Successful Mass Protest During Repression

United in Anger: A History of ACT-UP

Directed by Jim Hubbard (2012)

Film Review

This documentary traces the history of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), one of the few successful mass protest organizations during the repressive Reagan era. Between 1981, when the AIDS epidemic was first recognized, and 1987, 40,000 Americans died of AIDS. During this time Reagan refused to utter the word AIDS, much less advocate for research, prevention and treatment. Prior to 1987, 80% of patients diagnosed with AIDS would be dead in two years.

ACT-UP first formed in New York City in 1987, the same year the first anti-AIDS drug AZT became available. By 1996, the year the life-saving Triple Cocktail* became available, they had 147 chapters across the US.

The film mainly focuses on the New York City chapter, and their Monday night meetings attended by hundreds of activists. Most former ACT-UP members believe the secret of their success decentralized (non-hierarchical) organizing. This fostered the burgeoning of dozens of affinity groups based on the needs of specific AIDS patients (women, minorities, low income).

The ACT-UP Women’s Caucus was one of the more important affinity groups, as the CDC was stubbornly resistant to the reality that AIDS was the number one killer of American women. Because the disease presents differently in women (eg with a a high incidence of cervical cancer), the initial CDC diagnostic criteria made it impossible for female AIDS patients to qualify for Social Security Disability or Medicaid. This not only left them penniless and homeless as the disease progressed but denied them access to America’s for-profit health system

In 1987, ACT-UP held their first protest at the Burroughs-Wellcome Tuckahoe (New York) research facility to protest the prohibitive prize of AZT ($10,000 per year).

Over the years, the organization held a number of creative protest actions, most involving civil disobedience:

1988 – Unfurled banners on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to protest AZT’s  high cost.

1988 – Made the front page news for “taking over” the FDA to demand more rapid approval of drugs for AIDS treatment.

1989 – Joined with other social justice groups for a City Hall protest against Mayor Ed Kochs failure to fully fund low income housing and hospitals (many AIDS patients were dying in hospital corridors.

1989 – Joined with Women’s Health Network for a 7,000+ protest at St Patrick’s Cathedral (with hundred protestors “dying in” inside the sanctuary) to protest the Catholic Church opposition to safe sex, condoms, and abortion.

1990-94 – Commenced four-year campaign to pressure CDC to include women with AIDS in their diagnostic criteria to include women with AIDS.

1990 – Protest to force National Institutes of Health (NIH) to include patients in designing clinical trails

1991 – Camera bombed Dan Rather’s CBS network news yelling “Fight AIDS not Arabs) the day the US declared war on Iraq (picked up by all major US news outlets).

1995 – Blocked Midtown Tunnel to protest city/state service cuts

 

 

 

 

New Zealand: Highest Per Capita Homeless Rate in OECD

New Zealand: A Place to Call Home

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about homelessness in New Zealand, which (as of 2017) has the highest per capita homeless rate in the OECD. The film mainly focuses on Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and the work of Auckland Action Against Poverty. AAAP has a primary focus of finding emergency housing for homeless Aucklanders. At present a minimum wage family Auckland family spends 70% of their income on rent. This usually leaves them two paychecks away from homelessness.

Although there are currently 14,000 Aucklanders on the waiting list for low income housing, our current government only plans to build 6,000 state houses over the next four years. This despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign promise to build 100,000 state houses over 10 years.

Last year despite expert advice to increase benefit levels (for single parents, the unemployed, disabled, and retired) by 50%, our coalition government spent millions of dollars on emergency motel accommodation for homeless families.

In Auckland, filmmakers interview a number of Auckland’s “invisible” homeless residents. Rather than sleeping rough, they are camped out in cars, garages, and the living rooms of friends and extended family.

Filmmakers also visit Northland, a rural area absorbing growing numbers of Auckland’s homeless. Owing to the scarcity of rental accommodation, many of Northland’s homeless families live in buses, sheds, lean-tos, and tents.

A Northland Maori leader talks about mortgage his to purchase for abandoned state houses he has relocated from Auckland. After rehabilitating them, he charges homeless families $275 a week to buy them. He has asked the Prime Minister to declare a Northland housing emergency to help his trust qualify for $11 million in funding. This cover land and rehabilitation costs for an additional 500 abandoned state houses.

Thus far she has declined.

Prime Minister Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods also declined to be interviewed for this documentary.

 

Despite Continuous Recession Japan’s Homeless Rate 1/7 of US Figure

Meeting and Helping Japan’s Homeless Part 4

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

In part 4, filmmakers interview homeless men living in one the Emergency Centers run by various NGOs. They also look at a street feeding and outreach program run by a non-profit organization called Sanyukai.

Part 5 looks at figures documenting the improvement in Japanese homelessness. In 2017, the official Japanese government homeless count was 5,534 – a private research group with did actual nighttime counts came up with a figure closer to 15,000.

This makes Japan’s level of homelessness roughly the same as Canada’s (8 per 100,000 population)

The US has 55 homeless people per 100,000 population.

The new Japanese number contrasts with close to 60,000 homeless (estimated by private researchers) in 2003.

Filmmakers attribute most of this improvement to the governments expansion of their Livelihood Protection Program. In 1995 only 880,000 citizens received Livelihood Protection. At present that figure is 2.2 million. At this point, nearly any Japanese resident with a home address can qualify.

 

How Japan Solved Homelessness

Who Are Japan’s Homeless? Part 2

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

Part 2 of this series looks at the history and demographics of Japanese homelessness. The country’s homeless problem began during the economic crisis of the mid-nineties, when companies either went bankrupt or laid off most of their workers.

Twenty to thirty percent of Japan’s homeless residents have criminal records that make it difficult to find jobs. Others have become homeless fleeing aggressive loan sharks. Most are reluctant to apply for Livelihood Protection (Japan’s welfare program) because it makes it easier for creditors to locate them.

Japan’s urban residents have little or no contact with Japan’s homeless. The latter are nearly all men. The presence of homeless women and children on the street would be a great source of shame to government and society.

Japan’s homeless tend to bed down under tents, tarps, or cardboard boxes in urban parks, on river banks, or in train stations and other public buildings.

Part 3 concerns the Homeless Self-Reliance Law the Japanese government enacted in 2002. The new law created a number of Independent Support Centers to provide beds and meals on demand. This centers, which allow a maximum stay of four to six months, also provide, training, support and loans to help their residents find.

This government program is complemented by “poverty businesses,” non-profit organizations which have converted the dormitories of shuttered factories into emergency centers. Most allow a maximum two month stay, while they assist residents in applying for Livelihood Protection (ie welfare benefits).

 

Homelessness: Contrasting Japan and the US

Why Japan’s Homeless Are Different from North America’s – Part 1

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

This intriguing five-part documentary series contrasts Japan’s aggressive effort to reduce homelessness with the apparent indifference of the US government. In my view, the stark contrast makes an important statement about the shameful greed and corruption underlying the US political system.

Part 1: The series begins by examining why Japan has always had a much lower endemic rate of homelessness than the US:

  • Japan has much lower levels of drug abuse than the US,* although alcoholism and compulsive gambling are common problems contributing to Japanese homelessness.
  • Japan, which retained its mental hospitals when the US and other English-speaking countries closed theirs down (as a cost cutting measure) in the seventies and eighties.** The majority of America’s mentally ill either end up in prison or on the streets.
  • Japan has few, if any traumatized war veterans. The latter represent a sizeable proportion of the US homeless population.

*Japan has no paramilitary organization comparable to the CIA, which openly engages in narcotics trafficking as part of its strategy to destabilize regimes unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

**In the US, the community mental health movement Kennedy started never received full funding following his assassination. Instead the mental health centers he created to replace mental hospitals have experienced continuous budget cuts dating back to the Reagan administration.

Amazon: Taking Over the Global Economy

The World According to Amazon

Directed by Adrian Anon and Thomas Larfarge

Film Review

In this documentary, filmmakers express grave concerns about Amazon corporation assuming monopoly control over the entire global market place. At present the company has three million customers across five continents. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s first centibillionaire.

Amazon destroys two jobs for every one it creates. Owing the monopoly’s power to undercut all competitors, it is largely responsible for the closure (over 10 years) of 85 small businesses and 35,000 small and medium size manufacturers.

Amazon controls half of online US commerce and leads the market in sales of books, electronics, personal care products, DVDs toys, and clothing (which it also manufactures). It also sells drugs, insurance, video on demand, music streaming, video games, and cloud data storage. I was surprised to learn that 60% of Amazon’s profits derive from its 120 data centers, which host web servers in addition to providing cloud storage.

Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, Whole Foods, and Blue Origin, a private rocket manufacturer and spaceflight services company.

Bezos’ immense wealth affords him immense political power. Last year, he forced Seattle City Council to repeal a $275 per employee tax on the city’s largest companies to fund an emergency housing program.*

Largely thanks to Amazon, which has its headquarters there, Seattle has the highest per capita homeless rate in the US. At present, 1,000 people move to Seattle every week, most to work for Amazon. With no possible way for the city’s housing market to keep up, this pushes many existing residents (who can’t afford 10% year rent increases) onto the streets.

Bezos’ steady takeover of the global marketplace receives little mainstream media attention. The only serious push back he has received has been from striking German unions and from Dehli merchants determined to keep Amazon out of India. Owing to its immense monopoly power, Amazon can afford to operate (for years) at a loss in India. Dehli merchants, who are a major base of support for Narenda Mohdi’s BJP party, are busy organizing national bus tours to warn other small business owners of the risk Amazon poses to their survival.

Unlike Europe, where Amazon faces no major competition, both Flipkart (started by two former Amazon employees) and Paytm (a subsidiary of China’s giant e-commerce platform Alibaba) are both major competitors in India.


*Bezos, who initially agreed to the tax, changed his mind 24 hours after the city council enacted it unanimously.

Anyone with a public library card can see the documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

America’s Homeless Middle Class

How Poor People Survive in the USA

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about homeless members of middle class America whose wages are too low to cover rent. Filmmakers visit San Diego, Los Angeles, Richmond Virginia, Appalachia and Waco Texas.

In San Diego they film a parking lot in which thirty people working as Uber drivers, security guards, secretaries, cleaners, carers and computer technicians sleep in their cars overnight. A charity provides them with portapotties, a water point, and an open air kitchen facility. One of the carers who sleeps there works nine hour days seven days a week.

In Los Angeles, which filmmakers refer to as the homeless capitol of the US (with 59,000 homeless), the documentary profiles a full time volunteer who builds wooden tiny houses (which have been legally banned by the city council) for people currently living tents.

In Richmond, filmmakers follow local sheriffs carrying out an eviction at gunpoint. They also visit one of the budget motels that have sprung up in the Richmond outskirts due to the city’s high number of evictions.*

In Appalachia, they visit one of the poorest counties in the nation, where volunteers run a daily food truck to distribute food to the area’s children. They also profile a military-style field hospital that provides once-a-year medical and dental treatment for the uninsured. The field hospital, held on a local sports field, is funded by a national charity and staffed by volunteer health providers.

In Waco, the filmmakers visit a church program that recruits candidates from all over the US to pay 60 dollars to experience sleeping rough first hand.


*In Virginia, a landlord can legally evict a tenant once their rent is five days past due.

 

Black Homeless Americans

Black Lives: America’s Homeless Epidemic

RT (2018)

Film Review

In this RT documentary, filmmakers visit homeless areas in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and St Louis. As a group, African Americans experience the highest levels of unemployment and poverty. This means they are disproportionately represented among America’s homeless.

In New York, RT interviews a homeless African American who has two masters degrees and worked 17 years as a marriage counselor. He became homeless after his wife died of breast cancer, which led him to a bout of psychotic depression and drug and alcohol abuse. He can’t obtain drug treatment owing to a history of violence associated with his mental illness.

In Los Angeles, filmmakers visit the now infamous tent city that has sprung up in Skid Row.

In Philadelphia, they visit the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a privately run facility that serves three meals a day and runs a 180-bed shelter. Because 40% of Philadelphia residents are only two paychecks away from homelessness, they are full most nights and turn people away.

In St Louis, they interview the founder of Showers to the People. The latter converted a large box truck into a portable shower facility for the city’s homeless residents.

 

 

 

America’s Homeless Working Poor

The Working Poor and Homeless in the US

Four Corners (2017)

Film Review

This Australian documentary challenges whether job growth in the US (25 million new jobs in ten years) really represents economic recovery. The film makes three important points: 1) the vast majority of new American jobs are minimum wage part-time jobs, 2) well-paid middle class jobs continue to vanish, and 3) approximately one-half of US workers live in poverty.

The film follows three families. The first, in Orlando Florida, consists of a single mother of three who works 70 hours a week for Dunkin’ Donuts and MacDonald’s. Earning $8 an hour, she and her family live in a cheap motel because they can’t afford rent. She sleeps 1-2 hours a night, and her mother-in-law provides childcare while she works.

The second family is a couple with two children who live in a homeless camp in the parking lot of a Seattle church. The wife works full-time as a cashier at Seattle Center, and her husband takes temporary construction jobs when he can find them. Most of the camp residents are employed workers with kids.

The third individual is a middle aged machinist in Erie Pennsylvania who has been just been laid off from General Electric Transport after 13 years. The factory is moving to Fort Worth Texas. GE anticipates cutting wages in half because Texas in a non-union state. In addition to losing millions of industrial jobs when manufacturers moved overseas in the eighties and nineties, the US lost an additional five million industrial jobs in the last 15 years.

 

Is South African Gearing Up for a Race War?

Reaping Divine Justice: South African Farmers Brace for Race War and Land Expropriation Debate

RT (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns proposed constitutional changes by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa that would allow the ANC government to expropriate white farmers’ land without compensation. Twenty-five years after the fall of Apartheid, 35,000 white families and businesses own 80% of South African land.* Meanwhile the Black majority suffers from 30% unemployment (50% in youths under 25), accompanied by high levels of homelessness, malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water. In fact, several studies reveal that Black Africans are now worse off economically than they were under Apartheid.

The highly religious Afrikaans farming community are arming themselves to the teeth for civil war. They anticipate that with Ramaphosa’s recent reelection, the ANC government will try to confiscate their land by force, as occurred in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The extreme racism revealed by some of their comments is mind blowing. They have no shame whatsoever in expressing their belief that God created them to fulfill a role superior because Black South Africans “lack a civilized way of life” and are “incapable of managing their own farms.”

The only serious drawback of this documentary is its failure to examine the role played by  white and foreign  owners of South Africa’s rich diamond, gold and platinum mines. These mine owners are notorious for their mistreatment of their Black workforce (which can include killing them when they strike for better wages and working conditions – see Police Fire Teargas at Miners and South Africa Miners on Strike)

There was a shortlived campaign by the ANC’s youth wing in 2011-2012 to nationalize South Africa’s mines. It was quickly sniffed out by President Jacob Zuma’s notoriously corrupt administration.**

The main argument South African economists used to oppose nationalization was that it would ruin the South African economy. They claimed the government would suck out all the profits, leading to a loss of productivity. I don’t buy it. It implies letting foreign investors suck out all the mining profits (thus systematically impoverishing the Black population) isn’t ruining the economy.

Ramaphosa purposely delayed his proposed constitutional changes pending the May 8, 2019 election results. He has now been reelected. At this point, homeless Black Africans have been peaceably squatting on large white and foreign land holdings, where they build shacks and grow small amounts of food. Thus far, the courts have sided with the landowners, but evictions are on hold pending an appeal.


*According to the New York Times, companies and trusts own the largest share of South Africa’s land (much of it acquired since the end of Apartheid). There are also a large number of white farmers with 50-year leases to farm on public land.

**In February 2018, the ANC forced former president Jacob Zuma to resign (replacing him with Ramaphosa). A clear pattern was emerging of Zuma and other ANC leaders accepting bribes and kickbacks from domestic and foreign businesses.