Arsonist Destroys ACCE Office in Southern California

New Orleans      Fires all over California have been front-page news.  The town of Paradise became the opposite for many with the death count still rising.    Homes have been obliterated by raging flames, sparing no one including singers and celebrities in Southern California.  Trump has been raging and spouting his flaming and blaming rhetoric in order to avoid coming to grips with the fire this time from climate change.

One fire should have been on front pages and wasn’t.  I started getting messages in the middle of a Saturday night in San Pedro Sula and emailing back and forth trying to find details from friends and comrades around California during the weekend.  The news was terrible, but the reports were nonexistent.  The internet was silent, yet the message was clear:  an office of ACCE, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the former California ACORN, had been destroyed by arsonists over the weekend.  It took a while to track down the details, but this was the Chula Vista office in San Diego County, halfway between San Diego and the Mexican border.  Fortunately, there were no injuries, but the office was literally a meltdown.

The best account of the details was finally available in an article by Doug Porter in the San Diego Free Press.  Police were unequivocal that the fire was arson.  There had seemed little doubt that it was in retaliation to the organization’s work.  A pile of ACCE t-shirts were  burned on the grass in front of the office.  Porter, and many others, speculate that the outburst was triggered by the well-publicized leadership that ACCE recently played in bringing an amendment to the statewide ballot that would have expanded rent control options around state.  The measure was opposed in a wildly expensive campaign by the real estate interests and some state mayors beholding to them, as well as governor-elect Gavin Newsom, despite the rental crisis for lower income and working families.  The measure was defeated by almost 2 to 1.  Perhaps more immediately the anger might have been provoked by Proposition W on the National City ballot, a city cheek-to-jowl with Chula Vista and largely staffed and supported by that office, that would have limited rent increases to the same level as the Consumer Price Index and capped annual hikes at no more than 5%.  “W” lost narrowly.

No matter, this was an attempt at organizational assassination.  Spokespeople for the organization stood tall and argued sternly that their commitment to the work would continue.  The silence from others who should be standing against this attack and in support of ACCE and community organizing was as tragic.

Police have now arrested a 28-year old homeless man who was in a dispute with the property’s management, discounting some of the earlier more political arguments, even though homelessness is itself a political issue that also ensnares community organizations like ACCE.

In the wake of the arrest, the organization has released the following statement:

“Given the information that we had and the political moment that we are in, many of us feared that the attack was politically motivated.  We are relieved to hear that this wasn’t the case.  We note with regret that the arsonist was an unhoused person. The sad irony is that ACCE fights for housing rights. No one should have to suffer from acts of violence like this one. And no one should be subject to the challenges that the most vulnerable sections of our society face as a result of the housing crisis.”

This doesn’t settle the matter.  The harm is done and continues.   ACCE is raising funds to re-open their office at: https://www.acceaction.org/donate.  The bricks-and-sticks don’t matter, the work must continue.  The silence must be met by the roar of peoples’ protest, if these random and targeted acts of violence are ever to be stopped.

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Please enjoy FTK Feed the Kid’s Achilles Heel.

Thanks to KABF.

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Fire in the Mercado, Usury at Los Bancos

Tegucigalpa    Within minutes of hitting central Tegucigalpa we were on our way to a series of markets directly across the picturesque but fetid river running alongside the capitol not far from the original palace.  ACORN Honduras in Tegucigalpa had been working with stall vendors over the last month who had asked for help after a sudden fire overnight had wiped out the public market where they had been selling for many years.  More than a hundred had been displaced.

Signs of the fire were still everywhere, even though the space was bustling with activity where the shopkeepers were hammering, sawing, and constructing rough plywood type structures and shelving to hold their wares.  Next door another market had also been damaged and the bent steel and twisted sheeting was still being cleaned up and wheelbarrowed away.  The small merchants we met with under a blue tarp (the common cloth of disasters large and small) felt some satisfaction at the fact that a recent meeting with the Mayor had gotten the cleanup moving next door.  

What the merchants had on the agenda for discussion with us was their problem with banks.  They weren’t the only problem, but they were the boulders in the road to recovery.  To restock would cost each of them about $6000 USD.  They were worried of course that under their tarps their customers would diminish with the heat until some semblance of order was restored or the new building was long on the way.  Many of them had existing bank loans at 19% which they couldn’t pay and had been given some limited (and expensive!) forbearance for three months, but in trying to refinance to restock the same banks were now saying they wanted 28%, and they all wanted it now.  A look around made it clear that repayment was impossible.  Dilcia Zavala, ACORN’s organizer, said there was a law that mandated forbearance for up to a year after disasters, but even meetings with the Mayor and Governor had not seemed to convince the banks to relent from their harsh terms.

These banks were not local moneylenders.  Talking to the small vendors the names sometimes sounded local like Banco Pro Creidito, but that bank was German.  HSBC and Citi both were involved and have visible offices in central Tegucigalpa.  This was big business and a 28% it was usurious.

We had research to do, but clearly the only hope that these women had to not end up as sharecroppers in the square for international banks the rest of their lives was if they had some leverage.  The only leverage seemed to be to force the government to give the law enough teeth to buy some time so that they could survive in the marketplace long enough to get on their feet, even though they might be shackled later with 28% interest.

They call this disaster profiteering for a reason!

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