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News and reports

August 3, 2007 | Pages 14 and 15

ARTICLES BELOW:
Protesting Bush's summer break
Health care is a right
San Francisco immigrant rights
Save Kenneth Foster
Iowa sit-in against the war
New Orleans housing rights

Protesting Bush's summer break
By Julie Keefe

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine--Thousands of antiwar activists from across the Northeast are planning to converge here August 25 to ruin George W. Bush's summer break.

The president will be vacationing in late August at the Bush family compound in the posh Maine seacoast town. The protest comes on the heels of a July 1 demonstration here that drew more than 2,000 people when Bush invited Russian President Vladimir Putin for a weekend of talks.

The August 25 demonstration is being organized by Maine activist Jamilla El-Shafei, co-founder of the Kennebunk Peace Department, and has been endorsed by over 50 antiwar groups and individuals, including Cindy Sheehan. Buses will be coming from all over New England, and two local farms have also offered their space for protesters to camp during the weekend.

Speakers at the demonstration will include Cindy Sheehan, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, retired Col. Ann Wright, Carlos and Melida Arredando of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families for Peace, Liam Madden of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Iraq war resister Augustin Aguayo and Helga Aguayo, Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, Ashley Smith of the International Socialist Organization, as well as speakers from United for Peace and Justice and ANSWER.

Melida Arredondo, who lost her stepson Alex in Iraq, is working to mobilize people from Boston. "Why are George and George vacationing while people in Iraq and at home are dying daily due to their backward policies?" she asked.

El-Shafei argues that the protest--which will take place just before a start of a scheduled congressional debate on the war--is well timed to impact the national discussion of the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq. She hopes the protest will serve as a useful example of what kinds of antiwar actions are possible.

"While President Bush and his cronies dine on lobster and anesthetize themselves on fine wine in Kennebunkport, people in New Orleans are still struggling and Iraq is disintegrating into something resembling hell on Earth," said El-Shafei. "It is high time that we participate in actions where our leaders feel the power of the people and the people feel empowered!"

Visit www.kportprotest.org for information on the protest.

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Health care is a right
By Kate Johnson, Alison McKenna and Keith Rosenthal

PICKING UP where Michael Moore's new film Sicko left off in demanding an end to the for-profit health care rip-off, activists in several cities are organizing meetings to bring together health care workers and community members to call for single-payer health care for all.

In Seattle, 200 people came out to a July 18 meeting titled "From Sicko to Sanity: Doctors, Nurses and Activists Unite for Universal Health Care," which featured speakers from Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the University of Washington School of Public Health, the Green Party and the Community Abortion and Information Resource Project.

Over 100 people signed up to get involved in the fight for single-payer, and 30 people attended an organizing meeting five days later. On August 4, activists will march on the Regence Blue Cross headquarters in Seattle to protest a steep hike in premiums--up to 40 percent for seniors.

In Chicago, 150 people turned out for a meeting on July 19 featuring Sheila Garland-Olaniran of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association, Anne Scheetz of the PNHP and Health Care for All Illinois, Patty McCann of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Helen Redmond, a social worker and member of the ISO. More than 10 organizations sponsored the event.

Garland-Olaniran emphasized the importance of strengthening the labor movement and talked about the nurses organizing with Moore across the country. Scheetz explained why activists should support single payer over what politicians call "universal health care." Redmond stressed the need to organize because the health insurance and drug industries won't go without a fight.

Several attendees spoke in support of HR 311, an Illinois single-payer proposal. The mother of Montell Johnson, an incarcerated man with multiple sclerosis and dementia who is not receiving adequate medical care, requested that people sign a petition to request that her son be released so she can care for him.

A strategy meeting was scheduled for July 31. For more information about ongoing organizing for single-payer health care in Chicago, call 312-455-0999 or 312-714-5154.

In Boston, a panel meeting with the PNHP's Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the National Organization for Women's Kristen Brouker and the ISO's Nancy Welch drew 40 people.

Michael Moore's movie has opened up a much-welcome opportunity to fight locally and nationally for a health care system that is free and accessible to all--regardless of income, age, race or immigration status. Activists around the country are jumping at that opportunity.

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San Francisco immigrant rights
By Jessie Muldoon

SAN FRANCISCO--Approximately 125 day laborers, housing rights and community activists rallied outside a vacant lot in San Francisco's Mission District on July 11.

The lot is the site of a dispute, with developer Seven Hills proposing to build high-rise and high-priced condominiums and a 24-hour Walgreens drug store. Community activists, however, want to see the lot turned into affordable housing and a community center, with services for the Mission's day laborer community.

The Mission has long been a neighborhood that has fought against the rampant gentrification in the city that has driven working families and residents into poverty. Renee Saucedo, a longtime Mission activist and leader of the San Francisco Day Labor Center, told the press, "This community does not need more luxury condos, and it doesn't need more Walgreens stores." In fact, there are already four Walgreens within a one-mile radius of the lot.

Twelve activists entered the lot and set up several tents to demonstrate the need for affordable housing. Within an hour, they were all arrested for trespassing.

The rally and civil disobedience were part of a series of events to raise awareness about the need for low-income housing.

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Save Kenneth Foster
By Alex Clermont

NEW YORK--Activists and concerned citizens gathered July 26 at St. Mary's Church in Harlem to find out about the case of Texas death row prisoner Kenneth Foster.

The event, sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, was emceed by Yusuf Salaam, who was wrongfully convicted in the infamous New York Central Park jogger case.

Foster is currently scheduled to be executed on August 30 for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood--despite the fact that he was 80 feet away, sitting in a car, when LaHood was shot. Under Texas' "Law of Parties," however, anyone present at the scene of a crime can be held legally responsible.

Hip-hop poetry collective the Welfare Poets performed and connected the struggle in Texas to stop Kenneth's execution to activism in New York City.

Exonerated prisoner Jeff Deskovic spoke about the urgency for us to act, and anti-death penalty activist David Kaczynski (the brother of Ted Kaczynski, known as the "Unabomber") talked about the case of Manny Babbitt, a wounded Black Vietnam veteran who never received treatment for his battle-related schizophrenia, and who was later executed for murder. Linking this case to Kenneth's, Kaczynski pointed to the class and racial composition of those the state is willing to kill.

Jeff Deskovic let the crowd know that although Kenneth Foster is in Texas, everyone could still do something to help save his life. "Take whatever you've heard here tonight and tell others about it," he suggested. "Take a petition and get people to sign it. Spread the word...He is a real flesh and blood human being who might be killed if nothing is done."

Kenneth's father, Kenneth Foster, Sr., called from Austin to let the crowd know that even after August 30, "We have to keep fighting to end the death penalty."

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Iowa sit-in against the war
By Elizabeth Schulte and David Goodner

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa--Seventy-five activists held a sit-in at the offices of Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin on July 6 to protest their pro-war votes.

In May, Grassley, a Republican, and Harkin, a Democrat, voted to approve funding for the occupation of Iraq. Protesters, ages 20 to 71, came from across the state to attend the nonviolent protest, refusing to leave the senators' offices until they publicly pledged to de-fund the war. Twenty were eventually arrested and charged with trespassing.

The event was organized by the Iowa Occupation Project, the University of Iowa Antiwar Committee (a local chapter of the national Campus Antiwar Network), the Des Moines Catholic Worker and Women for Peace Iowa.

"Congress has the power to end this unjust war and illegal occupation of Iraq. They can stop funding it," Rosemary Persaud, an Iowa City resident and mother of two, said in a statement after her arrest.

"I want to ask Sen. Grassley, as someone who has spent years of service investigating fraud and waste in government spending, why he sees no waste in human life as this war goes on and on, year after year. Is not a life worth more than a dollar?...

"The American people want our troops home, to live, and we want the Iraqi people to live. It was a crime for the United States to invade Iraq and it's a crime to continue waging a brutal war for oil. Congress must stop it. They must end it now."

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New Orleans housing rights
By Gimena Gordillo

NEW ORLEANS--Members of the recently formed Homeless Pride and other community groups gathered outside of City Hall on June 24 to demand housing for the homeless, the reopening of public housing and rent control.

The rally featured speakers who had become homeless since Hurricane Katrina. One speaker, Mrs. Jones, told the crowd that her family lost everything in the flood after Katrina. For the last few months, the mother, grandmother and two young boys have been living and sleeping on the streets. They have received no help from FEMA or the city.

Another speaker, Robert Wells, who lived in an area that did not flood, lost his apartment one month after Katrina when his landlord more than doubled his rent. Since then, he has been homeless.

Homelessness has always been prominent in New Orleans, but since Hurricane Katrina, the homeless population has quadrupled due to high rent, low wages and a lack of assistance to renters.

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