Post wants the good times to continue.

Instead of conducting a search for the next chancellor, the Post’s Jay Mathews says D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser should just ask Henderson to name her replacement since “she knows better than anybody what the job is.”

But after nearly a decade atop DCPS, some don’t give the Rhee/Henderson team such high marks.

‘Haters’

Improving test scores has been central to Henderson and Rhee’s claims of turning DCPS around.

But when retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel dug into the data, he found the gains were largely due to D.C.’s rapid gentrification, which has pushed lower-income African American students out, while ushering in wealthier whites, who score higher on tests.

Associated Press reporter Ben Nuckols similarly noted, “The gains in test scores have… coincided with the city becoming wealthier and the white population increasing.”

“Literally, I just got to just let this out,” Henderson has said in response to such critiques, “Haters are going to hate.”

Cheating Scandal

Within a year of Rhee’s 2007 DCPS takeover, test scores started climbing, dramatically at some schools.

While the Post was busy touting the results, out-of-town news organizations questioned them. A 2011 USA Today investigation found a higher than average wrong-to-right erasure rate the prior three years at “more than half of D.C. schools.”

Erasure rate refers to the number of changed answers on a test and can be used to identify possible cheating.

“A high erasure rate alone is not evidence of impropriety,” Henderson said in response.

But some of the erasure rates were very, very high. At Noyes Education Campus, for example, USA Today found,

The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance.

After USA Today’s exposé, scores at Noyes dropped, according to data posted at Guy Brandenburg’s education blog.

“Real students may be fidgety and jumpy, but their scores on yearly high-stakes tests… do NOT jump around like this,” wrote Brandenburg, a retired DCPS teacher.

“Look at those scores,” wrote historian and education scholar Diane Ravitch, who served as assistant secretary of education under George H. W. Bush. “First the soar up, then they plummet down. Nothing suspicious there, right?”

Not for D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby, who found no evidence of widespread cheating, despite only investigating one school, Noyes. The U.S. Education Department Inspector General, in a “tandem” investigation, came to a similar conclusion.

Meanwhile, DCPS failed to conduct its own investigation, even after an internal memo called for one, as PBS’s John Merrow reported at his blog.

“There have been no meaningful investigations of the evidence of widespread cheating,” civil rights attorney and D.C. budget expert Mary Levy wrote in response to the inspectors general’s findings.

“Among the top 10 DCPS erasure schools… scores plummeted at all but one by 2010,” noted Levy. “The bottom dropped out by chance at all those schools?”

Atlanta

Public schools in Atlanta experienced similar testing irregularities around the same time DCPS did. In Atlanta, however, superintendent Beverly Hall was unable to thwart an investigation.

“There’s one key difference between Atlanta and Washington,” wrote PBS’s Merrow, “the role played by the local newspapers.”

Unlike the Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution kept a spotlight on the issue.

The result? Dr. Hall and 34 educators were charged with racketeering.

The co-leader of Atlanta’s independent investigation, former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert Wilson, also followed the situation in D.C., concluding, “the big difference is that nobody in D.C. wanted to know the truth.”

‘Legacy of Progress’

As Henderson prepares to step down Friday, she does so amidst a wave of positive press, led by the Post.

“For a decade… Henderson has worked to turn around one of the nation’s most troubled school systems,” the Post reported Tuesday, pointing to “better test scores” under her watch.

The role that gentrification and cheating have played in achieving these “better test scores” is left unsaid.

Next up: See Ya, Kaya: Shortchanging At-risk Students

The post See Ya, Kaya: ‘Legacy of Progress’? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Understanding How Public Housing Is Funded… It’s Harder Than You’d Think

Mon, 08/29/2016 - 10:21

Emily McDonald is a graduate student in the sociology department of George Mason University.  She  has been a volunteer intern for Grassroots DC since May 2016. 

THE FIGHT FOR PUBLIC HOUSING IN 2016

In my time with Grassroots DC, I was given the underestimated task of tracking DCHA’s budget from the founding of Potomac Gardens on Capitol Hill until now. I began looking through HUD documents, only to find different structures of information for each year. I was able to track large budget numbers, indicating a large pullback in federal spending, but little evidence of what was appropriated specifically to DC. Rather, I found changing agreements between the federal and the local every few years with little overall consistency in the federal government fully funding the DC Housing Authority, leaving public housing residents feeling the pinch.

As a sociologist, I started to see connections between what is happening with public housing in the United States and the current social concerns of our nation as a whole. Specifically, I started to understand that the fight for public housing cannot stop with pressuring local governments to subsidize housing authorities which were created to be fully funded by the federal government, but must also take on a the 21st century conversation about neoliberalism.

HOW IS DCHA FUNDED AND GOVERNED?

For a brief background, the process of funding DCHA is a bit more complicated than a strictly local DC agency. Funds are appropriated first to the the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then to local housing authorities. The District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) is an entity of HUD and an independent agency of DC local government. This means the agency is particularly susceptible to federal pullbacks depending on the current political and economic ideology of the time, but is governed by a board appointed by the DC Mayor. The DC local government then subsidizes DCHA, though the only legal responsibility to fund the agency lies with HUD and the federal government.  

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENTS AND ADVOCATES?

It is important to understand the pullback of federal funding as a national trend trickles down to local spending. According to a 2016 DC Fiscal Policy Institute report, DC Council funding is not only a subsidy, but a requirement for DCHA to sustain. I found the same through DCHA director Adrianne Todman’s 2016 testimony to the DC Council. She urges for DC local spending to continue as they have for the few years prior. Her testimony includes an appeal for funding that is not only to promote new programs, but a basic necessity for the agency to sustain itself. I make this distinction to say Todman is not asking for additional money to add programming to additionally benefit the district, but a subsidy without which the agency may not operate at its expected capacity.This indicates the federal funding is insufficient for operation.


The central problem is the basic capacity of DC local government in contrast to the federal budget. As the cost of living in the district increases for residents who have, quite literally, built DC local, they are left with little options for housing in the city that is their birthright. This remains particularly true for the elderly, disabled, and families with children. While DC local government is subsidizing the agency to ensure the operation continues, there is a changing landscape at the federal level that I argue requires a new form of understanding.

According to theories of neoliberalism, big institutions are broken down, then slowly discarded in pieces in the name of private rule and small tax burdens on the rich (Brown 2015). This is often masked as freedom and flexibility for agencies like DCHA. Government programs aimed to support the lower and middle classes under a capitalist system are chipped away. Public-private partnerships are emphasized to reduce the burden of government. In turn, what is traditionally a public good paid for by publicly accountable funds are privatized.

In terms of housing, The free market certainly has not shown the ability to self-produce adequate, accessible housing for all. Without the protection of dedicated public housing, the affordable housing market begins to dwindle, forcing low-income residents in the area to relocate elsewhere. According to a 2015 report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, since 2012, should the lowest DC residents not receive housing subsidies and reside solely in the private market, “the average rent for this group [would equal] 80 percent of average income” (p. 3). Essentially, non-subsidized housing is not an option for this population. The free market has also not promised higher wages for the lowest income residents. Public housing is a good that must be preserved should the district remain a diverse, inclusive place. 

This preservation will require more than pressuring DC local to subsidize DCHA, though I do not disagree this is an important point. However, eyes must remain on both the federal and local to sustain such public goods. I base this point on how public housing is structured in the first place, as a federal entity which ensures access to safe and consistent housing. Federal pullbacks allow for pressure to go to the states, but states and local districts are not necessarily bound to ensuring public housing remains a public good. With this understanding, I have come to conceptualize public housing in the context of economic justice that has popularized in mainstream conversations recently (i.e. Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders campaign, etc). The rich are richer than ever before, and even the most “progressive” of politicians are operating in a changed landscape where private solutions to public problems are valued as “sustainable” and “self-reliant,” across party lines in the United States. Advocating for public housing certainly requires pressure on local officials, but it will also require a strong stand against neoliberal ideology that is changing the environment in which our public life operates.


Sources

http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1685683-d-c-affordable-housing-report.html#document/p1

http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/16-01-27-Public-housing-paper-final.pdf

http://dccouncil.us/budget/2016/housing-and-community-development

http://dccouncil.us/files/user_uploads/budget_responses/41515DCHACombinedTestimony.pdf

 

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Family and Friends of Incarcerated People’s Annual Community Event!

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 10:23

It’s that time of year again, folks! Family and Friends of Incarcerated People is holding their annual community event.  Join us, this Saturday, August 20, 2016 at Oxon Run Park, 1st and S. Capital Streets SE.  The fun starts at 1:00 PM.

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U.S. Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War… Who Knew?

Tue, 08/09/2016 - 10:55

What do the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the Move Organization and Black Lives Matter have in common?  They have all been denounced and delegitimized by the corporate establishment and mainstream media.

The Civil Rights and Revolutionary Struggles of the ‘60s and 70s challenged American racism, classism and sexism.  They also disrupted our imperialist foreign policy.   Eventually, the United States Government brought down or seriously humbled the Black Panthers, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the American Indian Movement, etc.  Many leaders were jailed.   Will the current struggle face the same fate?

In the late 1990s, a movement to free all U.S. political prisoners and prisoners of war began to take root.  Several wide scale political actions took place in Washington, DC and Philadelphia.  Filmmakers, Liane Scott, Joan Yoshiwara, Eddie Becker and Jorge Abeledo covered these events.  The result is The Walls of Jericho and the Movement That’s Shaking Them, a two-hour documentary, that includes activists protesting on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, the Move 9, the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, Black Panthers Russel Maroon Shoats and Eddie Conway and many more.

Revolutionary thinkers Kathleen Cleaver, Carl Dix, Chokwe Lumumba, Angela Davis, Ramona Africa all weigh in on the state of the movement and the related issues of police brutality and the prison industrial complex.   Rank and file activists also share their knowledge and opinions. The Walls of Jericho serves as a popular education primer on political prisoners jailed as a result of the civil and human rights uprisings of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

It cannot be denied that in the last half century, racism, heterosexism, xenophobia, etc. have become less overt.   But at the same time, US military misadventures migrated from Central America and Southeast Asia to the oil-rich Middle East.  The planet’s resources continue to be assaulted.  Police brutality and mass incarceration replaced Jim Crow.   The revolutionary work that blossomed in the ‘60s and ‘70s is not finished.  Tactics used to disrupt activism of the past are and will be used again.

We invite you to join us at this screening of The Walls of Jericho and the Movement That’s Shaking Them and the follow up discussion.  In the spirit of Sankofa, we will learn from the past and move even more boldly into a future shaped by the people and not the forces of oligarchy.

Below is a segment from the documentary that focuses on police brutality.

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