Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Overzealous Tennessee Highway Patrol cops assault and detain newspaper reporter

While Governor Bill Haslam's storm troopers backed off Legislative Plaza Saturday night/Sunday morning and 150 Occupy Nashville protesters prepared to go to jail were spared police violence, an episode from the night before underscores just how arbitrary and capricious the Haslam curfew is. While well-to-do theater-goers continued to be allowed access to the plaza past curfew, THP troopers combatively descended on occupiers, but they also forced a professional reporter, Jonathan Meador, to the ground and into cuffs despite his continuous exclamations that he was part of the press corp.

Meador's continuously running flip camera recorded the entire violation for posterity and for blogger fodder:

According to Meador's news company, when a fellow journalist asked one of the officers if they actually intended to to lock up a reporter, the cop shot back, "You want to be next"? The Nashville Scene also reports that when it became evident that the initial charges Meador's arresting trooper ordered  ("resisting arrest") at the end of the video were bogus given his status, they switched Meador's charge to "public intoxication". He did not appear publicly intoxicated to me in the video. What I heard were sober and cogent appeals to allow him as a reporter to move off the plaza.

If the cops were allowing TPAC ticket holders to enter and exit the plaza after the curfew, why did they refuse to let Meador do the same instead of trumping up charges twice in what appears to be a blatant act of intimidation on observers who might document bad things that happen when the state cracks down on nonviolent assemblies?

My message to Erica Gilmore on Mike Jameson

Several days ago I sent the following email to CM Gilmore on the subject of Mike Jameson's candidacy for General Sessions Court Judge:

I write to ask you to please support Mike Jameson to fill the General Session Court opening for Judge.

With his extensive legal background and law practice, as well as his service to our community as a Metro Council member, Mr. Jameson is more than qualified to sit as Judge in Davidson County courts.

I first got to know him 10 years ago when he was my council member in East Nashville (we moved to Salemtown in 2004). Mr. Jameson has never failed to impress me as one of the more thoughtful, intelligent, respectful, balanced, fair-minded, and principled leaders in Nashville. He also won my admiration by fighting good fights that others shied away from. I cannot imagine him ever failing to do the right thing.

When it comes time to vote on a replacement to GS Court, I hope that you will cast yours for Mike Jameson.

Thank you for your consideration of my views.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Photos from this afternoon's Occupy Nashville General Assembly

Occupy Nashville met again today at 1:00 to consider several measures and break up into small project groups that consider plans for the day-to-day functioning of the group as well as Occupy's interaction with outside organizations. ON plans to occupy Legislative Plaza for the third night in a row against Governor Bill Haslam's arbitrary curfew. Jeff Wood reports that Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers have a plan for stopping the occupation tonight along with bothersome side news on a fundraising gala for Nashville's entitled class, many of whom will be allowed to violate the Haslam curfew. Makes sense: the Governor is more one of the elite than he is one of the people.

BREAKING: Night Court Judge researches and rules that he can find no authority to charge Occupy Nashville with curfew violation

Around midnight Friday/Saturday, the Twitter stream reported that Tennessee Highway Patrol conducted another raid of Legislative Plaza to arrest Occupy Nashville protesters who refused to let last night's raid deter them from returning to occupy the plaza in dutiful defiance of Governor Bill Haslam's arbitrary 10pm nightly curfew. Several reports from on-site revealed that a Nashville Scene reporter, Jonathan Meador, was cuffed and taken away, too. When a fellow reporter inquired about the detainment of Meador a THP officer replied, "You want to be next?" One observer reported that while rounding up protesters, THP allowed well-dressed TPAC ticket-holders to pass through the plaza after the curfew was in effect.

However, state troopers failed to get the arrest warrants for Occupy Nashville curfew violations that they sought from the same Night Court Magistrate who refused their requests Thursday night. According to Occupy Nashville, Magistrate Tom Nelson told THP:

I have reviewed the regulations of the state of Tennessee, and I can find no authority anywhere for anyone to authorize a curfew anywhere on Legislative Plaza.

The protesters are being released, and according to their Livestream they are planning to reoccupy the plaza this morning. Their Twitter stream also noted that the Magistrate's ruling may have far-reaching implications for other public spaces across Tennessee.

What interests me about these events is that state troopers have no grounds to de-camp Occupy Nashville overnight since the Magistrate continues to refuse to permit arrests. Any future detainment of protesters constitutes THP harassment. Also, it seems that Governor Haslam has blundered into a huge new set of problems over the legality of his curfews formulated specifically against the relatively small Occupy Nashville group. This is turning into a David versus Goliath story.

UPDATE: Bill Hobbs, who was present to observe the raid, relays observations to the Nashville Scene that indicate that the state troopers may be starting to cross some boundaries:

I was there and witnessed troopers treating people - protestors and press - rudely. I was attempting as a freelance photojournalist to photograph police cuffing protestors and was deliberately interfered with by officers carrying video cameras who quickly jumped in front of me multiple times. A few minutes later, one put his hand on me, shoved me back a foot or two, asked if I was "media," (I said yes), and then he told me if I crossed "that line" again, I'd be arrested. There was no visible line.

UPDATE: Video of the THP pleading their case for arrest earlier this morning before the Magistrate and then getting denied:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Aftermath of today's 3 AM red-state Tennessee raid on Occupy Nashville: judge finds "no probable cause" for arrests

As expected Republican Governor Bill Haslam gave the orders for what one reporter described as "a large force" of Tennessee state troopers to make a daring pre-dawn raid on maybe 2 dozen nonviolent Occupy Nashville dissenters asleep in their tents. The Tennessee Highway Patrol commandos descended upon the camp and cuffed and carried away the occupiers who brazenly sat down and sang, "We Shall Overcome." According to the Occupy Nashville Twitter feed: there were around 100 THP troopers with dogs and SWAT teams.

THP put on a rather sad display of early-morning detention and attempted arrest and further detention of the protesters in what looked like an attempt to snake-charm Commissioner Tom Nelson, who seemed to be having none of it. Commissioner Nelson found no probable cause for the arrests, likely because there was none. Governor Haslam intends to expend taxpayer dollars now posting sentries at Legislative Plaza overnight to keep any nonviolent protests from staying at the plaza past his bedtime.

As if these events were not troubling enough to those of us who value our fundamental civil rights in a free society, there is another bothersome coda. In the Associated Press follow up to the story, the Occupy Wall Street group in Oakland is falsely smeared:

Protester Albert Rankin said Thursday that the group intended to face arrests with "no hostility whatsoever" to avoid a repeat of violent shutdowns of protests in other cities this week.

"There were some shouts here and there, but for the most part, it was very peaceful," Rankin said of Friday's arrests in Nashville.

There is at least the veiled suggestion here that Oakland occupiers had something to do with the militaristic crackdown by the Oakland police department. But an earlier AP story on Occupy Nashville provides even more context for the west-coast victim-blaming:

Protester Albert Rankin said earlier Thursday that the group would face arrests with "no hostility whatsoever," wanting to avoid a repeat of Oakland, Calif., where an Iraq war veteran suffered a fractured skull in a scuffle with police, and in Atlanta where SWAT teams arrested protesters.

"We always remain peaceful here," said Rankin, 25, who has been unemployed for a little more than a year. "If we can get enough flower donations, we're going to give flowers to the police as they come to arrest us."

While the Tennessee Governor may appreciate it, the insinuation in this report is despicable. I followed the Oakland protests for hours before and after the police assault on Twitter, Livestream, YouTube, and in the local TV media. The Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen (whom the Associated Press cannot even bring itself to name) was not involved with a scuffle with police when he was hit in the forehead by some form of large cop ammunition (widely reported as a tear gas canister). He was standing several yards away. And when other protesters rushed to his aid, Oakland cops lobbed a grenade at Mr. Olsen's prone body to make them disperse. The AP failed to verify their perspective with YouTube video evidence. Do you see a "scuffle"?

I don't know if Occupy Nashville rep Albert Rankin's words were twisted by the AP to fit their slant on Oakland, but I hope that Nashville occupiers are more conscientious and discreet with the media in the future so as not to discredit protesters in other cities when they defend their own goals. Oakland cops have a legacy of brutally cracking down on protest movements, including a 2003 protest against the Iraq War. I doubt very seriously that passing out flowers to the militant Oakland PD thugs would have made a difference for Scott Olsen who seemed nonviolent to me.

As for Occupy Atlanta, protesters there sat down and then were cuffed and hauled away. How is that so different than Occupy Nashville's experience? These unfortunate comparisons serve to justify rights-violating officials like Bill Haslam, Kasim Reed, and Jean Quan more than they defend Occupy Nashville.

UPDATE: News media video from this morning's raid on and removal of Occupy Nashville looks remarkably like coverage of Occupy Atlanta's experience (h/t Justin Mundie).

I also saw some occupiers here resisting and not going along "peacefully", although they did remain nonviolent.

UPDATE:  New video on Occupy Oakland in the wake of the police brutality that counters these assumptions of it being a violent movement:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Governor Bill Haslam, State of Tennessee to crackdown on free assembly, free speech tonight at 10:00

Yesterday evening a little after 5:30 an email notice went out from the Occupy Wall Street (Nashville chapter) protesters warning:

Occupy Nashville has been told it must vacate Legislative Plaza druing the nights starting at 8pm tomorrow (Thursday, 10/27), although they had earlier agreed that Occupy Nashville had 1st Amendment rights to stay there.

Rooftop photo, taken this afternoon, of "unsafe" Legislative Plaza
Today Republican Governor Bill Haslam announced to the news media that OWS protesters have until 10:00p to vacate the Plaza, a public space. The Governor has instituted an unprecedented 10p-6a curfew rationalizing "criminal activity and deteriorating sanitary conditions" as appropriate causes. Haslam declared an "occupied" Legislative Plaza as "unsafe for the protestors, state employees and everyone who works, lives and enjoys downtown." A local micro-blogger responded by tweeting that a small group of dissenters has caused Governor Haslam to overreach and declare a state of emergency.

It is clear from the photo of the protesters above that they are more of an annoyance to the chamber of commerce than a threat to the public. While I have questioned protesters' decision to occupy Legislative Plaza for other reasons, it is obvious to me that Bill Haslam and his GOP cohort are using the occasion of other crackdowns around the country to make a rag-tag group disappear. You had to know that unconstitutional suppression was coming because Tennessee's wealthy, political elite are tired of tolerating the unwashed and the uppity. This curfew and permitting process are designed to destroy the dissent of people who are already shut out of the halls of power.

UPDATE: Here's a photo from a visit I made to the Occupy Nashville camp a couple of weekends ago. There were not many campers around, but their ambitious democratic declaration was posted on modest cardboard at the camp entrance.

National magazine writer describes Occupy Nashville as rediscovery of "humanity in the practice of democracy"

The Nation's JoAnn Wypijewski compares Occupy Wall Street (NYC) to its spin-off Occupy Nashville after speaking with several folk involved in the Nashville protest. She has some deeper impressions than many local reporters have divulged:

as a material fact, living in the streets, even collectively, is not utopian; it is a light set upon a lampstand in dystopia. Nashville underlines this. Here the movement’s ritualized homelessness bumps up starkly against the real. At least half the people encamped have no other home; many are young and troubled in a poor city whose downtown does not conceal this national disgrace. At Legislative Plaza “comfort” means providing not just food and supplies but consideration for people who are typically invisible even when seen. It means willingness on the part of homeless people to engage. No part of this is easy. Occupy Nashville has not added homelessness to any list of grievances. “That would be one grievance real easy to solve: sweep us out,” a 24-year-old named Christopher, with six years’ experience of the pavement, on and off, and still at arm’s length from the occupation, told me. The project has, instead, created a structure and space for both groups to move toward each other, to speak and think anew, and rediscover humanity in the practice of democracy. It is not romanticized. That is its special grace. Thirty years ago in New York a body exposed to the elements was shocking. Today in Liberty Square it is phenomenal. In Nashville, it is what it is, and Occupy Nashville confronts us with the pain of that inequity and the price of our accommodation.

Parents, teachers, students take democracy back. Can you imagine this ever happening at MNPS?

What would Jesse Register and Karl Dean do if Nashvillians started staging real, ostentatious, robust democracy at their carefully scripted school board meetings?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oakland police riot against demonstrators after Democratic Mayor cracks down on free assembly

Mayors in two major American cities, both members of the Democratic Party (Jean Quan in Oakland and Kasim Reed in Atlanta), shut down free assembly by "Occupy" dissenters yesterday. In Oakland, the crackdown blew back as a larger demonstration during the evening hours. Several live feeds and social media observers reported that police used tear gas, flash grenades, non-lethal projectiles, and a military-style sound cannon against the demonstrations.

WARNING: the following videos contain violent content and adult language.

The first video shows the utter chaos and a man carried away by protesters after he was reportedly hit in the head with a tear gas canister:

If this injured man is the same person in this still photo, journalist Max Blumenthal reported on his Twitter stream last night that he is an Iraq War vet.

In the second video, demonstrators do not appear to be escalating beyond nonviolent protest when the grenades and tear gas start (note that organizers jump into action encouraging the crowd to stay calm):

Oakland police charge that they opened fire because rocks were being thrown at them and tear gas was fired at their blockade. The video gives no indication of that. Several reports note that OccupyOakland organizers actually stood between protesters and the police blockade to discourage violent action on the cops.

In the next video, Oakland police fire tear gas and throw grenades nearly point blank at a crowd that includes a Navy veteran in uniform, a woman in a wheelchair, and a woman on the ground surrounded by other protesters trying to lend her aid:

What a shameful display by a municipal government controlled by a member of the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be the party of progressives.

UPDATE: More photos and info on the injured Iraq War vet at the Bay Area Independent Media Center.

UPDATE: Earlier reports referred to the person lying on the ground in the third video above as a woman. Now observers report that the person lying on the ground is the war veteran hit by police weapons fire. This video highlights the moment he was hit before protesters went to his aid and themselves were targets of a police grenade:

UPDATE: Huffington Report says that Scott Olsen, the Iraq War vet injured by the Oakland PD, is in a hospital under sedation because doctors found swelling in his brain. They are determining whether to perform surgery.

UPDATE: police brutality and suppression do not look very effective. This photo was taken about 10:30p, Wed. at OccupyOakland protest:

Photo credit: jsight.

UPDATE: US Marines around the world are outraged at the Oakland police for wounding one of their own.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An alternative location for a ballpark near North Nashville, but not in Sulphur Dell

There hasn't been much chatter lately on the proposal for a Sulphur Dell ballpark, which makes me wonder whether the Mayor's Office is hedging on it.

There is another proposal on the table for a new ballpark close to North Nashville, in sight of the Downtown skyline, including mixed-use and a hotel, but it has not grabbed much attention. Jump to a larger image of the site plan.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nashville marketer goes out of his way to label Occupy protesters as "idiots" and caricature them on his blog

Nashville publisher, marketer and "social media manager" Rex Hammock is not impressed with recent popular uprisings, and even less so with Occupy Wall Street. Rex, owner of 20-year-old Hammock, Inc, has not only been consistently dismissive of 2011 democratic movements and populist anger at the impeachable and unaccountable financial sector, but this month he expressed his contempt for them based on a single NPR story by calling them "a bunch of idiots" on par with Tea Partyists.

In spite of information constantly streaming online with broader images of Occupy Wall Street in cities and towns across America, Rex seems to have stuck to the bashing distortions of the movement. Yesterday, he overlaid his blog with a pastiche of farcical (in some cases grotesque) cartoon figures, and then exclaimed, "My blog has been occupied." Rex seems bent on continued marginalization of a protest movement and of political disobedience, even as US opinion polls acknowledge their legitimacy.

Hammock gonna hate: Rex's blog occupied per Rex

I do not know why Rex Hammock is bent on bashing people who are trying to make our country a better place for everyone. Perhaps we did not sink low enough in this recession for Rex to believe dissent against this market is necessary. If so, that would be confounded logic.

But I also wonder whether issues that belch these attacks go deeper. On the one hand, he honors the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the March on Washington (no word on what he thinks of Dr. King's radical shift 3 years later to economic justice via abolishing poverty and ending the Vietnam War, which seem consistent with OWS ideas). On the other hand, he identifies "real-life" with families living in the deep south who never had to make a decision between racism or civil rights movement.

So, why isn't Rex sitting this one out? Why does he continue to unleash scorn on dissenters based on scant knowledge of what is happening on the ground? Why does he have to inflate common, rag-tag people into abnormal, misguided fools?

Seeger with Ms. Roosevelt occupying segregation in 1944 
Yesterday, something else happened beyond the extension of Rex's invective here in Nashville. Up in New York City, 92-year-old Pete Seeger joined Occupy Wall Street's demonstration. Seeger is the folk singer who learned the basics of the old Negro spiritual "We Shall Overcome" from union organizer Zilphia Horton. Seeger is also the person who expanded the spiritual's words and mainstreamed the song for the Civil Rights Movement. The singer is married to revolutionary 20th Century movement organizing and was banned from TV appearances for a time for his principles. His versions of songs were sung in jail cells by protesters imprisoned for marching while Rex was apparently growing up in the deep south, spared the tough choices presented by civil rights dissent. For Seeger to join Occupy Wall Street says much more confidently about this movement than Rex Hammock can say hatefully with his blog cartoons and philippic sarcasm.

Over against Hammock's catty caricatures, I would place this video of Seeger performing another civil rights classic, "This Little Light of Mine", with other musicians after marching up Broadway to NYC's Columbus Circle last night:

I probably would not be writing any of this if Rex Hammock were not considered somewhat of a social media guru but, because he is influential, his peculiar ridicule warrants rejoinder. Beyond his standing (or celebrity?), his ideas on social protest are silly.

CLARIFICATION: Both Rex and Laura Creekmore in the comments below express concern or anger that I am accusing Rex of being a racist in the fourth paragraph above. That was not my intention at all. I do want to be clear about my intentions, because I do not believe Rex to be racist by any stretch.  Here is what Rex originally wrote in his Amazon review:

Marsh grew up in Mississippi during the 1960s, the only child in a family who were neither racist nor vocal civil rights advocates. Theirs is a story rarely heard because it is not one of dramatic heroism or tragedy. Yet it's the real-life story of many of us who grew up in the deep south during that era.

Clearly, Rex identifies with Marsh in growing up in a family that was plainly not racist. My intention in paragraph 4 above was not to dispute his plain point but to suggest that, because Rex grew up between racists and civil rights protesters, he may not be inclined to support protesters now in the same way that someone like Pete Seeger did this week, even though praising protest icons like MLK, Jr. I apologize for any imprecision on my part in making my point clear. But by no means am I trying to convey that Rex is racist.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Update #2 on Metro Public School's October 6 North Nashville Collaboration

Earlier this month Metro's charter school and "innovation" czar Alan Coverstone held a scantily publicized North Nashville meeting at Pearl-Cohn HS. I blogged about it.

Several happenings since that meeting warrant an update.

I finally heard back (about a week after my query) from my school board representative, Sharon Gentry, who replied thusly,

I have been doing some digging.

Digging through my email: I did not receive this notice.

I have inquired with Mr. Coverstone's office as to the source of the distribution list and am awaiting a response.

I am meeting with IT and Dr. Register to propose the development an online registration system where the community and organizations ca n sign up to receive notices of public meetings such as these. These types of omissions are common and notices of meetings such as this should not be by word of mouth.

School board chair, Gracie Porter, also responded the same day as Ms. Gentry, saying that she had not been aware of the meeting until reading my October 4 email.

Meanwhile, Alan Coverstone's office assistant sent out the following notes to everyone who signed in at the meeting and left an email address:

North Nashville Collaboration Meeting notes
  • students want to be involved in the community
  • The National Museum of African American Music will be on the corner of Rosa Parks and Jefferson – educational facility and tourist destination
  • Churches in community – doors always open for students, staff, parents, future teacher.
  • There are opportunities at Pearl-Cohn that you can’t get anywhere else
  • Togetherness of not only North Nashville, but North Nashville with ALL of Nashville
  • Need to do a series of oral history about North Nashville. Film at Pearl-Cohn
  • We need a MOVEMENT in North Nashville to assure our young people have what they need
  • End of the month with Urban League – grassroots movement for students to succeed
  • Students at Meharry – want to collaborate with MNPS schools and students
  • Bring students to legislature to help teach the students what government is and to show the decision makers who they are effecting
  • Every Saturday morning. 8-10. 1215 9th ave. north has non violence direct action training. Urban EpiCenter. 615-419-4214
  • Oasis Center: opportunities for students to learn about event planning as well as other learning opportunities
  • students can help churches with websites and video editing – IMF churches
  • JUMP invites students to help with social media and event planning
  • GED program and help with job placement for students
  • Goal of today: we believe that North Nashville needs to be a destination for people all over to come and learn about the rich history of Jefferson Street
  • Recognize that the students are the future – invest in them NOW. Give them opportunities to the students. Give them more than civic projects, help them learn and be a part of the community

The notes reinforce my concerns that very little is done to address the economic structures that keep North Nashville residents opportunity-poor. The exclusive focus on these "academies", school reform and voluntarism without attention to economic inequalities is akin to a band-aid for traumatic wounds. Innovation seems empty and irrelevant without reference to economic equity and balanced opportunity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

North End elementary school to celebrate 80th anniversary next week

From the Buena Vista Enhanced Option Elementary School website:

Buena Vista Enhanced Option School will be celebrating its 80th year of serving Nashville’s best and brightest children. Buena Vista has a rich history in the North Nashville Community. We are inviting former students of Buena Vista to come out and help us celebrate this event. On Friday, October 28, 2011, there will be an 80th Anniversary Celebration Reception from 2:00-5:00 P.M. and the Adult Alumni Mixer is 6:00-8:00 P.M. The events will be held at Buena Vista. Light refreshments will be served along with entertainment during the mixer. Donations will be accepted and all proceeds will benefit purchasing stage curtains and playground equipment. There will also be a Giving Tree permanently displayed with contributor’s names listed as bronze ($50), silver ($100), gold ($250) and platinum ($500) leaves. Donations are tax deductible and checks need to made payable to BVEOS. If there are any questions, please contact Buena Vista at 615-291-6762.

I felt strongly enough about Buena Vista's status as one of our community institutions to donate to the cause. 80 years is a long time. They also started a Facebook page for the event.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Update: Fehr School preservation

The Salemtown Neighbors Vice President tells me that the association has raised around $670 to pay for Planning Department requirements for the rezoning process to protect the historic Fehr School building at 5th and Garfield. This is great news as CM Erica Gilmore is crafting rezoning legislation. Most of the money was raised from individual donations at SNNA's Oktoberfest booth a couple of weekends ago. But we also received a large matching donation from developer and long-time Fehr advocate Jim Creason along with a generous check from CM Emily Evans who is an enthusiastic supporter of preservation drives. I want to personally thank all who donated, because this cause has been near and dear to my heart since moving to Salemtown.

Last, but not least, SNNA has also collected over 75 signatures on its petition to save Fehr School (jump to the original). This is a large number, given the hyper-local focus and the nearly forgotten history (which we are trying to revive). It will be great to have this petition to show community support during public hearings.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"People's mic" a pragmatic tool for community focus in the absence of amplification

The New York Times has an important article on the political power of public spaces for organizing dissent movements and protests. But one of the author's points about a tactical tool Occupy Wall Street in New York City relies on leaped out at me:

It so happens that near the start of the protest, when the police banned megaphones at Zuccotti Park, they obliged demonstrators to come up with an alternative. “Mic checks” became the consensus method of circulating announcements, spread through the crowd by people repeating, phrase by phrase, what a speaker had said to others around them, compelling everyone, as it were, to speak in one voice. It’s like the old game of telephone, and it is painstakingly slow.

“But so is democracy,” as Jay Gaussoin, a 46-year-old unemployed actor and carpenter, put it to me. “We’re so distracted these days, people have forgotten how to focus. But the ‘mic check’ demands not just that we listen to other people’s opinions but that we really hear what they’re saying because we have to repeat their words exactly.

“It requires an architecture of consciousness,” was Mr. Gaussoin’s apt phrase.

Critics of popular social protest dismiss these mic checks as "creepy" and conformist rather than considering the alternative and pragmatic role they play. I believe this criticism is generally specious and willfully ignorant. Here is the people's mic in action:

Again, the entire New York Times piece is excellent because it articulates how public spaces provide opportunities for alternative communities to form. We require common spaces set off and protected from private enterprise for various reasons, but this is not the least of them all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A wing and a prayer

Some of us advocated for a more smart-growth, sustainable, 24/7-neighborhood approach to building a new convention center years ago to encourage a more vibrant SoBro neighborhood. Given the anemic, limited reality chosen by the Mayor's Office, when can we say, "We told you so"? Cue the Tennessean:

Part of the issue for developer Shelby Smith, who is interested in bringing a mix of retail and restaurants to his property, is what he calls the lack of a coherent vision for commercial projects around the convention site.

“If it is going to be a development engine, shouldn’t they have outlined their idea of development? There doesn’t seem to be much sensitivity to this (the south) side of the development.”

Others disagree with that assessment. How land gets used around the convention center is up to the landowners, Spyridon said. “It’s not rocket science. The infill will be service, restaurants and hospitality related. It’s a natural chain of events, and it’s probably a couple of years away from hitting momentum.”

Originally, designers of the convention center had planned for some 30,000 square feet of retail space on the convention site. As the project took shape, however, it was made plain that the retail ambitions had to be scaled back significantly ....

Meanwhile, the number of meetings and hotel bookings committed to the Music City Center are running behind initial projections.

At this point, convention center planners were hoping to be at 500,000 room night bookings.

Spyridon said current room bookings stand at roughly 469,000 projected out more than a decade.

UPDATE: It occurred to me after writing this, that using the word "limited" to describe Karl Dean's convention center plan does not exactly express the meaning I was intending. After all, the plan is limitless for the few restaurant and hospitality vendors who will benefit from the Music City Center. To be more precise, what I meant to say is that Mayor Dean's vision of growth is one-dimensional. It does not serve Nashvillians on multiple levels, and in fact obligating the General Fund, sapping our resources actually hurts most of us who live here. And calling it one-dimensional is a much more scathing indictment, in my opinion.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nashville "non-profit" Entrepreneur Center receives millions in government subsidies, and then "counterprotests" Occupy Wall Street

Shorter Entrepreneur Center social media content strategy.

I blogged on the Occupy Wall Street occupations almost 2 weeks ago, about 10 days after they started in New York City. By then Occupy groups were spreading around the country, including cities in Tennessee. Today a poll came out showing that a majority of Americans know about #OWS and more view it favorably than negatively. This movement is looking increasingly like the protests for reform and revolutionary democracy that have encircled the globe since the "Arab Spring" earlier this year.

Another indication that #OWS is gaining momentum is the knee-jerk way they are attacked not just by right-wing political groups, but by other organizations not known for sniping in political debates. Take Nashville's Entrepreneur Center. For some unacknowledged, inexplicable reason the Entrepreneur Center decided to "counterprotest" Occupy Wall Street by trying to encourage its 2,000 Twitter followers to tweet against #OWS with a hashtag (#Iamthe53) originally promoted by an arch-conservative blogger. The Entrepreneur Center's twitter stream issued a curiously polarizing battle cry:

What exactly does the Entrepreneur Center stand for again?

And the surprisingly unabashed partisanship and callousness toward dissenters, who have the right to assemble and demand industry reforms, was only the first problem for what should be a more neutral resource center for small businesses.

The counterprotest posturing is also problematic because the Entrepreneur Center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, just received one of the largest grants from the federal government Economic Development Administration in Tennessee history ($2.5 MILLION). That money is designated by the federal government for flood recovery, but in effect it also alleviates the center of costs it might incur by continuing its private mission in Rolling Mill Hill development. This list of heavy-hitters in venture capitalism, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, law, and health care suggests that the Entrepreneur Center is not hurting for money or influence.

This appears to be an influential special interest organization, subsidized by our tax dollars, taking a side against ordinary people who themselves are trying to leverage wider opportunities for other ordinary people at the grassroots because they themselves do not have the financial resources so readily available to wealthy EC leaders. EC counterprotesters are obviously willing to beg federal grant money that the rest of us help pay, that allows them to organize their increased resources to maintain political influence. However, rather than being satisfied with what they have they begrudge others--many of whom have been cut out of the system--for mobilizing the only shared resources they have: the masses who push for social change from the bottom.

When I pointed these problems out to the unidentified Entrepreneur Center social media manager tweeting on Friday and asked for an inventory of corporate welfare they were receiving from taxpayer dollars, all I received back was a reiteration of their company's stated goal:

So, again if their purpose is to aid entrepreneurs with their businesses, what business does the Entrepreneur Center have taking sides in social protest through social media while promoting conservative Republican attempts to torpedo Occupy Wall Street?

As I write this, #OccupyNashville is camped at Legislative Plaza near the state capitol in a departure from the focus of other Occupy groups, which are trying to occupy economic institutions (like the Wall Street financial district). Since so many protest groups hold their demonstrations at Legislative Plaza, Nashville's occupiers look merely like another in a long string of protesters, including the Tea Party. I am clueless and puzzled by why Legislative Plaza was chosen, when it seems to dilute the difference this movement intends to make.

Changing the system cannot start with protesting government, because corporations own government. Legislative Plaza seems to be a diversion. Might I suggest that a good place to take the Occupy Nashville protest would actually be places like the Entrepreneur Center where movers and shakers are. The idea of flood recovery money going to a business special interest group that is now attempting to counter dissent is dramatic, and it underscores the caste system dragging our country to hell. The dissent needs to be registered at places like 105 Broadway, Suite 200, Entrepreneur Center central, because the non-profit entrepreneurs seem to be inviting a fight.

UPDATE: I just found out from City Paper reporter, Joey Garrison (who is doing a story on the Entrepreneur Center's "counterprotest"), that EC has scrubbed their #iamthe53 tweets from their Twitter stream (there was a second one blaming stock market uncertainty on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill and Barack Obama's health care initiative). Fortunately, I saved a screenshot of the EC tweets, because I've seen this happen too many times. You can view their tweets in the middle of the post above. I have never understood why people who delve into social media think that you can simply wipe a dubious history out of existence. Their counterprotest really happened, and I have the shot above to prove it.

UPDATE: When contacted by Garrison, the Entrepreneur Center's PR specialist did not acknowledge the partisan tweets or claim any error in their communications tactics. He did equivocate and walk back the non-profit's earlier stridency:

“Within the bigger context of economic development and job creation, there is frustration across the country about the status of the economy,” Clay Jackson, the entrepreneur center’s director of marketing and communications told The City Paper. “The Occupy Wall Street protests, as such to me, are very undefined as far as what their goals are.”

Jackson seemed to downplay taking sides in the ongoing protests.

“The [Entrepreneur Center] stands behind people who are trying to create jobs and build companies,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a side for us to fall on within that debate. If you see us as weighing in, it’s weighing in on the side of people who are trying to create jobs, to build great companies.”

Blah, blah, as such to me, blah, blah. That obfuscation seemed to provide the perfect hazy background for a blog post at the Entrepreneur Center site (like the tweets, anonymously written) which transformed the non-profit's social media content from hard-right hippy hater to granola-crunching tree-hugger merely observing Occupy Wall Street:

The national dialogue about Occupy Wall Street, greed and profits creates an excellent opportunity to talk about social entrepreneurs ....

Many people aren’t aware of “social enterprises,” or “social entrepreneurs”, so I’d like to elaborate. Social enterprises run the gamut of donation and grant driven non-profits to corporations that adhere to the triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit.

Social enterprises are “mission-based” organizations as opposed to pure profit-based organizations and as a result of progressive businesses like Ben and Jerry’s, Toms Shoe’s, and local example Magdalene, Inc, (Thistle Farms), social entrepreneurs are changing the world.

At the EC, one of our 4 key verticals is social entrepreneurship, because building good businesses also requires building businesses that do good. The status quo of the pure profit driven corporation has changed a lot over the past several decades, and some of the greatest innovation is created by social entrepreneurs who build businesses that do good.

Commence organization re-branding. A couple of us tried to hash out EC's about-face on Twitter with the blogger, who proceeded to invite us to support the non-profit's "green" initiatives while still failing to answer my questions about how much federal, state, and local welfare they receive for their "mission".

Excuse my cynicism, but does the Entrepreneur Center's flip-flop seem convenient to any one else, given the timing of the City Paper story?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Update: Metro Public School's North Nashville Collaboration

I attended Alan Coverstone's North Nashville "Collaboration" this afternoon in the Pearl-Cohn auditorium. My unscientific estimate is that there were 75-100 people in attendance: a good number of MNPS staff, half-a-dozen council members, several ministers, Pearl-Cohn students and staff, and professional organization officials. It did not strike me as a community meeting. Instead, it was more of a networking klatch for North Nashville movers and shakers. Presentations were given by Coverstone, students, an official with the unbuilt Museum of African American Music, the President of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, CEO of JUMP and an Urban League representative.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to make the Jefferson Street corridor a renowned destination and to ask North Nashville organizations to provide volunteer opportunities for Pearl-Cohn students. The terms "grassroots," "movement," "change," and "innovation" were used repeatedly. Pearl-Cohn itself received beaucoup praise some defensive because of perceived news media spin.

I would consider this an attempt to bring grassroots legitimacy through student voluntarism to the insular Metro Nashville Public School system. However, there were no parent-teacher (-student) organization leaders present as far as I could see. The only mention of a PTO was by one of the student speakers in passing. No neighborhood association reps stood to identify themselves. I cannot fathom how this "collaboration" can become a movement without the buy-in of PTOs and neighborhoods who were not there to collaborate. Maybe the IMF is so strong that they can leverage grassroots organizations, but I do not see it yet.

Interestingly, one community organizer who trains people in nonviolent direct action at JUMP mentioned the current "Occupy Wall Street" dissent (involving tens of thousands of protesters) as an example of the kind of things he instills at his clinics. I couldn't help but wonder how many of the education bureaucrats, council members, and business group leaders were squirming a little at the prospect of full-scale dissent in Nashville streets against untrammeled economic growth. Alan Coverstone's Office of Innovation is absolutely if not exclusively concerned with meeting the priorities of Nashville's Chamber of Commerce set. The last thing they would consider innovative is open dissent and nonviolent direct action against economic institutions in the streets of Nashville.

Some background and context might be helpful. Voluntarism arises from an American tradition Robert Fisher called "social welfare organizing". It was the legitimate form of neighborhood organizing for 100 years before the 1960s. This kind of charity movement compliments the Dean's administration's narrow focus on volunteer organizations for large segments of Metro service delivery. It is also the activism of elite society. A change in organizing culture in the 1960s gave rise to a "new populism" of community-based determination and mobilized social protest against institutions. This seems to be the tradition of Occupy Wall Street dissent (although the current protests also have strong echos of the classic radical organizing of the Great Depression era).

I simply do not see how the MNPS's Office of Innovation could be innovative enough to at once manage volunteers and tolerate a populism that skirts the radicalism of Occupy Wall Street. Wall Street is one of the drivers of education reform (otherwise known as, running education as a business).

In the end we will see if Alan Coverstone can mobilize enough community support on the strength of organizing volunteers alone to qualify this "collaboration" as an authentic North Nashville grassroots movement. It will no doubt help a few lucky students. However, I do not see MNPS brooking anything even slightly more participatory or comprehensive than that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Is a "North Nashville Collaboration" collaborative when not all of North Nashville knows about it?

I received this Metro Nashville Public School announcement/invitation from the Salemtown elist today. It was actually forwarded as an attachment that Sylvan Park CM Jason Holleman sent to his constituents with the message:

I plan to attend this event on Thursday, and I thought you might be interested as well. I greatly admire organizer Alan Coverstone's forward-thinking approach towards making our schools -- and our community -- better, and I think that this event will be well worth your time.

Hope to see you there!

Thank you,

Jason Holleman
Metro Council, District 24
4210 Park Avenue
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

For those who do not know, Mr. Coverstone is a private school product and a former private school Dean. He has been put in charge of Metro's charter school program, essentially privatizing our public education system. So, the collaboration-language of the invitation sounds odd if written by Mr. Coverstone. "Together we can make sure the Jefferson Street corridor is an essential destination" with a "meaningful discussion to identify new and exciting ways to support each other" sounds cryptic when coming from the charter schools division.

"Collaboration" assumes inclusiveness, but this invitation has not been sent to all of us in North Nashville. To disguise something limited in scope under jargon of inclusion bugs me. But collaboration also assumes listening to dissent. If this meeting is really about poaching resources and high-performing students out of existing schools for privatized charter schools, I intend to dissent. My guess is that what we will hear from this meeting is a shiny new initiative that we will have no choice but to accept.

Anyone heard anything about this "collaboration" that they care to share?

UPDATE: Yesterday I sent the following email to a couple of school board members, a Metro address I assume might be Alan Coverstone's, CM Jason Holleman, Metro Schools communications office, MNPS customer service, and CM Erica Gilmore:

Regarding the attached invitation: if this event was intended to be a "collaborative effort" between MNPS and North Nashville, why didn't some of us in North Nashville, especially those of us with kids in public schools, receive notice of this until this late date?

By the way, the author of the invitation omitted Jones Paideia and Hull-Jackson on the list of public schools mentioned on the invitation.

As a North Nashville public school parent I am supremely disappointed in the seeming lack of care in communication of this event. To find out second-hand in an email that CM Holleman originally directed to his constituents is really bothersome. If it was planned with community input, we were also left out of that stage.

Can anyone shed some light on what is behind this event in our zone and why no apparent effort was made on the Metro end to communicate with all of us?

The only person to respond so far is CM Gilmore, who writes that Alan Coverstone is the organizer and that he left a voice mail for her about it last week. They have not been able to speak with each other about it yet.

Why is Coverstone focusing on CMs and not on PTOs, neighborhood associations, or other community groups to communicate this event that he claims will "support the great work of ... neighbors"? This still smacks of elitism to me.

UPDATE: MNPS customer service responded to my email above. Their reply fails to clear up in my mind why this event was not communicated to all of North Nashville. On the contrary, they seem to insist that posting the announcement on their crowded, information-saturated website for North Nashvillians to stumble across and sending out a few emails to unidentified "contacts" is effective communication:

The idea for getting together is to better connect our students with their surroundings. We are asking everyone to spread the word, and we appreciate any help in doing so. The announcement of the North Nashville Collaboration is posted on the MNPS homepage has been sent and forwarded through e-mail by a scores of community contacts, and has been relayed directly through conversations with the intention of reaching any and all stakeholders.

We are starting a conversation and everyone is invited!

It is obviously going to be a battle of attrition to get to the bottom of real intentions behind limited communications and real agendas of this event. Given a Metro climate under Karl Dean that puts transparency in the back seat, I do not expect it to be easy.

UPDATE: We went back over our PTO notes from the last meeting. No mention of this collaboration. We also checked around at Jones Paideia Elementary without finding any indication that school officials know about this meeting.

Early this morning I finally got a response from Alan Coverstone:

I asked lots of people o help spread the word, and I know you are helping as well. It is a conversation starter, not an official business meeting. Everyone is welcome.

Hope to see you there.

I'm skeptical about this because in order to get MNPS to engage PTOs and community leaders we usually are restricted to speaking with our school's 2 representatives on the district's Parent Advisory Committee, who take concerns to MNPS. Otherwise, we are invisible. I cannot even get my own School Board rep, Sharon Gentry, to reply to any emails I send her way. At the one community meeting I've seen her speak she seemed aloof and dismissive of community concerns. We will see what happens at the "collaboration." My guess is that it will be an attempt to market the mirage of charter schools to desperate parents.

Monday, October 03, 2011

NewsChannel5: some Germantown residents "seeing red" about fire station move

Historic Germantown, Inc held a meeting at Morgan Park for dissatisfied residents to vent about Metro's proposed move of the 2nd Avenue North fire station to East Nashville:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

How you can help raise money to preserve a civil rights movement landmark

Salemtown Neighbors needs to raise $500 to protect Fehr School

Salemtown's Fehr School, built in 1924, was one of the first schools desegregated and was a center of civil rights strife in 1957. Because of its place in Nashville history, Historic Nashville, Inc. has declared it one of the 2011 Nashville Nine most endangered local buildings.

Salemtown Neighbors has a petition and is working with Council Member Erica Gilmore and the Metro Historical Commission to pass historic overlay for Fehr School and to preserve the exterior from demolition or drastic alteration that would destroy its historic qualities.

Planning Commission consideration of an overlay requires the neighborhood association to raise funds to notify residents who live around the building of the request for rezoning. Those funds will pay for postage, signage, and notice in the Tennessean, costs totaling over $500 according to the Planning Department.

Please help raise these funds to preserve this landmark by donating what you can to Salemtown Neighbors, designated "re: Fehr School preservation".

If you would like to help immediately email me (by clicking on the "Contact Me" button in the right-hand column of this blog) for contact info or stop by the Salemtown Neighbors booth at the Germantown Street Festival next Saturday and drop off your donation there.

Thanks for your help! I'll provide updates here on the blog as donations come in.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the executive committee of Salemtown Neighbors; however opinions expressed on this blog are entirely mine and are not intended to reflect the views of SNNA members or officers, unless quoted. SNNA has not authorized Enclave to help them fund raise, but considering it worthy, I am lending what help I can to this good cause.