Syria and Getting to Know the DC Council Vol 2: Anita Bonds and the Housing Committee
I’m a little apprehensive about writing about Syria this week. I’m going to keep it a little short, and the truth is I do find some macabre humor in how incompetent 45 and his administration are. It is one way that I get through the day. So, there will be some memes and jokes — not about dead Syrian civilians or anything, but still — scattered throughout. This doesn’t mean I don’t understand how serious the situation is over there (although I guess realistically I can never really understand what they are going through), or that lives are at risk. If the jokes make you uncomfortable, I understand your point of view and welcome feedback. I’m not a male comedian so I’m not going to start ranting at you about “PC culture” if we disagree.
My point being, please don’t take any joking I may do as a lack of respect for lives lost, atrocities committed, or anything like that. All jokes will be directed at 45 and his goons, not at Syrian citizens, Holocaust survivors, or anything like that (because obviously). So yes, let the depressing news commence!
Small Immediate Act of Resistance
That are never calling your Senator or Representative
This week I am focusing specfically on actions to support Syria, which are outlined in Topic 1. Don’t forget to make your weekly calls on DC’s budget though, as copied below from last week’s letter:
- Make your weekly calls for Paid Family Leave and the DC Budget. Last week I asked you guys to sign up to make calls alongside Jews United for Justice every Friday in April and May for Paid Family Leave, and every Thursday in April and May for other budget priorities like fair housing. Don’t forget to make your calls this week! They only take a minute. If you don’t want to sign up for JUFJ, just call the Mayor’s office on your own. I have written a lot about budget initiatives you can support, or maybe you have your own — raises for teachers, the NEAR Act, etc. Call once a week and ask for it.
Topic 1: Syria
Last week, 45 launched over 50 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. The launch was in response to an attack last Tuesday, which the US believes Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was responsible for, that used chemical weapons and killed Syrian civilians. 45 spoke to the press last Thursday night and said:
“On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”
Here’s the thing guys. If Donald Trump really cared about the men, women, and children losing their lives in Syria, he wouldn’t have signed two separate executive orders barring Syrian refugees from entering the United States.He wouldn’t be targeting the State Department and making massive cuts to foreign aid. What about this chemical attack moved him, when the chemical attacks of 2013, and the horrific images of Syrian children between now and then, did not? I think there is a strong case to be made here that 45 does not have a real grasp on foreign policy or any real plan. When he took office, he said he believed that Assad should remain in power, and then in an impulsive response to (admittedly horrifying) news footage, he pulled the trigger. As Ezra Klein of Vox explains, in 2013 when President Obama was considering air strikes against Syria, 45 sent a series of tweets saying the following (first tweet is at the bottom, last at the top):
So what changed the 45’s mind? After all, Obama’s response was also provoked by a chemical attack. Klein also points out that not only did 45 attack less than three days after Assad’s strike, but he spent no time trying to build public or Congressional support for the move. As Klein says “Trump doesn’t have a philosophy” when it comes to foreign policy — or to anything really. Instead he reacts emotionally to what he sees on cable news. That is a dangerous way to decide to launch missiles at someone, not matter how much they deserve to be…missiled.
To add insult to injury, the administration almost seems to be going out of its way to make their defense of the attack as laughable and as abhorrent as possible. I realize this seems like a bit of an aside, but Sean Spicer this week said, in trying to explain how awful Assad is and why the airstrikes were necessary, “you know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Even when asked a clarifying question by a reporter he said Hitler “wasn’t using gas on his own people the way Assad is doing.” I mean….come ON people! Gas is literally the weapon that Hitler and the Nazis are arguably the most known for.
(True aside: Spicey also called concentration camps “Holocaust centers” which makes them sound like a day spa retreat.)
Again, I know this seems incidental. I know that Sean Spicer is not Donald Trump, but I really cannot let slide how frightened I am that people that are this stupid, and this unaware of history have our bomb codes. And I don’t mean stupid in a liberal elitist way. I am not talking about the fact that 45 and his administration don’t speak like Obama or aren’t member of MENSA or something: I am talking about systemic and pervasive ignorance; a lack of knowledge on basic facts related to the governing of a world power and the refusal to learn those facts; and the persistent stubbornness and idiocy even in the face of obvious corrections.
On top of that, the media are basically praising 45’s actions like he’s the second coming. It’s like his address to Congress all over again: this is the moment he became President, this will define his legacy, etc. Please spare me.
Launching missiles does not make you fit to be President.
But this is where we are. This is who is in charge. And if he continues to react emotionally, I assume we can expect more impulsive missile firing in the future. So I’m just going to move away from that now that I’ve said my peace and focus on the conflict in Syria itself. I found this video, also from Vox, to be really really extremely helpful, and I would urge all of you to watch it for a primer on the complicated mess that is the Syrian War:
Essentially, until 45’s missiles last week, the US had only been using its resources in Syria to fight ISIS, not to fight Assad, so this might signal a change going forward in our efforts in the country. Both Iran and Russia are Assad backers, and there have already been rumblings in the news as to Russia’s reaction to the US airstrikes. Almost every major party in the region is involved in the conflict, but the “sides” are very unclear: between ISIS, Assad, the Rebels, Hezbollah, the Kurds, and others, it is difficult to even say what sides there are in the first place.
At the moment, it seems likely Assad will win the war against the so-called Rebels. There’s not much we can do about that — and by we I mean either you and me, or the United States. The US’s history of intervention in the Middle East is abysmal, to put it mildly, so even were 45 to decide to go to a full scale invasion force, I can’t see it ending well. But there are other things we can do. In fact, here are fifteen suggestions, with a couple highlighted below:
- Volunteer With the International Rescue Committee. The International Rescue Committee works globally and has been providing critical humanitarian aid to Syrians since 2012. They provide services from cash vouchers for Syrians to purchase food, legal assistance, employment, and education. The IRC will be providing $100 to 500 of the most vulnerable families families fleeing the current situation in Aleppo. In the United States, you can sign up to volunteer at a local resettlement office. Learn more here.
- Donate to the White Helmets, the International Red Cross, or other humanitarian organizations helping Syrians.
- Send a letter to a refugee letting them know they are not alone. Care, a humanitarian organization, has a form you can fill out to send a message to a Syrian refugee.
- If you know someone in Canada, Europe, or Australia, ask if they’d be willing to offer home or apartment through AirBnB to a refugee. They can sign up through Refugees Welcome to offer to share their home with someone who desperately needs it.
I encourage you to find some time or some money if you have it. If you have neither, at least keep Syria and its refugees in your thoughts. I really believe that one way to fight is to stay informed. I have to admit that writing this column taught me a lot about the Syrian War that I probably should have already known, so hopefully we learned some things together.
Topic 2: Councilmember Anita Bonds, At-Large, and the Housing Committee
My two topics really couldn’t be more far apart this week in terms of their scope. Talking about the DC Council is about as local as you can get, while the Syrian crisis is one of the most globally encompassing issues of the present moment. But hopefully everyone can see the common ground in trying to resist the threats of authoritarianism.
Today I am going to profile Anita Bonds, one of DC’s four At-Large Councilmembers. At-Large means they are elected by all the voters in DC, not a particular Ward.
Oh man…am I now obligated to compare every DC Councilmember to a character from Star Trek? I….I think I am. Hmm, Bonds strikes me as the Guinan type:
Always giving advice to the other Councilmembers.
Councilmember Bonds has been a DC-based activist for pretty much all of her adult life. When she moved back to DC from attending Berkeley, she
“became a politically active leader in the District’s struggle for civil rights and equal justice with the Young Democrats of America, as Chair of the D.C. Women’s Political Caucus, Vice-Chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and as a Statehood Compact Commissioner.”
Councilmember Bonds has served in the cabinets of several former DC mayors, and is currently a Ward 5 resident and Chairman of the DC Democratic Party.
She is also the Chair of the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization on the Council. The other members of this Council are Councilmembers Trayvon White, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, and Robert White. This committee is responsible for several key things including the ANCs or Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (elected officials who represent neighborhoods and report up to the Council); DC’s tenant advocacy office; homelessness; and of course housing in general. That means they’re in charge of hearing bills on building homeless shelters, fighting slum lords, building affordable housing (and where and how much etc), and so on. You may recall from previous letters how big of a budget priority fair housing is for many DC advocacy groups. Well, Councilmember Bonds has been a big target of their calls on this issue because this is her committee. In fact, just today Jews United for Justice is amplifying a campaign from Bread for the City to call Councilmember Bonds on housing. Yesteray, April 12th, marked the four year anniversary of when DC closed its housing waitlist. From Bread for the People:
Four years ago, on April 12th, 2013, the DC Housing Authority closed its housing waitlist to all new applicants. The list was purged and cleaned of outdated names, reducing its numbers from over 70,000 to still over 40,000 households. Today, four years later, about 40,000 names remain — and for the second year in a row, Mayor Bowser has put forward a budget that allocated zero dollars toward housing people on the waitlist, making her “inclusive DC” message nothing more than empty rhetoric.
Last year the DC Council upheld that lack of funding, passing a budget with no new money allocated to the local voucher program. This year, the Council has an opportunity to do something different.
Feel free to use your weekly JUFJ call (links in Small Acts of Resistance, there will be a script) to ask Councilmember Bonds to do something about this. Likewise, if you or someone you know has a ever had a problem with a landlord, if you want to support or oppose the proposed homeless shelter on Rhode Island Ave in Ward 5, or if you want more affordable housing units to be built, this is the committee for you to call or write.
Councilmember Bonds did not respond to my requests to answer questions about activism in DC, so you’re off the hook for reading anymore….for now!
We’re still fighting, so what does that make us?
It was brought to my attention last week that I used an old map of Ward 6 that was incorrect and did not show the 2012 redistricting lines. You can find the new, correct version here. You can reply to this newsletter or email me at email@example.com with your thoughts, criticisms, or ideas. Let me know if you did any of the things I recommended or found anything useful or informative. I ❤ feedback! Check out my Medium page if you’d prefer a blogged version of this newsletter or would like to read any of my previous issues. Last week’s letter was on Charles Allen, Ward 6’s Councilmember, the Judiciary Committee, and testifying to the Council.
Follow me on Twitter at @speaknojessica. And definitely get your friends to subscribe to The ForeRunner at http://tinyletter.com/theforerunner because where else will you get someone randomly assigning the personalities of Star Trek characters to DC’s elected officials? As always, I end with a dog pic to cheer you up and DC Events for this week all the way at the bottom.
Event link round up (local to DC unless otherwise noted):
April 8–23: For those not in DC, Congress is on a two week recess and the Indivisible Guide and MoveOn.org are hosting another Resistance Recess. Attend a townhall. You got this.
April 13 (afternoon): A Budget Briefing, hosted by Fair Budget Coalition. Lunch will be provided, so please RSVP to Monica at firstname.lastname@example.org so they have enough food. Held at 820 First St NE, 12–2pm. (I will be there!)
April 13: A People’s Budget Forum, hosted by every local activism group in DC, but RSVP through Jews United for Justice in this particular case (I will be there!)
April 15: Tax Day March on Washington
April 18: Americans for Self-Rule Launch Party hosted by Americans for Self-Rule
April 20: Movement for Black Lives General Assembly hosted by Black Lives Matter DC
April 20: Clashing Identities: The Power of Intersectional Feminism, hosted by WIN (the Women’s Information Network)