Posts tagged ‘homelessness’

Parenting Richmond

No, no – it’s not the children who need parenting that I’m concerned about, it’s the local government.
If you are a parent, or have ever acted as a babysitter, you will understand where this is going. You can’t have dessert until you finish your vegetables, and you can’t watch T.V. until you’ve done your chores. The #blacklivesmatter action at City Council follows the same logic. Mayor Jones and City Council can’t have football stadiums, baseball stadiums, or breweries until they finish their vegetables and chores. And as activists in Richmond have been saying for years, we need the basics taken care of here before the public boondoggles – I mean developments.
Mayor Jones’ concept of making Richmond a Tier One city is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. He and City Council seem to be continually interested in doing the fun stuff, while neglecting the hard work. Their general practices are the same thing as when your mom tells you to clean your room so you shove the mess into the closet. Well at the City Council meeting, everyone who’s tired of the mess spoke up.
A motley crew took action at the first city council meeting of 2015, presenting a list of grievances, a list of demands, and an ultimatum. The subject matter of the demands is very intersectional, including environmental, no stadium in Shockoe Bottom, public transportation, the schools, and protecting the right of the homeless to be in Monroe Park.
There has already been public reaction – why would anyone threaten the UCI International Bike Race? Trust me, it’s not because we hate bikes, or fun. It’s because we can not build a strong community or a tier one city without the items listed in the demands. And if you don’t do your chores, you get grounded. Frankly, it is surprising it has taken this long for residents of Richmond to put the Mayor and City Council on notice.
For folks who do not understand the #blacklivesmatter thing, well that’s a whole other article. But for this instance, calm down and take a gander at the list of demands. If everyone can take off their angry goggles for a minute, it is pretty easy to see how all citizens of Richmond, regardless of race will benefit from these demands being fulfilled.  Can you imagine if our schools had the funding to maintain buildings and build amazing curriculums? And if our bus systems was affordable and effective, creating more job access?
For all the grandstanding and puffery by public officials, Richmond is still in a very bad position to host a major bike race. We apparently can not currently manage our own parks, schools, buses, social services, etc. And for a bike friendly town, we aren’t that bike friendly yet. We need a better foundation in order to host awesome events, like bike races. You have to clean the house before you have company over.
To Mayor Jones and City Council, I say, get your chores finished and then let’s all enjoy a bike race come September.  You can do it.
To everyone else in Richmond, help out your buddies the Mayor and City Council. It’s always nice when your friends help with your chores so you can all hang out afterwards.
The threat of boycotting and disrupting the 2015 UCI International Road Championships is akin to your parents threatening to ground you if you misbehave. It is the kind of discipline Richmond needs to get the local politicians in line.

Let’s do this together,
Mo Karnage

Sunday Sermon – The Appropriateness of an Easter Protest

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We are having a protest at the Easter Parade on Easter in Richmond. There were of course, critics. The Easter Parade is a family event, and Easter itself is Christian holiday which celebrates the Rising of Jesus Christ from the dead. Clearly, that is some significant stuff.

However, we find the Easter Parade to be a completely appropriate setting for this type of a protest. I would go so far as to say that Jesus is/would be on our side and that we would be doing a great disservice to his message were we to not emphasize some of the incredibly salient points in Christianity which relate to current local political issues.

We are protesting against Venture Richmond (who now sponsors the Easter Parade and pushes for tax breaks while still getting more than their fair share of tax payer money), the privatization of Monroe Park by the Monroe Park Conservancy (one of whom’s members lives on the hoighty toit Monument Avenue at 1643), and the Revitalize RVA plan being pushed by Mayor Dwight Jones and Developers. What all three of these issues have in common, is that they largely benefit the rich, while deprioritizing other issues like schools, public parks, the history of the slave trade and institutional racism, poverty and the homeless.

We will again emphasize something very significant, which is the 27% poverty rate in the City of Richmond. 40% of the youth live in poverty. Richmond is a poor City, and the elected officials, corporations, and non-profits are not doing enough to help the poor and fight against all forms of oppression. Instead they are working to increase their profits, their money, and their power.

With the help of friends we have done some exploration of the bible and related texts to see what they have to say. We hope that folks at the Easter Parade and in positions of power in the City of Richmond will give these words the consideration they deserve.

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We start with the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the very telling lines, “Give us our Daily Bread and forgive us our trespasses”.

People deserve food, food is a right not a privilege. And in Monroe Park, people come for food, and they should never, ever be considered trespassers on public lands. Public parks should remain public.

This image is of a statue at Regis College, of homeless Jesus sleeping on a park bench.
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“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven” Mark 10:25

This is just one of the many statements in the Bible critiquing the rich.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” 1 John 3:17-18

We hear a lot from politicians talking about compassion for the poor or homeless, but at the end of the day we have seen very, very little. Words do not mean anything if not backed up by actions. The selfishness of many is reflected in the corporations in this City, who give only when tax deductible and consistently lobby for better deals for themselves while ignoring the poor.

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” Proverbs 14:31

Privatizing parks, ignoring or making illegal the homeless, racial profiling by police, failure to protect folks of all genders and in the lgbtqia spectrum, classism, and racism are all forms of oppression constantly and consistently occurring in Richmond. There is nothing honorable about these forms of oppression, they are contemptuous. A specific example of this in Richmond is that the Richmond Police Department goes around and finds homeless camps, and then destroys the camps and throw away all of the belongings of the people who had lives there. The Richmond Police also force people with court ordered community service to participate in this violent, dangerous, and incredibly oppressive act. Any City official who does not stop this from happening is complicit. We are all complicit.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and money” Matthew 6:24

Mayor Jones, you have to choose. Who is more important, the private developers looking to make a quick buck, or the poor?

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“They also will answer, ”Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'” Matthew 25:44-45

“Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them” Proverbs 22:22-23

And finally, a very powerful statement, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?” Isaiah 10:1-3

For a Mayor who is also a minister, the City of Richmond clearly lacks leadership who will fight oppression and show compassion to the needy. We have built a new jail for the poor and needy, but we have not built them shelters. They are planning to use tax payer money to pay the utilities for a restaurant in Monroe Park, but they could not keep the Conrad Center funded as one (actually badly conceived and executed) location to serve food to the poor. The Mayor only pushes for grocery stores in food deserts when he can also build a baseball stadium on historic slave trade sites.

Something is wrong in Richmond. We do not have to be Christians to see that the Bible itself, and especially Jesus, had a lot to say which is valid and relevant. We hope that anyone will consider these words and take the messages to heart. We need a big change in our culture.

What Would Jesus Do?

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Richmond Needs Community Not Cool

Big news for Richmond, making the Frommer’s 2014 list of 14 places to visit. I can’t muster up the enthusiasm about this that seems to be the mainstream response. 2014 is the 150th anniversary of many battles in the Civil War, and this history is one of the main reasons Richmond made the list.  Additionally restaurants and breweries and the rapids of the James are our selling points. I’m not buying.

And the part that everyone keeps repeating –  ” While you weren’t looking Richmond got cool” – really makes me mad.

I’m sorry,  but some old colonizing asshole “finding” Richmond in 1737 doesn’t make it cool, and neither does some out of town hipsters “finding” and gentrifying Richmond in 2013.

Shockoe Bottom, the controversial potential site of a bad public investment in a baseball stadium, is named from the Powhatan village which once was on this ground, Shocquohocan. And that area is full of historic sites of the slave trade which once dominated Richmond. We have history, no argument there.  We have so much history we haven’t processed it all yet.

My argument lies in the fact that Richmond’s history is completely intertwined in our present. Our history isn’t an object gathering dust in a museum for tourists to check out. Our history is a constant battle. It isn’t quaint, or past, or collectible. It’s struggle.

People who colonize ruin the things that make a place ‘cool’. Richmond has a twisted grim history and a future that is really up in the air right now. Don’t yall remember our poverty rate? How about incarcerated folks? How way too much money goes to the police? How money is spent on sports, not schools?

I mean honestly Richmond isn’t cool – its complex. If you blaze ahead with fancy lofts and art galleries while ignoring the people who live here already you will ultimately ruin everything that once drew you here. And aside from ruining the character of this place, you will cause harm to people who live here.

There is some potential for tourism or development to help alleviate suffering in Richmond. But within the context of capitalism and the institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc. that permeates our culture I don’t see how. Bringing more people or money to Richmond won’t just trickle down automatically. Any attempt at drawing in tourists ought to be working closely with community organizations to make sure that impact is a positive one for the parts of our communities which need it the most.

I think that the people of Richmond are proud of our City. But there is something not right about attempts to be proud about gastropubs and new breweries and high end retail, which aren’t things that represent most Richmonders.

Stop telling people Richmond is cool. Why? Cool is attained with privilege. And a lot of folks who live in Richmond don’t have that kind of privilege. Bringing in fast development and fancy yuppie venues won’t help Richmonders.

Its not cool to be poor, hungry, homeless, without mental health care, without healthcare, stopped and frisked by the police based on racial profiling, without work, without living wages, without good public transportation and without engaging schools. These aren’t just generic issues, they are issues Richmond faces moreso than many other places.

Richmond has a higher poverty rate than surrounding areas. 25.3% is the official poverty rate in Richmond according to the Mayor’s 2013 Anti Poverty Commission Report. So 25.3% of our citizens living in poverty, which isn’t cool. We are twice as poor as the national average, and two and half times more poor than the state wide average.

One of my strongly held personal beliefs is that my life is only as good as the lives of the people around me. It is in my best interest for my neighbors to do well. Unfortunately I think some Richmonders feel this way, but think the best way to accomplish a good life is to push out the people who aren’t doing well and replace them with people with more money.

The Fast Food Workers Strike and VCU Living Wage Campaign are just two of the many campaigns in the works to make Richmond a better place. There are community organizations on the ground, doing grassroots work to alleviate poverty and suffering, and doing battle with the oppressive institutions. They need the spotlight, they need our support because they are doing work with and as the people who live here.

Don’t come here unless you are coming to help and stand in solidarity with the struggles around these issues.

The bottomline is – I don’t want to live in a place that’s cool. I have a lot of values, and cool isn’t one of them. I’d rather live in a place I could be proud of.

 

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