Sunday, March 29, 2009

SOWING THE SEEDS OF PEACE

St Augustine People for Peace and Justice was formed six months before the illegal invasion of Iraq in October, 2002. Back in the day, we had hundreds at rallies and demonstrations. When I came to St Augustine 3 years ago, at the candlelight vigil in 2006, on the 3rd anniversary of this immoral and illegal invasion, we had 50 people. This year, March 19, 2009, we got 25 people to show up and about half were not even our members. We’re still around; we still demonstrate monthly. We still have death, destruction and despair. So what has happened? What has changed?

I started a garden this spring, determined to learn how to grow my own food. I needed a lot of help, did a lot of reading and talking to gardeners and it struck me how much a seed depends on so many factors to grow and thrive. Then I started thinking about the peace movement and wondering why IT isn’t growing and thriving.

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the steady drenching rain of tears forces our seed to germinate and break through the surface to grow towards the sun of truth and justice?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the slow dripping irrigation of the blood of our kids and innocent Iraqis and Afghanis draws our roots down deeper and stronger into the soil of anger?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the ravaged compost of dead children’s bodies enriches the ground of our rage?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the winds of economic hurricane batter us and force us to strengthen both our roots and our resolve?

HOW CAN THIS BE, when the sunlight of the true human cost of these “wars” energizes us to grow new branches and produce ripe fruit full of new seeds?

HOW CAN THIS BE?

We are those seeds. We are and always have been the seeds of peace. We have everything we need to grow strong and propagate our message. This is our time; the ground is fertile with rage, death and despair. When spiny thorns and insidious roots of weeds of derision and dissent try to crowd out our vitality, we fight back and grow stronger. This is the ground where peacemakers grow. This is where we will prevail, propagate and bear the fruit of peace. This day, this hour, this minute is our season to plant and grow. We must not wilt, we must not wither, we must not succumb to the weeds of despair. This is a harvest we cannot afford to lose. Plant your roots deep in the soil of anger, spread your branches wide to the truth, throw your seeds onto the winds of the apathetic and the ignorant and multiply the message of peace a thousand times. We must spread the peace, one seed at a time. Only this harvest will save our world.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

ST JOHNS COUNTY FLORIDA INCUBATES VIOLENCE AGAINST HOMELESS

The true measure of a community is not the median income. It’s not the crime rate or the value of its real estate. The true measure of a community is how it treats its most vulnerable members.

Monday night’s attack on three defenseless homeless men under a bridge in St Augustine by three teenagers outrages me as it should all of us.

The boys are solely responsible for their actions. However, these attacks were incubated in a countywide culture of disinterest and yes, cruelty. The mayor’s reluctant efforts and the truly absurd dream of a timely 10 million dollar homeless facility are calculated political window dressing. Worse, our county board of commissioners doesn’t even bother talking about it at all.

In the three years I have lived here, I have witnessed a young homeless veteran commit suicide on a railroad track, vigilante raids on homeless camps to terrorize and destroy property, and multiple sad, lonely deaths alongside roadways and in retaining ponds.

So, much hand wringing will take place over these three kids and their violent behavior. But where will the hand wringing be over the dismissive and arrogant officials who represent the culture that allows this senseless cruelty to thrive?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

St Augustine exercises First Amendment rights since 2003

OK, so we take some verbal abuse from time to time, especially now that it's obvious to all but the truly stupid that we were lied into "war", it really was about OIL (see: Alan Greenspan and others), and Iraq had NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11.
We still show up, First Friday of the month from 4-6PM, third Saturday of the month from 10AM-Noon.
It's not a huge crowd but it's always a peaceful constant reminder that there are people in this community who know the importance of keeping this in the public's eye. We can do other things and we will but we will NEVER stop the demonstrations until these illegal occupations end and the war criminals who are responsible are brought to justice.
IMPEACH INDICT CONVICT AND IMPRISON. Those who did this to our country are not patriots, they are TRAITORS.

There would be nothing to frighten you if you refused to be afraid.

Gandhi

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St Johns County Sheriff displays integrity and humility

Under fire for passing out controversial t shirts at a veterans group meeting in May, Sheriff Shoar took the direct and honest approach and came alone to address a core group of peace activist leaders Tuesday night at the Universalist Unitarian Church in St Augustine Florida. The shirts have been interpreted by many as advocating military sniping of civilians who do not agree with the "war" in Iraq.

The sheriff apologized, agreed to publish his apology, agreed to stop distribution of any more shirts and will request that all indecent, vulgar, sexist hate mail to peace group members surrounding the t-shirt issue stop immediately.

While speaking out against the message on the shirt was intimidating to members who were subjected to a barrage of hate emails, it was important that this issue got wide exposure. More and more of our civil rights are being curtailed daily, from "free speech zones" cages to enclose protesters to warrantless wiretaps and searches. More communities and groups need to speak out and call attention to any attempts to silence their right to free speech, no matter what side they are on.

As for Sheriff Shoar, if you follow through with your promises from last night,this quote is for you:

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Been watching GodTV for weeks now

Todd Bentley, Canadian pentacostal phenom, confirms Obama's observation that desperate people cling to guns and God. I've been watching a couple hours of this outpouring revival in Lakeland Florida for the last 6 weeks. I've watched the slick camera work, the mood music and the incitement of crowds in the thousands by bizarre head twitches, goofy HAHAHAHA laughter noises and "Sheekaba baba" talking in tongues. I've watched people you would pass on the street and say Hi to, just regular people, transformed into hand waving, eye rolling, falling down crying slaves to this strange looking manipulator. The psychoanalyst who talks about her patient going off his meds because he was "healed", the hundreds of others both in the hangar in Lakeland and online from all over the world, who stop needed medications because Todd told them they were healed, will all comprise a sub group of people we will never hear about in one email or newsreport. They will die, get sicker, or commit atrocities on themselves or others, singly, one at a time and there will be no way to gauge the damage this revival is doing. The revival keeps adding days, keeps taking people's money and keeps alienating reasonable ministers and pastors who are now uncomfortable with these claims of raising the dead. I heard him say this myself two weeks ago: he had 25 people come back from the dead.
I believe in the power of the mind to heal. I do not believe anyone needs Todd Bentley to smack them in the head or chest, make them fall down and cover them with a red blanket. You have Direct TV, check it out most nights on GodTV CH 365.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Beating a dead horse, over and over again

Let’s take a look at the leadership on homeless issues in our county:

PUSH attends a sheriff’s presentation advertised as a discussion of homeless veterans. Aside from estimating 30% or more inmates are veterans of our armed services, Sheriff Shoar had absolutely nothing concrete to offer them upon release but got a real kick out of passing out t shirts advocating military sniping of civilians. Some leader. Ever hear of the Patriot Act?

PUSH requests a copy of the SJC 10 year plan for almost three weeks until a document, written in May 2007, surfaces as THE PLAN. After comparing to other counties’ plans across the nation it is clear that SJC’s document is not a plan. Despite discussions with county officials, state representative, state senators in Tallahassee and numerous other civic groups, no one seems concerned about this although hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars are funneled through the lead agency, apparently with little or no oversight until recently. Jerry Cameron could not name the oversight person for ESHC funding. State representative Bill Proctor has cancelled and not rescheduled a follow up meeting despite several calls to his local office. Some leaders. Ever hear of representative democracy?

PUSH attempted to meet with Dr Colavito for almost 2 weeks until a complaint to Jerry Cameron prompted a meeting to obtain billing records for county funding of agencies on the continuum of care. Some administration. Ever hear of open government?

PUSH attended The Marketplace luncheon to connect with the leader, Ken Asplund, to leave contact information. expecting a response since their website claims as part of their mission:
We exist as a group of Intercessors who have committed to being available to God for the salvation of the lost and the immediate needs of others.
We have heard nothing. Some Christians. Ever hear of the Beatitudes?

PUSH has called EPIC, local substance abuse provider, numerous times to offer mentoring assistance and has never been called back. Some provider. Ever hear of community involvement?

PUSH volunteer gets “fired” from volunteering at the transitional housing component at the Emergency Services Homeless Coalition for seeking answers to concerns of waste and fraud from the state contract manager. Other former workers at ESHC are unwilling to tell what they know and have simply left to do good work elsewhere. Some management. Ever hear of accountability?

PUSH attempts for 6 months to discover plans for moving St Francis House, the only temporary shelter in the county with a grand total of 28 beds, only to be shut out of any planning or discussion. Some open government. Ever hear of stakeholders?

PUSH attempts to find out where and when ESHC board meetings are conducted and is told the meetings are private but PUSH can request time for a presentation to the board. Some sunshine state. Ever hear of inclusiveness?

PUSH attempts to find out where an advertised meeting of local leaders with a nationally known homeless “czar” is speaking only to learn it was limited to a small group at an undisclosed location and was ending in fifteen minutes. Some posturing. Ever hear of honesty?

PUSH attempts to reach out to area churches with a viable and proven solution to helping homeless people get back on their feet and link up with services that would be cost free to taxpayers yet allow church members to personally work with homeless families and share that responsibility for a limited time with other faith based organizations. No churches have committed despite numerous presentations and calls. Some outreach. Ever hear of compassion?

PUSH presented two well researched and effective programs to help veterans who are struggling with mental health issues and who may also be homeless and desperate to the Veterans Council. At the end of the ten minute presentation, two members attack the presenter for his connection to an anti war group and accuse him of bringing politics to the discussion. In fact, the opposite was true and the members were allowing their politics to impede any real discussion of solutions for our veterans. The irony was lost on them. There was no support offered for the programs proposed but plenty of discussion on fundraising to put flags in county classrooms. Some patriotism. Ever hear about priorities?

PUSH sends out a draft copy of the status of homeless advocacy demanding accountability and inclusiveness to all city, county commissioners, numerous media outlets and providers on the county “continuum of care” and gets slammed for trying to have an open discussion about the new shelter with “the public”, since it “will cause problems.”. Some democracy. Ever hear about power of the people?

So let’s recap:

No help from any level of government on accountability and oversight.

No help from any provider, agency, church on proven solutions to homelessness.

No help from established group of Christian business and community leaders on collaborative solutions.

No help from veterans council for veterans in trouble.

No help from law enforcement on incarcerated veterans.

We’re on our own. After 18 months of working the system, we are on our own. We’re only sorry it’s taken this long to get it.

All talk, no action: Must be an election year

Ten months ago, I wrote a guest column for the Record on the status of the homeless in St Johns County. In it I noted a number of programs and plans that were proving successful in communities like ours all over the nation. I also noted the complete lack of leadership of city and county officials despite the huge costs to taxpayers for services this population uses, like emergency rooms and detention. Last year Mayor Boles convened a workshop on the homeless. Aside from endless discussion on law enforcement issues and an unfortunate cruel remark from the Mayor, what changed? The mayor hosted a pricey fundraiser on the Night of Lights and the city provided $45,000 for 30 donated mattresses to get the homeless off the streets for the holiday tourists.

Earlier this year PUSH (People United to Stop Homelessness) met with the city manager and discussed a roundtable of all the players, including the homeless, and nothing happened.

On May 14, 2008, Sheriff Shoar addressed a veterans group in Coquina Crossing publicized as a presentation on homeless veterans. He had absolutely nothing to report.

On May 15, 2008, the Emergency Services Homeless Coalition (ESHC) celebrated their ten year anniversary. It took me three weeks last year to obtain a copy of St Johns County’s 10 year plan to end homelessness. Don’t believe me? Try to find a copy on the SJC website. PUSH has posted it on their website: www.pushsjc.org

Even a cursory reading will indicate it is not a PLAN.

On Friday, June 20, 2008, the location of the perennially secret homeless shelter was revealed to the public, a group advertised as officials, agencies and concerned advocates. PUSH was not invited nor was the ESHC.

On June 25, 2008, Mayor Boles invited Philip Mangano, Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, to speak to officials and members of our community on successful homeless prevention programs. Although advertised on the front page of this paper, no time or location was given. The meeting was short noticed, closed and only involved a select few including the director of St Francis House, Flagler Hospital, the editor of this paper, the sheriff and the mayor. PUSH and most amazingly, the ESHC, lead homeless agency in this county, were not invited.

There are pros and cons to the new shelter. The Salvation Army Food Bank manager told me St Francis House will now be able to accept and store food adequately. Renee Morris, St Francis House director, cites office spaces for services like medical, dental and veterans. There is climate control and room for more beds and it is close to the numerous SR 207 camps, including the one where yet another homeless person’s remains were discovered on June 24, 2008. It will allow the police to warehouse downtown “undesirables” far from tourists’ eyes and pocketbooks and timely enough for the big 450th celebrations. To be sure, this is an election year and pretty much everybody running will be on board for all kinds of reasons; leadership and compassion not necessarily among them.

Speaking of the big 450th, if we are so astoundingly proud of this historic and beautiful city, why can’t we remember the words of its namesake, quoted here by me ten months ago:

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

What does St Augustine look like?

PUSH meets monthly at the Galimore Center in St Augustine. We are an advocacy group for the homeless and work for collaboration of dignified and humane solutions from all stakeholders: government, religious, civic, business and private individuals. Notices of meetings are published in the St Augustine Record and all are welcome to attend. Visit www.pushsjc.org
and contact us.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

St Johns County Sheriff and the Patriot Act


You know you’re in big trouble when the top law enforcement officer in the county passes out t shirts advocating military sniping of dissenting civilians.

When the St Augustine Record reported that Sheriff David Shoar would be addressing homeless veterans’ issues to a veteran’s group in Coquina Crossing at their meeting on May 14, as co-founder of PUSH: People United to Stop Homelessness, I was excited and encouraged to attend. I went to take notes on his plans to help homeless veterans in St Johns County in order to disseminate them to the PUSH community.

Over 130 people attended that night. We were all given an orange ticket upon entering for a raffle the sheriff would hold later. After a short business meeting, the Sheriff was introduced to resounding applause. I seated myself in the back with a pad to take notes. Mr Shoar made a few remarks, drawing some more laughter and applause. He held up a black T Shirt with type on it that I was unable to read from the back to more laughter and applause. Mr Shoar stated he was proud of St Johns County support for its veterans. He introduced 4 officers who were veterans currently serving on his force. He estimated 25-30% of 600 current inmates in his jail are veterans and feels we are missing the boat serving returning vets due to psychological impacts not recognized in the past. He noted at least we talk about this now although in his view, homelessness is an enigma. This, from a man with a purported Masters in Public Administration. His office is taking steps by training volunteers from his force in crisis intervention to help with homelessness and mental health issues. After completion of the 30 day class ,one officer from each team will have more experience dealing with these issues. He touted the Four Star Foundation, a non profit that provides linkage to services for veterans. He applauded the construction of the new veterans’ home in the county. When the floor was opened for questions, I had felt the issue of homeless veterans had not been fully addressed and raised my hand. I stated that the following Friday, May 16, would mark the one year anniversary of the death of Billy Healey, a 34 year old homeless Air Force veteran who took his life by lying on the railroad tracks in St Augustine. I asked whether the sheriff’s department had any programs to address the huge numbers of young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who would be returning to our community. Bottom line, the answer was no.
Time to cue the raffle. The sheriff had about 10 bags on the stage and our tickets were for those. Shortly after asking my question, I won one of the bags and had to walk all the way to the front of the room to collect my prize. I badly wanted to leave as there was evidently not going to be any real discussion of homeless veterans’ issues but stayed out of respect. Subsequent questions involved lack of respect of today’s youth, recidivism rates, arrest of “illegals” and percentages of violent offenders. One member requested SJC post a weblog of inmates similar to Putnam County’s. At first opportunity as the meeting ended, I escaped to my car, skipping the coffee and dessert affair also funded by the sheriff.
I got home around 930 and decided to open that gift bag. I found a nice green sheriff’s ball cap, a gold and green medallion with sheriff insignia, a green glass coffee mug with gold detailing and the hilarious black t shirt I couldn’t read before.
I opened this shirt and on the front over the left breast is a white silhouette of an Army sniper holding a rifle. On the back, in bold white block letters is the statement:
“IF YOU CAN’T STAND BEHIND OUR TROOPS, DO US ALL A FAVOR AND STAND IN FRONT OF THEM”.
I stood for minutes trying to grasp the meaning of this all the while denying to myself the possibility that the highest law enforcement officer in the county was advocating military sniping of civilians but then I remembered the laughter and applause when the shirt had been held up and realized there could be no other meaning and that this was a most serious breach of the public trust by our highest elected law officer. It is chilling.

Which I think is the point. On Saturday May 17, during a peace demonstration that has been ongoing for over 5 years, a city police officer made a huge show of violation of a sign ordinance. During the Memorial Day celebration in the Plaza, city officers circled the park in SUVs and on bicycles. The county has been showing off its brand new Command Task Force unit by driving it around town. In fact, its appearance prompted my call to the sheriff’s department weeks ago, wondering what it was and what it was for. It was confirmed that the vehicle was being driven around the county to display to the citizens. The department is ecstatic to have this piece of equipment and others like it. Combined they give local law enforcement the ability to transmit live video feeds in real time to connected law enforcement agencies all over the place.

There’s more. Local law enforcement agencies have been receiving military equipment courtesy of Department of Homeland Security for years. We’re talking semi automatic weapons, helicopters, tanks, combat gear. Local “task force fusion centers” have been set up all over the nation to provide the coordination between federal (FBI,ICE and DHS) state and local law enforcement in the event of an “attack”, a natural disaster and “civil unrest”. These centers have armed security guards authorized to shoot to kill in the event of an emergency. Ours is conveniently located in Jacksonville although there is no known location for our nearest detention center, hundreds of which have been built or renovated from military bases by KBR and other favored military contractors.

We’re in trouble. Whether it is a small group of peaceful anti war activists, Food Not Bombs serving food to all, animal rights activists or labor organizers, it makes no difference. I repeat: it makes NO DIFFERENCE. The House passed HR1955 last year: The Violent Homegrown Radicalization Terrorist Act which includes groups like these. It passed 404-8. The bill may come before the Senate soon as S1959. Currently over 40,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. With t shirts like this being applauded and distributed, what would it take for a traumatized young vet to obtain a weapon and start firing into a crowd of war dissenters? We have got to start paying attention and stop this erosion of our freedom, an erosion that starts with a local sheriff getting away with passing out t shirts advocating military violence against civilians and could well end in an unspeakably insane act of killing in our own county.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

PUSH hears vet speak truth

At the monthly PUSH (People United to Stop Homelessness) meeting on Tuesday, he sat before us, quietly telling a story about war, dedicated young men and women, and what it was really like upon their return from combat. I stared at his delicate features, soft curling brown hair and graceful musician-like hands, trying to imagine a shaved head, a voice loud with orders and those hands holding a rifle.

He told us he was one of the oldest in his unit at age 19 and how the rigors of military service contribute to addiction and mental health issues. He told us that statistically, he was at greater risk for homelessness and failure.

He said the VA tries not to hand out Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnoses and that soldiers are reluctant to admit to problems. Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD get referred to a chaplain, then undergo six months of separation from family and friends to receive drugs and counseling. Upon discharge, these vets see a 20 -minute presentation on applying for benefits. There are many requirements to be met to receive benefits and many young vets don't even bother, trying to make it on their own.

If a vet finally qualifies for medical benefits after a six to twelve month processing wait, visits to psychiatrists are then scheduled on a monthly basis. Soldiers are not permitted to discuss killing of civilians during sessions. He was issued four different psychotropic drugs including Paxil and Neurontin with instructions to mix as needed for relief. Most of these drugs are proven to be contraindicated for suicidal feelings. News reports documented over 6,000 veteran suicides in 2005 alone across all services and conflicts. He estimates 90% of our young veterans are suffering from PTSD. The mission- "to break the will of the enemy to resist" is unclear in a theatre where the "enemy" is not wearing a uniform.

He told us of a program in Duval County that tries to give work to vets, picking up trash. Our veterans, picking up trash. His organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), is currently working with 20 homeless veterans in Jacksonville. They do not want charity. Upon discharge, with the VA under funded and understaffed, these vets say they feel disposable and unwanted. His friend, a sergeant in the US Army, has had her child removed from her custody due to her deployment. The daughter now lives with her grandmother in a hotel with no running water and is technically homeless.

But most amazing of all, he told us he is better off than so many other returning vets. He wisely sees a broader problem of basic inhumanity. He is convinced that solutions will only come from us, the people, and not the government. He challenged us to ask ourselves why we avoid homeless people and why we are silent instead of loudly and vocally outraged.

Eyes brimming with held back tears, he returned to his seat while we examined our lives.

The IVAW Winter Soldier Project takes place in Washington DC March 13 through March 16. Returning soldiers testify to their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. This action will require these young veterans once again to summon their amazing courage and integrity to revisit their nightmares in the interest of truth for their country. Look for articles and reports on these hearings. Go to: http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier

Examine your life.

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