February 27, 2008

Some news from the student movement

bloglines del.icio.us Digg facebook Google Ma.Gnolia Newsvine Technorati socializer StumbleUpon Yahoo
SDS News Bulletin cover

Seems those meddling kids in SDS are at it again, with a new issue of the SDS News Bulletin. Some stuff about creative uses of the Iraq Moratorium ahead of the March 20th protests and lots more. (PDF badness defanged through use of PDF Me Not, btw).

Now a question for those elders who "saw it live": how's the new SDS stacking up against the original?

Read more!

February 26, 2008

Judge Boyko's Snowball Starts Rolling Downhill

bloglines del.icio.us Digg facebook Google Ma.Gnolia Newsvine Technorati socializer StumbleUpon Yahoo

A bright note in the gathering foreclosure crisis.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Samuel L. Bufford in Los Angeles issued a notice last month warning plaintiffs in foreclosure cases to bring the mortgage notes to court and not submit copies:

"This requirement will apply because developments in the secondary market for mortgages and other security interests cause the court to lack confidence that presenting a copy of a promissory note is sufficient to show that movant has a right to enforce the note or that it qualifies as a real party in interest."

In November, Federal District Judge Christopher Boyko walked into his Cleveland courtroom and into the news. He made the mainstream media in a small way and the blogosphere in a big one (and Fire on the Mountain was on the case). You may remember Boyko—he knocked the attorneys for the US unit of global giant Deutsche Bank for a loop. Their lawyers were in court as the subprime mortgage mess unfolded, trying to evict 14 families and seize their homes for non-payment.

Boyko asked to see the mortgages.

"Umm, the mortgages," mumbled the lawyers, pretending to pat their suit pockets. "The mortgages...Gee, nobody ever asked us to actually see them before, the mortgages per se, that is. But trust us, Deutsche Bank really does hold them."

Boyko was unimpressed and told the lawyers that until the paper was forthcoming, forget about foreclosure and repossession.

The physical mortgage notes had, no doubt, been tucked someplace while the mortgages were sold and sold again and bundled in tranches of mortgages of varying types and shuffled into mortgage-backed securities which were traded far and wide, until the bottom fell out last fall.

Now, asserts an article by Bob Ivry for Bloomberg News,

Judges in at least five states have stopped foreclosure proceedings because the banks that pool mortgages into securities and the companies that collect monthly payments haven't been able to prove they own the mortgages.

Read Ivry’s nifty piece to get a sense of the worry this development is causing in the world of high finance, and why. About one mortgage in five, $2.1 trillion worth, is currently packaged in these securities. Maybe half of them are registered and transactions involving them recorded, at least in theory, by a tracking company set up by mortgage companies (and that information doesn’t necessarily say where the physical mortgage is). The other half? Don’t ask.

By law, in every transfer of a mortgage, the seller must sign over the notes to the buyer. How much of that do you think actually happened in lending, buying, selling, bundling, repackaging frenzy of the last six years? A lot of these mortgages look to be still technically held by one of the 100+ mortgage companies that stopped making loans, closed or were sold last year.

One of these, amusingly enough, is a NY state firm called American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. which filed for bankruptcy last August. They complain that warehousing their loan paperwork is costing them $45,000 a month that they don’t have and they've petitioned the Bankruptcy Judge to let them dump the lot!

There’s more good stuff to be found in Ivry’s article and by googling some of the instances he cites, but this post is plenty long enough already.

But, and this is a big, big but, before I sign off, there is one thing I want to make sure everyone who has read this far knows and understands and spreads the word on. Most foreclosures are still going smooth as silk, even with no paperwork in sight. In many cases banks are submitting "lost-note affidavits" as a matter of course. If you or anyone you know winds up facing foreclosure, your lawyer has to challenge the bank and the bank’s attorneys and not just pray that you have a Judge Boyko or a Judge Bufford on the bench.

Read more!

February 25, 2008

Black History Month: The National Organization for Women

bloglines del.icio.us Digg facebook Google Ma.Gnolia Newsvine Technorati socializer StumbleUpon Yahoo


In 1979, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm wanted to help her female constituents in Brooklyn's predominantly Black 12th Congressional District get those high-paying construction jobs. Finding little support from the traditional civil rights organizations she reached out to a relatively new rights group, the National Organization for Women. At the time, NOW was primarily a middle class, white formation. But they and Chisholm found common cause in getting women into what they viewed as "non-traditional" workplaces. Women "hard hats" seemed to have a certain barrier-breaking cachét, much like women getting into McSorley's Pub in the East Village had had nearly a decade earlier.

But beyond the "barrier breaking" symbolism, now that it's nearly 30 years later, what have Ms. Chisholm's efforts achieved? This last weekend, my local of the International Longshoremen's Association local celebrated our "Women Pioneers": union sisters. approximately 48 to 65 years old who had come to the docks, sponsored by Congresswoman Chisholm, in that first wave. The local, and in fact the entire Port of NY/NJ, now boasts a substantial number of female longshoremen, but the seven sisters we were honoring all came from the 12th Congressional District of Brooklyn and there might well be NO women on the docks if not for them.

Interestingly, NOW, at least in NJ, has become primarily a Black women's group. And though a significant number of feminist women took advantage of the opportunity for "non-traditional" employment in the late 70s and early 80s (including my own little sister, who worked as an IBEW construction electrician for more than 18 years), I was a little taken aback to learn that most of these women believed that the Carter Administration was responsible for this opening, never realizing that it was actually due to Shirley Chisholm's efforts. At the same time, it ought to be noted that the majority of the women who are STILL working in construction, on the railroads, or at the port, are, like my local's union sisters, African-American.

Linda Wilkins (first female gang foreman in entire U.S.), Cynthia Brooks (first female yard-tractor driver, now tractor foreman at APM-Sealand), and Lillian "Tootsie" Boyd (first Black woman checker and Ports-America gang-boss) head in to be honored for their pioneering role. For additional pictures from this event see ILA 1233 Honors Our Women Pioneers.

Read more!

February 24, 2008

Organizing 101: Lessons From a Search for a Stolen Dog

bloglines del.icio.us Digg facebook Google Ma.Gnolia Newsvine Technorati socializer StumbleUpon Yahoo

[My friend Bryan gave me permission to spread this and I think it should get around as broadly as possible.]

Team Bean
How the Search for My Stolen Pit Bull Reminded Me About How to Organize

Someone stole my puppy last week. Took my little girl Bean right out of my car in broad daylight on a busy street. There’s much to be written about the subculture of dognappers and why someone might want to steal a pit bull, but the Michael Vick fiasco has kind of overwhelmed the public consciousness on this topic. It’s worth exploring, particularly from an anti-racist and class- and gender-conscious perspective, but that’s not what I’m going to be doing here.

This writing is about how a group of people can come together, mobilize around something, and win. You know, win, that’s not something we do a whole lot these days. We didn’t stop and can’t end the war; we’re losing New Orleans; it seems like there’s more destruction coming down on humanity and the environment every single day. But sometimes we win. And when we win, it’s important to think about what it is that we did, and how we might translate these lessons into future victories.

In one short week, we were able to mobilize basically an entire town to look for a lost dog. Dozens of people contributed hundreds of dollars, hours and hours of active searches, and got as creatively bold as they could possibly get. The following is a list of 10 points that I was able to glean from the efforts during my week of chaos.

1) Build and maintain relationships all the time, every single day. The first wave of folks who responded were my family; the people with whom I have spent long hours, countless meals, emergency trips, late night craziness, and special moments. They got the call, and the responded immediately. If I didn’t have this network, the effort would have never gotten off the ground. These kinds of relationships take work, and it sometimes makes my life pretty hectic and exhausting. But when the chips are down, these folks are going to have my back. We’ve got to keep meeting new people, and we’ve got to invest the time to understand who they are and what moves them.

2) Appeal to people’s basic interests. Almost everybody has a dog, or has had one at some point. Everyone can imagine if a member of their family was stolen out of their car in the middle of the day. There was a visceral response when people heard the story, and folks sent letters, made calls, and spoke prayers from all over the country. Others came from miles away to help us look. It wasn’t abstract, it wasn’t a hard thing to connect: people just got it. Your dog is lost—boom—I’m moving. We need to think about what we try to organize around and think more creatively about who people are and what will move them.

3) Meet people’s basic needs. The Black Panther Party had it right. If folks are hungry, they are going to fight better if they’ve had food. If kids have shoes, they will be healthier and better able to learn and grow up healthy. We offered a $1000 reward, and lots of people responded because they needed $1000. Obviously, we can’t offer money to people to get them to come to a demonstration or a meeting. But, we can attempt to meet people’s needs better, and I can guarantee we’ll have more folks on our team. And once we get folks in the door, then we can help connect the need to the politics and the action.

4) Don’t discount anyone. I just got off the phone with an 86-year-old woman who is scared of dogs, but told me that she would’ve tried to get Bean into her house if she had seen her. The dude hustling on the corner, the “soccer mom,” the kids playing ball, the guy that you “don’t think speaks English,” the church ladies…all of them responded. We often get snobbish when we’re thinking about who to talk to. I’m guilty of it myself—“oh, they won’t care.” But when you step out and passionately present your situation, folks of all shapes and sizes respond in the most amazing ways. We need to challenge, and get over, our expectations about who is going to respond to what, and give everyone a chance to be part of things.

5) Everyone should do what they are good at. Not everyone can knock on somebody’s door and succinctly rap about what’s going on. But the same folks who can’t do that will make a mean flier in no time. Others will cook. Some will operate the information center. The blog needs tending. The phone calls need to be made. The money needs to be raised. The people who are hurting need someone to sit with them and generate some laughs. Everybody has a part to play. We don’t all need to be everything. Value everyone’s skills, and help them figure out how to be most creatively effective.

6) Use all the technology available to you. We had fliers on posts, a blog running, listservs, a Craig’s List posting, and a Face Book page up and running within about 12 hours of Bean’s disappearance. Word spread so quickly we couldn’t keep up. Our cells phones were blowing up. We got in the newspaper, the TV news, and the radio stations. Someone even suggested an ad on the side of a bus. If things would have gone much longer, we might have done a targeted mailing. We drove, we biked, we walked. We used all the tools at our disposal.

7) But…walk and talk. Ultimately, however, it was the fact that we put a flier on the door of every single house in about 4 neighborhoods that really got us somewhere. After about a day, we couldn’t talk to a single person in any of these neighborhoods that wasn’t on the lookout because of a flier or a conversation with us. We boldly approached everyone, and connected with people on a human level. We put our feet on the ground, and our faces in front of people, and that made such a difference. Bean was on everyone’s mind. Ultimately, it was a flier left on a car windshield at Wal Mart that helped bring our girl home.

8) Take care of yourself. I don’t think that I’ve ever been this tired. I’m normally pretty “invincible,” sleeping little and energetically going from here to there all day long. But this one wore me out. I was going to work, leaving early, looking for my dog, holding down my partner emotionally, not sleeping, and grieving, almost around the clock. But I let folks step in and bring me food. I took a nap in the afternoon when I couldn’t bear the thought of another unsuccessful search. I called my family to make me laugh and tell me that things would be cool. I let my people take care of me, and there’s no way I could have made it through the week without them. We all have to do this. Go hard, but know when you’re coming up on limits.

9) Pick something that we can win. Like I said before, it’s pretty rare for us to win these days. We get beat all the time, and we internalize a lot of it. It’s hard to keep going when you never see positive results. A friend of mine told me the other day that she “needed for us to find Bean,” so that she could tuck this one away and pull it out when things get hard later on. People sensed that we could get Bean back—we could actually do it—and then worked that much harder. We need to keep thinking about the big wars, but get ourselves some small battles along the way. It keeps us fresh and hungry for more.

10) The power of positive thinking. I have to admit it. I’m usually the first person to groan when people start getting spiritual about their organizing. I respect it, and I believe in where it comes from, but I have such a hard time connecting to a lot of it. Singing and dancing and quiet moments for reflecting, I’m with it; praying and sending out “positive energy” and talking to spirits that aren’t around you—man, it gives me a hard time. Maybe that stuff helped bring Bean back; maybe it didn’t. But it couldn’t have hurt, right? I even found myself talking to the ghosts of my Catholic past, Saints Christopher, Anne, Anthony, and Francis, just to see if they could help. We had so many people praying and dreaming and chanting and meditating…it really helped to keep us afloat. When I didn’t believe we’d find her, I stopped moving as quickly. When I had hope and knew that she was coming home, I could go all day. We all need something good to hold on to.

So, apparently, the sun also rises. It’s nice to spend a little time dissecting a win, and I share this to try to encourage us to get down to the core of why we do what we do. We’re not just doing this because it’s the right thing to do. We’re doing it because we know that this thing has to change and that we have to win if humans are going to survive on this planet. Let’s keep it moving y’all.

Thanks so much for all who contributed to Team Bean in any way; for bringing my dog home, and for helping me to remember the power of active people and organization.

Bryan Proffitt is a Hip-Hop generation white man who teaches U.S. History at Hillside High School in Durham, and belongs to a handful of community-based, and national, organizations committed to a just and healthy world. He can be reached at bproffitt33(at)yahoo.com. He just got up from a day-long nap with his puppy dog.

Read more!

They Stole Us, They Sold Us, They Owe Us!

bloglines del.icio.us Digg facebook Google Ma.Gnolia Newsvine Technorati socializer StumbleUpon Yahoo
"They Stole Us, They Sold Us, They Owe Us! Remember Our History: Reparations Now!" People's Organization for Progress members and supporters chanted as we marched from Civic Square in Irvington, NJ, and through the Springfield Avenue main shopping district in observance of Black History Month. NJ Transit bus drivers and private motorists honked their support as shoppers joined in with the chants.

[Additional pictures from this vibrant event are at this photo album--note: there are multiple years worth of POP events listed on this linked page, so just scroll down to see the Irvington march and rally.]

Read more!