Yael Chanoff

Privatization of public housing



Like so many San Franciscans, Sabrina Carter is getting evicted.

The mother of three says that if she loses her home in the Western Addition, she’ll have nowhere to go. It’s been a tough, four-year battle against her landlord — a St. Louis-based development company called McCormack Baron — and its law firm, Bornstein & Bornstein. That’s the same law firm that gained notoriety for holding an “eviction boot camp” last November to teach landlords how to do Ellis Act evictions and sweep tenants out of rent-controlled housing.

But Carter’s story isn’t your typical Ellis eviction. Plaza East, where she lives, is a public housing project. Public housing residents throughout the country are subject to the “one-strike and you’re out” rule. If residents get one strike — any misdemeanor or felony arrest — they get an eviction notice. In Carter’s case, her 16-year-old was arrested. He was cleared of all charges — but Carter says McCormack Baron still wouldn’t accept her rent payment and wouldn’t respond to her questions.

“I was never informed of my status,” she said.

That is, until her son was arrested again, and Carter found herself going up against Bornstein & Bornstein. She agreed to sign a document stipulating that her eviction would be called off unless her son entered Plaza East property (he did). It was that or homelessness, said Carter, who also has two younger sons.

“They criminalized my son so they could evict my family,” Carter said.

McCormack Baron and Bornstein & Bornstein both declined to comment.

On March 12, Carter and a band of supporters were singing as they ascended City Hall’s grand staircase to Mayor Ed Lee’s office.

“We’re asking the mayor to call this eviction off. Another black family cannot be forced out of this city,” Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia, co-founder of Poor Magazine, said at the protest.

Nearly half of San Francisco’s public housing residents are African American, according to a 2009 census from the city’s African American Out-Migration Task Force. These public housing residents represent a significant portion of San Francisco’s remaining African American population, roughly 65 percent.

Carter’s eviction was postponed, but it raises an important question: Why is a public housing resident facing off with private real estate developers and lawyers in the first place?



Plaza East is one of five San Francisco public housing properties that was privatized under HOPE VI, a federal program that administers grants to demolish and rebuild physically distressed public housing.

The modernized buildings often have fewer public housing units than the ones they replaced, with private developers becoming their managers. San Francisco’s take on HOPE VI, called HOPE SF, is demolishing, rebuilding, and privatizing eight public housing sites with a similar process.

US Department Housing and Urban Development is rolling out a new program to privatize public housing. The San Francisco Housing Authority is one of 340 housing projects in the nation to be chosen for the competitive program. The city is now starting to implement the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. When it’s done, 75 percent of the city’s public housing properties will be privatized.

Under RAD, developers will team up with nonprofits and architectural firms to take over managing public housing from the Housing Authority. RAD is a federal program meant to address a nationwide crisis in public housing funding. Locally, the effort to implement the program has been spurred by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

MOHCD Director Olson Lee has described RAD in a report as “a game-changer for San Francisco’s public-housing residents and for [Mayor] Lee’s re-envisioning plan for public housing.” Later, Lee told us, “We have 10,000 residents in these buildings and they deserve better housing. It’s putting nearly $200 million in repairs into these buildings, which the housing authority doesn’t have. They have $5 million a year to make repairs.”

Funding is sorely needed, and this won’t be enough to address problems like the perpetually broken elevators at the 13-story Clementina Towers senior housing high-rises or SFHA’s $270 million backlog in deferred maintenance costs.

But RAD is more than a new source of cash. It will “transform public housing properties into financially sustainable real estate assets,” as SFHA literature puts it.

RAD changes the type of funding that supports public housing. Nationally, federal dollars for public housing have been drying up since the late ’70s. But a different federal subsidy, the housing choice voucher program that includes Section 8 rent subsidies, has been better funded by Congress.

Under RAD, the majority of the city’s public housing will be sustained through these voucher funds. In the process, the Housing Authority will also hand over responsibility for managing, maintaining, and effectively owning public housing to teams of developers and nonprofits. Technically, the Housing Authority will still own the public housing. But it will transfer the property through 99-year ground leases to limited partnerships established by the developers.

The RAD plan comes on the heels of an era marked by turmoil and mismanagement at the Housing Authority. The agency’s last director, Henry Alvarez, was at the center of a scandal involving alleged racial discrimination. He was fired in April 2013.

In December 2012, HUD declared SFHA “troubled,” the lowest possible classification before being placed under federal receivership. A performance audit of the agency, first submitted in April 2013 by the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst, determined that “SFHA is expecting to have no remaining cash to pay its bills sometime between May and July of 2013.”

Six of the seven members of the Housing Authority Commission were asked to resign in February 2013, and were replaced with mayoral appointees.

Joyce Armstrong is not a member of this commission, but she sits on the dais with them at meetings, and gives official statements and comments alongside the commissioners. Armstrong is the president of the citywide Public Housing Tenants Association, and she talked about RAD at a March 27 meeting, conveying tenants’ apprehension toward the expansion of private managers in public housing.

“Staff in HOPE VI developments are very condescending,” Armstrong said. “We’re not pleased. We’re being demeaned, beat up on, and talked to in a way I don’t feel is appropriate.”



When RAD is implemented, it won’t just be development companies interacting with public housing residents. San Francisco’s approach to RAD is unique in that it will rely heavily on nonprofit involvement. Each “development team” that is taking over at public housing projects includes a nonprofit organization. Contracts haven’t been signed yet, but the Housing Authority has announced the teams they’re negotiating with.

“We call it the nonprofitization of public housing,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee.

The developers are a list of the usual players in San Francisco’s affordable housing market, including the John Stewart Company, Bridge Housing Corporation, and Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Community-based organizations that are involved include the Mission Economic Development Agency, the Japanese American Religious Federation, Ridgepoint Nonprofit Corporation, Glide Community Housing, Bernal Heights Housing Corporation, and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

On March 13, when the Housing Authority Commission announced who would be on these teams, the meeting was packed with concerned members of the public. Two overflow rooms were set up. One group with a strong turnout was SEIU Local 1021, which represents public housing staff.

Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for SEIU 1021, said that 120 workers represented by the union could be laid off as management transfers to development teams, and 80 other unionized jobs are also on the line.

“They’re talking about eliminating 200 middle-class jobs,” Alexander said.

She also noted that SEIU 1021 wasn’t made aware of the possible layoffs — it only found out because of public records requests. (Another downside of privatization is that certain information may no longer be publicly accessible.)

“We’re concerned about these jobs,” Alexander said. “But we’re also concerned about the residents.”



HUD protects some residents’ rights in its 200-page RAD notice. These include the right to return for residents displaced by renovations and other key protections, but rights not covered in the document — some of which were secured under the current system only after lengthy campaigns — are less clear. In particular, rights relating to house rules or screening criteria for new tenants aren’t included.

Negotiations with development teams are just beginning. Lee said tenants’ rights not included in the RAD language would be discussed as part of that process.

“It will be a function of what is best practice,” Lee said.

But developers have already expressed some ideas about public housing policies they want to tweak when they take over. At one point, the city was considering developers’ requests to divide the citywide public housing wait-list into a series of site-specific lists. Lee says that this option is no longer on the table.

But as developers’ interests interact with local, state, and federal tenant regulations, things could get messy. James Grow, deputy director of the National Housing Law Project, says that whatever standard is the most protective of residents’ rights should apply.

Still, Grow said, “There’s going to be inconsistencies and gray areas.”

Grow said that inevitably some residents’ rights will be decided “on a case-by-case basis, in litigations between the tenant and the landlord…They’ll be duking it out in court.”

This will be true nationwide, as each RAD rollout will be different. But at least in San Francisco, “Most of the tenant protections in public housing will remain,” said Shortt. “We are trying to tie up any holes locally to make sure that there is no weakening of rights.”

Grow’s and Shortt’s organizations are also involved in San Francisco’s RAD plan. The National Housing Law Project, along with the Housing Rights Committee and Enterprise Community Partners, have contracts to perform education and outreach to public housing residents and development teams.



Just how much money will go to RAD is still under negotiation. The RAD funding itself, derived from the voucher program, will surpass the $32 million the city collected last year in HUD operating subsidies. But its big bucks promise is the $180 million in tax credit equity that the privatization model is expected to bring in.

The city will also be contributing money to the program, but how much is unclear.

“The only budget I have right now is the $8 million,” Lee said, money that is going to the development teams for “pre-development.”

Lee added that funding requests would also be considered; those requests could total $30-50 million per year from the city’s housing trust fund, according to Shortt.

To access that $180 million in low-income housing tax credits, development teams will need to create limited partnerships and work with private investors. The city wants to set up an “investor pool,” a central source which would loan to every development team.

It’s a complicated patchwork of money involving many private interests, some of whom don’t have the best reputations.

Jackson Consultancy was named as a potential partner in the application for the development team that will take over management at Westbrook Apartments and Hunters Point East-West. That firm is headed by Keith Jackson, the consultant arrested in a FBI string in late March on charges of murder-for-hire in connection with the scandal that ensnared Sen. Leland Yee and Chinatown crime figure Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.

Presumably, Jackson is no longer in the running, although the entire transformation is rife with uncertainties.

Residents often feel blindsided when management or rules change at public housing properties. And RAD will be one of the biggest changes in San Francisco’s public housing in at least a decade.

“People are concerned about their homes. When they take over the Housing Authority property, what’s going to happen? They keep telling us that it’s going to stay the same, nothing is going to change,” said Martha Hollins, president of the Plaza East Tenants Association.

Hollins has been part of Carter’s support network in her eviction case.

“They’re always talking about self-sufficient, be self-sufficient,” Hollins said. “How can we be self-sufficient when our children are growing up and being criminalized?”

Public housing has many complex problems that need radical solutions. But some say RAD isn’t the right one. After seeing developers gain from public housing while generational poverty persists within them, Gray-Garcia says that her organization is working with public housing residents to look into ways to give people power over their homes. They are considering suing for equity for public housing residents.

“‘These people can’t manage their own stuff and we need to do it for them.’ It’s that lie, that narrative, that is the excuse to eradicate communities of color,” Gray-Garcia said. “We want to change the conversation.”

Homeless for the holidays



As temperatures dropped in recent weeks, those who care for San Francisco’s homeless snapped into action.

Shelters stopped requiring reservations, making any beds still open after 8pm available to anyone who needed them. General Hospital’s Emergency Room treated the annual uptick of hypothermia cases, working closely with the city’s Homeless Outreach Team. Seven people in the Bay Area died as a result of cold weather in the last month — mercifully, none in San Francisco.

“Just one homeless person passing from being cold is way too many,” Carol Domino, program director at Mother Brown’s Drop-In Center, told the Guardian.

When the cold hit, Mother Brown’s staff could be found scouting encampments near its location in Bayview. Besides a respite from the weather, it offers bathrooms, showers, access to case management services, and other resources, as well as two hot meals a day in its dining room. But there’s one thing it can’t offer: a warm bed.

But that may change. A proposal for a 100-bed homeless shelter next door to Mother Brown’s gained political footing this year, despite controversy and a divided neighborhood.



Behind the shelter effort is Gwendolyn Westbrook, director of the United Council of Human Services. Westbrook says the idea didn’t come from her, but from Barbara J. “Mother” Brown, the local legend who served hot meals out of the back of a Cadillac Seville before founding Bayview Hope Homeless Resource Center and Mother Brown’s Dining Room in 2001.

“People have come in here needing a place to sleep for as long as it’s been open,” Westbrook said. Brown’s solution was to set out folding chairs where people could sleep. Nowadays, 80 people rest in the chairs on a typical night.

Before Brown died in 2005, Westbrook remembers, she made it clear to her successor how much she wanted shelter beds where clients could lie down.

Of her clients, Westbrook says, “it’s a lot of people who are from this area, grew up in this area. Some people never leave this district. Their homes might have gone into foreclosure, or somebody died that set them back and triggered something mentally, and now they’re on the street. So this is a safe haven for them. This is a place where they can come and just relax.”

Even as the cost of living soars and the neighborhood changes, Westbrook says, her clients hold on.

“Most of our clients won’t leave the Bayview,” she said. “Some of them have told me, ‘well if I die, just cremate me and put my ashes up on Third Street. Spread them on Third Street.’ That’s how much they love this neighborhood.”

Human Services Agency (HSA) director Trent Rhorer witnessed the chair arrangement during an August 2011 visit to Mother Brown’s. He called the sight “simply not acceptable from a view of humanity.”

When Rhorer learned that a warehouse next door had recently been put up for rent, the shelter idea was born. The HSA applied for a forgivable loan from the state’s Emergency Housing and Assistance Program (EHAP). In January 2012, the project was approved for $978,000.

On Nov. 19, the Board of Supervisors voted to accept the grant, and on Dec. 10, it assigned the next two steps: city adoption of the lease for the property and creation of a special use district. The rezoning process could take six months to a year at the Planning Commission, and if the shelter ultimately goes through, construction is not likely to begin before 2015.

Until then, shelter options in Bayview-Hunters Point will stay slim. There is no single adult shelter with beds in the neighborhood. The closest thing is Providence Baptist Church at 1601 McKinnon. There, staff lay out mats on the gym floor each night.

“In Bayview-Hunters Point, that’s it. Providence is the shelter,” said Nick Kimura, shelter client advocate with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness.

In Mayor Ed Lee’s 2013 State of the City address, he said he was “proud to support” efforts to expand services for the homeless in Bayview—specifically “Sup. Cohen’s effort, aided by a federal grant — to build a new 100-bed shelter”

The only problem: that was the first Cohen said she had heard of it.

“My first concern was how the proposal came about,” Cohen told us. “I wasn’t made aware of it until it was announced.”



After Lee’s announcement, there were two community meetings, one in March at the police station and one in April at the YMCA. The idea gained support from the Southeast Community Facility Commission and the San Francisco branch of the NAACP.

A wave of opposition also grew, including the neighborhood organization Bayview Residents Improving Their Environment (BRITE), and a handful of businesses led by David Eisenberg, president of Micro-Tracers, a food testing company next door to Mother Brown’s.

On July 16, Cohen herself came out against the shelter. Cohen said her decision came after “meeting with residents about their concerns and fears.”

Neighborhood residents are a shifting demographic. The African American population has declined by 10 percent since Mother Brown’s was founded in 2001. The Asian population increased slightly in the same time period, and the white population has more than doubled.

Homelessness in the neighborhood has also increased. According to the city’s biannual homeless count, the number hovered around 400 until January 2011, when the number jumped to 1,151. It had 1,278 homeless people in 2013.

After Cohen declared her opposition, the meetings went back behind closed doors. In September, David Curto, director of contracts at the HSA, said that “[city homeless czar] Bevan Dufty and other folks in the Mayor’s Office are trying to revive it.” On Oct. 9, Lee met with a group of neighbors. And on Oct 30, the shelter proposal made its public reappearance.

Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee heard the issue. They were tasked with voting on whether to accept the EHAP loan, a question that would be put to the Board of Supervisors if it passed.

Out in the gallery, the two sides sat divided down the aisle like squabbling families at a wedding. House left were the shelter’s supporters, a mix of residents and community leaders and staff of Mother Brown’s and their clients, some with their shoes pulled on only half way over feet swollen from sleeping in their chairs. On the right, BRITE members, an ad hoc group called Protect MLK Pool and Playground, Eisenberg, and other community members in opposition.

The shelter became a vehicle for a debate about larger changes in Bayview. BRITE member David Armagnac saw no need for shelter beds in the neighborhood that he has “seen transform and emerge into an ever-increasing vibrant area.” Bayview business owner Carla Eagleton wanted economic and quality of life impact reports on the proposed shelters “as it relates to the city’s only remaining blue collar industrial area, MLK Park, surrounding neighborhoods and the Third Street corridor, which the city of San Francisco has spent billions of dollars to revitalize.”

Meanwhile, resident Sandy Thompson testified that “for you guys to move in and make yourself comfortable,” many of her neighbors have been displaced. “Make the homeless comfortable, just like you guys are making yourself comfortable, because they need a place too,” Thompson said.

A client of Mother Brown’s talked about being homeless in the neighborhood her family had been in for generations. “My grandparents are the ones that migrated from the south, that came up here to work on those shipyards,” she said. “Think about that parent who is working at McDonalds, or working a low, minimum-wage job. They can’t afford the new housing that’s coming in, that’s being developed. Yes, we love it. We love to look at the property that we cannot live in.”

Both sides made passionate pleas, but shelter supporters won over the Budget and Finance Committee.

“It’s very rare that I get moved from hearing public comment. I hear a lot of public comment, and sometimes I feel like my heart is hardened to everything. But not today,” Avalos said.

Farrell agreed: “It’s rare that you get touched here, because we do hear so much public comment all the time. And the personal stories are pretty incredible.”



Inside Mother Brown’s cool blue walls, there’s no shortage of incredible personal stories. Lonnel McCall took a break from helping to cook dinner at Mother Brown’s kitchen to describe what the place has meant for him.

“I didn’t have nothing, not even ambitions. I felt I was a loser. I had no self-esteem,” he remembers. “I was smoking crack under the bridge and all that stuff.”

He now has a job as a hotel chef and lives in a HOPE House home. He rolled up his sleeves to reveal cuts and burns, the battle scars of a chef.

“These are my cook wounds,” he said, “instead of dope wounds.”

But for a period, McCall slept in the chairs. “It’s hard. Your ankles swell up,” he said.

Wade Verdun also slept in the chairs and went through HOPE House.

“I’ve got my own place now, got my own car. I’m no longer on drugs. And I’ve got a two-year-old son,” Verdun said. “This place saved my life, to tell you the truth.” Smiling, he patted his belly. “I’ve never been this fat. Trust me.”

If the shelter does get built, Westbrook hopes, it can lead to more happy endings like McCall’s and Verdun’s.There are already too many sad stories.

On Dec. 19, candles lit the dusk on the steps of City Hall in a vigil for the homeless people who have died in San Francisco. The vigil was organized by Night Ministry, a crisis intervention and counseling service that operates in the Tenderloin from 10pm to 4am. Reverend Lyle Beckman, director of Night Ministry, said that he got the names of 22 deceased homeless people from the Department of Public Health, but knew it was low. During the vigil, attendants came forward with the names of more dead, until the number reached 100.

Beckman said the crisis line gets busy this time of year. “We always see more conversations around holiday time,” he said. “When people have memories of it being a family time and then they’re not connected with their family in some way, it can bring isolation and loneliness.”

In a city of chosen families, Mother Brown’s “children” have found a way to heal that kind of loneliness. Perhaps McCall put it best when he described the first time he came back to his native Bayview and found Mother Brown’s after decades of isolation.

“When I came in through the door — this is God’s truth — I felt like I was at home,” he said. Soon, people like McCall may find a bed, too, when they walk through that door. Maybe for Christmas 2015.

Betting on Graton



The route to Wine Country was chock-full of gamblers on Nov. 5. They came in cars and limos. And they came on buses, just like hundreds of San Franciscans do every evening, many of them older Asian and Latino immigrants hoping to win big — or at least enjoy a diversion and a few free drinks.

But this day was a little different. It was the grand opening of Graton Resort & Casino, which is closer to San Francisco than the other casinos, both in distance and in its pro-labor progressive values.

Normally, Northern California tribes and even Harrah’s in Reno pay private bus companies to bring Bay Area customers to their doors. Graton hasn’t contracted these services yet, but the buses came anyway.

“Graton’s not paying us,” said Rocio Medrano, coordinator at Kenny Express, which planned to send three buses from Mission and 15th streets — where buses to various casinos line up every evening — to the opening. “But we had to go. Everyone was so excited.”

FADA Tours, which leaves from Kearny and Sacramento streets, sent six buses, every seat sold out in advance. Xin Jing Service dispatched three buses from downtown Oakland. Walter Wooden, a driver at Xin Jing, gave the same reason for the not-so-chartered bus service as Medrano: “The people want to go.”

Graton’s counting on it. California’s newest casino has steep profit projections, based largely on its proximity to the Bay Area. “Winning Just Got Closer,” Graton’s homepage screams. Next to the purple slogan, a map shows directions from San Francisco to the casino’s Rohnert Park address.

Odds are, most of the estimated 10,000 people who are swarming Graton in its opening days didn’t take home much winnings. But for a 1,300-person Native American tribe, and an Oakland-based labor union, winning really just got closer.



“Graton is very important,” said Marty Bennett, research and policy analyst at UNITE HERE Local 2850. “Now that it’s open, our organizing drive will begin soon.”

The 2,000-member local represents food service, hotel, and gaming workers, mostly in the East Bay. In a recent campaign, it organized a strike of 180 food service workers at Oakland International Airport. Its only current North Bay location is the Petaluma Sheraton, but Graton is poised to become its newest shop.

The likely unionization of Graton stems from an agreement signed in 2003 by Local 2850 and the tribal chairman who made Graton happen, Greg Sarris. The agreement guarantees card check neutrality, the union’s preferred way of organizing.

The other path to unionization is a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But these elections are generally announced months before their dates, and notoriously offer a window of time for management to harass and intimidate workers.

The difference between card check and secret ballots is “night and day,” according to Wei-Ling Huber, president of Local 2850.

“It’s not even close. In a secret ballot election that’s run by the NLRB, about 50 percent of all organizing drives include termination of organizers,” Huber said.

If Graton workers vote to unionize with a card check, it could grow Local 2850’s 2,000-person membership by more than 50 percent. Huber said that about 1,200 of Graton’s 2,200 workers have jobs that would be represented by UNITE HERE, including bartenders, servers, and cleaning staff.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Huber said. “The office is definitely abuzz.”

So is the Las Vegas office of Station Casinos. Members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria own the casino, but Station has the contract to manage it. And it’s a lucrative property. Graton is projected to bring in $300 to $400 million in its first year.

Station spokesperson Lori Nelson told us by email the company is “excited to welcome residents from the Bay Area as we invite them all out to check out the newest entertainment destination created just for them.”

Nelson emphasized that Graton is targeting Bay Area customers.

“In fact, our advertising campaign that’s been on the air and on billboards the past few weeks even reads ‘From Bay to Play in 43 Minutes,'” Nelson wrote.

That “43 minutes” can be more like a couple hours on traffic congested days such as opening day. But increased congestion aside, Graton’s location 50 miles from San Francisco is a jackpot for Station. It was also key to the leverage Sarris had when he hired Station to manage Graton, using that leverage to require a worker-friendly operation.

When Sarris was looking to hire a management company, he invited representatives from the many interested firms to his living room, pitting them against each other.

“I did create what I like to call a cock fight,” Sarris tells us.

Sarris’ conditions were audacious. He wanted full tribal control of the development board, a LEED-certified green building, and $200 million upfront. But the condition that made most companies back down, he said, was his demand for living wages and benefits right off the bat, and the option for workers to unionize once the casino opened.

“The union thing was a deal breaker for everyone else. Station even had a problem with it,” Sarris said. “But it was my way or the highway on that one.”



In Las Vegas, Culinary Union Local 226 — a UNITE HERE affiliate — has been waging a campaign against Station since 2010. Its website devoted to Station workers’ struggle includes a list of 88 instances of alleged unfair labor practices committed by Station and calls the company called “rabidly anti-union.”

But in Rohnert Park, UNITE HERE and Station have been working together.

“We’re optimistic that our relationship here can be very different,” said Huber. “I think that the tribe has had a really positive influence on bringing us together in California in a way that is not the case in Las Vegas.”

At Sarris’ urging, the casino was built with 100 percent union labor. It created about 700 jobs. And Jack Buckhorn, president of the North Bay Labor Council, said that 75 percent of people hired to build Graton were Sonoma County residents.

“These were long-term jobs. It really helped out as we’re recovering from this great recession,” Buckhorn said. “These were all really good jobs.”

That 75 percent local hire rate is impressive compared to some construction projects with similar price tags in San Francisco. After neighborhood activism, the $1.5 billion UCSF Mission Bay Hospital has maintained a rate of 20 percent local hire. And the Golden State Warriors have been praised for its promise of 25 percent local hire for construction of its proposed arena on Piers 30-32.

Sarris says that his commitment to good working conditions at Graton is rooted in history.

“I believe in dignity in the workplace,” Sarris said. “Let’s not forget the way we labored in kitchens and fields with low wages and no benefits.”

Workers’ rights are just one part of the vision Graton’s tribal council has for the casino, which also includes a bevy of social programs, more than $25 million annually for parks and open spaces in Sonoma County, and an organic farm.

“We see Graton as a means to an end,” said Joanne Campbell, a 12-year tribal council member.

With Graton’s opening, Sarris isn’t just the leader of a tribe that’s about to get rich. He has influence in Sonoma County, and he says he intends to use it to fight injustice.

The Oct. 22 death of 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy Andy Lopez at the hands of Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus sparked weeks of protests in Santa Rosa, including a march Oct. 29 attended by hundreds from the East Bay and San Francisco.

“There was a 13-year old boy who was just shot up here. We now have the power to put people in and out of office, and we will,” Sarris said in a conversation last week. He declined to specify which officials might be a target of such a campaign, but said that “it’s not just police and sheriffs, it’s elected officials.”

“We can elect a spotted Chihuahua into office if we want,” Sarris said. “Look at all the money we’re going to have.”



Sarris reiterated those ideas at a Nov. 3 meeting of the North Bay Organizing Project that was focused on Lopez. He then presented Lopez’s family with a check for $8,000.

“From day one, the only reason I got into it is to create something here that will benefit Indian and non-Indian alike,” Sarris said. “I’m especially concerned about people of color.”

After the genocide of Native Americans and centuries of oppression that followed, getting wealth back into indigenous communities is a complicated task. And with Graton, Sarris may achieve it for a tribe made up of descendants of those who first populated Novato, Marshall, Tomales, San Rafael, Petaluma, Bodega, and Sebastopol.

“It’s Thanksgiving again. But this time, we’re keeping the turkey,” Sarris said. “We’ll share it, but we’re keeping it.”

The people slogging up 101 this week were financing more than a glitzy new casino. Graton’s profits could fund serious progressive causes in Sonoma County. But first, its Bay Area customers will need to empty their pockets.

Someone has to lose for the house to win. Which demographics will most frequent Graton remains to be seen. One indication could be the clientele of Kenny Express.

“The seniors that are retired, they go on a daily basis. We also have people who work during the day and take the bus at night,” Medrano said. “They’re mostly Filipino, Hispanic, Chinese.”

Women complain about F.X. Crowley’s union


Four women filed National Labor Relations Board complaints and one of them filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination against a union run by supervisorial candidate F.X. Crowley, public records show.

Many of their charges were dismissed, but in at five instances, the complaints ended in settlements — and some involved substantial payments to the women.

The union, Local 16 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts, has never admitted to gender discrimination.

Four settlement agreements that occurred while Crowley, a candidate in District 7, was the union’s business agent contain confidentiality clauses. But details of a lawsuit settled in 2008 are public — and the records show that the plaintiff, Sandy Reed, accepted $500,000 to settle claims of gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and disability discrimination.

Crowley says that the accusations of discrimination are completely untrue. When we asked if gender discrimination went on at Local 16 under his leadership, he replied, “absolutely not.”

“Local 16 has never admitted that there’s been any discrimination at the union hall,” said William Sokol, an attorney for the union. “The union is steadfast that there has been absolutely no discrimination.”


Reed works in craft service, catering film shoots. Since 1989, she worked regularly on sets that were organized by the union and protected by a union contract. She even paid the union 3.5 percent of her earnings in “work fees.”

But some craft-service jobs required union membership, and when she tried to become a union member, Reed alleged in her suit, she ran into problems. She was informed that applicants needed to take a three-year apprenticeship class — and then told that the classes were full, year after year. Meanwhile, male friends and colleagues, doing what she saw as similar work, were brought in as “auxiliary members,” a process by which workers can bypass the apprenticeship program and become members, she claimed in her suit.

In 2001, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, asking what recourse she could take for what she perceived as discrimination based on gender and disability.

The EEOC made a determination in her favor, and in 2003, Reed sued Local 16, its president Richard Putz, and Crowley. Reed settled in 2008, after the case went before labor arbitrator Gerald McKay.

In his findings, McKay wrote: “The Union’s arbitrary standards provided the opportunity for the Plaintiff to claim that the reason for her denial was based on her status as a woman. Whether it is true or not true, the Union has forfeited its defense by not having any objective or transparent criteria against which one could measure the Plaintiff to see whether she is being rejected for reasons other than her status as a woman. The Plaintiff’s evidence is sufficiently strong to conclude that it is quite possible that she was discriminated against in her request for membership because of her status as a woman. What the Union has failed to do is to rebut that assertion by objective evidence that there were other reasons for her rejection. The Arbitrator is persuaded that the Plaintiff was the victim of discrimination because of her status as a woman.”

But charges aimed specifically at Crowley and Richard Putz, the union’s president, were dismissed. The two had allegedly facilitated the discrimination.

We asked Sokol about Reed’s case. “I don’t think Sandy Reed’s case was about gender discrimination at all,” he said. “That may be her retrospective point of view on that. That sure wasn’t what the case was about at the time.”


Charlotte Laughon’s story, as she tells it, followed a similar path — she told us she was prevented from joining the union, and retaliated against when she took legal roads in an attempt to rectify the situation.

Laughon and two other women, Victoria Lewis and Laura Chariton, filed a joint National Labor Relations Board charge in 1998.

Chariton declined to comment for this story.

“We just wanted to be able to join the union,” Laughon told us. “I want to work in my chosen field.”

The case was settled in 2000.

In the settlement agreement, Local 16 agreed to pay the women damages. The settlement also stipulated that they be permitted to join the union.

But when they joined, Laughon and Lewis say, they didn’t get as much work as they wanted. They described it as being “blackballed.”

At Local 16, members call in when they are free to work to be added to referral lists. Producers and directors sometimes call the union for availability lists and referrals of workers, although producers and directors also use other methods to find crews.

The women say that their names weren’t being added to referral lists that the union made available to employers. Laughon says she called every week to ask to be added to the list, as well as asking for copies of the list to check if her name was on them.

Laughon said she could not recall how many EEOC and NLRB charges she filed during that time, but there were many.

Three of those charges were consolidated in July 2005, and the next year, Laughon and the union had reached another settlement agreement. It was ordered that the union furnish Laughon with back pay and send her documents detailing who was on referral lists and other information about several films that had recently been shot in San Francisco.

Crowley said that the union only settled to save money, and that he believes if the cases had gone to court, the union would have won.

Local 16 has also sued Laughon. After the 2000 settlement, the union claimed, she breached the confidentiality agreement.

“Following a resolution between the union and a member of the union, the member breached the terms of the settlement which ultimately resolved in arbitration proceeding and federal court proceeding. The union has a judgment against her in the six figure range,” said Kristina Hillman, an attorney with Weinberg, Roger, and Rosenfeld, the firm that represents Local 16.

Hillman added that “The union is hopeful that she would be gainfully employed,” because she could then pay the money she owes Local 16.

Laughon admitted that she hasn’t paid the judgment. She denies breaching the contract, and told us the case against her had been dismissed.

Crowley said that he is named on these settlements simply because of his role as business manager, and that it has no bearing on his connection to any gender discrimination that may have taken place.

“I wasn’t sued as anything else other than the head of the local. I’m responsible for taking care of those things,” Crowley told us. Dealing with complaints like these is not uncommon, Crowley said, “When you’re the head of an organization.

“I have a track record of advancing woman in my industry,” Crowley told us. “As business manager for the stagehands, I promoted and mentored several woman to our Executive Board including the four woman who currently serve. I am also proud that I identified and recommended to the SF Opera its first female property master.

“I feel that someone’s doing this to make me look bad when all I’ve done is the best I could.”




Culture as a weapon: poetry and storytelling SOUL School of Unity and Liberation, 1904 Franklin Suite 904, Oakl; www.schoolofunityandliberation.org, RSVP at info@schoolofunityandliberation.org. 6:30pm, $5-25. The second in a three-part series exploring how art and culture can be a form of political resistance. At this workshop, learn from poet, writer, artist and organizer Erika Vivianna Céspedes about writing that helps build movements. RSVP is required, and if you can’t get into this one, try their next event in the series, an activist printmaking workshop on Oct. 25.

Fall of the I-Hotel film screening New Nothing Cinema, 16 Sherman, SF; newnothing.wordpress.com. 8pm, free. A screening of a film depicting the historic struggle between residents and supporters of the International Hotel and the landlords that wanted it razed and turned into a parking lot. After massive neighborhood “revitalization,” the I-Hotel was one of the last remnants of the once-lively Manilatown neighborhood. See how residents fought for it at a screening presenting by Shaping San Francisco, New Nothing Cinema, and the CIIS Anthropology and Social Change Department.


Say goodbye to condoms as evidence Jane Warner Plaza, 401 Castro, SF; www.tinyurl.com/condommarch. 6-8pm, free. As we reported this week, SFPD has decided to temporarily end the controversial practice of using possession of condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. For a three to six month trial period, condoms will not be seized or photographed if a cop thinks someone might be a sex worker. A group that was planning to march in opposition to the practice will now march in celebration of the decision, and to urge the city to make the trial period permanent.

Disobeying with great love Powell Street Bart station, Powell and Market, SF; www.tinyurl.com/disobeylove. 6pm, free. A flash mob meditation in the middle of the Disneyland-like shopping district. What better way to relax amongst the chaos?


Op Trapwire Department of Homeland Security, 560 Golden Gate Ave, #36127, SF. WikiLeaks let loose information about Trapwire, the now-notorious company that uses surveillance and tracking to monitor people’s movements and aggregate them into patterns. It does this with a network of security cameras across the country, government and law enforcement uses its information, and the whole thing may be illegal. Some Occupy types have called for a national day of action against surveillance on Oct. 20, and San Francisco is joining in.

Picket Mi Pueblo market Mi Pueblo Mercado1630 High, Oakl; dignityandresistance@gmail.com. 1-4pm, free. Mi Pueblo Market is a successful and beloved grocery store chain. Workers were upset to learn that the company signed up to participate in E-Verify, a voluntary program that tracks the immigration status of all new hires. Managers say that the decision was made after serious pressure from ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. Workers and community supporters will picket the store in protest of the new policy.


Amy Goodman speaks First congregational church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison, Oakl; www.kpfa.org/events. 7pm, $15 in advance. Amy Goodman co founded Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report in 1996. Since then, she has consistently brought progressive, hard hitting reporting to television screens and radios, authored a few books, and established herself as a distinctive voice in journalism. She’s also a kick ass speaker. Come hear her share her wisdom at a benefit for KPFA radio, where she’ll be speaking on “The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope”


Tasers forum Hamilton Recreation Center, 1900 Geary, SF; www.tinyurl.com/taserforums. 5pm, free. The SFPD has called a public forum to discuss the possible introduction of tasers into the police arsenal. Come to share your thoughts on the idea. And if you want to hear more, show up a half hour early for a community-led forum. “This summer, ACLU delivered a report of 532 documented Taser related deaths in the US since 2001, but that has not stopped SF Police Chief Greg Suhr from pushing the fourth attempt to spend several million dollars to equip SFPD with these deadly weapons,” say organizers.

Homes Not Jails protesters released


This article has been updated

Nineteen Homes Not Jails protesters who were arrested last night and held on felony charges of vandalism, conspiracy and burglary, many on bail as high as $325,000, have been released.

Their charges have not been dropped. Instead, those arrested have been “discharged pending further investigation,” according to District Attorney spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman.

Friends and supporters say that they spent the day calling the office of District Attorney George Gascón, asking him to release the demonstrators.

The arrests were made during a protest marking World Homeless Day. It involved opening and entering a vacant building at 535 Castro St. The building, a commercial ground floor space and second floor apartments, has been vacant seven years. It’s owned by Les Natali, who also owns the vacant Patio Cafe next door as well as several other neighborhood properties.

Homes Not Jails has been protesting landlords who let properties lie vacant since it was founded in 1992. Many in the group were surprised with the charges leveled against those arrested last night,

“My understanding is that after 2008, these actions usually resulted in misdemeanor charges,” said longtime housing rights advocate and Castro resident Tommi Avicolli Mecca.

Mecca said he was surprised at the police response to the protest. At least 80 police officers gathered outside Dolores Park and observed a rally that took place yesterday. They then escorted the march and closed the street, lining up in riot gear, as protesters entered the building. 

“Homes Not Jails has absolutely no history of violence,” said Mecca.

Stillman said that the DA’s office could not go into details about the reasoning for the charges and bail amount, as they cases are under ongoing investigation.

World homeless day protest targets Castro landlord


In a protest marking World Homeless Day, the squatter group Homes Not Jails briefly occupied a vacant building on Castro St. tonight. Twenty were arrested.

This is the third year that the group has staged a building occupation to draw attention to buildings that lie vacant while people live on the streets.This year’s demonstration began in Dolores Park, where a group of about 50 held a rally and concert. 

The group then marched up 18th street, chanting “house keys not handcuffs” and “housing is a human right.” 

When the protest arrived at the building, on the 500 block of Castro St., activists opened the building and entered it. From the roof, protesters dropped a banner reading “Gentrification equals assimilation.”

One man who entered the building had seen the march on 18th st. and joined along the way. “I don’t believe there should be this many abandoned houses,” said the man, who identified only as Scott. “I don’t mind being homeless, though,” he added. “I like sleeping under the stars.”

Police lined up across the street and closed Castro between 18th and 19th to traffic. After about 40 minutes, they charged the building. Those on the sidewalk were pushed aside, and those inside the building were arrested. According to SFPD spokesperson Michael Andraychak, there were 20 arrests.

After more than two hours, the police reopened the street.

During that time, Andraychak said, “Several people had run into an annex in the rear. Several had gone downstairs and broke into an adjoining restaurant.” Arrestees were also being searched and processed in the building.

The city’s most recent “Homeless Point-in-Time Count and Survey” finds that there were 6,455 homeless individuals and families living in San Francisco; Homes Not Jails estimates 11,000 homeless individuals. 

In either case, as members of the group often point out, the amount of vacant housing in the city is more than enough to shelter the whole homeless population. The 2011 census finds that San Francisco has 378,261 total housing units, and 9.4 percent, or about 35,000, are vacant.  

Homes Not Jails formed in 1992 to connect these homeless people to these vacant buildings. According to one organizer, the group is “made up of squatters who live in vacant places.”

He said that today’s largely symbolic housing occupation has a purpose. “It’s the experience people have when they come into a vacant, liberated space. There’s no other feeling like that. It’s transformative.”

Last year, the group targeted the Cathedral Hill Hotel , the site of a new hospital project still riled in controversy. They also less conspicuously occupied several other nearby buildings, include the Charlie Hotel. Some of these buildings are still active squats. 

Across the street, a large crowd gathered, watching the action. 

Some neighbors supported the protest. “I think it’s fantastic,” said Jesse Oliver Sanford, who lives two doors down from the building.

Sanford said the building’s long vacancy frustrated him, and the space should instead be used for something beneficial. “You could put a nonprofit soup kitchen there,” said Sanford. “I don’t understand why we’re not providing more services for queer youth. This building is twice the size of LYRIC and just a block away.”

“If the queer history here means anything, we need to have a place with a political base. That means low income and mixed income,” Sanford continued. Instead, he said, low income people are being squeezed out of the neighorhood.  “If you lose your lease, you lose all you have” he said, mentioning that a neighbor of his had recently had his rent increased by $1,000 per month.

The building that protesters occupied, comprised of a ground floor storefront and second floor apartments, has been vacant for more than five years.

The building’s owner, Les Natali, owns several other properties in the Castro. The neighboring Patio Café, the restaurant that protesters allegedly entered, has been vacant for more than ten years. Natali also owns Toad Hall as well as Badlands, where he has come under fire for racist business practices. Natali used to own the Pendulum, “the Castro’s only African American gay bar,” before he closed it, sparking community outrage.

The buiding protesters occupied “used to be the Bakery Café,” remembered a neighbor who didn’t wish to be identified. “It was a great place to hang out and a major employer of young people. It would be great if it was a functioning business or some community benefit, and rent controlled housing on top.”

“This is at least getting a lot close to those real issues,” he said of the protest.

UPDATE: All 20 arrested are being held on charges of burglary, conspiracy and vandalism. Most have bails set at $325,000.

Fukushima controversies that the mainstream media ignores


This week, we wrote our annual analysis of the list of censored stories released by Project Censored. We wrote that “in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the US, mostly among infants.”

It’s true that the study got little attention in mainstream media, with a few exceptions including coverage in Al Jazeera. It was, however, the subject of scrutiny from multiple sources.

Sherman is a physician and former advisory board member for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxic Substances Control Act, and Mangano is an epidemiologist and public health administrator and researcher.

The debate that followed the release of their study got into important issues of the health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Both those defending and attacking the study, and the general principle of the health impacts of nuclear energy, had their say. But all this happened outside mainstream media, and in the wake of Fukushima, mainstream media has largely ignored health implications. That’s why the story was highlighted by Project Censored, which explores stories underreported by the mainstream media, in their book Censored 2013: Dispatched from the Media Revolution.

An article by Sherman and Mangano about their research was first published in June 2011 in Counterpunch, a left-leaning political newsletter. It was criticized then. Counterpunch came back with a response from their “statistical consultant” Pierre Sprey, who found that there was an increase in infant deaths, although not as stark as the increase Sherman and Mangano found. He found that the increase was amplified by including other cities in the Pacific Northwest in the set.

An updated version of the study was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of International Health Services, in December.

Sherman and Mangano came to their conclusions by comparing deaths in a set of US cities during a 28-week period during which the meltdown occurred on March 11 to the same 28-week period in 2010. They found that in the 14 weeks before March 11, deaths were up 2.34 percent in 2011, but in the period after the Fukushima disaster, they were up by 4.46 percent. They extrapolated this data and determined a “a projected 13,983 excess U.S. deaths”

Again, the study was widely criticized. One source of critique was Michael Moyer, who wrote an article in Scientific American lambasting the study. He said that the authors cherry-picked the data they used. Moyer wrote that “No attempt is made at providing systematic error estimates, or error estimates of any kind. No attempt is made to catalog any biases that may have crept into the analysis, though a cursory look finds biases a-plenty (the authors are anti-nuclear activists unaffiliated with any research institution).”

But aside from the Scientific American article and a few other instances of mainstream coverage, the critical response to Sherman and Mangano’s story was also underreported. The people who took another look at their numbers were writing for alternative press. Websites like nuclearpoweryesplease.org, whose creators are “are convinced that nuclear power is vital to securing energy production in a sustainable way until science can provide us with a truly limitless source of power.” and atomicinsights.com, written by self-described “pro-nuclear advocate” Rod Adams.

The whole incident raises interesting questions about what constitutes mainstream media and alternative media, the value of peer-review and fact-checking, and the way that corporate interests control news stories. Almost every person who weighed in on this story was likely biased in some way, from the researchers who set out to see if there was a correlation between US deaths and the Fukushima meltdown to the pro-nuclear activists who attacked their study.

The nuclear industry has plenty of mouthpieces. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group for nuclear companies, releases its own press statements. A blog associated with the NEI, neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com, has been a part of the online debunking frenzy surrounding Sherman and Mangano’s work.

Does being associated with the nuclear industry make critiques incorrect? In this situation, it seems clear that the refutations are credible.

It does make them suspicious, as the nuclear industry’s profits rely on the belief that nuclear energy is perfectly safe.

Mainstream news is supposed to serve as a credible and reliable source of information. But coverage of the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster have been mostly left up to bloggers and activists. And Sherman and Mangano’s flawed study is far from the only outcry. In Canada, concerns were raised about radiation levels in rainwater. A series of investigations into RadNet, the EPA’s radiological detection network, found that the system suffers from maintenance and reliability issues, and may have reported false low levels of radiation in the weeks following Fukushima.

In Japan, a strong protest movement insists that they and their children aren’t safe following the meltdown. The country announced plans to phase out nuclear power by 2040 following Fukushima. Strong anti-nuclear sentiment also exists in Germany, where the government has plans to phase out nuclear energy by 2022.

In the United States, the controversy over nuclear energy rages on. The nuclear industry is a powerful corporate interest, and likely has something to do with the suppression of mainstream coverage of nuclear hazards. At the same time, corporate flaks are just as capable of creating “alternative” media sources that twist stories to reflect a pro-nuclear agenda. Of course, so are anti-nuclear advocates, who may be equally willing to ignore facts to promote their agenda.
As Censored 2013 points out, that debate is largely underreported by the mainstream media. Nuclear power may not have led to 14,000 excess deaths in the US following the Fukushima disaster. But it has certainly led to a confused circus of less than reliable sources, competing to be believed as truth, while traditional credible reporting falls away.




People who get their information exclusively from mainstream media sources may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm on the left for President Barack Obama in this crucial election. But that’s probably because they weren’t exposed to the full online furor sparked by Obama’s continuation of his predecessor’s overreaching approach to national security, such as signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the indefinite detention of those accused of supporting terrorism, even US citizens.

We’ll never know how this year’s election would be different if the corporate media adequately covered the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause and many other recent attacks on civil liberties. What we can do is spread the word and support independent media sources that do cover these stories. That’s where Project Censored comes in.

Project Censored has been documenting inadequate media coverage of crucial stories since it began in 1967 at Sonoma State University. Each year, the group considers hundreds of news stories submitted by readers, evaluating their merits. Students search Lexis Nexis and other databases to see if the stories were underreported, and if so, the stories are fact-checked by professors and experts in relevant fields.

A panel of academics and journalists chooses the Top 25 stories and rates their significance. The project maintains a vast online database of underreported news stories that it has “validated” and publishes them in an annual book. Censored 2013: Dispatches from the Media Revolution will be released Oct. 30.

For the second year in row, Project Censored has grouped the Top 25 list into topical “clusters.” This year, categories include “Human cost of war and violence” and “Environment and health.” Project Censored director Mickey Huff told us the idea was to show how various undercovered stories fit together into an alternative narrative, not to say that one story was more censored than another.

“The problem when we had just the list was that it did imply a ranking,” Huff said. “It takes away from how there tends to be a pattern to the types of stories they don’t cover or underreport.”

In May, while Project Censored was working on the list, another 2012 list was issued: the Fortune 500 list of the biggest corporations, whose influence peppers the Project Censored list in a variety of ways.

Consider this year’s top Fortune 500 company: ExxonMobil. The oil company pollutes everywhere it goes, yet most stories about its environmental devastation go underreported. Weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin (58 on the Fortune list), General Dynamics (92), and Raytheon (117) are tied into stories about US prisoners in slavery conditions manufacturing parts for their weapons and the underreported war crimes in Afghanistan and Libya.

These powerful corporations work together more than most people think. In the chapter exploring the “Global 1 percent,” writers Peter Phillips and Kimberly Soeiro explain how a small number of well-connected people control the majority of the world’s wealth. In it, they use Censored story number 6, “Small network of corporations run the global economy,” to describe how a network of transnational corporations are deeply interconnected, with 147 of them controlling 40 percent of the global economy’s total wealth.

For example, Philips and Soeiro write that in one such company, BlackRock Inc., “The eighteen members of the board of directors are connected to a significant part of the world’s core financial assets. Their decisions can change empires, destroy currencies, and impoverish millions.”

Another cluster of stories, “Women and Gender, Race and Ethnicity,” notes a pattern of underreporting stories that affect a range of marginalized groups. This broad category includes only three articles, and none are listed in the top 10. The stories reveal mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons, including being denied medical care and shackled during childbirth, and the rape and sexual assault of women soldiers in the US military. The third story in the category concerns an Alabama anti-immigration bill, HB56, that caused immigrants to flee Alabama in such numbers that farmers felt a dire need to “help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor.” So the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries approached the state’s Department of Corrections about making a deal where prisoners would replace the fleeing farm workers.

But with revolutionary unrest around the world, and the rise of a mass movement that connects disparate issues together into a simple, powerful class analysis — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent paradigm popularized by Occupy Wall Street — this year’s Project Censored offers an element of hope.

It’s not easy to succeed at projects that resist corporate dominance, and when it does happen, the corporate media is sometimes reluctant to cover it. Number seven on the Top 25 list is the story of how the United Nations designated 2012 the International Year of the Cooperative, recognizing the rapid growth of co-op businesses, organizations that are part-owned by all members and whose revenue is shared equitably among members. One billion people worldwide now work in co-ops.

The Year of the Cooperative is not the only good-news story discussed by Project Censored this year. In Chapter 4, Yes! Magazine‘s Sarah Van Gelder lists “12 ways the Occupy movement and other major trends have offered a foundation for a transformative future.” They include a renewed sense of “political self-respect” and fervor to organize in the United States, debunking of economic myths such as the “American dream,” and the blossoming of economic alternatives such as community land trusts, time banking, and micro-energy installations.

They also include results achieved from pressure on government, like the delay of the Keystone Pipeline project, widespread efforts to override the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the removal of dams in Washington state after decades of campaigning by Native American and environmental activists, and the enactment of single-payer healthcare in Vermont.

As Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes in the book’s foreword, “The majority of people now hold views about Western governments and the nature of power that would have made them social pariahs 10 or 20 years ago.”

Citing polls from the corporate media, Ahmed writes: “The majority are now skeptical of the Iraq War; the majority want an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan; the majority resent the banks and financial sector, and blame them for the financial crisis; most people are now aware of environmental issues, more than ever before, and despite denialist confusion promulgated by fossil fuel industries, the majority in the United States and Britain are deeply concerned about global warming; most people are wary of conventional party politics and disillusioned with the mainstream parliamentary system.”

“In other words,” he writes, “there has been a massive popular shift in public opinion toward a progressive critique of the current political economic system.”

And ultimately, it’s the public — not the president and not the corporations—that will determine the future. There may be hope after all. Here’s Project Censored’s Top 10 list for 2013:



President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his “war on terror.” But it’s President Obama who signed the 2012 NDAA, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Obama promised that “my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict” — leaving us adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise. Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the President, “in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.” The president is to be advised on this course of action by “the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, in conjunction with the National Economic Council.” Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause on Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement, but her ruling was overturned on Oct. 3, so the clause is back.



Big banks aren’t the only entities that our country has deemed “too big to fail.” But our oceans won’t be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape — overfished, acidified, warming — and describes how the destruction of the ocean’s complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water. Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the “Great Dying,” a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on earth took 30 million years to recover. In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 non-protected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that the marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.



A plume of toxic fallout floated to the US after Japan’s tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The US Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water, and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States. One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and they would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published emails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group. And in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the US, mostly among infants. Later, Mangano and Sherman updated the number to 22,000.



We know that FBI agents go into communities such as mosques, both undercover and in the guise of building relationships, quietly gathering information about individuals. This is part of an approach to finding what the FBI now considers the most likely kind of terrorists, “lone wolves.” Its strategy: “seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity,” writes Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronson. The publication, along with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, examined the results of this strategy, 508 cases classified as terrorism-related that have come before the US Department of Justice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. In 243 of these cases, an informant was involved; in 49 cases, an informant actually led the plot. And “with three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”



The Federal Reserve, the US’s quasi-private central bank, was audited for the first time in its history this year. The audit report states, “From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars… in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system.” These loans had significantly less interest and fewer conditions than the high-profile TARP bailouts, and were rife with conflicts of internet. Some examples: the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served as a board member of the New York Federal Reserve at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. William Dudley, who is now the New York Federal Reserve president, was granted a conflict of interest waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time the companies were given bailout funds. The audit was restricted to Federal Reserve lending during the financial crisis. On July 25, 2012, a bill to audit the Fed again, with fewer limitations, authored by Rep. Ron Paul, passed the House of Representatives. HR459 expected to die in the Senate, but the movement behind Paul and his calls to hold the Fed accountable, or abolish it altogether, seem to be growing.



Reporting on a study by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich didn’t make the rounds nearly enough, according to Censored 2013. They found that, of 43,060 transnational companies, 147 control 40 percent of total global wealth. The researchers also built a model visually demonstrating how the connections between companies — what it calls the “super entity” — works. Some have criticized the study, saying control of assets doesn’t equate to ownership. True, but as we clearly saw in the 2008 financial collapse, corporations are capable of mismanaging assets in their control to the detriment of their actual owners. And a largely unregulated super entity like this is vulnerable to global collapse.



Can something really be censored when it’s straight from the United Nations? According to Project Censored evaluators, the corporate media underreported the UN declaring 2012 to be the International Year of the Cooperative, based on the coop business model’s stunning growth. The UN found that, in 2012, one billion people worldwide are coop member-owners, or one in five adults over the age of 15. The largest is Spain’s Mondragon Corporation, with more than 80,000 member-owners. The UN predicts that by 2025, worker-owned coops will be the world’s fastest growing business model. Worker-owned cooperatives provide for equitable distribution of wealth, genuine connection to the workplace, and, just maybe, a brighter future for our planet.



In January 2012, the BBC “revealed” how British Special Forces agents joined and “blended in” with rebels in Libya to help topple dictator Muammar Gadaffi, a story that alternative media sources had reported a year earlier. NATO admits to bombing a pipe factory in the Libyan city of Brega that was key to the water supply system that brought tap water to 70 percent of Libyans, saying that Gadaffi was storing weapons in the factory. In Censored 2013, writer James F. Tracy makes the point that historical relations between the US and Libya were left out of mainstream news coverage of the NATO campaign; “background knowledge and historical context confirming Al-Qaeda and Western involvement in the destabilization of the Gadaffi regime are also essential for making sense of corporate news narratives depicting the Libyan operation as a popular ‘uprising.'”



On its website, the UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims that its products are “made in America.” That’s true, but they’re made in places in the US where labor laws don’t apply, with workers often paid just 23 cents an hour to be exposed to toxic materials with no legal recourse. These places are US prisons. Slavery conditions in prisons aren’t exactly news. It’s literally written into the Constitution; the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, outlaws  slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” But the article highlighted by Project Censored this year reveal the current state of prison slavery industries, and its ties to war. The majority of products manufactured by inmates are contracted to the Department of Defense. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns, and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body army, and camouflage uniforms. Of course, this is happening in the context of record high imprisonment in the US, where grossly disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos are imprisoned, and can’t vote even after they’re freed. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year’s book: “This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of US prisoners are people of color.”



HR 347, sometimes called the “criminalizing protest” or “anti-Occupy” bill, made some headlines. But concerned lawyers and other citizens worry that it could have disastrous effects for the First Amendment right to protest. Officially called the Federal Restricted Grounds Improvement Act, the law makes it a felony to “knowingly” enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in “disorderly or disruptive” conduct in or near the zones. The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be — places such as the White House, areas hosting events deemed “National Special Security Events,” or anywhere visited by the president, vice president, and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents, and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of an election); and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order. These people could be anywhere, and NSSEs have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls, and the Academy Awards. So far, it seems the only time HR 347 has kicked in is with George Clooney’s high-profile arrest outside the Sudanese embassy. Clooney ultimately was not detained without trial — information that would be almost impossible to censor — but what about the rest of us who exist outside of the mainstream media’s spotlight? A book release party will be held at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph, in Berkeley, on Nov. 3. You can listen to Huff’s radio show Friday morning at 8pm on KPFA.

City to cease using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases


The San Francisco Police Department announced today that they will stop using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases.

This will address the issue of police searching prostitution suspects for packaged condoms and wrappers. Under current city policy, police cannot confiscate condoms to be used as evidence. They can, however, photograph condoms. But recent reports form the Bay Area Reporter found that police sometimes broke the policy, and did confiscate condoms. 

The SFPD, the District Attorney, the office of the Public Defender, and the office of Sup. David Campos spoke with groups that work with sex workers in meetings that led to the new policy, which will be in place for a three to six month trial period.

Public defenders also agreed to not use lack of condoms as proof of innocence for people facing prostitution charges.

A July report from Human Rights Watch criticized San Francisco, along with New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, for using condoms as evidence. Local sex worker health clinic the St. James Infirmary has also implored the police department to stop the practice.

It discourages sex workers from carrying condoms, they say, exposing prostitutes and clients to sexually transmitted diseases

“Cops in four of the major cities that we documented in this report are stopping sex workers on the street and harassing them for carrying too many condoms, and threatening to arrest them,” said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch, in an interview about the report. “And this is a problem because it’s making sex workers less willing to carry and use condoms while they’re working.”

The Human Rights Watch report emphasized that many sex workers, as well as women and transgender people, fear carrying more than one or two condoms with them in public.

“Transgender people have terrible problems with being profiled by the police, being arrested falsely for prostitution, and just being equated with sex work in the mind of many, many police officers,” said McLemore. 

The San Francisco Department of Public Health actually distributes condoms to sex workers as part of the fight against HIV/AIDS and other STDs—and police then photograph and even take them, to use against them in court.

In 1994, city departments agreed on a similar trial period to test the policy of not confiscating condoms. After the trial period, then-District Attorney Arlo Smith declared that condoms could no longer be confiscated for use as evidence.

This trial period could lead to a similar policy change, which would permanently ban the use of condoms, physical of photographed, as evidence in prostitution cases.

Feminist vigilante gangs to march on Oakland Friday


Oakland’s last feminist vigilante gangs march was a demonstration promoting offensive feminism in response to rape, assault, and murder of “women, queers, gender rebels and allies.” It was also a birthday party.

“The first march basically came about because it was my 30th birthday,” said Lauren, one of the organizers of that march and a second feminist vigilante gangs march, which will take place in Oakland on Friday.

“I had been talking a big game about feminist vigilante gangs and calling attention to the need for people to form affinities for a long time. When I was asked what I wanted for my 30th birthday I said, I want a feminist vigilante gangs march, as a joke. But people were into it.”

Last time, a group, equipped with and radical queer and feminist literature, banners, and glitter, marched from the “fake neighborhood” of uptown Oakland to downtown Oakland, Lauren said, ending with a dance party in “Oscar Grant Plaza,” Occupy Oakland’s longtime home base outside City Hall.

Along the way, organizers “stopped at some places to talk about things have had happened there,” said Lauren. “For instance, the place where Brandy Martell was killed.”

Brandy Martell was transgender woman who was shot April 29. Her murder remains unsolved. Martell’s is a “a high-profile case of transgender bashing. She died, and so we know about. But these types of things happen everyday on the streets in Oakland,” said Lauren.

The next feminist vigilante gangs march begins Friday at 7pm from 19th and Telegraph. It will also stop at the spot where Martell was killed, as well as other spots where queer bashing, rape and assault have taken place.

Lauren says the march is a few things. It’s a call-out “encouraging women, queers, gender outlaws in the Bay Area to start thinking offensively about the abuse that we’re on the receiving end of.”

It’s also “a way for us to practice discipline in the streets. Because we live in a culture that’s so abusive towards women, queers, gender variant people, its really hard for us to form affinities.”

The group plans for a tightly organized march. A security team and a league of bike scouts to protect the march have already begun training, and before the march begins a generalized security training is planned. Anyone who arrived alone will be given the chance to hook up with a marching buddy. Street medics and “emotional medics” from the Occupy Oakland safer spaces working group– “people who have some training to interact with people who are experiencing PTSD or who are experiencing emotions that are making it difficult for them to participate”– will be on hand.

“We have a bloc that is set up for people with limited mobility, that’s wheelchair users, cane users, people using walkers,” Lauren said.

Community self-defense

Organizers of the march hope that its spirit and practice of community building and self-defense can extend to the everyday lives of participants.

One way is by connecting demonstrators “with the resources to begin things like self-defense training, especially in a feminist and collective environment,” Lauren said. Groups like the Offensive Feminist Project, the Suigetsukan Dojo, and Girl Army.

“Something that we should be creating in marginalized communities is community self-defense. That’s something that the Black Panthers worked on. It’s not a new concept, in Oakland we have a lot of history with that,” said Lauren.

Community self-defense, of course, is supposed to be unnecessary; crime prevention and retribution is supposed to be relegated to the police and the criminal justice system. But Lauren said that these institutions are not working.

“I don’t believe that the criminal justice system is just, or serving anyone. And I think that’s a perspective shared by the people who are organizing the march, and probably by most of the people who will attend it,” she said. “I say this as someone who’s watched the police interrogate a rape victim and– interrogate is the correct word. There’s no justice in the criminal justice system for victims of rape and assault. So we want to talk about extra-legal methods of dealing with these issues.”

Extra-legal means of dealing with violence, she says, is “what feminist vigilante gangs is all about.”

After the march, organizers plan to continue this conversation at “a series of plenaries and salons in the East Bay” where participants will discuss questions like “What does feminist vigilantism look like?” Lauren said.

“As these conversations continue we will be spending a lot of time focusing on issues like race, and things like the history in the United States of falsely accusing men of color of assaulting white women so that they can be imprisoned or abused or killed,” Lauren said.

The group also has an open call for entries for a feminist vigilante gangs zine, for those who want to continue the discussion on paper. “People have been writing about bashing back. The Bash Back book Queer Ultraviolence just came out this year,” she noted.

Still, many people have not been exposed to the ideas and practices behind the feminist vigilante gangs march. On Friday, a lot of people will be– the march will coincide with Art Murmur, and downtown Oakland’s streets will already be crowded. A contingent from GLITUR, aka the Grand Legion of Incendiary and Tenacious Unicorn Revolutionaries, is coming down from Seattle. This march might get big.

But never fear, Lauren assured: “We should have enough glitter bandanas for everyone who comes.”

Fierce, forceful, amazing: remembering Robyn Few


Robyn Few, innovative sex worker revolutionary and a part of the soul of San Francisco, passed away Sept. 13. 

Robyn was a mother, a grandmother, and a wife. She was a leader. She died in her hometown of Paducah, KY after a long battle with cancer.

Robyn ran away from home when she was 13, and started survival sex. When she was 18, she became a legal sex worker. In a 2008 interview, Robyn remembered how much she loved stripping: “I loved it so much; it was so empowering to be able to get up on the stage…I came alive, and for me being paid to dance and to show my body [that] I was so proud of anyway…it was just an amazing experience.” She worked in massage parlors, as an escort, in an illegal brothel. She got married and had a child. After her divorce, Robyn moved to San Francisco.

Here, she got immersed in activism to legalize marijuana, and continued to do sex work, although she wasn’t out about it to most people she knew. But when she was arrested in 2001 in a nationwide sting, she couldn’t hide it anymore.

“When I was arrested, of course, everybody found out about me, and they treated me differently. They absolutely treated me differently. And here I was, the same person before I was arrested as I was after. I mean nothing had changed about me. Yet I was treated differently because people thought that I shouldn’t be a sex worker. So that made me very angry. And I became a major activist,” Robyn remembers in the 2008 interview. “Just because you’re a sex worker doesn’t mean you’re not a great community citizen. And that’s what I proved. And once I proved that, people began to trust me. And being a sex worker wasn’t so bad for them.”

After her arrest, Robyn remained dedicated to marijuana activism and dove into sex workers’ rights activism. She founded the Sex Workers Outreach Project, which now has chapters all over the US and around the globe. She helped create the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, observed annually on Dec. 17. She spearheaded campaigns to decriminalize prostitution in Berkeley, Measure Q, and San Francisco, Prop. K. She consulted with members of the New Zealand Parliament during a successful bid to decriminalize prostitution there. 

Yesterday, a loving ceremony in honor of Robyn took place outside City Hall, and people from throughout her family and community shared their memories of her. Here are some of the stories.

“Robyn was one of the only people I’ve ever met to turn every party into a political rally and every political rally into a party.” 

“She always brought whores to the stoners and pot to the hookers. And as you can imagine both parties very much appreciated the matchmaking.” 

“She was fierce, forceful, amazing.”

“My mom was a really amazing person, and I will always miss her so much…She was so vibrant and amazing. She always was ready to do whatever she could. She was just an amazing person, and I will miss her.”

“The one thing that Robyn blows me away with more than anyone else on this planet is her ability to love absolutely anyone. Somebody a long time ago told me that the sign of a good sex worker is to be able to love absolutely anyone. And Robyn had that down more than anyone else. I have never seen someone give the same respect to every single human being she met. She had a light that shone through her eyes. She was an angle on the planet, and we’re all very, very blessed to have known her.”

“We were having a panel on coming out, should you or shouldn’t you. And she stood up and she proudly said, ‘I’m a whore!’ and I was just so shocked. And she just started screaming, ‘I’m a whore, and I’m proud! I’m a whore!’ It looked like she had just gone through chemo. And I was just so shocked and touched by her….In honor of Robyn, I would like to stand on the steps of City Hall today and declare my whoreness! There’s nothing to be ashamed of. And she was really inspiring. She was a really inspiring person.”

“She taught me so much, especially about the power of people of color in activist movements.”

“I first met Robyn because she was one of the original bitches of ASA (Americans for Sex Access). That’s what they called us, because all the drug policy groups were mostly men. And they were all very single-issue.”

“I, like a lot of educated women, like we like to call ourselves, thought I was a feminist until I met Robyn Few. Then I realized how full of shit I was. I always thought, well, sex work is exploitative right?… Violence against women is constantly tolerated and legitimized by the whole idea that what somebody chooses to do with their body- right, pro-choice- that what somebody chooses to do with their body is the purveyance of the state. Why do you think that the state should be able to tell you what you should do with your body?”

“I grew up in a very conservative place in Idaho, and Robyn has had a huge impact on my life, in just a mindset of things. And the biggest thing that I’ve learned from her is that all my preconceived notions about the way people should behave and the way things should be have been learned. And they can be learned again, or unlearned.”

“I had been arrested for prostitution, and because I was also a teacher at Berkeley High, it made the national news…. Even though I really just wanted to wear a big, enormous hat, huge glasses, and sneak in and out of court to avoid the whole thing…the activist in me said, OK, well the fucking cameras are on me, and they’re wanting to talk to me, so I need to say something and make use of this opportunity….so my life’s falling apart, I’m never going to be able to teach again. I can’t work because my clients are afraid to come see me, I’m all over the fucking news. I’m totally depressed…and Robyn! Every time I see Robyn she’s like, we’re going to take it to the Supreme Court! Because it was right after Lawrence vs. Texas had settled in the Supreme Court. So Robyn was like, the precedent’s been set, the language is there, we’re going to go for it, this is the case!…Robyn was just so happy. She was so supportive, so happy and so fun. She had sign making parties for my press conference, and every time I saw her she was so happy. OK, but here’s the thing. I eventually found out that she was in the middle of her own court case, a federal case, where she was facing time in prison, and didn’t know yet if she was going to prison. Her sentencing hearing was coming up….And here she is, she’s just this ray of sunshine and positive energy, and so happy and buoyant and supportive. And she never mentioned that she was possibly going to be going to prison for her own case.”

 “As you all know, her laugh is one to treasure, and  her charisma pulls in strangers….When Robyn and I talked about her opting out [of continuing treatment], it wasn’t a gamble on life. It was to choose an end to life, filled with travel and friends and love rather than life’s end governed and shaped by treatment and sterile institutions.”

“She was proud of her whore sisterhood, pleased with what had been accomplished, and confident that the younger SWOP members would continue what she started.”

“She’s created a whole movement. And her tenacity and her drive and her fight and her inspiration is so contagious. It was so contagious.”

“I dedicated a good month trying to help Prop. K pass. And so the day that the decision was going to come down, she rented a limo regardless. She was like, I’m renting a limo, we’re going to party, it’s going to be great. And then I’m hoping, hoping, hoping, I’m all come on Prop. K. We’ve worked so hard on this. Blood, sweat and tears, blood, sweat and tears. And then we hear on the radio the result. And I’m about to cry, and here’s the miracle part. Robyn Few jumps out the top of the limo and she’s all, ‘Yeah! 41.2 percent motherfuckers!’ And that is the miracle mindset…because you did lose the proposition but we won so much….we didn’t lose anything, we gained.”

“Robyn Few died on the same day as one of my other favorite activists, Tupac Shakur. On September 13. And people still remember Tupac’s legacy. And there’s certain activists like that, like Robyn, like Bob Marley. They’re all pot smokers. And I just feel really, really fortunate to have met her, because she is a special activist.”

Robyn Few will be missed.

Workers celebrate launch of wage theft task force


San Francisco’s wage theft task force, approved in June, had its first meeting today.

The wage theft task force formed to strengthen the city response to workers exploited by wage theft, which can include non-payment of the minimum wage or of hours worked, non-payment of overtime, illegal deductions from worker paychecks, or failure to pay a worker at all.

The group is made up of workers’ rights advocates and government leaders at labor law enforcement agencies, as well as workers and employers. They plan to meet monthly and to release a report in one year with recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for legislation to continue to combat wage theft.

They were also joined by Dolores Huerta at an announcement today celebrating the first meeting. Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with César Chávez and has led a life dedicated to ending exploitation of workers. Wage theft, she said, “is not something that only affects workers.”

It hurts employers, she said, by putting “honest employers at a disadvantage.” And “the government loses too,” in the form of dollars lost for social security, unemployment insurance, and other government services funded by taxes on wages paid to employees.

Many workers are reluctant to speak out when they are denied pay, fearing retaliation or losing their jobs.

“When you are living paycheck to paycheck, if you lose your job, your whole family is going to suffer,” said Huerta.

Despite these obstacles, workers have come forward for years to expose the widespread problem.

One such worker, Afredil Colindies, was present at today’s announcement. “I was working seven days a week with no breaks. Sometimes I would get paid, sometimes I would go through extended periods without getting paid,” said Colindies. “When the café where he worked went out of busines, he said, “I still had unpaid wages.”

“The reason we in City Hall finally realized how big a problem this is, is that they had the courage to come forward” said Sup. Campos who helped create the task force alongside Sup. Eric Mar.

“Although the governor has vetoed the domestic workers bill of rights, we are still moving forward for workers here in San Francisco” said Mar.

About 50 workers were in the room celebrating the launch of the task force, the result of years of work from groups like the Progressive Workers Alliance- a coalition of the Chinese Progressiave Association, Young Workers United, the Filipino Community Center and others. The room broke into an energetic chant of “si se puede,” the rallying cry of United Farm Workers, as the announcement ended.

“What starts in San Francisco goes through California, then all across the country” said Huerta.

Tonight, a film that will change how you see mental illness


What does it mean to be mentally ill? Mentally well? If a person feels debilitating rage and sadness faced with the realities of the world around them, does the problem lie with the person or with society? What exactly needs fixing?

These are some of the questions raised by Crooked Beauty, a 30-minute film that originated in San Francisco and has been translated and distributed internationally.

Filmmaker Ken Paul Rosenthal will screen Crooked Beauty tonight, along with other footage from his ongoing work exploring alternative ways of seeing mental health.The screening is part of the 10-year anniversary celebration of the Icarus Project, a network of support groups, discussion forums, writers and artists, challening the definition of mental health. In their own words, the Icarus Project “envisions a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences of ‘mental illness’ rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework.”

It was some of that new language, lines in a book Rosenthal found lying around his Mission Distrtict apartment one day, that first inspired Crooked Beauty.

“The world seemed to hit me so much harder and fill me so much fuller than anyone else I knew,” the lines read. “Slanted sunlight could make me dizzy with its beauty and witnessing unkindness filled me with physical pain.”

The book was Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness: A Reader and Roadmap of Bipolar Worlds, and the writer of the words was Jacks McNamara, one of the Icarus Project’s founders.

The lines made sense to him. “They spoke so much to my experience of the world,” Rosenthal told me in an interview. “They create such a vivid image for me of relating to the world in a skewed way, as opposed to a very bright, shiny, clear way.”

He found that McNamara lived just across the Bay in Oakland “two days later I was sitting with them, talking and proposing this film.”

Rosenthal did several interviews with McNamara that he used for the film’s narrative. McNamara’s storytelling is unscripted and strikingly poetic.  Images, all shot in San Francisco by Rosenthal, illustrate the story– fog rolling in over hills, birds flocking on power lines and trees shaking in the wind as if trying to escape.

The film, Rosenthal said, is “About using [McNamara’s] crucial and critical narrative as a touchstone for the much broader issue of madness, which is not just a biochemical knot from the neck up. That madness is also a reflection of a social condition.”

As McNamara says in the film: “Saying that it is nothing but a biological brain disorder let’s everybody off the hook. Then you don’t have to look at oppression, and you don’t have to look at poverty and injustice and abuse and trauma, and makes it this situation where it’s just the individual versus his of her inevitable biological madness”

Through getting involved in the Icarus Project, Rosenpaul said, “I’ve been radicalized. But that’s not to say that I’m out on the street burning my bra. Or, you know, burning my prescription bottles.”

Instead, he makes films that explore the complexities of mental health beyond the persciption bottle, what he calls “that idea that wellness exists in a pill.”

Rosenthal’s current project, Mad Dance: A Mental Health Film Trilogy, will use archival footage from educational mental health films, which distance the viewer from the patients that need to be “fixed.”

Tonight, Rosenthal will present some of that footage along with Crooked Beauty.

“Mad Dance film screening and Icarus Project benefit”

Thu/27, 8-10pm, $5-10 suggested donation

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

Facebook invite

Mission residents connect at community meeting


Police hosted a Mission community meeting yesterday in response to the Sept. 16 death of Jesus Solis, 20, who was shot at Treat Ave and 26th St. But before the meeting could take place on its scheduled date, another shooting took place; police officers shot Oscar Barceñas, 22, Sept. 20. Barceñas has survived his injuries.

The second shooting sparked two nights of late-night demonstrations during which protesters broke the windows of banks and a local business and painted “killers” on the Mission police station.

At last night’s meeting, Police Chief Greg Suhr, district Captain Robert Moser, and district Sup. David Campos spoke to a group of more than 100, then listened as the group asked questions, commented on their experiences and made suggestions. Ricardo Garcia-Acosta, regional director of the Community Response Network, took a seat next to the city officials about halfway through the meeting to address the community as well.
Suhr said that Barceñas may have been planning to act in revenge for the death of Solis.

Many at the meeting spoke of their mourning process for Solis, known as Chuy. He had been working, employed with help from the office of Sup. David Campos, before he was killed last week.

“This individual was trying go change his life. He was going to work, we was trying to turn his life around,” Campos said during the meeting.

Long-time Mission resident Roberto Hernandez said that he has been to 50 meetings after deaths of people in the community.

“I’ve buried too many kids in this barrio,” said Hernandez.

How to help?

Some residents at the meeting called for increased police presence, and one requested mounted police at Garfield Park. Others, such as Yaron Milgram, owner of two upscale restaurants in the 24th street area, expressed a desire to be more involved in the community.

“I know that there’s been a lot of change, and I know I’m considered part of that change,” said Milgram.

Many at the meeting had suggestions of how other residents could help.

Some advocated getting to know neighbors.

“For some of you hear who are quick to call the cops, when’s the last time you went outside and said how, how are you guys doing? What are your names?” said Garcia-Acosta.

“It really hurts when you hear people ask for these youth to be pushed out of the neighbrohood,” said Susana Rojas, director of the Mission Clubhouse. “Never forget they’re somebody’s son, they’re somebody’s brother, they might be somebody’s dad.”

She said that, if residents didn’t want to talk to the kids themselves, “talk to the people that are working with them” to learn more about them. She recommended donating to local community centers like the Mission Boys and Girls Club and the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, where the meeting was held.

“A lot of the people I work with, they’re angry,” said Jae Maldonado, Community School Coordinator at Buena Vista/ Horace Mann. “The community is changing at a pace they don’t have any control over.”

Maldonado suggested that local business owners play an active role in getting resources and jobs to youth, offering Mission Pie as an example of a company that employs local youth and helps prepare employees for careers in catering or baking.

One resident, Anabelle Bolaños, decided to help set up a police and community meeting in Spanish, which she hopes can take place monthly. According to staff at the Mission Police Department, the first such meeting is tentatively scheduled to take place at some point in November. Tonight, police will host their regular community meeting at Mission Police Station meeting, which occur the last Tuesday of every month at 6pm.

Rojas also announced a “peace march,” to leave Thursday from 24th and Mission at 4pm.

Where is Occupy SF now?


On the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy San Francisco also celebrated its birthday.

Demonstrations throughout the day Sept. 17, focusing on a variety of topics, converged at 5pm at 555 California, Bank of America’s west coast headquarters. A lively march of about 600 became a street festival down the block. There, protesters stopped for a circus of birthday activities. In one corner, people saddled by debt wrote their debt information on pieces of paper, explained their situations to the crowd, and dropped the papers into a trash can for a symbolic burning. One person also burned cash. “Hell no, we won’t pay,” the crowd chanted.

A few feet over, protesters painted the street with a bright yellow sun declaring “democracy not debt.” Volunteers then fed a free meal to the hundreds in attendance and wheeled in a video screen to watch some recaps of the year’s best moments. Around 8pm, the group left as peacefully as they had come.

In the darkness, a few hundred headed east on Market. When they arrived in Justin Herman Plaza– or Bradley Manning Plaza, as Occupy SF has christened it, in honor of the whistle blowing soldier- a few police stood guard around the perimeter. Undeterred, protesters walked in, and shouts of “happy birthday” gave way to “welcome home.”

The birthday party continued with a night of music. Five tents were pitched, sleeping bags were brought out. Police vehicles carrying truckloads of barricades drove by, but police told protesters they would have to leave the park by 6am, the hour the park opens.

30 or 40 spent the night. In the morning police came back. As ukelele and drums continued to play, tents were dutifully broken down. A few went back to sleep.

Video by Eric Louie

Last fall, Occupy SF could basically be found here. The camp was at Justin Herman Plaza. The ever-expanding list of working groups sometimes met somewhere else, but Occupy was at camp. But after a series of police raids, from Oct. 5 to the raid that finally brought the camp down in December, this camp was no more.

Now, Occupy SF is found all over the place.

As longtime Occupy SF activist Vi Huynh said while celebrating the anniversary: “I think it’s good to honor these milestones because, unlike the mainstream media would have us believe, we haven’t gone away. We’re not dying either. They’re writing our obituaries, but we’re very much alive. And we’re doing things every day.”

Here’s an uncomprehensive list of active groups from Occupy in San Francisco.

101 Market. This is the old camp of Occupy, “re-occupied” in February in response to a national call. At least 30 sleep there every night, and the camp is a veritable fortress of furniture and belongings. They’re mere existence is a refusal to humor the concept of private property. General Assembly meetings occur at 101 Market Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm.

Action Council. Action Council is a forum meant to connect Occupy with unions, non-profits, and community groups. They played a big role in planning demonstrations like the Jan. 20 shutdown of the financial district and the May Day solidarity demonstrations. Action Council meets weekly, Sundays at 2pm at Unite Here headquarters, 215 Golden Gate Ave.

All Streets Yoga. Since last winter, All Streets Yoga, formerly known as Decolonize Yoga, has been transforming part of the sidewalk at the 16th and Mission BART station into a yoga studio free for all. Volunteer yoga teachers lay out rugs and lead personalized yoga sessions for anyone who chooses to join. They transform space and creating calm in the busy city landscape. Join them Fridays 5-7pm.

Community Not Commodity. Also known as Bay Occupride, this group formed to protest commercialization of the Pride Parade. On the Sept. 17 anniversary they did a march on the Castro banks and a sit-in to protest sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. CNC describes itself as “a collective assembly of queer/trans-focused community groups with established reputations in the Bay Area that have come together to strengthen and unify our diverse communities. We have come together to confront the 1% within our movement. We work for complete liberation of queer and trans people!” They meet Sundays at noon at Muddy Waters Café, 521 Valencia. See more at www.bayoccupride.com.

Direct Action working group. Direct action is a central tenant of Occupy. It means taking action to prevent something bad or create something good without permission or help of those with political power. In a 1912 essay titled Direct Action, Voltairine de Cleyre cited the Boston Tea Party as an example and wrote that “Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.” The direct action working group meets Wednesdays, 6pm, at the Redstone Building at 2940 16th Street.

Environmental Justice working group. The environmental justice working group keeps the pressure on the corporations that exploit the planet. They’ve protested hydraulic fracturing and the nuclear industry. They meet Tuesdays at 4pm at 101 Market.

Food bank of America. Occupy SF set up the first Food Bank of America to feed thousands of hungry protesters and passers-by on Jan. 20. A Market Street Bank of America branch locked its doors when volunteers set up a food table and passed out hot meals. Now, Food Bank of America continues in front of the mega-bank’s 23rd and Mission branch, where volunteers pass out produce, mostly donated from farmers’ markets, along with literature on switching to credit unions. They’re usually there Thursdays 5-6pm.

Ideological Liberation working group. This working group has produced pamphlets explaining Occupy, trading cards of especially greedy bankers, and postcards summarizing issues like the foreclosure crisis and the National Defense Authorization Act. They also created the Occupy SF Declaration. Brainstorm and write with them on Tuesdays, 7:30-9pm, at the decidedly ideologically un-liberated meeting spot of the Starbucks at 27 Drumm.

Occupy Bay Area United. Occupy Bay Area United spent the night outside 555 California on the eve of the Occupy SF anniversary, an occupation complete with tents and signs. They are “committed to non-violent direct action.” They meet on Sundays, 5-7pm, and post meeting locations on their website, www.obau.org.

Occupy Bernal. This neighborhood-based group is largely considered one of the most effective and desperately needed parts of the Occupy movement in San Francisco. Occupy Bernal is in the business of stopping foreclosures and evictions. “Since January no one we worked with has had an auction. People we work with who already had auctions, we’re stopping their evictions. We’ve stopped six of them so far. So we’re almost done with all the evictions, and we can go back to just stopping the auctions. We have 60 people in line to get loan modifications from Wells,” said Occupy Bernal organizer Buck Bagot. On the anniversary, Occupy Bernal hosted a rally highlighting the disproportionate effects of the foreclosure crisis and veterans and elderly and disabled people. “There were about 100 of us at the protest and five people, all over 80, veterans who are all at risk of losing their homes because they don’t have very much income,” said Bagot. Occupy Bernal meets 7-9pm on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center at 515 Cortland Ave. See www.occupybernal.org for more information.

Occupy Forum. Occupy Forum started up in early June in the Women’s Building, and has since moved to Justin Herman Plaza. The well-attended forums, usually around 70 people, are a time to discuss issues that concern people in Occupy. From the beginning Occupy has been said to have “no focus”– maybe that’s because those involved saw that everything from greedy banks to income inequality to homelessness to discrimination in loans to healthcare to racism to wars were all connected. The forum is a chance to focus in on a different topic every week. Check them out Mondays at 6pm at Justin Herman Plaza, at Market and Embarcadero.

Occupy the Richmond. A philosophical Occupy. If you’ve ever gotten sick of decrying problems in society and yearned to discuss creative solutions, Occupy the Richmond may be your cup of tea. A philosophical Occupy. Saturdays at 4pm, Occupy the Richmond gets together at 11th Ave. in Mountain Lake Park “to talk about what kind of society we want to organize together,” according to Occupy the Richmond participant Alex Zane. “Occupy opens up the possibility for talking about that. Otherwise, people would be stuck behind their screens freaking out about what kind of society we should organize. We should get together and talk with real, living people about how we’re supposed to reorganize our society,” said Zane.

Outreach working group. A group that spreads the word about Occupy and speaks with people and community organizations about working together. They meet Wednesdays at 7pm at One Rincon Center, also known as 121 Spear.

This article has been corrected. Bradley Manning served as a soldier in the Army, not a marine




Day of action for free Muni passes for youth Balboa BART Station, 401 Geneva Ave, SF; www.peopleorganized.org. 1:30pm, free. POWER has been working for years to get free Muni passes for youth, but the fight is not over. Come help keep the pressure on in a campaign that aims to "shift local, regional, and national mass transit priorities towards the needs of working class communities of color and to bring an analysis of race, class, and gender to bear on transportation planning decisions," starting with free Muni for youth in San Francisco.

Norman Yee happy hour Rio Grande, 1108 Market, SF; www.tinyurl.com/kim4yee. 6pm, free. Connect with some politicians at this happy hour, which District 6 Sup. Jane Kim is throwing for District 7 candidate Norman Yee. Yee is currently on the school board and hopes to represent District 7, which spans from Judah in the north to Lake Merced.


Speak-out and march for Derrick Gaines Arco gas station, 2300 Westborough Blvd., South San Francisco; Derrick Gaines was just 15 years old when he was killed on June 5, 2012 by an officer of the South San Francisco Police Department. Police approached Gaines and a friend, who they say were "looking suspicious." Police say Gaines ran away from them and drew a gun. Family and friends don’t buy it. They will meet at the site of Gaines’ death, the Arco gas station, in a continuing campaign to demand justice.

Icarus 10-year anniversary concert El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF; www.theicarusproject.net. 6pm, $5-25. The Icarus Project is celebrating a decade of redefining mental illness by "navigating the space between brilliance and madness." Learn more about the Bay Area-born group in our story "Still Soaring" (9/12/12). Join them for live music, poetry, and an open mic.


Out from the Wreckage Thrillhouse, 3422 Mission, SF; heatherwreckage.blogspot.com. "The collected, rejected, and recent works of punk artist Heather Wreckage." Her art has fueled revolutionary movements and counterculture at places like the Slingshot Collective, Occupy Oakland, and Hellarity House. Her zine, Dreams of Donuts, is on its 15th edition. Celebrate Wreckage with live music and zine bartering Saturday.

Third annual Castro nude-in Jane Warner Plaza, 17th and Castro, SF; nude-in.blogspot.com. Noon, free. It’s that time again. Come celebrate and defend the right of the Castro’s nude dudes and everyone who likes to be naked in public space. Of recent concern: cops unhappy with the public donning of cock rings. Decorated or not, nude-in organizers say, cocks should be able to fly free. So come support, nude or not- you can even dig up your Guardian butt guard from last year!

Self respect and community defense people’s forum Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakl; peopleshearing.wordpress.com. 12pm, free. Registration is at noon with events at 1, 3, and 6pm in this all-day forum on self-defense in the face of racial profiling and violence. In the wake of a report from The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that shows that "every 36 hours a black man, woman, or child is murdered by the police, private security guards, prison guards or vigilantes in the US," this forum will discuss the history and current state of racial profiling and violence and how to launch a movement of people protecting themselves and their communities.


Effective Animal Advocacy 101 371 10th St., SF; www.tinyurl.com/veg101. 1pm, free. Farm Sanctuary works to help animals by spreading the word about going vegetarian or vegan. They launch their Compassionate Communities national tour in San Francisco Sunday. Join them for a vegan lunch and workshop on "Effective Animal Advocacy 101," and be sure to pick up some leaflets explaining the merits of "going veg."


Nonprofit workers’ victory party El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF; www.tinyurl.com/seiunonprofit. 6pm, free. San Francisco nonprofit workers, represented by SEIU 1021, won a 2 percent increase in funding and prevented layoffs this year. Celebrate with the SEIU nonprofit division at El Rio, with DJ Carnita of Hard French.

Happy Birthday Occupy


Occupy celebrates its one-year anniversary Monday, and many of the groups who have gotten involved over the past year will be going all out. These groups’ goals–  including ending unjust foreclosures,  fighting displacement of queer people and homeless people, and taking back power from banks and the one percent– are a lot to achieve in one year. But they’ve made great stride. They’ll celebrate, and commit to another year of action, on Monday. 

Occupy Bernal, Occupy Noe and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment will put the pressure on banks that continue to foreclose on San Franciscans despite widespread evidence of fraud and a city resolution calling for a moratorium on foreclosures. At noon, they will hold a rally highlighting the ways that the foreclosure crisis disproportionately affects seniors, veterans and disabled people- find them at 401 Van Ness. At 3pm they will rally One Market Plaza, the officers of Fortress Investment Group board co-chair Peter Briger, infamous amongst the “foreclosure fighters” for his role in selling off distressed home mortgage debt.  

In the Castro, Community Not Commodity, the coalition that formed around an Occupride march protesting the corporate takeover of the Gay Pride Parade and continues to fight “increased rent, foreclosures and evictions, and the displacement of queer and homeless youth.”  They will meet up at 2pm at 18th and Castro for a speak-out, followed by a march on the banks at 3 and a sit-in protesting sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. 

Also at 2pm, Occupy Oakland is throwing a street party. They’ll converge at Embarcadero and Market at Justin Herman Plaza (renamed Bradley Manning Plaza by the people from Occupy San Francisco, whose encampment stood there for three months last fall.) Organizers advise: stay tuned for Oct. 10, the one-year anniversary of Occupy Oakland. 

But Occupy San Francisco didn’t start at Justin Herman Plaza. It started Sept. 17, 2011 at 555 California, outside the building that houses the Bank of America west coast headquarters along with Goldman Sachs offices. It’s there that everyone will converge at 5pm for a raucous casserole-style march with the Brass Liberation Orchestra, followed by guerilla movie screenings, food to share, and a debt burning: “bring dept papers (BYOD) to burn symbolically,” say organizers.

Can’t wait for tomorrow? Occupy SF hosts a day of poetry and speakers at Justin Herman Plaza today. The Human Be In, the unpermitted music and skillshare festival that brought hundreds to play music, teach workshops, and “transform space” in a dusty spot near Ocean Beach yesterday continues through tonight.  Occupy Bay Area United is also throwing a rally and teach–in focused on corporate greed starting outside 555 California at 7pm. 

Occupy is dead! Long live Occupy!

In the face of protest, City College moves forward with tough decisions


The City College Board of Trustees passed the college’s budget and new mission statement yesterday, as well as a proposal to request a special trustee to work with the board as they face an accreditation process and dire financial situation.

The special trustee will advise the board on decision making. But they also have the power to overrule board decisions, something opponents called an undemocratic process.

About 40 of those opponents stormed the meeting. The activists, from the Save CCSF coalition, surrounded the trustees and, when several walked out of the room, sat down at their meeting table.

“I propose that we convene the People’s Board of Trustees. All in favor, say aye,” CCSF journalism student Alex Schmaus declared with a bang of the board’s gavel.

The “People’s Board of Trustees” then passed a few proposals. They passed a proposal that “students appoint ourselves special trustee and oppose any other kind of special trustee,” and that “we stand in solidarity with the teachers’ strike in Chicago.”

The dissenters left the table voluntarily, but were briefly confronted by campus police when they continued to march, chant and hold banners inside the meeting room.

Afterwards, the Board of Trustees resumed their meeting. Trustees William Walker and Chris Jackson voted against calling the question to vote on the special trustee, citing a lack of sufficient information about the powers of the special trustee, such as details about how and when their vote would supersede board decisions and the process for firing the special trustee.

The proposal to invite a special trustee passed 6-1, with Chris Jackson voting no.

“This is a monumental step for the lack of information we have in this process,” Jackson told the board concerning his vote.


Video by Joe Fitzgerald

Tension and passion at the meeting underlined the community’s commitment to CCSF and dismay at the situation it faces. As SEIU 1021 representative Angela Thomas said during public comment, “None of us are happy. None of us.”

Save CCSF certainly isn’t happy. Many students involved had already been fighting the Student Success Act, which prioritizes those students who get through school in two years rather than those who take longer, as well as those in non-credit classes, ESL classes, and lifelong learners. Now, they fear that the accreditation process will cause City College to make cuts along similar lines.

“We are not a junior college. We are a community college,” said Shanell Williams, Associated Students president at Ocean campus.

Teachers and staff are also hurting. The 2012-2013 budget, passed at last night’s meeting, includes reductions in pay for both groups of college employees. During public comment at the board meeting, American Federation of Teachers 2121 Alisa Messer engaged the protesters in dialogue.

“Difficult decisions are coming down on us. We need to fight against them when appropriate and work with them when appropriate,” said Messer.

“The faculty of this college has voted for the pay cut at 89 percent. We did it because we love this college and we want to turn it around,” she later added.

Thomas also made comments directed at the protesters. “I see the same things you guys see,” she said. But she added that the trustees were forced into difficult decisions, and called protesters’ anger towards the board misplaced.

“I don’t have time for fighting folk that ain’t my enemy,” said Thomas.

At the meeting, the board also approved a revised mission statement. The new mission statement does not mention lifelong learning as a goal of the college, a concern for some of the public present at the meeting.

“I’m a senior who found City College towards the end of my career. We have a lot of seniors who are lifelong learners. And the mission statement just got rid of them,” said Al Yates, Vice President of the Associated Students at the Southeast campus.

One of the disagreement that permeated the meeting was the choice between working together to meet the accreditation requirements or coming together to protest and somehow resist those requirements, which many in Save CCSF say could lead to austerity measures and privatization.

Board members delayed the vote on the issue of requesting a special trustee at their last meeting after a smaller protest. They were provided with a packet of documents with information about the special trustee, but some critical questions remained unanswered.

The special trustee will advise the board on decision making. But they also have the power to overrule board decisions–to “stay and/or rescind board actions where such actions are inconsistent with the developed recovery plan, accreditation standards, and the fiscal health of the district,” according to a letter from Executive Vice Chancellor for Programs Erik Skinner.

What process and criteria define that “inconsistency” remain unclear.

“We can only go on the language that we have in the letter. We don’t have any additional or special knowledge other than what the state chancellor has told us,” said City College spokesperson Larry Kamer.

Those questions may come to the forefront as the board selects and begins to work with a special trustee.

“Now that the vote passed, its important to have an open and transparent process to select the trustee,” said Jackson after the meeting.