Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Fix the United States' Electoral/Political System

Yes, I know that is a bold title for a blog post, but, after watching the GOP wreck our traditional Congressional system through its refusal to compromise (compromise is what our Congress...mostly through the procedural rules of the Senate, was built to do), I've decided that a Constitutional Amendment is the only way to fix our nation's political system. That's not to say that a drastic change wasn't needed before now, but I believe that a Constitutional Amendment that accomplishes these tasks (+ legislation that could address concerns without a Constitutional Amendment) would be the best way to move our country from gridlock to prosperity:

1. Overturn Citizens United

Citizens United was the 2010 Supreme Court case that has allowed corporations to dump millions of dollars into campaigns, and it has also allowed the formation of multi-million dollar "Super-PACs", which allows corporations and individuals to funnel in money to T.V. Ads/etc. anonymously (tearing apart any aspect of transparency in our electoral process).

Overturning Citizens United is by far the most important thing our country can do to protect our electoral and political systems.

I would also like to see all of our campaigns become publicly financed, but I doubt anything like that could ever pass through Congress. This is unfortunate though because if we pulled the money out of the process then we'd eliminate a lot of the corruption (though not all because of Congress' power over the appropriations process, which is necessary since you want people who can be held accountable by the voters to control that process).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission

2. Proportional Representation

This is an issue that could actually bring the far left and the far right together, and it would create a system that would be more beneficial for everyone (not just the extremes). Right now we have a two-party system, and within each party (especially the Democratic Party) there are people with many different viewpoints. Therefore, you can only predict to a certain point what you are voting for when you vote for a political party (and a lot more focus is placed on the individual candidate as a result).

As opposed to the single member districts that we have now, if we allowed parties to be voted on for Congress and if we allowed each party to take the proportional amount of seats as compared to the percentage of the popular vote that each party received (ex: A party that wins 1% of the vote would get 4 seats), then we could allow multiple parties to exist. This could be done on a national level, or Congressional seats could be voted on within each state as a whole (I would prefer it be done on national level since that would be more in line with 1 person 1 vote...it would be more proportional).

Result: We finally get rid of the dreaded Congressional gerrymandering of districts (one of our political system's greatest illnesses), and we finally get multiple parties. The significance of having a multiple party system is consistency. You can actually know what to expect from a political party. Don't get me wrong, I am one of those who actually realizes that there are gigantic differences between the two parties (I'm so sick of the ignorant statement: "Both parties are the same"...read the legislation they propose for 5 seconds and you'll see there are some gigantic ideological differences); however, I also realize that there is ideological diversity within the parties and this causes more voter confusion than anything else. If green, libertarian, and other third parties were allowed to exist, then people could know exactly what platforms they are voting for when they cast their ballot. This would create more trust between the public and the government, and the business community could actually know what to expect from the government in power at the time (business loves stability in government).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation

3. End the Electoral College

This may actually be carried out by National Popular Vote (nationalpopularvote.com) before a Constitutional amendment could be ratified. What National Popular Vote is doing is basically lobbying state legislatures to pass legislation that would cause the states who agree to give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. However, states would not have to do this until enough states pass the legislation to make up a majority of the electoral college (270...they are currently at 132, which includes VT, MD, WA, IL, CA, NJ, MA, HI, and D.C.).

However, I still think it is worth bringing this up here since it only makes sense that we allow the nation as a whole to elect our President (as opposed to allowing a handful of battleground states to elect our President). This issue also has more bipartisan support than the other two issues I brought up above. People on the right and the left realize that its unfair that Democrats in TX and Republicans in CA, both of which are large groups of people, hardly have a voice when it comes to Presidential elections.

nationalpopularvote.com

4. Getting rid of or at least modifying the filibuster/unanimous consent rules in the Senate.

This would probably be a given if the rest of the above proposals were to pass, and this is also something that would not require a Constitutional Amendment. The filibuster and the other procedural rules are not given to us by the Constitution. They are given to us by the tradition of the U.S. Senate. One of my law professors once convinced me that we should keep the procedural rules of the Senate intact since they force compromise, make sure that any change that is made in our country is a baby-step as opposed to a leap forward, and that business loves the stability that this type of process creates. However, I have since been convinced that this process has been broken by a political party that refuses to compromise. Maybe I'm wrong, and, after the GOP loses badly in a couple of election cycles, they'll realize that you have to have the middle on your side to win. Until that happens, I'm sticking to my opinion that these procedural rules need to go.

On the first legislative day of every Congress (which usually goes many real days so don't take this as meaning one day), the Senate can change its procedural rules with a simple majority. Senator Udall attempted this earlier this year, and here is the list of his reasonable proposals (quoted from the CNN article linked below):

"Udall is considering four key proposals as part of the resolution he will offer. One would prevent filibusters to taking up a bill or on a nomination, although it will still allow filibusters to end debate on a bill. A second would eliminate so-called "secret holds" in which a senator can anonymously stall legislation or a nomination from coming to the floor. A third would require senators leading a filibuster stay on the floor and debate the issue during the entire filibuster.

A fourth proposal from Udall is aimed at appeasing GOP concerns about being locked out of the process. It would require a certain number of amendments for the minority party for any bill being debated."

Here is a link explaining the end agreement that the two parties settled on earlier this year (which resulted in small changes in the right direction as opposed to the bigger/better changes proposed by Sen. Udall):

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/01/reid_and_mcconnell_agree_there.html

Here's a more condensed version of the agreement: http://fixthesenatenow.org/news/entry/senate-leadership-agrees-upon-rules-package/

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reached a mutual agreement on a new procedural system for the 112th Senate, earlier today.

The agreement eliminates secret holds, prohibits delay tactics like forcing the reading an amendment that has already been submitted for 72 hours, and exempts about one third of executive nominations from the Senate confirmation process.

Additionally, Sen. Reid agreed to reduce the use of 'filling the amendment tree,' while Sen. McConnell agreed to limit the number of filibusters. Both party leaders agreed not to seek the Constitutional option to change rules in the 112th or the 113th Congress."

I understand the argument for preserving the filibuster and other procedural rules of the Senate, which mostly evolve around the fear of the Senate becoming the partisan House. However, when one party decides gridlock is better than compromise, its difficult to side with the status quo on the rules of the Senate.

Other links on this topic:

http://www.brennancenter.org/blog/archives/senate_rules_reform_no_fire_and_brimstone_much_logic_and_reason/

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/04/some-senate-democrats-to-try-to-change-filibuster-rules-in-new-congress/

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/us/politics/25rules.html

http://tomudall.senate.gov/?id=739&p=blog
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These proposals would not solve all of the world's problems, and we would still continue to have plenty of problems in our own country. However, what these proposals would produce, if they were to pass, would be a cleaner, fairer, and more transparent electoral and political system, which would better represent our country's electorate and would create more trust between Americans and their government.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Supercommittee, 2012 election, Affordable Health Care Act, and Prop 19 (CA) predictions

Predictions Summary:

Supercommittee: Will fail. (Called this a long time ago, and made some further predictions on this topic earlier this month. Just wanted to point this out since I know by the time I actually post this the news will already have declared the supercommittee a failure).

President Barack Obama: Re-elected.

House: Going back to Democratic control.

Senate: Toss-up (not much of a prediction here hah).

Affordable Healthcare Act: Deemed Constitutional before the '12 election with Scalia voting in favor of it.

Prop 19 in CA to legalize marijuana: A majority of voters will vote yes this time around.

Explanation:

First off, these are predictions (not things I'm certain of), and I'm sure I will adjust my predictions as the 2012 elections get closer and as new data comes in. However, I've been looking at a lot of information on the topics below lately, and I'm liking the trends that I'm seeing so much that I wanted to ramble on about it for a bit. It really is a bit early to be making the Presidential and Congressional predictions, but a few factors that I will discuss at least make it worth looking at.

Supercommittee

Earlier this month, I made this prediction on what would happen with the supercommittee, and it appears that at least the first part will be the case with the latter being very possible (though, technically, a last second deal could still be struck by today):

"My prediction on the supercommittee (or at least what I expect): Republicans will continue to refuse to increase taxes (and refuse to compromise in general), supercommittee will fail, Congress will immediately reinstate (at least part of) the defense cuts (via a bipartisan vote), they will actually compromise on where the cuts go (as a full Chamber after the supercommittee fails)...though that's already been agreed to previously to a certain extent, Bush tax cuts expire for everyone, President Obama scolds GOP for allowing tax cuts on the middle class to expire in order to stand by their demands to keep the tax cuts for the rich in place, and then the Democrats push tax cuts for the middle class to be reinstated over and over again to bait the Republicans into voting against it (I doubt they would, but who knows with today's GOP)."

The supercommittee failing should've been the obvious from its inception, since we currently have a GOP that has forgotten the definition of compromise and how important compromise is to our current Congressional system.

As I mentioned above, there is still time for a last second deal to be struck, but I just don't see the GOP budging with the current environment in D.C. Also, it would be worse for the Democrats to accept a deal with no tax increases than to just let it fail and allow the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. Reinstating the tax cuts for the middle class would provide political cover for the tax increase, though it would increase our deficit.

I look very forward to seeing the figures on how much the deficit decreases once the Bush tax cuts expire (the data is already out there but, when it becomes official, I'm hoping a lot of voters' eyes are opened).

Rep. Frank also believes that the supercommittee failing is a good thing (and he seems to agree with many of the other predictions that I made earlier this month about the supercommittee):

"'The people who want to say ‘no’ have more leverage,' Frank said in a telephone interview. 'Every showdown until now, the right wing had more leverage. They tended to benefit more from gridlock. Now, thanks to sequestration and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, gridlock is bad for the right wing. So they are now going to be forced to deal.'

Frank said the supercommittee’s inability to produce a plan was not a failure of Congress, but rather a reflection of the country’s 'peak divisions.'

He said that Democrats should offer to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and end them for the wealthy, counting that as savings against the automatic cuts.

'And if you don’t like it,' Frank said, 'well, then we’ll just sit back, see sequestration and the taxes go up on everybody.'"

http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/budget-approriations/195139-rep-frank-supercommittee-failure-good-news-for-democrats
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As far as the 2012 predictions go, this is much more of a guessing game since anything could happen between now and late 2012; however, there is a lot of data out there on the race for President and various Congressional seats.

President: Barack Obama gets re-elected

The main thing that has made me feel strongly enough about this to make a prediction on it this early out is the numbers I'm seeing in Ohio. More than one recent poll has placed President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by 6 points (49-43). He polls even better against failed candidates like Herman Cain and Rick Perry. The significance of polling at around 49% is that it leaves President Obama only needing to convince a few undecideds in order to win there (even if the polls get a little closer).

The reason that good numbers in Ohio alone would make me feel confident about a President that many people think will not be re-elected is because of two things: 1) Republicans have a very hard time winning the electoral college majority without Ohio because it forces them to have to pick up states that they do not traditionally win. (Note: No Republican has ever won the Presidency without Ohio.) 2) If the Republican overreach against labor has backfired this badly in Ohio, then it has probably backfired on them in many other states such as MI and WI, which are even harder places for the GOP to win in than Ohio. I expect this overreach to not only benefit President Obama, but I also expect it to help the Democratic Senate candidates in many states.

Republicans keep pointing to the close numbers between President Obama and the "generic Republican"; however, that is wishful thinking considering the fact that their primary field is one of the worst I've ever seen. The fact that Newt Gingrich has become the new anti-Romney candidate should have the GOP base disturbed (though at least Newt is smarter than Cain, Perry, and Bachmann combined).

When it gets closer to the 2012 Presidential election, I'll do a state-by-state analysis. For now, just keep an eye on the typical battleground states, and expect Arizona to be a battleground state this time around (I could see the Democrats pulling a surprise win off here based on recent polling on Governor Brewer's approval rating and based on demographic shifts/the population increase in AZ).
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House: Democrats retake it.

Earlier this year, I would never have made this prediction. While I knew all along that Democrats would make gains in the House in '12 (Republicans spread themselves thin and won in areas that they would normally never win in on election day 2010), I figured that the Republicans' 2010 success in taking over many state legislatures would lead to gerrymandering heavily slanted in their favor, which I thought would possibly even out the advantages that the Democrats have in 2012, which mainly consists of the higher voter turnout associated with Presidential races and the higher number of vulnerable Republican incumbents.

However, redistricting in CA, IL, and TX has given me new hope on that front (these states together will probably give Democrats around 10 new seats in Congress...they only need 25 to win the chamber). Though redistricting will hurt us in other states like NC and possibly MI, I'm starting to doubt that they will be able to do anything beyond break even with the Democrats on gains (nationally).

There's also good news from AZ and OH. In AZ, the AZ Supreme Court recently reinstated the independent commissioner on AZ's redistricting board after a Republican attempt to impeach the independent. In OH, the Democratic map will be placed on a voter referendum to oppose the current Republican map. Most likely the same people who defeated the anti-union law in OH recently will also approve of the Democratic redistricting map, which means more gains for Democrats in Congress in a state they were supposed to lose seats in as a result of the GOP takeover of its state's legislature.

Therefore, with redistricting not hurting the Democratic party like I thought it would and with a recent poll showing 12 Republican incumbents as likely to be defeated in 2012, I'm thinking that the Democrats will definitely make gains and have a good shot at retaking the House in 2012 (especially when you factor in the higher-than-usual turnout that is associated with Presidential elections).

Here's a good write-up on this topic from Tom Jensen from Public Policy Polling: (3 page report)

"Over the last few weeks national polling has increasingly showed House Democrats recovering from their defeat in 2010 and taking the lead back on the generic House ballot. An October 10 Reuters survey showed Democrats ahead 48-40 and an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the same day found Democrats with a 45-41 advantage.

The national numbers point to the possibility for Democrats to reclaim a majority in the House next year, and a series of polls conducted by PPP in 12 individual Congressional districts last week backs up what the national numbers are showing. The 12 districts we polled are all in states where redistricting has already occurred- Arkansas, California, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

And in all 12 we found the same thing- voters would like to replace the Republican incumbent with someone else, and for the most part the new GOP House majority is proving to be extremely unpopular."

http://www.politico.com/static/PPM41_pppmemo.html

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/68855.html
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Senate: Toss-up

Here is the one place where I do not feel comfortable enough to even make a guess at this point. While I do think 2012 will be a good year for Democrats, the Democrats have to defend 23 seats while the Republicans only have to defend 10. The Republicans will only need to win a net-gain of 4 seats to control the Senate (3 seats would be enough for them to have the VP break tie votes if President Obama loses), but this of course would require them to not lose any seats, which I don't see happening.

Here's a good map of the states that are having U.S. Senate Elections this year:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_elections,_2012

States to watch:

MO: This is probably the main Senate seat that I see the Democrats losing. Sen. McCaskill's numbers have not been good.

MA: Elizabeth Warren is going to make Scott Brown a 1-term Senator, though should we really be surprised? She's a great candidate, and MA is a very blue state.

NV: Either party could win here, but keep in mind that they re-elected Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010 (which was a bad year for Democrats...even if 2012 is not the year I'm expecting for Democrats, it will be better than 2010).

AZ: I'm one of the few talking about AZ, and I stand by this prediction: AZ will be a close state for the Presidency and for the Senate in 2012.

MT: This is going to be a close one. Senator Jon Tester is a fairly moderate Democrat, and he and his opponent are currently fighting it out for the NRA's endorsement.

NE: Ben Nelson will always have a tough re-election bid in the red state of Nebraska (especially in the current political environment).

ND: I actually think the Democrats will put up a really good fight here. Their candidate is a popular long-term politician in the state.

VA: Governor Kaine will hopefully pull this one off, but it will be close.

WI: With an unpopular governor like Scott Walker, I see the Democrats retaining this open Senate seat. It should still be an interesting race to watch though.

Other people talk about OH, PA, NM, and MI; however, I think the Democrats will safely retain all of those Senate seats. As far as Florida goes, I'm much more worried about President Obama's chances down there than I am of Senator Bill Nelson's chances for re-election.

Wild Card to watch out for: Hopefully the tea party will nominate some crazy/awful candidate to replace Lugar in IN or Snowe in ME. If that happens in either state (especially ME), then expect that state to be much closer. Otherwise, the Republicans will likely keep both seats.

Here's a good article with more information on the 8 top races to watch:

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/gop-control-senate-top-races-watch/story?id=14374992#
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Affordable Health Care Act: Constitutional w/ Scalia voting for it.

I'm not going to say as much on this topic, but my primary reason for thinking this is precedent (the wheat case and the medical marijuana case that Scalia voted for), and the decision upholding the constitutionality of the healthcare mandate recently rendered by Judge Sutton, who is the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge that was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003. This is especially significant because he served as a law clerk for Justice Scalia. That seems to hint to me (along with other votes that he's made in the past) that Justice Scalia would vote in favor of the constitutionality of the Affordable Healthcare Act's individual mandate.

Here are some excerpts from the opinion:

"Commerce Clause

In his 27-page opinion, Judge Sutton said that the health care law meets the classic tests that the Supreme Court has imposed in deciding whether Congress has acted within its authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause, the provision that empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce or matters that otherwise 'substantially affect' interstate commerce.

Noting that health care is a $2.5 trillion industry, Sutton said that 'no matter how you slice the relevant market,' virtually all of it affects interstate commerce, and Congress may constitutionally regulate such interstate economic activity. 'Few people escape the need to obtain health care at some point in their lives, and most need it regularly,' he observed. Everyone will eventually have some sort of big emergency bill that, left to their own devices, most individuals would be unable to pay. The health care mandate, he concluded, is little more than a requirement that everyone have insurance now so taxpayers and hospitals will not be left holding the bag later. Indeed, as he observed, federal law actually requires hospitals to accept many patients without regard to their capacity to pay.

Furthermore, wrote Sutton, 'No one is inactive when deciding how to pay for health care, as self-insurance and private insurance are two forms of action for addressing the same risk. Each requires affirmative choices; one is no less active than the other; and both affect commerce.'

Those opposed to the health care law raise good questions, he said, based on an intuition that this law cannot be constitutional. But '[n]ot every intrusive law is an unconstitutionally intrusive law,' wrote Sutton."

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/29/137506928/federal-court-upholds-health-care-law

The only good legal argument I've heard from the right is that there is a difference between the precedent and the current case in that the government is forcing people to do something as opposed to forcing people not to do something. While this is a legitimate argument, I do not think it is a strong enough argument to make Scalia vote against the Affordable Healthcare Act and prior Supreme Court precedent. However, even if he does, there is always the chance that Justice Kennedy will vote that the mandate is constitutional, which is something that I also expect.
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Prop 19 in CA: Passes

I'm not going to write as much on this topic either, but, if you aren't aware of Prop 19, it was the referendum over whether or not to legalize marijuana in CA. I believe it only obtained 46% of the vote in 2010, but I still found this to be impressive considering that turnout is typically lower in mid-term elections (and young people turn out much less in mid-term elections).

Since its failure, Gallup and other groups have released polls showing the legalization of marijuana favored by 50% of Americans for the first time ever. If the numbers are that high nationally, one would only assume that the numbers are even better in CA.

The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 thinks that its approach this time around will calm the concerns of many growers in CA who actually voted against Prop 19 in 2010:

Dale Gieringer, California's NORML's state coordinator said, "There's more confidence that whatever emerges is more likely to be from the marijuana community than there was with Prop. 19."

Assuming that the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform 2012 is successful in crafting a referendum that is more in line with what the local growers want, I think this + the increased turnout in 2012 will ensure a victory for Prop 19.

http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2011/03/marijuana_2012_california.php

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/03/prop-19-results-marijuana_n_778050.html

Thursday, October 06, 2011

My introduction to the Occupy Memphis movement

I couldn't help but get a little fired up tonight (though I'm sure I came off as an ass ;) ). I signed up for the Occupy Memphis movement because I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. From what I can tell thus far, it is a protest against social and economic inequality (including a tax code that favors the ultra wealthy) and corporate influence on government (I'm particularly ticked off about Citizens United decision). The document or "mission statement" that was read at the beginning was great, and I felt like I was in the right place.

Then, when getting ready to vote on the document, I hear a man object to the health care statement followed by his request to add in "abolish the Federal Reserve". I quickly picked him out as a Ron Paul supporter (not like that's difficult), which he confirmed as he walked back to his seat.

I've worked my tail off for the past 8 years to elect progressive candidates and to get young people involved in politics. I invested a lot of time serving as President of the College Democrats (Univ. Memphis), and it bothers me so badly to see so many young people blindly buying into Ron Paul's flawed economic ideology because he wants to legalize pot (for the record, I actually agree with him on the latter issue).

Anyways, what I was trying to communicate to the group was that our movement needs to have a consistent message (not one that's all over the place...you don't want to protest just to protest), and we can't do that if we're going to adopt far-right wing rhetoric on top of a progressive message. It makes no sense. It would be like me going to a young Republicans meeting and trying to get them to add stiffer environmental regulations to their platform. They would boo me out of the room.

I attempted to propose a debate over whether or not we should get rid of the Federal Reserve. I'm hoping I can get that set up, but either way the point is that we need to actually discuss issues before randomly throwing them into a document that defines the organization we are in. The original document was perfect, and people had put in over 6(?) hours ironing it out. To take that much time on it, and then have random attendees calling out different things to add to it (without a thorough and thought out debate) just doesn't add up.

Besides, with a gridlocked Congress unable to pass any legislation to help the economy, the Federal Reserve is about the only source of economic stimulus we have right now. To think that people would actually call for such a thing with Congress' current inaction is baffling to me. There are some changes that I would make to the Federal Reserve, but getting rid of it is not the answer.

Days after its creation, I watched the tea party turn from a libertarian movement (that I disagreed with economically) into a far-right-wing misinformed group of people who woke up angry one day and decided to look at the news for the first time. I just really like the premise of Occupy Wall Street, and I don't want to see it get
hijacked by right-wing extremists like the tea party did.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

MSPJC launches new initiative for Community-Youth Engagement

The MSPJC Neighborhood Alliance is now proud to be working with Shelby County Juvenile Court in finding meaningful service opportunities for young men and women with court-ordered community service.

Contact us with any neighborhood clean-up, community garden or other neighborhood activities that your association or congregation is working on. Please list the dates and times and how many volunteers are needed and a contact person's info. Juvenile Court will then work with our staff to assign young people with court-ordered community service to opportunities that are close to their homes. The Neighborhood Alliance sees this as an opportunity for mentoring and reaching out to young people within our neighborhoods and more than a simple community service opportunity.

We are proud to report that we have already secured commitments from the SOUTH MEMPHIS FARMERS MARKET as well as the Binghampton-based URBAN FARM and URBAN MARKET. We want to extend our thanks to these wonderful new partners, and we hope they are but the first of many more.

If you have any upcoming events that would be a good opportunity for youth community service, please contact our Organizing Director at brad@midsouthpeace.org or 901.725.4990.

H.O.P.E. Call to Action :: Project Homeless Connect NEEDS VOLUNTEERS

PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT is a massive one-day event targeting unsheltered homeless people in Memphis and Shelby County at which all the resources and services needed to leave homelessness are provided under one roof, at one time. Community volunteers pair up one-on-one with homeless individuals beginning with street engagement and ending with accessing a wide array of resources at the Cook Convention Center. Dozens of agencies and service providers join together to break down barriers that make it difficult for individuals to leave homelessness.

This project is a venture of the Community Alliance to End Homelessness and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center is proud to be a community partner in this effort.

We urge everyone to please sign up to be a volunteer at this event, this will be a massive effort and we as a community must mobilize to ensure that it is as much of a success as it can be. To register to volunteer or to get more info go to the event page here. and help us spread the word to your neighborhood association, civic clubs and congregations. They need 1,000 total volunteers, so please make every effort to help yourself and spread the word.

What - Project Homeless Connect

When - Friday,September 16th

Time - 9am-5pm





END HOMELESSNESS

We are also asking that you help us spread the word about the dire need of those who in the brutal summer heat are experiencing homelessness. We are calling on the community to call our Mayors' AC Wharton at 576-6000 and Mark Luttrell at 545-5000 and urge them to keep their campaign promises and provide set-aside jobs for those who are experiencing homelessness out of the 7.4 million dollars in city contracts for blight demolition, neighborhood clean up and renovation work. We can curb blight and give those who are homeless a fighting chance at the same time.



Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
901-725-4990
Brad@midsouthpeace.org

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mayor, The Council and the 17th Rule of Acquisition-Or-The Dog ate the City's homework

Last night on WREG News Channel 3, Memphis Mayor AC Wharton expressed that he felt the pain of the many lower paid city workers who are NOW being asked to accept a 4.6% cut in their salaries in the coming year.



The Mayor explains that these cuts will be done in lieu of the 12 holiday furlough passed by the Memphis City Council as a sort of humanitarian gesture to avoid hurting worker families during the holiday season.



Here is a link to that story here


There's just one problem with this story.....it's all spin.

Here is the truth...

Back on Jun 21st, the Mayor presented his revised budget to the Members of the Memphis City Council...among other things was a vote to furlough 12 holidays. At the time City Council veteran Joe Brown voiced concerns throughout this affair that the vote and action to do so was improper and illegal as those holiday's were protected by ordinance. In fact here is said ordinance right HERE



Councilman Brown informed the Mayor and the other members of the Council of his doubts about the legality of such a motion..but was ignored and his questions brushed aside...and that is tragic, because now what we have is yet another serious miscalculation made in needless haste by our elected officials..and once again an outright refusal by anyone to admit such mistakes...to the point of being untruthful.



Saddest of all is now we have yet another manufactured crisis that again seeks to cover the carelessness of elected officials on the back and the pocketbooks of lower paid city workers...none of the top earners will be receiving these cuts...no...no...no... salary cuts are for the little people I suppose.



Now..in the coming days you'll hear alot of indignation from elected officials about how "unreasonable" the public sector unions are being...but let's be serious for a moment...



The Unions all negotiated with the administration back in April in good faith...those negotiations are done...now in the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and those unions there is a procedure for situations of fiscal emergency..so that these things can be renegotiated in times of fiscal hardship. The problem is..that procedure requires the city to open up their books to the unions to prove such hardship is real......and the Administration does not want to do that...why?...I don't know and won't speculate..but it really does not matter why.



More to the point...all this bluster about "coming to the table"...is just a ploy to get the Unions to concede to a process outside of their Memorandum of Understanding..thus automatically putting them in a weaker bargaining position.



Alot of Council members are lawyers as are members of the administration...and none of them would ever advise their clients to negotiate outside of a contract or MOU....NEVER....but that's exactly what the Unions are being asked to do here....and the media is allowing this to go on with ZERO scrutiny.



You see what really matters here are two simple questions....IS THE CITY ACTING IN GOOD FAITH WITH IT'S WORKERS?....and....just how many other mistakes have happened and been covered up?



I do so hope that as many of you as possible will join us at City Hall, Tuesday July 5th at 3:30pm as we watch the spin continue.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Passing the buck on HOMELESSNESS pt1

Last week ABC24 ran a story about the ramifications of the Panhandling zones created by the Memphis City Council in April of 2010. You can view that article by clicking on the link HERE

Go ahead...i'll wait.

Now if you have been to this blog before or in anyway know me you will already know that The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center opposed passage of this law a year ago and in turn offered what we saw as a more moral, human and viable alternative. If you would like the back ground you can read about that here and here


...Now my point today is not to rehash the particulars of that debate persay..more to the point... Isn't it odd that when special interest want the Council to pass unconstitutional laws the panhandlers all become "con artists". Yet when we talk about mental health and substance abuse treatment for those who panhandle...all of a sudden they become "homeless" and the buck gets passed to the Mayor's plan to end homelessness?

Mr. Collins with respect is not being truthful here.

In the ABC24 story above it is mentioned that the City Council also voted to commission a special task force authorizing then City Council chair Harold Collins to convene a meeting with mental health, substance abuse and criminal justice shareholders to look at ways of effectively curbing Aggressive panhandling via treatment as opposed to counter productive and EXPENSIVE incarceration and Law Enforcement manpower hours.

Yet this body as the article above shows has never met....

But it's far worse than that..... For one... Mayor Wharton launched his Task force to End Homelessness...the same task force that I and MSPJC staff worked on as members ...MONTHS before the Council even took up the Panhandling issue. True, the media kickoff happened in late April but everyone involved knew that it was in the works and I had gone to early meetings as far back as Jan 2010....

So, Mr Collins assertion that the Mayor announced it just weeks later is misleading...and he was well aware of that..afterall Harold Collins himself is listed as a member of the Mayor's Task force to End Homelessness....tho I never saw him at any of the meetings or events....but in fairness...maybe there's a reasonable explanation for that.

TWO. Last year I met with Mr. Collins several times which his staff can verify and explained to him that the Mayor's plan was speaking to the issue of homelessness..but our initiative with the council was about mental health screening and diversion options for substance abuse for panhandlers arrested at 201 Poplar. At our last conversation..which was in AUGUST 2010, Mr Collins was no longer using the canard of not wanting to duplicate efforts..but at that time was citing slow action on the part of Judges at 201 Poplar as the hold up.

He then tried to pass us off on Councilman Kemp Conrad who at that time had a task force as well...which also was not or may never have met. Never got a clear response on that. Still it matters little as it was Harold Collins...not Kemp Conrad who has the responsibility to oversee this process as Council Chairman as outlined in the original resolution.

Our Alternative plan was seeking to have all "homeless related crimes" panhandling, trespassing, public urination, loitering, climbing on a municipal structure..etc..sent to a single designated division of General Sessions Court so these cases could be handled consistently.

The outlier "con artist" could be consistently prosecuted and those with mental health, addiction or homelessness issues could be diverted into existing services.
Thus saving jail costs and reducing aggressive panhandling in a effective and humane manner.

As Mr. Collins WORKS in the D.A.'s office he knows full well what our intentions were..in fact we presented the council with a power point of our plan..which led to Councilman Joe Brown sponsoring the creation of the Council's task force in the first place. All of this is in the Council record...and that alternative proposal Document we submitted is in the Commercial Appeal article i linked above...


THREE. Even if Councilman Collins is sincere in his belief that this is better handled by the Mayor's task force....which again..I sat on......if he really believes that...then why did he ignore our request for better funding of said plan? So a year down the tubes and only $250.000 in local funding...for homelessness..


So.....Who believes that Councilman Collins is being upfront here?

With all due respect to the man....who like myself is a former graduate of Memphis Catholic...I don't,i'm sorry but I do not believe you are being truthful here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Neighborhood Alliance-Organizer training and workshop-Tuesday May 24th-Guest speaker Deidre Malone

[The Neighborhood Alliance]


We know that you are working hard to ensure that your neighborhoods are healthy, thriving communities...but you don't have to do it alone.
Join the Neighborhood Alliance to work with others to advocate, organize, and promote legislation and policies to improve the quality of life in all of our neighborhoods.

Working as a team we can make a difference!

[MAY Meetings]

Organizing Your Community Workshop


Tuesday, May 24th at 6pm-8pm

Workshop Topic: House parties and Member recruitment-Learn how to use house party events to build up your membership for your community organizing efforts.

Guest Speaker: Former County Commissioner Deidre Malone will share insights on how your County Commission functions in the day to day as well as share her advice on how neighborhood and community activists can be most effective in lobbying their elected officials. She will also offer advice for candidates seeking office.



*Open to the Public-Light refreshments served

[Location]
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center Offices • 1000 South Cooper • North side rear entrance of First Congo • Look for MSPJC sign next to bright red doors.



Questions?

Contact Brad Watkins at

brad@midsouthpeace.org or 901-725-4990

Friday, May 06, 2011

Three simple ways to help end homelessness

My name is Brad Watkins and I am the Organizing Coordinator for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. We really need your help. Will you to join us in calling on our elected officials in asking for adequate funding for the Mayor's Plan to End Homelessness.

The Mayors' Plan to End Homelessness is the single most significant series of local reforms in modern history….but…without your help and support, it’s just pretty words on paper. You can read it for yourself here.MAYORS' PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS

In the coming weeks both Mayors will go before the City Council and County Commission to present their funding requests for the plan and the needs of our brothers and sisters are great. So we need you to remind our leaders of just how important funding of this plan truly is.

Just take a look at a few recent headlines:

* Joblessness rate increases ranks of Memphis homeless by 20%
* 26 families left homeless after fire at Memphis apartment complex
* Homelessness haunts US tornado victims

* Man Critically Burned in Vacant Memphis House Fire

ANYONE CAN BECOME HOMELESS AT ANYTIME....and as flooding concerns fill emergency shelters we must be mindful that our problems and challenges are all connected.

Please call Mayors AC Wharton at 901.576.6000, and Mark Luttrell 901.545.5000 and urge them to keep their campaign promises and to support significant funding for the plan to end homelessness.

Two calls could make an enormous difference in the lives of those living on the street. Thank you and please urge your friends to do the same, every call matters.



UPDATES-

H.O.P.E. Campaign Organizing Meeting :: Monday May 9th at 7pm

There will be a campaign organizing meeting on Monday, May 9th at 7pm at the offices of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.(map) At this event we will discuss how we will push this issue out into our communities in order to rally community support for this plan and how you can be involved. If you are interested in becoming involved in this campaign please attend.
For any questions pertaining to any of these events please contact Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at 901-725-4990 or by email at brad@midsouthpeace.org



Phone banking for H.O.P.E. :: Starting Wednesday May 4th
Volunteers needed!!

We are also seeking volunteers for our phone banking drive, where we will begin to call most likely voters across the city to place calls of support of funding this plan to end homelessness to their elected officials. These calls will be made from the offices of MSPJC starting on Weds, May 4th from 6:30pm-8:30pm and will continue every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday throughout the city and county budget process.
It is crucial to understand that the City of Memphis and Shelby County currently contribute $0 (zero dollars) to homeless services in Memphis. That is if you don't count the money spent on medical care at The Med, MPD and Sheriff man hours spent "policing" this population, jail costs spent locking the homeless up, fire costs associated with fires in vacant houses that people are forced to turn to because we have no free shelter in Memphis. Full implementation of the Mayors' Plan to End Homelessness could put an end to these negative costs, but only if we invest in a positive future for those living on the streets of Memphis.

If you are interested in volunteering please contact Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at 901-725-4990 or by email at brad@midsouthpeace.org.




Sincerely,
Brad Watkins

If you have any questions please contact me at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center at 901-725-4990

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Upcoming Events in support of the Mayors' Plan to End Homelessness

H.O.P.E. :: Opportunities for Action

Mobilization at City Council :: Tuesday, May 3, 3:30-6:30pm
Phonebanking :: Starting Wednesday, May 4, 6:30-8:30pm
Campaign Organizing Mtg :: Monday, May 9, 7:00pm
...
For any questions pertaining to any of these events please contact Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at 901-725-4990 or by email at brad@midsouthpeace.org



Mobilization at Memphis City Council
Memphis City Council Chambers, 125 North Main Street
Tuesday, May 3rd :: 3:30pm-6:30pm * Presentation will occur between these times *


Sadly, the presentation of the Mayor's Plan to End Homelessness has once again been delayed from the Memphis city Council meeting on this past Tuesday April 19th. The Federal budget cuts in Washington DC may have a serious impact on funding of local programs for homeless prevention and housing and shelter opportunities. This is the fifth straight delay in the presentation which was originally set for Feb 15th! We can afford no further delays in this process as the budget hearings on the city and county level are already underway. It is now confirmed that Mayor AC Wharton will present the plan to the council on Tuesday and that there will be no further delays.

We invite you to come join us at 3:30pm to join us we will loudly call out to our elected officials to support of full funding of the Mayor's Plan to End Homelessness, federally and locally. We will also be calling on the council for a percentage of set aside jobs for the homeless and graduates of the Shelby County Drug court out of the millions in blight demolition, board ups and yard work that the city needs done. We can provide jobs for those who have little chance of getting them even in a good economy and curb blight at the same time.

We really need you there, all of you, as we launch our grassroots campaign of lobbying and phone banking high turnout voters across this city to stand with us in the coming weeks to ensure that the administration’s pledge of help to those without shelter is not empty words or just hollow campaign promises.

For those who have not seen this plan, you can download a copy through this link.


Phone banking for H.O.P.E. :: Starting Wednesday May 4th
Volunteers needed!!


We are also seeking volunteers for our phone banking drive, where we will begin to call most likely voters across the city to place calls of support of funding this plan to end homelessness to their elected officials. These calls will be made from the offices of MSPJC starting on Weds, May 4th from 6:30pm-8:30pm and will continue every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday throughout the city and county budget process.
It is crucial to understand that the City of Memphis and Shelby County currently contribute $0 (zero dollars) to homeless services in Memphis. That is if you don't count the money spent on medical care at The Med, MPD and Sheriff man hours spent "policing" this population, jail costs spent locking the homeless up, fire costs associated with fires in vacant houses that people are forced to turn to because we have no free shelter in Memphis. Full implementation of the Mayors' Plan to End Homelessness could put an end to these negative costs, but only if we invest in a positive future for those living on the streets of Memphis.

If you are interested in volunteering please contact Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at 901-725-4990 or by email at brad@midsouthpeace.org.



H.O.P.E. Campaign Organizing Meeting :: Monday May 9th at 7pm

There will be a campaign organizing meeting on Monday, May 9th at 7pm at the offices of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.(map) At this event we will discuss how we will push this issue out into our communities in order to rally community support for this plan and how you can be involved. If you are interested in becoming involved in this campaign please attend.
For any questions pertaining to any of these events please contact Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at 901-725-4990 or by email at brad@midsouthpeace.org

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Investment not Charity can end Homelessness

The public face and perception of homelessness is changing and as more and more families grapple with economic uncertainty, we all as human beings should take time to be mindful of the old adage, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Yet all too often we look at homelessness and those who are homeless with a two-fold ambivalence. This denies the harsh realities of what occurs out on the streets of Memphis and also gives rise to a greater danger than simple disinterest, a narrative of “exclusive charity.”

Homelessness has myriad causes and dimensions, from foreclosure, to mental illness, domestic violence, job loss, medical expenses and addiction among others.

If we as a community are to properly respond and act, then we must take a more comprehensive view of why homelessness occurs and in what ways can we be most effective in combating it.

REACHING HOME is a two-day series of events to raise community awareness on the issue of homelessness and as a kickoff for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center’s efforts to rally community support for adequate funding for the Mayors’ Plan to End Homelessness. MSPJC staff worked as members of the policy and planning committee that crafted and researched the various programs and reforms within the plan.

This plan, sponsored and supported by both City Mayor AC Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, stands as a historic document and is potentially a path to ending homelessness in our community within 5-10 years.

The committee chaired by Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb and facilitated by city consultant Katie Kitchin looked at best practices from across the country and modified those programs to fit the needs of our population in Memphis. The committee also looked at which existing local programs was most effective and needed augmentation for continued success.

After a year-long process, the plan is complete and is scheduled to be presented to the Memphis City Council on April 19th. The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center will be working to rally community support to ensure that this plan is funded. To be frank, this is a historic document and represents an enormous paradigm shift in the city’s approach to homelessness. The MAYORS’ Plan moves our City and County efforts away from an unsuccessful “housing readiness” ideal to a “housing first” model, stressing permanent supportive housing among other reforms.

Still, despite the many noble and data-supported programs and reforms within this plan, the fact remains that without adequate local funding from the city of Memphis it is simply pretty words on paper.

Many will cite the old canard that in this period of fiscal austerity we cannot afford to fund these services now. However one should note that for slightly less than one percent of the operating budget of the City of Memphis combined with our federal funding, we could be well on our way of effectively ending homelessness in as little as 5-7 years. The problem is that homelessness is most often spoken of in a “charity” narrative. “Charity,” in the minds of most people, is what is done after “essentials” are paid for.

Resigning this social ill to the exclusive province of charity alone automatically destines the issue to forever be a lower priority. This concept is even more dangerous than apathy. Homeless services like the MAYORS’ Plan are investments into the long-term health of the city, morally, spiritually and fiscally.

Consider that we currently spend 3/5th of our operating budget on police and fire services. Modest and reasonable investments in this plan will pave the way for tens of millions of dollars in savings on the city and county level through decreased MPD manpower hours, fewer 9/11 emergency calls and EMS ambulance services, fewer vacant fires, fewer emergency medical costs via Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare and The Med, as well as reduced General Sessions Court operational and administrative costs and a reduction of jail operational costs and overcrowding.

These savings can and will occur in the short and long term. So it’s important to see that we all have a vested self-interest in raising the quality of life of those who are suffering from brutal poverty, mental illness and or addiction on our city streets, in our shelters, and in our vacant properties. The above costs I listed are all upwardly trending and this plan is the only option on the table thus far that provides a sustainable means of lowering those costs.

We should also consider, that despite reports that violent crime is on a downward trend, domestic violence rates continue to occur at a high rate. Also consider that Memphis and Shelby County have a relatively low level of available shelters for homeless women. I, for one, do not believe these two things to be unrelated, the lack of adequate shelter for homeless women compels many to remain in harms way due to the fact that they have no where else to go. Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness in families with children. This in turn has ramifications in our schools and educational systems.

The point is our issues and challenges in this city are all connected. Just as we as residents of Memphis and Shelby County are all connected, Christians, Muslims, Jews and skeptics alike. Homelessness is not a “them” issue, it is and always will be an “US” issue.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Public Issues Forum April 3, 2011, 3:00 PM at Main Library

PUBLIC ISSUES FORUM
PUBLIC NOTICE


Date: April 03, 2011 TIME: 3:00PM
Place: Benjamin Hooks Library
3030 Poplar Ave.

TOPIC: The Question of Regulation:
Balancing the Public Trust and the Environment
with Jobs and the Economy.


SPEAKERS:
Economic - Doug Campbell – University of Memphis - economist.
Environmental - Keven Routon / Steve Sondheim – Sierra Club -
environmentalist.
Regulations - Vaughn Cassidy –TDEC - Tennessee Department of
Environment and Conservation.
Economic Development - Chamber of Commerce - representing the
needs of business.

There will be time for questions. The meeting is free and open to the public

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

REACHING HOME-Two day series of events around Homelessness

REACHING HOME-A two-day event focusing on Homelessness in our community.

Upcoming events

REACHING HOME is the title for a two-day event designed to raise community support for the Mayors’ Plan to end homelessness. This plan will be formally presented to the Memphis City Council on Tuesday April 5th between 3:30pm-6: 30pm. And we do so hope you can join us on April 5th. To read the 10 year plan click here

HOME SWEET HOMELESS on Saturday April 2nd from 1pm-3: 30pm.
An educational forum, with expert speakers, music, poetry and visual arts all highlighting and discussing the causes, impact and societal cost of homelessness. In addition a panel of local residents who have or are experiencing homelessness as well as a representative from Memphis Housing and Community Development to give an intro and answer questions about the new proposed Mayors’ plan to end homelessness.
What-HOME SWEET HOMELESS
Location -The Commons on Merton at 258 N Merton
Date-Saturday, April 2nd.
Time 1pm-3: 30pm
Open to the public

REACH- Sunday April 3rd at 5:30pm
Co-sponsored with the Performance Art Network. REACH, is a multicultural dance recital with a musical performance and a visual arts piece related to homelessness and the Mayors plan to end homelessness.
What-REACH, An evening of music and dance
Location-The Buckman Performing and Fine Arts Center at St Mary’s Episcopal School* 60 Perkins ext.
Date-Sunday, April 3rd
Time- 5:30pm
General Admission-Adults $10
Students $5
Tickets can be purchased at www.performanceartnetwork.org or call the Buckman Box Office at 901-537-1486

Memphis City Council Meeting- On Tuesday April 5th, Representatives from Memphis Housing and Community Development will formally present the Mayors’ plan to end homelessness to the Memphis City Council. MSPJC staff worked as members of the policy and planning committee that crafted these reforms and now we need your support to ensure that these badly needed programs, housing and employment opportunities become a reality. Join us at our upcoming events and at the Memphis City Council Chambers on April 5th at 3:30pm.

What-Memphis City Council presentation on Mayors’ Plan to end homelessness

Location-Memphis City Hall
Date -Tuesday, April 5th
Time-3:30pm-6:30pm---“Presentation will occur at some point between these two times”

REACHING HOME is Sponsored by The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Memphis International Solidarity Committee, Center for Transforming Communities, Radical Arts Memphis and the Performance Art Network.

Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-south-peace and Justice Center
901-725-4990-office
901-495-0818-cell

Monday, March 14, 2011

Neighborhood Alliance March meeting Weds 16th, Tues. 22nd-guest speaker Carol Chumney


Neighborhood Alliance-March meetings and Guest speaker CAROL CHUMNEY.
Business meeting-March 16th at 6pm
Organizing Workshop-March 22nd at 6pm


In February the Peace and Justice Center and representatives from over twenty neighborhood and community organizations met to start the work of building a Neighborhood Alliance. This Alliance seeks to join forces with neighborhood associations, civic and block clubs, church congregations to ...collectively organize and lobby our government around issues of curbing blight, confronting slum lords and predatory lenders and promoting mandated resident input in redevelopment efforts within their communities.

We are also working to connect residents who are in areas that currently do not have active community organizations and offering grassroots training and materials to help these activists and groups build up their organizations and community power as full members of this Alliance

On Weds. March 16th the Alliance will host our second business meeting. At these monthly meetings representatives will work to decide the shape and framework of this new alliance as well as begin to craft a joint agenda over the next few months.

Please attend and be part of a community-based process for positive change from the ground up.

Alliance business meeting-

Date & Time-Weds-March 16th at 6pm

Location- Offices of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

1000 S. Cooper First Congo Church **


On Tuesday , March 22nd, The Alliance is hosting a workshop on the basics of Neighbor to Neighbor Organizing, followed by our special guest speaker Carol Chumney. Ms. Chumney is a former member of the Memphis City Council and a former member of the Tennessee Legislature. She was also a top contender as a candidate for Memphis Mayor. Ms Chumney will share her personal insights on how these legislative bodies function in the day to day and answer your questions and give advice on how your advocacy efforts can be most effective. We are excited and grateful that Ms. Chumney has agreed to join us and feel strongly that this workshop will be of great value to various local organizing efforts. Be sure not to miss this!

Alliance Workshop with Carol Chumney-

Date & Time-Tuesday-March 22ndt at 6pm

Location- Offices of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

1000 S. Cooper First Congo Church **




**Please come to the rear parking lot to the set of red double doors by the playground., next to the sign marked Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

March 1: H.O.P.E. for the Homeless :: Mobilization at City Council

March 1: H.O.P.E. for the Homeless :: Mobilization at City Council

For the past year the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has been working with the policy and planning committee for the MAYORS’ Plan to End Homelessness in Memphis and Shelby County. At the core of all of the policy and programs within is an embrace of HOUSING FIRST principles and models and a shift towards rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing for the unsheltered. This has been a entirely data driven process, identifying best practices from cities... all over the country and customizing them for maximum positive effect here in Memphis.

You can download a full copy of the report here
This is the single most significant series of reforms for area homeless in modern history…. but…without your help and support, it’s just pretty words on paper.

On Tuesday, March 1st the Memphis City Council will be formally presented with this plan for approval and we need each and every one of you to join us in council chambers as we raise our voices in support of these badly needed reforms. Funding for these reforms will require some local funding from Memphis and Shelby County government, to augment existing federal and foundation dollars to be a full success. It should be noted that we could accomplish all of the goals of this plan for less than one percent of the annual operating budget of the city. These reforms will also save City and County tax dollars via decreased emergency medical cost to the MED, decreased calls to Memphis Fire and Police services and fewer 911 emergency calls in extreme weather, all of which accounts for tens of millions of dollars in government spending every year. Funding this plan is not simply the moral thing to do but it’s also in all of our long-term fiscal best interests as a community. Join us as we mobilize to support real positive change here in Memphis.

Mobilization in support for H.O.P.E. at City Council
Time: Tuesday, March 1st, 3:30pm
Location: City Council Chamber, 125 North Main Street

If you have any questions please contact Brad Watkins at brad@midsouthpeace.org


--

Friday, February 04, 2011

Your Neighborhood, Your Voice :: Join the Alliance on February 16th

Friends

Sadly, may of our neighborhood are grappling with serious and long standing problems such as blight, fires, home foreclosure lack of employment and affordable housing opportunities. To properly address these issues in all of our neighborhoods we as one community must organize and collaborate around common interests. That is why the Peace and Justice Center is inviting each of your neighborhood associations, civic clubs and community groups or another representative from your community to a brief meeting on Weds Feb 16th here at the offices of the Peace and Justice center at 1000 South Cooper at 6pm.

The purpose of this meeting is to connect the work each of us is doing and to seek mutually beneficial solutions and opportunities for action so that we can collectively advocate on behalf of all our communities. Our goal is that these early meetings could be the start of a new Alliance of Neighborhoods filling the void left behind when the Center for Neighborhoods was absorbed by the City of Memphis. This alliance as an independent member driven body will serve as a vehicle for collective community action on issues that effect us all.

We look forward in working in solidarity to address all of our community’s challenges. And hope to see you on Weds Feb 16th.

If you have any questions please contact alliance organizer Brad Watkins at brad@midsouthpeace.org

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

FBI and Police Harassment at Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

The Commercial Appeal has an article about the events yesterday at First Congo Church and the harassment of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center by the FBI and the MPD Tactical unit. You can read the article
Here

The FBI and MPD are not being honest with the public....and I for one would like to know who gave this order? Who knew about this beforehand?......and frankly...how long is our Mayor and the City Council going to allow all these "misunderstandings" to occur? First Duanna Johnson, then the Sweep of the homeless...now this.

Look..here's what happened...I was the person at the Center who spoke to the FBI Agents and was there when the Tactical unit arrived.

3 FBI agents came to the offices of the MSPJC at around 2pm. As we rent space in First Congo Church and as our office were open, they thought we were the church offices..at first. They claimed that they were there to alert us to anti-war activists planning a PROTEST outside our building.I informed them that we were a Pro Peace organization and having an indoors meeting as was stated in our press release, not a protest and who we were as an org. They left seeming kinda embarrassed that they came to warn us about our own meeting.

From 4-5:30 we were under intense MPD surveillance, "2 cruisers and 6 tactical squad SUV's".

MPD claims that they were there for OUR protection, yet at no point did anyone actually call to see if we needed protection, nor would they say protection from whom?
The officers on the scene admitted that they did not even know where in the church our offices were...so how could they protect us?
They refused to leave and refused to tell us where the order was from.

AT NO POINT WAS ANY WARNING GIVEN ABOUT ANY KIND OF THREAT FROM EXTREMISTS FROM ANYONE...."Nonsense"

Mr Joel Siskovic from the FBI is flat out lying. We called the FBI numerous times yesterday afternoon and evening and received no answer from them at all. More importantly..the agents never warned me about anything in anyway..accept warning us about our own meeting.With us as the threat...

Look we share space with a Church, a daycare, a youth hostel, therapy groups, mid wife classes, belly dancing classes,a music program for kids,a clothes closet for the homeless and a bicycle co'op among many other things...if there was a real threat..then we and our neighbors would have needed to know.

Now...now they claim this was a misunderstanding....but here's the bottom line.

1. This organization has hosted over a dozen protests, and each time we have a major event we get a permit from MPD. We even have to pay MPD for a Police presence at our protest...over time as we have a history of nonviolent protest..they rarely bother anymore.MPD's office of permits will confirm this.

2. Does anyone have a phone anymore?
IF...IF...IF all that happened was a simple "misunderstanding"...then why was there no call to confirm the nature of the event? Why did they not read our press release?

3. Does it seem odd to anyone else that when we have a meeting about activists filing FOIA requests to reveal FBI surveillance...that the FBI and the MPD Tactical unit shows up. This has never happened before....

4. IF...if..all this was a simple "misunderstanding" then why did MPD not say so before the Media asked them about it?

5. Around that same time calls came in on Shelby County Deputies harassment while checking warrants at the DeCleyre co'op near the University of Memphis and local socialist, social justice and anarchist orgs have reported harassment and warrant checks all going down today.
Yet MPD claims these events are all unrelated.

This is about intimidation and abuse of law enforcement powers...and only now that the media has covered the story has all the backtracking occurred, and we are not going to let this go unanswered.

DEMAND CHANGE


Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Your chance to help end Homelessness in Shelby County

PLEASE HELP ME SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS


Friends

As I mentioned yesterday the city of Memphis is gearing up for the 2011 point in time count of people experiencing homelessness in Shelby County. This annual count is both a requirement for receiving more than $5 million a year to local non-profits in homeless funding from HUD and also a way to establish a benchmark for measuring our community's progress to end homelessness. Last year MSPJC volunteers aided the city by putting out a call to the community to volunteer to help with the count and thanks to your efforts that count was very successful in not only obtaining accurate numbers but in also gaining data about the needs of our brothers and sisters living on the streets of Memphis.

The unsheltered count will take place on Wednesday, January 26th from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. With a volunteer trainings on either January 19 (11:30 to 1:30) or January 21 from 3 to 5 at MIFA’s Les Passes center @ 715 St. Paul Avenue, the official Headquarters for unsheltered count. You need only attend one of the trainings.

Like last year the count will focus on where people slept on the night of January 25th.
Volunteers will work in teams of three and that one volunteer from each team will be asked to provide their own transportation for their shift.

If you cannot volunteer but still want to help, the city will need donated goods to be distributed to the unsheltered population on the day of the count (hats, gloves, socks, and snack foods). Donated items will be accepted at our offices at 1000 South Cooper inside First Congo Church.

This year the city NEEDS you to help with the point in time count to not only secure continued funding for our homeless services, but to also help guide future efforts within the Mayors'TEN YEAR PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS. Mid-South Peace and Justice Center staff including myself worked as members of the policy and planning committee for that plan and are committed to seeing these badly needed reforms and innovations come to pass and having a successful point in time count is part of that process. So please forward this to your lists, your churches and neighborhood groups...we need the entire community to lend a hand here.

Anyone interested in volunteering please call or email me at anytime at Brad@midsouthpeace.org

...and let me know what hours are you available for during the count anytime you can give makes a difference.

DEMAND CHANGE

Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
901-725-4990-office
901-495-0818-cell

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We CAN End Homelessness in Memphis..but it's up to you.

Mayors Release New Plan to Help Homeless

This week Mayor AC Wharton and Mayor Mark Luttrell will release an action plan developed by the Mayors' Committee to End Homelessness. The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has been an active participant in the process to formulate this plan. We have advocated for commonsense, community based solutions to the problems of poverty and homelessness in the process. We are happy to announce that many of our recommendations will be included in the final plan, and once implemented, will result in a rapid improvement in the lives of those that find themselves living without homes.

You can download a copy of the report here. We are asking our supporters to call the Mayors this week and thank them for their leadership on this issue. There are some recommendations in this report that may be controversial to some, so it is important that we stand up and support this plan. In particular we are excited that the following will be recommended:

* A systemic switch to a Housing First model when dealing with homeless men, women and families. This replaces a traditional reliance on transitional housing programs.
* The establishment of a free overnight shelter that will offer a minimum of 20 free nights a month.
* Replication of the 1811 Eastlake Project, a model program for housing the chronically homeless.
* An increase in the number of shelter beds available for single women, a shortfall we have been concerned about for years.

These recommendations and more are a great start to turning around the state of homelessness in Memphis. Please take a moment to call Mayor Wharton (901.576.6000) and Mayor Luttrell (901.545.4500) and thank them for their support of the homeless. Don't forget to call your councilmen as well and let them know that you support this plan!


*Also watch this space for volunteer opportunities to assist the city in the 2011 point in time census of the local homeless population. This count is CRUCIAL for our city to get it's proper share of federal dollars to help get our brothers and sisters off of the streets.
Last year the city in a bold move called on volunteers to aid in this count and the process was a huge success, allowing the city and service providers to obtain more accurate and up to date information about the state of homelessness here in our city. The date of the point in time count is Jan 26th and I will be forwarding information on how you can help in the next 24 hours.

Please take the time to look at the plan and forward it to your friends, neighborhood and church groups. We all need to be a part of this. We CAN END HOMELESSNESS in Memphis...IT IS POSSIBLE.