Archive for August, 2007

New Orleans public housing residents and advocates take over the Housing Authority

Just got word in my inbox a while ago that public housing residents and advocates took over the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HONA) earlier today, in response to the utter dereliction of duty that HONA has shown in restoring public housing in the city. From the press release about the action:

Across the country public housing authorities are selling off land, raising rents, firing workers, and leaving countless residents with no place to live. In New Orleans more than 300,000 residents, mostly poor and black, have been denied the right to return to their homes since Katrina hit two years ago.

The Housing Authority building has been locked down and is being surrounded by the National Guard, the New Orleans Police, and Swat. Residents are determined to save their homes and to show that public housing is still a valuable community asset.

The take over of the Housing Authority of New Orleans is a part of the International Tribunal and 2nd Survivor’s Assembly, which is being organized by Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) and is being held to bring charges of racial discrimination and the denial of the right to return.

The city of New Orleans is in fact actively doing away with public housing:

New Orleans’ five public housing complexes were spared major flood damage, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Housing Authority of New Orleans intend to demolish four of them anyway, with plans for mixed-income housing that would leave less room for the poor. Before Katrina, more than 5,000 families lived in the city’s 5,100 public housing units. At present, only about 1,500 units are occupied.

Of course, this is only part of a greater, nationwide trend of neglect and reduction of public housing, further evidence of which I wrote about in July when NYC advocates demanded attention for the ailing public housing system in this city. But the specific situation in New Orleans puts the neglect and even direct targeting that low-income people and people of color have faced in New Orleans in these two years since Hurricane Katrina.

Yesterday’s episode of Democracy Now! focused on the situation in New Orleans on this second anniversary of the disaster, giving a far more incisive and honest take than most of the mainstream media’s coverage, as one might expect. Listen to the podcast or read the transcripts for a revealing and infuriating picture of what has and has not been done in the city. I haven’t gotten to listen to the last segment of the show yet, but it’s about what happened to the New Orleans public education system after the hurricane – did you know that 7,500 school employees – nearly all of the teachers in the city – were fired almost directly after the storm? I was shocked to hear that. Gotta listen to find out why that went down and what it meant.

ACTION ALERT: Support the Khalil Gibran International Academy

Monday, August 20, 6pm
NYC Department of Education
Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers Street
Between Broadway & Centre St. in Manhattan
Subways: 4, 5, 6, N, R, W, M, J, 2, 3, A, C

This is fairly short notice for this alert, but I want to really encourage folks to show up Monday afternoon for a gathering in support of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a soon-to-be-opened NYC public school that will focus on Arabic language and culture (for folks unfamiliar, many NYC public schools have foci like this, cultural or otherwise.) The school has been the subject of racist and anti-Islamic attacks from many conservative pundits and media sources, as in this NY Sun article and an edition of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes that was written up over at Media Matters. However, the school has been under especially harsh attack since Debbie Almontaser, now ex-principal of the school, came under fire from such sources for not condemning a t-shirt created by an organization that is unrelated to the school. Since then, Almontaser has resigned from her position, stating that she “became convinced yesterday that this week’s headlines were endangering the viability of Khalil Gibran International Academy, even though [she] apologized.”

The t-shirt, which reads “Intifada NYC,” was created by a NYC community organization, AWAAM: Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media. The group’s mission states that it “provides comprehensive leadership opportunities in community organizing, art and media skills to young women and girls … to empower a generation of young women with the community organizing and media skills necessary to act as leaders within their communities, which have endured increasing hardship in recent years.” On Democracy Now! last Monday, Mona Eldahry, founding director of AWAAM, said this about the t-shirt’s origin and meaning:

Now, “Intifada NYC” is not a call for terrorism, as they say. It’s not a call for violence or, if I could quote one of the publications, “Gaza Strip uprising in the Big Apple.” “Intifada NYC” is a term that, you know, we developed maybe two, three years ago in the years since September 11th. Basically, for myself — everybody interprets it differently — but for myself, I feel, as an Arab woman, as a Muslim woman and as a woman of color, pressure from two sides … on one hand, from the community discrimination — from the outside, I mean, you know, discrimination on the streets — and then from our own communities, you know, we’re told, you know, “Be careful. You know, don’t — you know, don’t go to demonstrations. Don’t be too outspoken, you know,” you know, especially when we were young …

“Intifada” means “shaking off,” you know, so shake off these pressures that we’re feeling, both from the other side and from our side. You know, we have to speak out. And if we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?

This clarification of the literal Arabic meaning of intifada is what got Debbie Almontaser into so much trouble. Essentially, both she and AWAAM are coming under fire for owning their own language and for refusing to allow it to be constrained to which others wish to limit it. A recent editorial in the New York Post gives this definition of the word: “terroristic assault and murder, undertaken by Palestinians against Jews in the Middle East.” (No mention, of course, of the terroristic assault, murder, and oppression of Palestinians by Israel.) The editorial then calls Almontaser’s explanation of the Arabic definition of intifada “malarkey.” Because apparently, the editorial staff of the New York Post deems itself more qualified to give the definition of an Arabic word than an Arab-American speaker of Arabic. And although it may be true that the word is most often associated with Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation, such a definition even leaves out the many non-violent elements of those struggles, including “civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts on Israeli products, graffiti, and barricades.”

The repression, stamping out, robbing and perversion of language and cultural identity have long been important tools of colonialism, imperialism, and racism. Right now, it is in the interest of conservatives, racists, warmongers, and anti-Islamic people to promote only those perceptions of Islam and Arabic culture that support american wars and policies of aggression and imperialism in the Arabic world, as well as the oppression of Arabic people in this country. The Khalil Gibran International School is coming under attack because it will not promote the prescribed view of Arabic history, culture, peoples and languages; it’ll actually strive for a fair and complete perspective, one which will go counter to one that props up war and oppression. The attacks themselves – calling the school a “madrassa” (another Arabic word twisted by the media and conservatives) that will serve to “groom future radicals” – continue to promote the twisted view of Arab people, assigning sinister, violent, and anti-american motives to the mere study of Arabic language and culture.

The preservation of language and culture is threatening to american hegemony, to american imperialism, and to american racism. African languages were quite literally beaten out of Africans in slavery; Native languages and culture were wiped out with their people. Today, “Welcome to America, now SPEAK ENGLISH” is a popular t-shirt slogan, Latino kids are suspended from school for speaking Spanish in the halls, and travelers are stopped from boarding planes because they’re wearing t-shirts written in Arabic:

So the security officers and the JetBlue officers at that time told me that wearing an Arabic T-shirt and coming to an airport in the US is like going to a bank while wearing a T-shirt that reads, “I am a robber.”

And a principal can be forced to resign because she makes the mistake of defining a word in her own language, instead of allowing her language to be defined for her by those who do nothing but malign her culture.

Intifada NYC, indeed – for there’s a whole lot of bullshit to be shaken off.

Donate money for Mariah Lopez’s bail

Gael Guevara, a collective member of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, is personally organizing efforts to raise money for Mariah Lopez’s bail (see the original story and more recent update.) Note that this is a personal effort and not one being organized by SRLP or another organization; therefore, donations must be made in one of the following ways:

  1. Stop by the SRLP office, where Gael works, to drop off the money early next week – 322 8th Ave, 3rd Floor, NYC (the entrance itself is on 26th Street).
  2. Make a donation directly from your bank account using, sending it to the account of jesse(*at*)tmcnetwork(*dot*)com
  3. Credit card donations can only be accepted through the PayPal account of merch(*at*)tmcnetwork(*dot*)com; however, PayPal charges a fee for credit card transactions, so free bank account transactions sent to the jesse account is preferred if at all possible.

As of early Saturday afternoon, $576 of the $1500 bail had already been raised, with $924 left to go. Since bail is only paid to ensure that the defendant won’t flee the charges, the money will be returned at the end of the trial and will then be split between the New Jersey 4 campaign of FIERCE! and the Safe OUTside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project. So your one donation will actually be a donation to three important causes at once.

For more info on the case or the fundraising efforts, please contact Gael at wapinpana(*at*)yahoo(*dot*)com.

Time to switch to AMD processors?

This is a little old and has probably made the round of the blogs already (if I could finally start keeping up with the blogosphere already, I’d know!) But being both a techie and an angry brown butch, I couldn’t possibly let this one slide without posting it.

Racist Intel Ad

Those runners on their mark look a whole lot like rows of faceless, muscular Black men bowing down before a professional-looking white dude, who is apparently going to “maximize the power” of his employees with them. And yet somehow no one at Intel noticed that this ad is majorly fucked up until, well, everyone else noticed. The wide-reaching outcry prompted Intel to pull the ad and offer up a rather weak apology: “We made a bad mistake … this ad of using African-American sprinters did not deliver our intended message and in fact proved to be culturally insensitive and insulting.”

Now, cases of multi-million dollar corporations doing stupid, racist things are a dime a dozen, but an interesting point is being made and getting attention on the heels of this gaffe. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is using the case to draw attention to Intel’s support for a California ballot initiative that they claim will “eliminate class action lawsuits over civil rights issues.” I haven’t managed to find out much more about the initiative besides the info including in the article linked to above and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights’ website, but I’d be willing to wager that any lobbying group whose board member organizations include the rogue’s gallery of mega-corporations listed in this PDF from their website isn’t looking out for the common man first. It’s a good reminder that, while the racism and classism of large corporations occasionally gets revealed through highly-publicized advertising gaffes like this one, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes as well.

ACTION ALERT: Update on Mariah’s Case

Last week, I posted an action alert for Mariah Lopez’s unjust imprisonment. I went to court last Tuesday to participate her support, but wound up having to leave after a few hours. Her case was called last, at the very end of the day; you’ve gotta wonder whether that’s just another way for the judicial system to stick it to folks. “Oh, you all want to come and support this person? Well then, you can wait around all day.” Doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see that happening.

Anyhow – Mariah is still in jail, and her next court date is tomorrow (Tuesday.) In advance of her appearance, there’s an additional call to action; this time, folks are being asked to called the prosecutor on the case and the LGBT liaison in the district attorney’s office. Read on for the text of the action alert.


Thank you to the many people who turned out to support Mariah Lopez in court on Tuesday! Mariah asked me to pass on her thanks to everyone as well.

Mariah’s defender used the powerful showing of widespread community support in her argument to have Mariah released on bail. She discussed not only Mariah’s incredible work for and ties with the community, her strong reasons for showing up to court, the strength of Mariah’s case and the many people who cared enough about what happening to her to spend the day in court, but also the terrible abuse Mariah is experiencing in jail. Based on her past record, the judge nonetheless chose to keep the bail at the same amount, $1500, which is much more than she can afford to pay—so Mariah was sent back to jail. Mariah’s defender took her argument to another court the same afternoon, but that court let the first judge’s decision stand.

Mariah had to deal with more threats, abuse, and harassment even on the way back from court.

She and her defender are asking that everyone call the District Attorney’s office before Mariah’s next court date on Tuesday to encourage them to agree to Mariah’s release.

Who to call:
Mirella DeRose (212) 335-9000 (prosecutor assigned to Mariah’s case—most important)
Katie Dorin (212) 335-9291 (LGBT liaison in the D.A.’s office)

What to ask for:
Mariah’s release on her own recognizance! If not that, reduction of bail to $500 and lowering their recommendation of jail time to 30 days.

What to tell them:
It’s great to share a couple of things about the important work she does in the community (such as speaking, writing and activism for transgender youth), her strong ties to and support from people and organizations in the community, and the terrible abuse she is facing in jail.

What not to tell them:
If you know anything about the facts of the case against Mariah, do NOT share any of that info with the D.A. Instead, if you think you might have useful info, talk to Mariah’s defender. (Contact me at if you want me to put you in touch.)

When to call:
Before her next court date on Tuesday, August 14th at 10:30 am.

Please call if you can and help free Mariah!

ACTION ALERT: Pack the Courts tomorrow in support of Mariah Lopez

In March of this year, I posted about Mariah Lopez, a young Latina trans woman whose case against the City of New York – as well as her very identity and existence – were being vilified in the New York Post. I’m writing about Mariah again because, almost unbelievably, she has been targeted and seriously abused by the NYC police. Mariah Lopez has a long history of being targeted by the police, as do many trans people, especially trans women of color, in NYC. Unlike most, though, her abuse has been repeatedly documented by Amnesty International as part of their Stonewalled report on police violence against LGBT communities. You know, wouldn’t you think that someone whose abuse at the hands of the police has been so highly publicized and protested would maybe not be so attractive a target to the NYPD? A cynical thought, perhaps, or maybe the police really just don’t care what’s said about them, seeing as they continue to get away with the constant abuse of Mariah, other trans women of color, and other disenfranchised and therefore vulnerable people.

Mariah Lopez needs our support, the support of any New Yorker who gives a damn that someone has been not only arrested under apparently dubious circumstances (she was at the police station filing a complaint about getting assaulted in the West Village), but also degraded, abused, harassed and assaulted while in custody. And even if she had done something that “justified” her arrest, there can be no justification for the transphobic abuse that she’s suffered since. I think that’s another important note here: people who are held in police custody, whether justifiably or not, are often stripped of their rights and abused, amounting to extrajudicial cruel and unusual punishment. This must be stopped, not only for Mariah, but for everyone unlucky enough to find themselves at the mercy of an incredibly corrupt system.



Early in the morning on July 17, Mariah Lopez, a young Latina transgender woman and community activist, got arrested after she went to the police department to file a complaint about getting beaten up in the West Village. She has been in jail since then, held on bail ($1.500) that she cannot afford to pay.

Since she has been in jail, we have had reports that:

  • She was first taken to a women’s jail, then ordered to drop her pants to show her genitals so they could decide if she belonged there. When she refused a ‘genital check,’ she was moved to a hospital and then lock-in (isolation) in a men’s jail.
  • She had her clothing, bra, and underwear withheld from her.
  • A male prisoner sexually harassed and assaulted her.
  • An officer assaulted her.

Mariah’s lawyer got her case moved up and is making an argument about her bail this Tuesday. She has asked that as many people as possible come to court because a strong showing of community support will help her argument. It also means a lot to Mariah to know that there are people on the outside who care about what’s happening to her.

The details:
Tuesday, August 7
Criminal Court, 100 Centre St., Part B on the fourth floor (all the way to the right)
The time is never sure, but it will probably in the late morning—be there by 10:30!

Please come if you can—your presence will increase the chances that Mariah will get out of jail and cut short the abuse she’s facing there!