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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Intentional Communities
Posted: December 28, 2019 at 4:43 am
The Hakhel organization, dedicated to fostering Jewish millennials around the world, has just added 27 new communities to its network, from US to Europe and Australia.Hakhel founder and general director Aharon Ariel Lavi says that Jewish millennials are becoming increasingly less involved in traditional Jewish structures such as synagogues, Jewish community centers and federations. Therefore, he says, Jewish intentional communities are ever more necessary in order to engage young Jews in their 20s and 30s within an organized framework.Lavi told The Jerusalem Post that the purpose of the program is to strengthen Jewish life in the diaspora... especially for those who are not part of an established Jewish community. He explained: We believe that the second most important component of Jewish identity, after the family, is the community , and without community, Jewish survival chances are very low... Jewish Intentional Communities are more intimate, tangible and emotional, and so we think this is something there is a real need for and that can work.Founded in 2014, Hakhel works in cooperation with the Hazon organization and the Israel Diaspora Affairs Ministry. It provides professional support for the development of such communities, including funding and advisory services for maintenance and growth. Hakhel currently has a budget of $7.2 million, half of which is provided by the ministry, and the other half from various foundations and donors.The communities Hakhel supports are largely self-organizing; they coalesce together around a particular enterprise or undertaking, such as arts, culture, environmentalism, spirituality, Jewish learning and so on. The European communities that have recently received backing include Kehilla Hashira in the UK, the Hungarian Minyan in Berlin, the Paris Sustainable Community in France, the JewSalsa Brussels program in Belgium and the Oslo Jewish Family Group in Norway.New communities come from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, the US and Australia and have undergone a rigorous vetting process, including both written statements and interviews with Hakhels staff and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. These communities will receive support from Hakhel over the next three years in order to develop their community based on their unique needs, which may include increasing participation, fundraising, branding, programming, education and more. They will continue to work with Hakhels staff to develop sustainable models, helping to ensure the continuation of the connection to Jewish identity and services for their members.There are a total of 120 supported communities in 36 countries on 6 continents around the globe, including places as far away as Kyrgyzstan and South Korea, and across Australia, South America, the US and Europe. Lavi explained that, Our goal in working with such a diverse group of communities is to ensure that any Jew seeking a connection to our faith has a place to do so. If we are innovative in our approach, it can have a meaningful impact for generations.
Cohousing is a potentially key way to combat loneliness but it’s difficult to get off the ground – Ottawa Citizen
Posted: at 4:43 am
Mary Huang is 54 years old, unmarried with no children and a career that has taken her all over the globe.
When she returned to Ottawa to help care for her aging parents, she started to think about what she wanted for herself as she grew older. Ever the researcher, Huang, who builds complex planning and forecasting systems for large companies, set out to discover a way to build my own village and soon found one a cohousing community.
I lived in New York for six months. I definitely saw where people didnt know their neighbours and its pretty sad, said Huang, one of about a dozen people who form the nucleus of Concorde, an intentional community in the planning stages.
Concordes members are seeking not just to share a roof over their heads, but also whatever they choose to share of their lives. You hear the world potluck often in the cohousing world.
Cohousing is considered to be a model of living that can help avert loneliness and social isolation as more Canadians face aging without a partner or children, or with families that live far away. According to Statistics Canada, the number of people living alone has more than doubled between 1981 and 2016, from 1.7 million to four million.
York University anthropologist Margaret Critchlow has described cohousing as a grassroots model of neighbourly mutual support that can help reduce social isolation and promote positive, active aging.
Cohousing encourages independence through awareness that we are all interdependent, Critchlow wrote in a 2013 article in the journal Social Science Directory. In a senior cohousing community, giving and receiving co-care is entirely voluntary. Members may choose to support each other through such activities as doing errands, driving, cooking, or going for a walk with a neighbour. Being good neighbours helps people age well in a community and they have fun doing it!
It was this idea of voluntary support that resonated with Huang. I am pretty self-sufficient and can be an introvert at times. At other times I strike up conversations with random strangers and had some very interesting conversations, she said. The idea that this type of interaction can be had just outside my door if I wanted really appealed to me.
Margery Street, 69, worked for more than 40 years a pharmacist. She has a 32-year-old son with a disability. In the last half decade of her working life, Streets job took her to retirement homes to talk to residents about their medications. The experience was an eye-opener, she said.
One woman said she missed her garden. She was so depressed. So what do they do? They give her anti-depressants. I thought to myself, Theres no bloody way Im going to live in one of those, said Street, who is also a Concorde member.
Im an only child. My son is an only child. I currently rent an apartment. Im concerned about social isolation.
Mary Huang is one of the founding members of Ottawas Concorde, a multi-generational cohousing community still in the planning phases.Ashley Fraser / Postmedia
Could cohousing be one of the answers to helping people age well together? Many think so.
Lynne Markell, 74, is one of the nine core members of Convivium, a proposed cohousing community for older adults.
Im single. I live alone. I dont have any children. I wouldnt call myself lonely, but I realize I could live healthier and better with other people around me, she said. We believe in the value of community support. Giving help and getting help back.
People in cohousing communities have the independence of their own private units, which they usually own and can buy and sell, although some communities have low-cost rental units for those who cant afford to buy in. Residents share communal space that acts as a focal point for gatherings, usually a large kitchen and dining room. There may be a suite for guests or a caregiver, which opens up the possibility of sharing an in-house caregiver.
Most cohousing is set up under the same legal framework either as condos or co-ops, so the legalities and responsibilities are established.
Critchlow has suggested that building a social portfolio might be as important as building a financial portfolio. Cohousing could be a made-in-Canada model for ageing, not just in place, but in community, she wrote.
But so far, both Concorde and Convivium are still in the ideas stage. Neither has land or a design to show prospective members. And this is where cohousing appears to be stuck in many cities in Canada.
Ontarios only completed cohousing community is Ottawas Terra Firma, which opened in 1997 after 12 families bought and renovated two three-door townhouses on Drummond Street near Saint Paul University. The members later added an infill building between the townhouses which includes a seventh residential unit and common space for hosting events ranging from community meals to dance parties and art classes. The yard behind the units is shared by all and contains a trampoline, treehouse, swing and sitting areas.
In a way, we re not doing anything different than what people with condos do. We just have a different intent, said Steven Fick, who has been a member in Terra Firma since the beginning.
Fick was in his 40s when he bought into Terra Firma. He wasnt thinking about social networks and their connection to healthy aging at that point, but has since realized how much his community may help him age well.
One of the strongest predictors of longevity is social connection, he said.
But the real estate market in central Ottawa has changed in the past 22 years. Like most other cohousing groups across the country, Concorde and Convivium have stumbled on the hard reality of acquiring land, a developer and bridge financing to take the idea from concept to reality, all the while keeping the momentum going and the group cohesive.
Convivium started about four years ago as an effort to get a seniors cohousing community at Greystone Village on former Oblate lands between Main Street and the Rideau River. When that didnt work out, the group started the search for its own land. But raw land in a central location is expensive, and the group would have to self-finance the project through the planning and design process until the members were ready to swap the equity they had in their homes and move into their new units. Its all a matter of timing, said Convivium member Markell.
The group now wants to buy a small apartment building or perhaps a couple of adjacent buildings to retrofit them. Its faster than starting with the land, and at least people can look at the buildings and imagine what a retrofit would look like, she said.
In Perth, a cohousing community called Tay Commons began more than four years ago when a group of friends held a potluck and agreed they didnt want to end up in long-term care. What they wanted was a sense of community, caring for each other and living in a modest and environmentally-friendly way.
In theory, you can live together more cheaply, said Tay Commons member Doug Burt, 74. A lot of cohousing people are independent thinkers. They want control over their own destinies. And privacy.
The group decided it didnt need a large property and acquired an option on a small plot of land that was once part of a municipal works yard a few blocks from Perths historic downtown. They envisioned a three-story apartment block with units ranging from about 850 square feet to about 1,000 square feet and hired an architect.
But Tay Commons is far off from being bricks and mortar. It takes a lot of moving parts to establish a cohousing community and keep it going. One member of the group had a partner who was not sold on the idea. Another was supportive, but didnt see herself moving in, said Louise McDiarmid, 76, who is one of Tay Commons founding members.
The costs ballooned. The original quote to build came in at $3.3 million, which included about $150,000 for the land. But because the space was tight, it had to be designed to allow access for emergency vehicles. The next quote came in at $4.4 million, plus an estimated $300 a month for each unit to cover condo fees.
That put the nail in the coffin, said McDiarmids husband, Don, 82.
Because of the costs of buying land, designing the community and perhaps hiring a consultant to shepherd it through the process, cohousing is usually an option only for the solidly middle-class. We might be the last generation to be able to do this, notes Don McDiarmid.
Historically, most attempts to build co-housing dont work. At the end, they founder on cost, said Burt. The first thing you want to do it build a relationship. You want to make sure it will last. If you cant knit the community together, then it collapses.
Cohousing originated in Denmark in 1964, when architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer and a group of friends came up with a plan for 12 houses with a common house and swimming pool. They bought land, but the project never got built. Still, the idea attracted attention and two communities were completed in Denmark by 1973. Cohousing has taken root in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the U.S. and B.C. But its been slow to get off the ground in Ontario.
Typically, cohousing units are modest in size. Huang said 550 square feet would suit her just fine. The Fick family unit in Terra Firma is only about 1,200 square feet. The Ficks have raised three children in it. Their two daughters still live within a block of the community.
Its another way to live lightly, said Steven Fick. I dont need to own things, I just need to have access to things.
Louise McDiarmid started thinking about aging after she read Betty Friedans 1993 book Fountain of Age, which looked at the longevity boom and what it would mean for society.
I wanted to have control of my own aging. Betty Friedan spoke of it as a new stage of life with its own challenges and joys. Youre not responsible for children anymore, so youre willing to take on new risks, she said. I feel strongly about the need for community, I feel we need to belong to a group of people who value you for who you are. It was an opportunity to belong to something larger than yourself.
While many see cohousing as a seniors concept, it can work any way the members want. The age range among Tay Commons members is about 20 years. Convivium is for older adults. Concorde aims to be multi-generational.
Concorde member Valerie Thacker Smith, 38, first experienced co-housing when she visited a friend near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The residents shared a massive kitchen and tool room. They took dance courses and barbecued together. Later, Thacker Smith lived in Haiti, where it is common for families to live in enclaves that cluster around a courtyard with an outdoor kitchen.
People are so much better off. Its not just the emotional benefits. It has financial benefits, she said. Co-housing gives people of all ages a chance to be part of a community and contribute.
The Concorde members believe it will take at least 25 people to get the project off the ground, just because so many people are unable to commit. They also know that they face a red-hot market for raw land. The group had considered buying a small apartment building and renovating, but these kinds of buildings rarely come up for sale, and when they do theyre snapped up quickly.
Its a Catch-22. People dont want to commit until they know where it would be built, said Thacker Smith.
Members of Concorde, front from left: Valerie Thacker Smith, Margery Street, Mary Huang, Diana Armour, Jane Keeler, and back row from left: Caroline Balderston Parry, Elliot Sherman, Jennifer Craven, and Jake Morrison of Concorde cohousing Saturday November 30, 2019. Ashley Fraser/PostmediaAshley Fraser / Postmedia
Concorde member Margery Street has visited cohousing in B.C., where the Canadian Cohousing Network lists nine communities as completed and another four as under construction. Part of the reason for the success on the west coast is that theres a financial institution willing to advance money until projects are completed, said Street.
No one has really stepped up in Ontario, said Huang. You need a bank or financial institution that understands the concept.
Legally, cohousing takes a lot of attention to detail, especially the what-ifs as members age. What if a member develops dementia? What if someone remarries and the new spouse doesnt subscribe to the philosophy? What about adult children who return to the nest? Some communities have legal wording that gives the surviving members the first right of refusal if a unit is sold so the philosophy can remain intact.
MacDiarmid sees herself losing freedom as she ages. Already she doesnt drive at night. The members of Tay Commons dont plan to be personal support workers for each other, but they would like to share resources, such as driving for groceries. They have pledged to remain a community, even without a common roof over their heads. Some already live within walking distance of each other, and others may join them as houses in the neighbourhood come up for sale.
How do you maintain the philosophy of cohousing without a house? The challenge for aging seniors is how to develop community without an actual building, said Burt. There is a desire, even if we dont have a house, to be as close as possible.
Steven Fick in front of his home in Terra Frima. He bought into the cohousing community in 1997 and still lives there.Tony Caldwell / Postmedia
The original members of Terra Firma are getting older. But so far, none have left, said Fick.
We will deal with that when it happens. People want to age here. That might mean needing help with care or meals. Its a creative process, he said. I think part of the attraction is that Terra Firma is like an extended family.
Steven Fick and his neighbour Suzanne talk in their back yard in Ottawa Tuesday Dec 3, 2019. Steven is part of Terra Firma, a cohousing community on Drummond Street in Ottawa.Tony Caldwell / Postmedia
Other intentional communities may have a shared religion, a charismatic leader or a utopian philosophy, said Fick. Cohousing is more down-to-earth and practical. Its just people trying to figure out how to live closer. For me, its not about utopia. Its about making it as good as it can be under the circumstances.
The members of Convivium are regrouping and plan to have a refined vision within the next few months, said Markell. Were guinea pigs and were choosing it. With some luck, I think well be able to show whats possible.
Concorde is still looking for more members and land. We need more members to help do the work since its not a simple and easy process, said Huang.
I know how much richer my life is, said Fick of his life in Terra Firma. I have a life that is worth living and I see my life as significant to other people. A lot of other people have my back. That gives me a lot of inner peace.
This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from The Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations and the Silver Century Foundation.
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Posted: at 4:43 am
Businessman Igor Shekhelev, who is currently a co-owner of the Piebalga brewery in Latvia and has been investing significant sums in the development of the yacht port in Ventspils for several years, resolutely refutes the rumours that he has personally got into the sanction lists.
Recently, business communities around the world are increasingly forced to reckon with the new phenomenon of economic reality various interstate sanctions and restrictions.
Information about persons under similar sanctions and restrictions of the USA is published for public inspection on the official website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/sdn-list/pages /default.aspx, that is, it is public, easily accessible and well-known.
This means that today anyone can independently and without any effort check and make sure that the name of Igor Shekhelev is not on any sanction lists.
This also means that any allegations that Igor Shekhelev is under sanctions are an intentional dissemination of knowingly false information that discredits his business reputation.
Defamation of this kind can be a consequence of media negligence, as well as a form of an unfair competition.
At present, we are considering a possibility of suing for compensation of possible moral, material and business reputation damage to the media resources, which disseminate knowingly false information about Igor Shekhelev.
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With shovels in the ground, start of Cote Village hailed as a milestone for Mattapan – Dorchester Reporter
Posted: at 4:43 am
The upcoming transformation of a long-abandoned car dealership on Cummins Highway into 76 units of affordable housing just steps from a new commuter rail station on the Fairmount Line in Mattapan was greeted with the adage that many hands make light work during a groundbreaking ceremony at the site last Wednesday.
The project Cote Village was hailed as a milestone by Mayor Martin Walsh, who initiated the effort in 2014 when he directed the citys Department of Neighborhood Development to seek private partners to redevelop the property. Walsh was joined at the groundbreaking by other city and state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.
Today were breaking ground on projects that mean so much to the Mattapan community and for the entire city of Boston. Were creating affordable homes at a variety of income levels, something that we strive to do every day. Were adding commercial space that will bring economic opportunities to the neighborhood, when you think about a complete development, thats what this is, said the mayor. The city of Boston is proud to support these new developments as part of our commitment to keeping housing affordable and keeping neighborhoods strong.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) originally approved the project in 2016, putting its cost at $31.2 million. After a number of community comment sessions, final approvals were given last July.
The development is a collaboration of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, Inc. (POUA) and the Caribbean Integration Community Development (CICD) group. The non-profit agencies worked in a unique partnership, with design services added by Davis Square Architects.
The units will be available to residents at a range of incomes, including 12 units for residents with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income (AMI) people earning less than $27,900 for a household of three). Of these units, 8 will be set aside for formerly homeless individuals and families.
Two units will be reserved for residents with incomes at or below 50 percent of AMI; 42 units for residents with incomes at or below 60 percent of AMI; 12 units for residents with incomes at or below 80 percent AMI; and 8 units for residents with incomes at or below 100 percent of AMI.
Cardinal Sen OMalley was on hand and offered a prayer after saying a few words about the moral significance of affordable housing.Being the wealthiest country in the world with half a million homeless people, no one can deny the great challenge that is before us providing decent housing for our people, this is one more effort along those lines. This is an ongoing challenge in building a more just society, so Im very grateful for all of you who do so much.
Mayor Martin Walsh, left, spoke with residents who gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of Cote Village in Mattapan on Wed., Dec. 18. Isabel Leon photo/Mayors OfficeWe have a full house today and that really speaks to the commitment for this site, said Donald Alexis, President of CICD. I want to thank the many members of the community who worked for this community asset. Our goal was to create housing that reflects the needs of the working-class residents in Mattapan and I believe weve accomplished that here.
Along the way it has been tough. Weve had many community meetings. In Haitian-Creole we have a saying, Men Anpil, Chay Pa Lou, meaning many hands make light work. A lot of people here were involved, and we did it, added Alexis.
Rep. Dan Cullinane called the groundbreaking an incredible celebration for so many people. This building has been decaying and sitting empty for over 30 years. Its been a public safety risk, its been an eye-sore, and today we couldnt be happier to say that this has been an intentional investment in affordable housing right here in Mattapan.
He added: On days like this when were breaking ground or cutting a ribbon, it can seem like it was simple to get this done. But as so many of the people sitting here know, thats never the case. We know as a delegation, under Mayor Walshs leadership and under this administrations leadership, Rep. [Russell] Holmes, Sen. [Nick] Collins, and former Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, who deserves tremendous recognition for making this a reality, that this doesnt happen by accident, said Cullinane.
The city and state helped to finance the development through a combination of tax credits and loans, as well as a $750,000 award from the Neighborhood Housing Trust and $4.8 million from the Inclusionary Development Policy fund.
The creation of new affordable and workforce housing options is a moral imperative and critical to maintaining the city of Boston and the Commonwealth as a vibrant community and a place to live, said William Grogan, president of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs at the Archdiocese of Boston, co-developer of the project.
We are especially grateful to the Commonwealth, the city, our funders and supporters who have made the development of Cote Village possible, especially to our partners at the Caribbean Integration CDC, he said. The groundbreaking represents an important step in our collective efforts to address the housing need in communities like Mattapan.
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Posted: at 4:43 am
At a time of partisanship, polarization and rancor, Christmas comes along to smooth the hard edges of our divisions.
Acts of kindness somehow come more naturally this time of year.
But by the time February rolls around, everybodys grouchy again.
Does kindness have any staying power?
Perhaps because kindness may not come naturally to humans, a growing number of initiatives across Southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond are trying to make that particular virtue more a part of daily life.
We have to remind ourselves to act that way, said Rabbi Ron Symons, director of the Center for Loving Kindness at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
The center, founded in 2017, carries out its mission by focusing not so much on random acts of kindness but on kindness as a way of life.
Theres nothing random about the way we live our lives, Symons said. We believe in random acts of kindness, and we also believe that we need to be intentional about our kindness.
The center does that by building relationships among people and communities where there are divisions, fostering conversations about critical issues and, since the October 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill, helping people heal from trauma, he said.
The guiding principle is that neighbor is a moral concept, not a geographic term a quote from Rabbi Joachim Prinzs speech at the 1963 March on Washington. Prinz was a Polish-born rabbi who emigrated to the United States in 1937 and later became involved in the American civil rights movement.
In addition to the Center for Loving Kindness, Pittsburgh also is home to the Pittsburgh Kindness Initiative founded in 2013 as a way to promote World Kindness Day. The organization now hosts regular events designed to encourage random acts of kindness.
The good neighbor
In the city where Fred Rogers demonstrated neighborliness from a television studio, Jon Potter of Green Tree is putting legs on the concept.
Potter, 29, founded Pittsburgh Good Deeds, through which he helps people on a pro bono basis and does handyman work for a donation.
The paid work subsidizes his free good deeds, which have earned him glowing coverage on the CBS Evening News On the Road with Steve Hartman and other media outlets.
Potter, a former paragliding instructor, started his nonprofit in 2015 after seeing repeated requests for help on the Reddit Pittsburgh social media site. He now has his own subreddit (PittsburghGoodDeeds) through which he solicits requests for help and volunteer support.
Its all about being a good neighbor, just like Fred taught us. Theres no agenda behind it, other than being a good neighbor, he said.
Requests for help are accepted from anyone who lives within 10 miles of Downtown Pittsburgh, who cannot afford to pay for the work and who needs help with something that Potter can do everything from pet sitting to car repairs, from moving to snow removal, from tutoring to computer repairs.
Potter went above and beyond the call when he donated a kidney to a stranger named Michael Moore, a dialysis patient from Upper St. Clair. The surgery took place at UPMC Montefiore in August.
Potter said his actions, in addition to earning him praise and news coverage, also attracted some criticism from people who wondered about his motives and his mental health. I think pathological altruism is one of the things they called it, he said.
Daniel Fessler, a UCLA anthropology professor and director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, calls Potters actions inspiring and remarkable.
Obviously, these kinds of actions are beyond the norm but theyre unusual in their degree, not their kind, Fessler said. Its not the same thing as holding the door open for someone or other small acts performed for the benefit of total strangers.
Such actions can inspire others to be kind because kindness is contagious, he said.
Although Fessler studies peoples propensity for kindness, altruism and cooperation from an evolutionary perspective, the Bedari Kindness Institute includes 27 researchers from multiple disciplines including psychology, sociology, medicine, business and the arts.
The institutes first study, published this month in the journal PLOS ONE, found that witnessing pro-social acts leads to feelings of elevation, which in turn leads to the performance of more pro-social acts. The emotion of elevation is often accompanied by tears and a feeling of warmth.
When people see the kind acts they report being moved, and that mediates their act of generosity, he said.
Kindness as social contagion is not surprising among humans, even though the species is often defined as self-interested, selfish and even cruel. Compared to other species, humans are remarkably cooperative, Fessler said.
This time of year, you cant turn on the TV or a social media feed without some kind of campaign asking you to open your wallet to help total strangers, he said. We are extremely kind and cooperative, compared to any other species on the planet.
As an example of demonstrations of kindness, the typical American high school hallway is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But at Penn-Trafford High School, students last year were surprised to find Post-It notes with affirmations stuck to their lockers.
The positive quotes from the likes of Helen Keller, Mary Lou Retton and Dr. Robert Schuller were distributed by members of the schools Acts of Random Kindness Club, which now boasts 40 members.
It was just a way to spread kindness around the school, said junior Janine Picklo, 16, of Penn Borough.
She was taking a class called Family Dynamics at the time of the mass shooting Valentines Day 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
A substitute teacher for the course suggested forming the ARK Club as a response to the massacre.
After the sub left at the end of the school year, teachers Jennifer Henney and Brooke Hack became the clubs faculty advisers. The club tries to do one project per quarter.
In the first quarter of this school year, the club assembled welcome kits for new students. The kits contain Penn-Trafford Warrior gear for transfer students who may not have anything to wear at pep rallies and sporting events.
In the second quarter, the club raised money for the Westmoreland County Food Bank by collecting donations during lunch in gallon milk jugs decorated as turkeys. In the third quarter, the club plans to place more positive messages on 1,640 lockers.
Normally, things in the hall dont always stay up. Somehow they find their way to the floor, Hack said. The first year they did the Post-It notes, the kids left them up. The kids liked them.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [emailprotected] or via Twitter .
Positive quotes distributed by the Penn-Trafford High School Acts of Random Kindness Club:"Tough times never last, but tough people do." Dr. Robert Schuller"Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you." Mary Lou Retton"Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye." Helen Keller
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Theyve turned their backs on us: California’s homeless crisis grows in numbers and violence – The Guardian
Posted: at 4:43 am
As homelessness surged to crisis levels in California in 2019, so did the violent attacks on people living in tents and on sidewalks and the political and law enforcement efforts to keep homeless encampments off the streets.
Physical assaults and criminalization efforts combined have made 2019 a particularly grim and terrifying year for many Californians struggling to survive without a roof over their head.
They are trying to shove us underneath the carpet, and its just not fair, said Shanna Couper Orona, 46, who is currently living out of an RV in San Francisco. San Francisco is supposed to be progressive, a place where you love everyone, take care of everyone But theyve turned their backs on us just because were unhoused. They are leaving us with nothing.
In a state with the worlds fifth largest economy, an IPO tech boom and some of the richest people on earth, Californias severe affordable housing shortage has become what advocates describe as a moral failing and public health emergency.
Los Angeles experienced a 16% increase in homelessness this year, with a total of 36,000 people now homeless across the city, including 27,000 without shelter. San Franciscos homeless count surged 17% to more than 8,000 people. There was a 42% increase in San Jose, a 47% increase in Oakland, a 52% increase in Sacramento county and increases in the Central Valley agricultural region and wealthy suburbs of Orange county.
There were patterns across cities: huge numbers of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, evictions and unaffordable rents leading people to the streets, families and seniors increasingly homeless, and higher rates of the homeless not getting shelter.
Homeless people are everywhere now, and they are becoming more and more desperate, said Stephen Cue Jn-Marie, an LA pastor who was formerly homeless and now works with people living on Skid Row, known for its massive encampments. All of these people are human beings. We need to respond to this as if its an earthquake.
The growing visibility has led to an increase in complaints, news coverage focused on housed people who reside near encampments, and intense media attention on the rare cases of violence perpetuated by people living on the streets.
Communities have largely declined to treat the crisis like a natural disaster that demands humanitarian aid. In many places, what followed instead was a backlash, and in some cases overt attacks.
There were at least eight incidents in LA where people threw flammable liquids or makeshift explosives at homeless people or their tents this year, according to authorities and the Los Angeles Times.
A 62-year-old beloved musicians tent was set on fire in Skid Row in August, killing him in what police say was an intentional killing. That month, two men also allegedly threw a firework at an encampment, causing a blaze that grew into a major brush fire just outside of the city. One of the men arrested was the son of a local chamber of commerce president. Police said this fire was intentional. In a separate attack, a molotov cocktail destroyed tents and donations.
In San Francisco, a man was caught on video appearing to dump a bucket of water on a homeless woman and her belongings on the sidewalk in June. Witnesses said it seemed to be a deliberate attack.
Three months later, San Franciscans who said they were upset with homeless people in their neighborhood paid to install two-dozen knee-high boulders along a sidewalk in an effort to stop them from living on the streets.
In neighboring Oakland, a resident recently put up an unauthorized concrete barrier in the middle of the street to deter homeless people from parking RVs. A real estate developer taunted homeless people by shouting free money at them and offering to pay them to leave their encampment in Oakland.
Residents repeatedly organized against proposed homeless shelters in their neighborhoods, most notably in a wealthy San Francisco area where locals crowdfunded $70,000 to hire an attorney to fight a shelter project.
A lot of it is brought out by this fear of the other as if their homeless neighbors are not neighbors at all, or not even people for that matter, said TJ Johnston, who is currently staying in shelters in San Francisco and is an editor with Street Sheet, a local homelessness publication. Hearing wealthy residents complain this year was like watching angry online comment sections come to life, he said: Its very dehumanizing to be looked upon as a nuisance.
As the crisis has worsened, local governments have spent billions to create new housing and provide services, but the scale of the response has been inadequate. Cities have increasingly looked to law enforcement and legal maneuvers to tackle the problem.
Those political efforts to further criminalize the homeless in turn have sparked intense anger and fear among the homeless population and their advocates.
LA leaders fought to ban people from sleeping on streets and sidewalks throughout the city. In Lancaster, a desert city north of LA, the mayor has pushed a proposal to ban groups that provide food to homeless people and suggested people should buy firearms to protect themselves from violent people on the streets.
This month, in a case closely watched by many west coast cities, the US supreme court dealt a victory to homeless advocates by allowing an existing ruling to stand that states governments cannot ban people from living on the street if they dont offer enough shelter beds.
Officials in Oakland have proposed a new policy to cite homeless people in parks while some have suggested setting up a shelter in a defunct jail. Law enforcement leaders in Bakersfield in the Central Valley pushed a plan to throw homeless people in jail for misdemeanor offenses. A state taskforce has also suggested a similar system of forcibly placing homeless people into shelters.
These efforts ignore the overwhelming evidence that criminalization and locking people up are costly and harmful responses that fail to fix the crisis, said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Theres a dangerous and disturbing movement in California to address homelessness not by expanding access to safe, affordable and permanent housing but by jailing people, she said. Its a terrifying prospect of a world in which we segregate, incarcerate and restrict the civil liberties of people just because they have disabilities and they are too poor to afford a home in our skyrocketing private rental market.
Fears and unfounded stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness seem to be driving these policy pushes to jail those in need, she said.
The Trump administration has created further anxiety by repeatedly suggesting he might pursue some kind of police crackdown in California to clear the streets of encampments.
The president has used the crisis to attack Democratic leaders in the state, and has complained about homeless people in LA and San Francisco taking up space on the best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.
Its a huge concern are they just going to take people to jail? said Kat Doherty, an LA woman who became homeless this year and is living at a shelter at Skid Row. Trumps talk has terrified her and others, she said. Its horrendous. It sounds like a death camp situation.
With the president promoting criminalization, it could inspire some anti-Trump Democrats in California to push back, said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. Theres some hopefulness that it will force the local municipalities to shift in opposition to Trump and talk about how criminalization doesnt work.
But some are not optimistic about 2020, especially since the crisis is on track to continue escalating, with people falling into homelessness at rates that far outpace governments ability to find housing for those on the street.
Conditions are going to get worse and the responses are going to get worse, said Jn-Marie.
If the political attacks continue next year, some said they hoped to see more communities fighting to stand up for the homeless.
I want people to give a fuck and help. Dont just ignore it, Orona said. Just because were unhoused doesnt mean were not San Francisco residents. We still have a heartbeat. We still buy food. We still exist.
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Los Angeles Roars for Azadi! Reflections on an Indian Solidarity Action in Southern California – CounterPunch
Posted: at 4:43 am
For two full hours yesterday afternoon, Los Angeles Grand Park reverberated with the simultaneously furious and joyous roars of Azadi! (Freedom!) and Inquilab Zindabad! (Love Live the Revolution!). Indians, South Asians, and Americans from various backgrounds came together to demonstrate their opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and Indias deepening authoritarian nightmare as a whole. Since the calamitous signing of the CAA into law on December 13, similar rallies have been held all across North America and many other corners of the globe, from Chicago to Sydney to Abu Dhabi.
As a political organizer and budding activist-scholar, I often despair at the lack of Stateside awareness, concern, and action with respect to India and South Asia, even within leftist circles. As such, I was heartened by the LA rallys sizable and diverse turnout, its warm but defiant spirit, and its broadly anti-fascist consensus.
Attendees read key passages from the Indian Constitution that the Modi regime has flagrantly, gleefully contravened with its recent measures, such as Article 14, which guarantees the right to equality before the law. They condemned not only the CAB and the NRC but the sadistic brutality and internet blackout inflicted upon Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University students and the residents of Uttar Pradesh, as well the ongoing crackdown in Kashmir that has left eight million people to scream, suffer, and die in darkness. They raised placards displaying some pretty ingenious slogans and graphics (fellow South Asian kids who grew up eating Amul dairy products will particularly appreciate Utterly Butterly Barbaric, placed over an image of Modi as the Amul girl holding the CAB and NRC). They recited poems, led chants, and even sang songs in English and Hindi. They passed around cashew nuts and Parle-G biscuits to keep everyone going.
I came away more convinced than ever that India and South Asia can only pull back from the precipice at which they currently find themselves through concerted mass action. Not by the whims and dictates of self-serving politicians, businesspeople, spiritual gurus, and civil society professionals, but through the sheer, audacious, organized willpower of everyday people. By militantly securing and cultivating autonomy, dignity, equity, justice, and resilience at every level of society, in every corner of the country and the region, and in solidarity with every single individual, community, and movement in the cross-hairs of the ruthless and shameless neoliberal capitalist Hindu chauvinist Indian state.
Merely demanding our freedom is insufficient: we have to seize it from the blood-soaked hands of our oppressors and refuse to let it go. Asking a proto-fascist government and its collaborators, apologists, and assassins to respect our rights is nothing short of suicidal. We are the only ones who can protect each other, which behooves us to stand with the most vulnerable among our ranks: Muslims, Dalits, Bahujans, Christians, Kashmiris, adivasis, peasants, migrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people. Agitating for political, religious, and cultural freedom is also meaningless to the extent that we fail to grapple with the economic and ecological underpinnings of the Hindu nationalist project and its positioning within the global neoliberal capitalist order. After all, fascism, as Lenin famously asserted, is capitalism in decay.
We can no longer satisfy our consciences with half-measures. Grudging, tenuous, and even entirely illusory top-down concessions that ultimately insult and degrade the emancipatory spirit of our mobilizations simply wont suffice any more. The national, regional, and transnational political, social, economic, and ecological, threats we face are frighteningly existential, and we will not get a second chance to overcome them. Our righteous rage must thus be more than a flash in the pan. Rather, it must be the fire that reduces the entire extractivist, majoritarian, and totalitarian saffron state apparatus to ash, fertilizing the soil for truly egalitarian, cooperative, and redistributive self-determination. This is to say that our organizing cannot be a temporary diversion, a mere flirtation with direct action that is quickly subsumed by our more humdrum, cynical, and ultimately self-defeating impulses. Rather, it has to become a defining force in our lives, an essential part of our individual being that ripples outward to build coalitions, reconstitute communities, and advance movements. School is not important, and work is not important, as Black Panther icon Fred Hampton famously said. Nothings more important than stopping fascism, because fascism will stop us all.
Who, if not us? When, if not now? Where, if not here?
And by here, I dont just mean India, and Im not only talking about Indians, because we shouldnt have to fight alone. Now more than ever, we need politically engaged people of goodwill in the United States the foul stench of Hindu nationalism festering under their very noses. We need them we need you to recognize that Hindutva has wrapped its tentacles around many political figureheads, educational institutions, and cultural associations and programs in the United States. Furthermore, it influences and even seeks connections with burgeoning white supremacist activity and relentless capitalist accumulation in this part of the world, on top of drawing inspiration and purchasing resources from Israels settler colonial project and military-industrial complex. Stateside anti-authoritarians and anti-fascists have the opportunity and thus the responsibility to tear down the saffron flag that is firmly planted on American soil. Please dont ignore, sideline, or abandon us in our time of need. Im begging you.
At the same time, Indians and South Asians studying, working, and living in the United States must join Americas most urgent popular struggles if expect our American counterparts to care about our woes and dreams. The model minority status that South Asians and South Asian Americans are accorded is a bone thrown to us by the American state. It aims to make us accomplices to its white supremacist capitalist patriarchy by pitting us against Black, migrant, and other marginalized populations and even the more marginalized members of our own communities. We must thus reject it entirely and reclaim the promise of intergroup, internationalist solidarity foregrounded by the likes of the Black Panther Party, the Third World Liberation Front, and the (real) Rainbow Coalition.
We have to condemn the Los Angeles and New York Police Departments for lynching people of color at the same time as we decry the Delhi Police and the Central Reserve Police Force for their state-endorsed malice. We have to burn down the concentration camps and prison plantations of California, Arizona, and Texas at the same time as we burn down the concentration camps of Assam. We have to chop off the many heads of Jeff Bezos capitalist hydra as the same time as we bring the vampiric Ambani, Birla, and Tata corporate dynasties to a long-overdue end. Beyond the US, we have to join the ongoing battles against injustice, inequity, and tyranny unfolding in Bolivia, Iraq, France, Haiti, and so many other parts of the world at the same time as we stand with our courageous comrades who have taken back streets, squares, and campuses in Mumbai, Chennai, and Srinagar.
India was born through rebellion, and it must be reborn the same way and not as a sham (neo)liberal social democracy, begging for yet another inevitable descent into authoritarian hell. It must be reborn through intentional, well-planned collaboration between the regions myriad populations and popular movements. It must obliterate the last remnants of feudalism, enable workers to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, and finally finally allow its many persons and peoples to take their fates into their own hands.
The war will continue, as Bhagat Singh famously declared, for the state of war does exist and shall exist so long as the Indian toiling masses and the natural resources are being exploited by a handful of parasites. We are once again fighting a war for our souls and the soul of the land that binds us together in all of our complexity and contradiction.
To invoke Assata Shakurs immortal chant, with the most widely, deeply liberatory intent, It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
Power and love to everyone who came out yesterday and to everyone who has been fighting all the good fights back home. Let the ruling classes tremble before us before the awesome, irrepressible power of the people for we have a society and a world to win.
Azadi! Azadi! Azadi!
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Posted: at 4:43 am
There is much to be said about solitude: that sometimes it's necessary, that it's the place from which creative expression can blossom, untethered to the gaze of others. But equally necessary, and seeminglyubiquitousto me this year in Boston's arts and culture scene, is the pull to gather.
In 2019, I thought a lotabout the way people come together in a space, claim or reclaim it for themselves and the fellowship or tension that may arise from this physical, or sometimes metaphorical gathering. It seemed to me, that everywhere I turned in the creative world, there was a hunger,or at least a confrontation with,the idea of convening.
There are obvious examples. Violist Rayna Yun Chou and Celebrity Series of Boston held 5,000 performances with 58 musicians who played one minute of a song for strangers. Dubbed "Concert For One," the musician and the stranger sat face-to-face inside of small shipping containersset up in Chinatown and Cambridge."Both people are vulnerable, the openness really moves you, Yun Chou told us about the intimate performancesduring which strangers convened.
Then there's public art presenter Now + There's collaboration with art world darling Nick Cave for a joy-themed procession through the city with massive sculptures made of inflatable lawn ornaments. The project, titled "Augment," gatheredfolks for more than a dozen workshops to explore what sparked joy for them and to express it by parading through the streets.
The Institute of Contemporary Art's highly anticipated and virally documented acquisition of Yayoi Kusama largest infinity roomhad us convene with others insidethe mirrored, brightly-colored tentacled room as a poem from Kusama blared from speakers. There, we were transported to a tactile universe of polka dots and a vastness outside of ourselves. Part of the fun of the room is its experiential nature that's conducive to sharing with others. I, of course, posted a selfie on the 'gram. The proliferation of Kusama's infinity mirror images on social media also convened us online.
Artist Pat Falco asked us to consider how we've historically convened in our homes and in our neighborhoods through "MOCK," two adjacent walls in the Seaport meant to evoke New England's triple-deckers that once made home-ownership (albeit mostly for white folks) a possibility. But eventually, anti-immigrant and anti-poor regulations prevented the creation of new triple-deckers. The development of new neighborhoods we see popping up today (like the Seaport) have a much different feel.
Seeing Falco's installation (also presented by Now + There) in the swanky, homogeneous Seaport made me think of how we convene in our communities and how the neighborhoods we inhabit formed their identities. Why do we feel a sense of belonging, a right to be somewhere, a welcoming feeling in some public spaces and not in others?
That's a question that the Museum of Fine Arts grappled intensely with this year. Through its programming, the encyclopedic museum has convened audiences who have historically been excluded from its walls. Its "Gender Bending Fashion" exhibition included a vivid digital photoalbum with queer and transgender Bostonians. Shows centered on artists like Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide and Frida Kahlo were presented with curatorial heft and rigorous aesthetic analysis. But what drew me in was the cadence with which these shows were publicly introduced using Spanglish, focused on the cultural and artistic lineage of the artists rather than the popular, diminishing narratives. When I was reporting on the Kahlo exhibition, the curator told me that a cafe employee at the MFA had never gone into a gallery until that show opened.
And yet in May, black and brown children from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy were called "F----- black kids" by another visitor, were profiled by guards, they say, and one girl was told to focus on the art rather than stripping when she danced at the "Gender Bending Fashion" exhibition. The museum revoked the membership of the patron who made the racist comment, launched an internal review of its practices and revamped its welcome for student groups.
But I still wonder, will those children ever be moved to convene at the MFA again? Why, when we convene in a public space that should belong to all us, do some people feel entitled to shun others? Can these spaces truly be decolonized? What would it look like for a cultural institution to truly cultivate an inclusive space to convene?
We may have a glimpse of that with the Boston Music Awards. Once known for feeling out of touch with wider music trends and being rather insular, this year's awards, Brendan McGuirk wrote, felt, sounded and looked different than it ever had before in large part because of the proliferation of hip-hop and R&B that's flourishing in the city. Nearly two years after my colleague Amelia Mason's deep look into the hostility toward hip-hop in Boston, the writer and critic Dart Adams, in a panel this month at WBUR, said he finally saw tangible, measurable progress in the way the city embraces the genre.
While some community movementsare burgeoning, others have eroded this year. The Boston's Children's Theatre the oldest in the country went bankrupt after concerns of financial mismanagement and the controversial and sudden departure of its artistic director. What happens when children lose their source of convening with other like-minded aspiring artists? As Cristela Guerra reported, for many of them, the loss also feels like violation of trust.
There's also the convening of audiences. The local theater scene continued to confront the fact that most of its patrons and critics are white, while an increasing number of black and brown artists are on stage. But we are also witnessing intentional efforts to convene audiences of color. When my colleague Arielle Gray attended a performance of SpeakEasy Stage and Front Porch Arts Collective's "Choir Boy" for #BlackOutBoston a night explicitly marketed for Black folks she wrote that the experience "felt like a jubilant, family reunion."
Then, there's the literal, physical spaces in which we convene.Artists themselves have had to deal with a competitive housing market that continuously shrinks the availability of affordable space to live and work. Green Street Studio, which provided affordable rehearsal and performance space for hundreds of dancers and artists for 28 years, shut its doors in October after they say they were priced out (though the city of Cambridgeappears to be brokering a solution).Haley House closed its caf for nearly the whole year as it reevaluated its business model prompting many to think of just how few explicitly queer POC spaces there are in Boston to convene safely and openly.
The Boston Center for the Arts is reevaluating its artist residency program so that it can more serve a greater number of artists on a rotating basis. The plan calls for the longtime artists at the BCA to vacate their below-market rate rented studios. These issues are not new. We know what a scarce commodity affordable artistic space is in Boston. And yet, this year, these stories really put into sharp focus the dearth of places for people to practice creativity in community.
The act of convening is not new in Boston or in art, but it felt like there was a hunger for it in 2019. We are all searching for a space, physical and not, to experience something profound with others, something that reminds us that we are not grappling with the big questions alone. There are others seeking too solace, friendship, an escape, a challenge, new ideas. And sometimes, as communities, we come to collective reckonings. It's through art and the fellowship that blossoms because of it that we're able to look at old dilemmas in original ways. That's the power of creativity. It blooms when we convene.
Posted: at 4:43 am
As more and more of our lives are spent in the digital world, its important that that world is accessible to everyone. Technology has allowed for huge strides in disability accessibility, from improved voice-to-text functions to apps that connect someone with a virtual assistant, but experts say theres still a lot of work to be doneespecially when it comes to simply using the internet. Americans with disabilities are three times as likely as those without a disability to say they never go online, according to the Pew Research Center.
Advancements have been (and continue to be) made for those who are visually, hearing, or physically impaired, but Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Maryland, says we havent yet tackled the most challenging area: differing cognitive abilities. As were about to enter a new decade, he hopes this is a gap technology can help fill.
For somebody who is blind, you can turn visual communication into something auditory, and for someone who is deaf, vice versa. But you cant take information and transform it from cognitive to some other dimension, Vanderheiden says. The biggest thing weve found in the last period of time is that many more people are having trouble accessing information than we had suspected.
This even includes people without cognitive disabilities, he addspeople who functioned in society just fine before technology infiltrated everything. Weve started adding complexity to things, he says. You used to walk over to the thermostat and turn it . . . now its a digital interface. Being technology savvy is a separate skill set from other kinds of intelligence, and this act of technifying everything can be alienating to parts of the population who suddenly find they need to be behind a computer to do their jobs, their work in school, or even complete their menial tasks like paying bills and buying food.
Vanderheiden is working on two solutions to this problemone which will be available soon and another longer term solution that requires getting a lot of people on board. Like lots of disability focused technologies before them, these solutions would also make things easier for those who dont have a disability, just less technology-abled or looking for a convenience.
The first is Morphic, an assistive technology spearheaded by the Trace R&D Center. Morphic is an operating system extension that would personalize a computer to an individuals needs, whether that means changing the font size, language, contrast, or making certain features easier to find. In pilot testing now and slated for an early 2020 release, Morphic would allow anyone to sit at a computerwhether in their home, a library, an office, or a school laband have its settings be tailored to their abilities, like putting on a pair of glasses with their prescription. When they log out, the settings will revert, so the next person doesnt have to manually change everything.
The longer-term solution would change the way our tech world approaches accessibility. Right now, each individual company has to make sure their systems are accessible. While some companies (like Apple and Microsoft) have been putting a lot of effort into making those changes, they still may not have the right resources or enough time to figure out the best accessibility solutions. Rather than having these companies try to create an interface thats usable by everyoneespecially as future technologies look more and more different from todaysVanderheiden proposes that developers create interfaces for mainstream users, and then a separate entity would build tools to interpret those interfaces for disabled communities.
This would be an extension of the assistive technology model, but these tools could work with any interface. An example Vanderheiden cites is the idea of a public Info-Bot that could understand a mainstream interface and then create user-specific versions for a variety of accessibilities. You might think companies would oppose this if they want to control their own designs, but Vanderheiden says its actually the opposite: The companies want to have control over the main interface design, and all the rules about accessibility put all these constraints on what they can do, he says.
One problem with putting the onus for accessibility solely on a company is that there will probably be some oversight, intentional or not. Autonomous cars could be breakthrough for the visually impaired, but if developers make clear speech a requirement in that interface, that limits the accessibility for another whole section of the population. Even ordering a pizza is restrictive: a blind man sued Dominos after he was unable to order food from the companys website or app, even though he had screen-reading software. Attorneys for the pizza chain tried to argue ADA requirements dont extend to online platforms, but when so much of our lives are conducted online, how is the digital world not a public space? The courts sided with the man, and accessibility advocates considered it a win, noting that if businesses dont maintain accessible websites, theyre essentially shutting people with disabilities out of the economy. Its a ruling that will reshape how companies make decisions about their websites and technology for years to come.
A separate tool that adapts technology for each individual could be the answer to making sure everyone has a fair chance of participation, and proves thatwhether companies like Dominos agree or nottheres a societal understanding that the internet is for everyone. If anything, the idea shows that our approach to accessibility needs to be rethought. Technology is ever changing, Vanderheiden says, and so how we approach it needs to also change.
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Posted: at 4:43 am
The least-recognized of the First Amendments five freedoms assembly and petition are facing perhaps the most immediate challenges, though freedoms of press, speech and religion dont escape unscathed.
At years end, First Amendment issues are as controversial and multi-faceted as anything in our fractured, divided society.
The least-recognized of the amendments five freedoms assembly and petition are facing perhaps the most immediate challenges, though freedoms of press, speech and religion dont escape unscathed.
Most immediately, a Black Lives Matter activist faces a lawsuit from a Baton Rouge, La., police officer who blamed the activist for injuries he suffered at a 2016 protest over the police killing of a black man. The suit doesnt claim the activist threw or even encouraged the throwing of a rock; rather, it seeks damages because the man led others to block a highway where the violent incident occurred.
A recent Washington Post story notes that Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) plans to introduce legislation to hold protesters arrested during unpermitted demonstrations liable for police overtime and other fees around such demonstrations.
In more than a dozen states in recent years, from Oregon to Florida, lawmakers have faced proposals to increase penalties for obstructing streets and highways and to limit the financial liability of drivers whose cars injure protesters. In Arizona, a failed 2017 proposal rooted in that states racketeering laws would have permitted the arrest and seizure of homes and other assets of those whom simply plan a protest in which some act of violence occurs.
In a similar financial penalty vein, several major news operations face defamation lawsuits seeking massive damages over their coverage of news events claims certain to roil public debate once again about the role, credibility and performance of the nations free press. Critics also say such lawsuits even if unlikely to succeed are effectively attempts to chill reporting and intimidate corporate owners.
Prominent among those filing the lawsuits is Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Calif.), who wants $435 million dollars from CNN for a report he says falsely linked him to events in the ongoing Ukraine-Biden investigation controversy. He also is seeking $150 million from The Fresno Bee over a report involving a workplace scandal at a winery in which Nunes has a stake, $75 million from Hearst over an Esquire article regarding a family farm in Iowa, with the claim the magazine has an axe to grind against him and a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter for what he says is its intentional effort to downplay conservative content as well as two parody accounts that mock him.
In the introduction to the most recent lawsuit, Nunes says CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.
Moving to another area of contention, campus free speech issues continue to vex collegiate communities, from complaints that conservative speech and views of faculty and staff are stifled, to a move by President Trump that he says will fight against anti-Semitism but that critics say is really intended to punish student or faculty advocacy for the BDS Movement boycotts, divestiture or sanctions aimed at ending international support for Israel.
Much like the campus controversies, interpretations of religious liberty regarding public policy continued to swirl through the year. As the Supreme Courts 2019-20 term began in October, at least eight cases touching on faith issues the most in recent years were scheduled to be heard. A number involved LGBTQ rights regarding employment or health benefits. While some cases do not directly involve religious organizations, the courts decisions would affect arguments over whether religious beliefs can negate claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.
An expansion of First Amendment protection for commercial speech (which at one time did not exist in law) continues, as courts at least give serious consideration to a variety of business arguments. In several instances, corporate lawyers are arguing that to force companies to make certain disclosures about product content or sources is an unacceptable requirement that violates the First Amendment by forcing companies to speak.
Other cases involve claims of free speech protection for hospitals facing a Trump administration rule requiring disclosure of secret rates. Industry groups filed a lawsuit earlier this month, also claiming it is compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.
New technology continues inexorably to challenge long-standing law. In a mix of free speech and public safety concerns, a Texas man was sentenced in February to eight years in prison for using a 3-D printer to construct a plastic handgun and ammunition in violation of a prior court order against owning of a firearm. Advocates for the so-called 3-D gun argue the computer instructions in such 3-D printing projects are speech and not subject to federal or state firearms regulations. Government officials say existing criminal law on issues such as possession and manufacturing should allow them to regulate or ban making or owning such weapons.
Government officials and social media critics continue to hammer operations such as Facebook and Twitter which are not government entities, but private concerns not governed by the First Amendment with regulatory threats over political advertising, hate speech and evidence of foreign election interference.
Threatened action ranges from using anti-trust legislation to break up the largest social media companies, to removal of what is known as Section 230 protection for companies (from the Communications Decency Act of 1996) that now permits them to avoid legal responsibility for content they simply carry, rather than material they create or significantly edit.
Opponents of watering down or removing Section 230 protection say either action would, in effect, end the web as we know it by shutting down the flow of information to the mere trickle of items or articles that could be independently verified by internet providers, or to bland factual accounts devoid of opinion or interpretation.
The year 2019 may well go down in First Amendment history as a turning point, in which those working to limit or control information avoided direct confrontations over First Amendment rights and turned to tactics designed to make it much more difficult, much too costly or even financially ruinous to exercise those rights.
Gene Policinski is president and chief operating officer of the Freedom Forum Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @genefac.
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