17 February 2009

"Enough is Enough" ~ Evictions and Politics

Eviction Notices Warning and final eviction notices are lined
up in the office of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department.
Photograph © Anthony Suau/Time Magazine.

It is interesting that, as I noted here, Anthony Suau has just won the 2008 "Photo of he Year" Award from World Press Photo for one of a series of images on the financial crisis.* The winning image shows a law enforcement officer in Cleveland entering, with his weapon drawn, a house from which residents have been evicted.

Today The New York Times ran this very interesting story about an incipient grass-roots political movement to support and defend people being threatened with eviction. In a sense, what the people - individuals, families, groups - involved in this movement are up to is working to shift the terms of debate, transforming what largely has been discussed in the press and policy circles as a crisis in real estate or mortgage markets into a political problem revolving around housing security and the importance of shelter for ordinary citizens. And these people are not just advocating but coordinating civil disobedience in the face of evictions.

According to The Times some local political and law enforcement officials are attempting to keep evictions in abeyance. But, if you believe this report from Chris Hedges, there are those who anticipate that the emergence widespread political resistance will require a coordinated, severely repressive response.**
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* If you are familiar with Suau's work you might find this story at PDN interesting.
** And you might well believe it since I just heard a preview of a story on this matter that is scheduled to run, of all places, on npr tomorrow morning. In other words, it is not just coming from people like Hedges who are frequently and unfairly discounted as cranks just because they take a critical approach to reporting.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Matt said...

As you might expect, I'm not quite as alarmist as Chris Hedges and don't draw the same linkage between Dennis Blair, Chris' report and the image of a Cleveland police officer with weapon drawn.

Two quick comments on that particular photo. (1) The caption refers to squatters vice residents or tenants probably a distinction a police officer would use in deciding to unholster his six shooter; (2) although unfortunate, a law enforcement presence is similar to when a social worker brings along the local sheriff to remove a child from a home. Loss of family, loss of home are clearly instances in which an individual may resort to violence and deterrent presence is prudent.

Last comment on housing security. In October 08, the Navy issued guidance to provide additional funds to Sailors who were forced to move due to their landlord's property being foreclosed upon. http://www.npc.navy.mil/NR/rdonlyres/E698FC36-BEA5-4D43-90B0-4FAEF62CD385/0/NAV08281.txt This is not new money, but a service decision to use money from operations and maintenance budgets to provide for housing security.

18 February, 2009 10:32  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Matt,

First, Re: weapons, my understanding is that when the Sherrif comes to actually evict residents (meaning not on early visits to deliver notices and so forth), they appear with weapons drawn as a matter of policy; I may be mistaken, but there is a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on this particular deputy that suggests that is s.o.p. for such circumstances. And I am not trying to be critical of the deputy. He seems, from everything I can figure, a decent fellow caught in a pretty crumby situation as foreclosures soar.

Second, I am not quite so alarmist as Hedges. But I really would like to know what the military folks whose testimony he notes actually have in mind. The report on npr this morning presented this as a "foreign policy" matter. But what will happen if the economic crisis prompts large scale domestic unrest in the U.S.?

18 February, 2009 11:05  
Blogger Matt said...

The oath of office includes "support and defend the Consitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic"

Nathan Freier in the article cited by Hedges uses the domestic clause as a jumping off point for discussing the need to plan for defense planners to think outside the box to guard against strategic shock. The most salient excerpt is when talking about the potential for the disruptive action to occur in the US vice overseas...
"A whole host of long-standing defense conventions would be severely tested. Under these conditions and at their most violent extreme, civilian authorities, on advice of the defense establishment, would need to rapidly determine the parameters defining the legitimate use of military force inside the United States. Further still, the whole concept of conflict termination and/or transition to the primacy of civilian security institutions would be uncharted ground. DoD is already challenged by stabilization abroad. Imagine the challenges associated with doing so on a massive scale at home."

I think he is already jumping the gun in his reference to a dominant defense role, but IMHO it would be a good thing to have open debate, in advance, to clarify the very loosely worded posse comitatus clause and the associated regulations. Similar to the disaster of building Gitmo without sound policy, so too would we find ourselves in a quagmire were the govt to try and use the military in a large scale domestic scenario.

18 February, 2009 12:08  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

And that, of course, presupposes that we can agree on who constitutes an "enemy!" Would widespread protest and civil disobedience among those hardest hit by economic crisis turn participants into enemies? Or would it mean that they are demanding that the government live up to the ideals sketched in the founding documents - equality before the law and so forth?

I think we agree on the importance of thoroughgoing debate - in advance. And perhaps that is what the testimony Hedges cites is meant to provoke.

18 February, 2009 12:58  

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