Museum Square residents defy landlord’s deadline, take over Chinatown streets

Museum Square owner Bush Properties has defied DC law and told residents of Museum Square at 401 K street that they would no longer participate in Section 8, instead issuing vouchers they demanded be used elsewhere and asking them to be out by Oct 1. On the last day of September, at least half the building backed by supporters from as far away as Boston instead participated in a rally defying these demands and emphasising they intended to exercise their legal right to stay put. Furious with Bush Properties for illegally refusing to accept their vouchers, residents took to the streets, but not in the way Bush Properties had hoped.

First the Museum Square residents and their supporters marched to a parking lot next to a tall building with a banner advertising new luxury apartments. The parking lot next to it was formerly the Temple Courts apartments, another low income housing project until Bush properties emptied them out. Next, they marched to the Wah Luck House, where the other half of Chinatown’s remaining Chinese population sucessfully resisted a similar eviction attempt two years ago.Finally they marched under the Chinatown arch, through the iconic 7th and H st intersection so often closed down by Black Lives Matter protesters, and to the Chinese Community Church for continuing events inside. Some of the housing activsts from Boston stayed behind at Museum Square to wait for their bus, also effectively guarding the building against any attempt by Bush Properties to try anything wierd while half the building was out.

The legal rights of Bush Properties after declaring they will no longer participate in Section 8 are limited to replacing any residents who moves out with residents charged much higher rents, they cannot actually evict anyone just yet due to the lack of any orders from the DC courts. Under DC law gentrification is not a legal reason for eviction orders.

Bush Properties told all tenants to either come up with $250 million dollars (1/4 BILLION) or face eviction. The deadline was Oct 1, 2015 but a judge has already ruled thus ultimatum to be in violation of DC housing laws. The $250M was based on an estimate of what the property would be worth after redevelopment and gentrification, not the current market value.

DC Superior Court Judge Stuart Nashhe has already ruled that this post-development price demanded by Bush Properties if tenants want to buy the building does not constitute a “bona fide offer of sale.” Bush’s excuse for an offer was based on a 1999 precedent where the Phillips Collection pulled the same stunt to build an addition onto an adjacent museum, but the judge ruled that case was an exception to the rule and that current property value should be used in all normal cases. Bush Properties has appealed this ruling, but at the moment cannot evict.

The DC Council has passed emergency legislation demanding that tenants first have the right to buy any building the landlord wants to empty for its current market value, not the potential post-gentrification value Bush is demanding. Thus, an eviction order might be difficult or impossible to get. Thus Bush Properties may have the choice between playing ball to continue renting the building to half the Chinese population of Chinatown, selling the building to them at current market value, or being stuck with the largest squat in DC since the taking of 2nd and D St by CCNV during the 1980’s and just as much trouble ever getting rid of it.Residents havd flatly said “Hell no, we won’t go!”

Bush properties has stated their intention is to demolish Museum Square outright, disperse 300 Chinese and African-American familes in the process, and build luxury apartments in it’s place, Similar buildings are half-vacant all over the city, yet Bush Properties thinks anyone, much less the current tenants, would or could offer the ten times current value they are demanding as the price of buying out the building from them. Indeed this is not a bona fide offer of sale, it’s a scam and an attempt to defeat DC’s tenants right laws.

These demands were issued by the National Alliance of HUD tenants:

1. Bush Companies to extend the Section 8 contract, stop the proposed demolition of these 302 homes, and offer a fair price to the tenants to buy their homes for the permanent preservation of Museum Square.

2. The DC Council to pass permanent TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) legislation that requires all property owners to offer a bonafide price to tenants to buy their buildings to preserve their homes that includes Museum Square, and the DC government to exercise DOPA (District Opportunity to Purchase Act) and work with nonprofit developers to acquire Museum Square.

3. HUD to require voucher landlords to issue form letters to tenants informing them of their rights in their primary language, and to implement fines on owners who violate rights, to prevent misleading and illegal tactics by landlords to illegally push out low-income, immigrant and elderly residents.

Video highlights of the march plus analysis

THIS is now the way Bush Properties intended to put their tenants in the streets!

Chinatown rises up against mass eviction

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Human rights activists protest Saudi bombing of Yemen and planned execution of young protester

On the 30th of September, about 20 people protested outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia against both the airstrike that killed 38 people at a wedding party and the planned execution and postmortem crucifixion of 21 year old Ali al-Nimr. The Embassy was holding a massive party inside for Saudi National Day. As protesters began to talk to the partygoers, the Embassy turned the music up all the way in an effort to drown out protesters and block this interaction. Unable to arrest and behead protesters in the US, they were reduced to using music to fight protesters.

Ali al-Nimr was arrested for using a cell phone to encourage people to attend a democracy rally, then attending the rally
himself at age 17 during the Arab Spring. He was tortured in a juvenile detention facility to force a confession to false charges and is at risk or execution by beheading at any time. Afterwards his mutiliated body it to be displayed for three days on a cross as a warning to all others not to dare dissent against this absolute monarchy.

Human rights groups are asking the United States to stop supporting the tyrannical monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which differs little from ISIS/Daesh in their approach to human rights. There is even a “like father, like son” cartoon online showing a Saudi father and ISIS son each with a sword preparing to behead a prisoner.

Perhaps what the Saudi Embassy would understand best might be a Critical Mass bike ride with signs and flags calling for a global boycott of Saudi Arabia’s oil?

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Activists raise deer killing issue at Rock Creek Park Day celebr

On the 27th of September, the National Park Service held “Rock Creek Park Day” in and around Rock Creek Nature Center. They got an unwelcome surprise when activists opposing the shooting of deer by the Park Service arrived. This was a delegation of two activists with banners (one on a parked car, one carried), with the goal of reminding the Park Service that they are being watched. If there is another “deer removal” program this winter, activsts will be watching, patrolling to find the killers, and protesting just like in 2014 and 2013.

Several times, Park Rangers acted like they were going to approach the activists holding the banner, only to recognize that one was an experienced activist with a camera and suddenly change course or back away. Two park police looked towards the banner-and actually jumped a bit before looking away. Two rangers did approach, but gave a speech saying they respected the First Amendment but please do not approach past the periphery of the event. This on public land supposedly open to the people. Nothing stronger than that, it is suspected the camera was a deterrent.

The shooting of deer in Rock Creek Park by Wildlife “Services” began in 2013 but was quickly halted that year after an incident where a laser was shined on protesters from the area of the shooters. This was presumed a weapon sight by protesters and adverse publicity halted that round of killing, though not before 20 deer were shot. In Spring 2014 the killing resumed, and a wounded deer was found a week later in the park and finished off by Park Police after a week of suffering. Still more deer were shot in December 2014, it appeared the Park Service and WS were reluctant to try to move truckloads of dead deer past positions held by protesters. Activists are presuming the NPS will try again this winter and already making plans accordingly.

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FERC fasters break fast, deliver Pope’s encyclical to FERC staff

On the 25th of September, the hunger strikers at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) broke their 18 day hunger fast, then delivered 5 copies of Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change to FERC staffers. Beyond Extreme Energy broke the fast with a breaking of bread that was shared with the entire crowd. Afterwards, the entire group marched once around FERC’s building, taking the streets at N Capitol and at K streets.

Video-breaking the fast, delivering the encyclical, then marching around FERC

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Thousands rally to support Pope’s message on climate change

On the 24th of September, thousands participated in the “Moral Action on Climate” rally just outside the security zone as the Pope addressed Congress. The Pontiff asked Congress directly to abolish the death penalty and to show compassion for immigrants. He more generally called on the world to “limit and direct technology,” and also to “put technology at the service of another type of progress.” This is not the message Wall Street and extractive industries want to hear at the US Capitol.

Representatives of many groups in DC showed up at the Moral Action on Climate rally. Beyond Extreme Energy’s hunger strikers from the FERC vigil were present in particular. Also present was Climate First!, noted for a series of actions in DC against mountaintop removal coal and Keystone XL tar sands pipeline actions. A group from Montgomery County, MD was also represented.

Before the Pope spoke there were a few sour notes. Entirely too many of the “Big Green” groups presented their speakers as being CEO’s. Worst of all,one of the rally speakers was from the World Bank’s “Connect4Climate” campaign. The Italian government and the World Bank are claiming with this campaign to be green and for combating climate change. The world Bank president Jim Yong Kim now talks of supporting fossil fuel divestment and even a carbon tax, but the World Bank invested $3.4 billion in fossil fuel projects in 2014, a 22% increase from the previous year. Also in 2015, the IMF and World Bank staged a concert during their Spring Meetings whose entire purpose was greenwash. Certainly groups they founded like Connect4Climate or wnich now collaborate with them like Earth Day Network should not have been allowed on stage.

Another sour note is the historical blind spot of the Catholic Church to the harm done to the poor by demands that women not use birth control. At least two people brought signs calling for an end to Catholic prohibitions on birth control. One of these signs specifically identified the holder as Catholic. Opposition to contraception is in direct conflict with Pope Francis’s agendas on both poverty and climate change. If all the reductions in human birthrates triggered by the empowerment of women in the last 50 years were reversed, it could become impossible to do anything about climate change. Certainly there would be a lot more refugees in the world as economies collapsed under the strain, resulting in both wars and famines. Some blame a drought that forced Syrians into the cities for triggering social tensions that caused the explosion in that country and subsequent diaspora of Syrian refugees. On the other hand, it is not known if the Pope would be able to unilaterally end the historical opposition to birth control by the Catholic Church and retain his position.

For his part, the Pope carefully avoided any direct mention of the abortion/choice issue, possibly because any mention of abortion or especially of Planned Parenthood before the US Congress on his part would risk triggering a “government” shutdown. Such a shutdown of social programs would do substantial harm to the poor, in direct conflict with the Pope’s agenda of addressing poverty issues. Thus he seemed to be very careful on this one.

The Pope not once but twice called on all countries to abolish the death penalty. Making this statement from the US Capitol is quite pointed. In world totals for numbers of executions the US ranks 5th highest, behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. In the US the death penalty is known for arbitrary application, usually against the poor. Certainly Volkswagen executives do not have to worry about the gas chamber no matter how many people get lung cancer from their dirty diesel engines. The US is also known for extrajudicial executions, usually by drone attack. Anwar Al-Awlaki is probably the best known victim of these executions. Speaking of executions and wars, the Pope also singled out the international arms industry for tough criticism.

Video-the Pope asks humanity to “limit and direct technology”

The participants in Beyond Extreme Energy’s Fast for No New Permits showed up

A few people sought to remind the Pope and the Catholic Chuch that opposition to birth control is incompatable with the Pope’s climate change and poverty reduction agendas

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Pilgrimmage to the Pope for immigrant rights arrives in DC

On the 22nd of September, the “100 women 100 miles Pilgrimmage to the Pope” for immigrant rights arrived at McPherson Square. One hundred women had marched all the way from an ICE detention center in Pennsylvania and were joined by many more supporters on the last leg of the march inside DC. The march ended at McPherson Square, where the Catholic hunger fasters for climate action already have tents set up. The evening program featured an appearance by Sweet Honey in the Rock after the speakers finished.

Stirring video of the end of the march, followed by clip from Sweet Honey in the Rock’s performance

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Antiwar and climate activists arrested blockading White House gates

On the 22nd of September, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance marched from the World Bank to the gates of the White House and demanded a meeting with President Obama.They wanted to discuss the impact of Obama’s wars on climate change but were ignored. In response they blocked the White House gates and over a dozen were arrested.

The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance was joined in this protest by some of the Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) fasters from the ongoing protest at FERC. BXE is demanding that FERC stop approving any new permits whatsoever for new fossil fuel extraction projects.

A simple example of how modern warfare contributes to climate change is this: It has been publicly reported that the average US Navy pilot burns 2 million gallons of jet fuel in his lifespan. That’s over 1000 years of driving for typical US commuters.

There is also the feedback loop between war and colonialism. The replacement of sailing warships with steam provides an example with deadly modern consequences. Today’s warships burn huge quantities of oil. In the early part of the 20th century, the conversion of Britian’s Royal Navy from coal to oil fuel drove European efforts to take control of the Middle East. All of the current conflicts there are rooted in the post-WWI dvision of that oil-rich region among European and “western” powers.

Today, strategic minerals like the “col-tan” used in everything from cell phones to the Pentagon’s war toys drive wars like the civil war in Congo that has killed 2 million people. Concerns for the supply of oil to the US military in future Middle East wars has been openly cited in debates over the Keystone XL and other tar sands related projects.

One way to understand the broader connection between war, industry, and environmental destruction is to fire up any of the “real time strategy” computer games. Whoever mines and logs their landscape the fastest build the strongest army fastest, soon conquering even more forests and mines. The game often ends when one side or the other has totally denuded their landscape and runs out of resources.

Video: Marching from the World Bank to the White House, then blocking the gates

Blocking the gates of the White House

Secret Service arresting activists at the gates of the White House

Marching on the White House from the World Bank

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