Activists call for increased transparency in Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations

Today dozens of protesters gathered outside of the Office of the US Trade Representative in Washington, DC, where secret negotiations are taking place on the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership.  FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports.

“Human rights are what we need, it’s time to flush the TPP!” [chanting]

On bustling 17th Street, protesters chanted and preformed street theater to demand transparency from the countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership.  Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus of Friend of the Earth US, told FSRN that he’s concerned about the quick pace the trade deal is being pushed through.

“Fast tracking is dangerous because if these are so wonderful for people, why aren’t we debating them? What are we afraid of? It’s only when you have something to hide, and what they have to hide are special deals for the most outrageous, un-responsible corporations that pollute the planet.”

The TPP is considered the “cornerstone” of the Obama Administration’s Asia-Pacific economic policy and the Trade Representative has pledged to keep Americans “informed and involved” in the negotiations.  But opponents counter that this isn’t happening.  They say the trade agreement threatens the environment and public health in the US.  TPP members include the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile on the eastern side of the Pacific, and Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei [broo-NYE] on the west.  Environmental, labor, and other groups fear that the TPP will eventually expand far beyond the 12 original signatories.  Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Download or listen here.

#NoMoreNames Bus Tour rallies for gun control legislation on Capitol Hill on the heels of Navy Yard shooting

Protest signsWashington, DC — Hundreds of gun safety advocates and gun violence survivors rallied in front of the Capitol today to reignite the push for universal background checks after Monday’s deadly shooting at DC’s Navy Yard. Noelle Galos reports from Washington.

Around 200 gun control advocates gathered in front of the Capitol this morning to call on Congress to revisit the Thompson-King bill for universal background checks on all gun sales. Among them was Lori Haas, whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007:

“It is ludicrous and offensive that we have elected officials who continue to ignore the plight and this plague of gun violence in this country.” 

Other advocates at the rally said that, while closing loopholes which allow many people to purchase guns without background checks is one part of the solution, elected officials need to do more.  Allie Clement, a public health student in DC from Newtown, Connecticut, said mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook and the Navy Yard ought to be treated as a public health crisis.

According to the No More Names campaign, which organized today’s rally, 9,200 Americans and counting have been murdered since Newtown, including 12 killed this week at DC’s Navy Yard.  Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Download or listen here.

DC Council passes emergency tax lien relief bill after newspaper investigation

Tax lien auction photo courtesy of NBC4On Tuesday afternoon, the DC Council passed 90-day emergency legislation to prevent city residents from losing their homes due to tax lien sales to private investors.  The vote came just days after a Washington Post investigation found some elderly residents lost their properties when they owed just a few hundred dollars in back taxes. FSRN’s Noelle Galos brings us more.

According to a Washington Post report, the city auctioned off 142 tax liens to private investors this year alone, worth a combined half million dollars. Amy Mix, an attorney with AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, told FSRN that while anyone can be affected, certain populations are especially at risk for losing their homes and equity:

It’s going to be seniors, it’s going to be people with disabilities, maybe people with diminished capacity.”

Mix said that one client in particular caused her office to look into DC’s tax lien sale process, where they found accounting errors that led to foreclosure proceedings:

So this balance that was outstanding that caused the foreclosure suit to be filed against her, was because of an $8.61 balance that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

The emergency legislation will cancel this year’s tax lien sales and establish a review of past sales to compensate those who lost their home for owing less than $2,500 dollars.  A spokesperson for the Mayor said he will sign. Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Download or listen to audio here.

GrassrootsDC’s Living Wage Bill “Mixtape”

LRAA Petition Drop Off c/o the AFL-CIODespite the drop-off of over 30,000 petitions from DC residents urging the Mayor to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act (pictured left), and a recent poll showing that a majority of residents support the LRAA, the Mayor used his pen to veto the bill. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, a vocal supporter of the bill, has rallied 8 votes in favor, but will need one more to override the Mayor’s veto. This override vote is scheduled as part of tomorrow’s legislative session, which will take place at the Wilson Building or available live online.

Meanwhile, what about those most affected by the living wage bill? GrassrootsDC’s Noelle Galos brings you this mixtape of DC residents, retail employees and organizers on what the LRAA means to them and how they feel about Wal-Mart’s presence in the District:

Mixed with Head Roc’s 2012 track “Keep DC Walmart Free,” these are the voices of:

Rev. Virginia Williams (native Washingtonian, Ward 7 resident)
Kimberly Mitchell (Macy’s employee, lifelong DC resident)
Tonya C. (former Wal-Mart employee, fired from a Laural, MD location)
Cindy Murray (13 year Wal-Mart associate at Hyattsville, MD store),
Mike Wilson (organizer with RespectDC)
Inocencio Quinones (Ward 7 resident & organizer with OurDC)

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this mixtape, including all the speakers listed above, Head Roc for the musical element, and the organizers that live-streamed a Wal-Mart protest from a Hyattsville, MD location on September 5th, 2013.

Audio download available (.mp3): Living Wage Bill Mixtape. Please share freely!

DC mayor vetoes living wage ordinance

Today, Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the controversial Large Retailer Accountability Act. The bill would have required retail stores with more than 75,000 square feet and whose parent company makes more than $1 billion annually, to pay workers a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour. FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports.

Wal-Mart workers protesting in North CarolinaCiting the negative impact on DC’s economy, including an alleged 4,000 lost jobs if Wal-Mart carried through on threats to halt construction of three stores, Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the LRAA. Gray said it was “not a true living-wage bill, because it would raise the minimum wage only for a small fraction of the District’s workforce.” But living wage advocates argue large corporations like Wal-Mart are best able to afford the payroll increase. Cindy Murray, a 13-year Wal-Mart employee, spoke out in favor of the proposed law at a town hall last month.

“If you look at the wages today, $12.50 is nothing. They could do that without passing it onto the consumers, and I want them to stop saying they need to pass it onto the consumer. What is wrong with taking it out of their profit? Because they can still make billions, even after paying us a decent wage.”

Next Tuesday, the City Council has scheduled an override vote with the hopes that they can sway one more council member to get to a veto-proof majority. Wal-Mart said today it would resume construction on the three stores only if the bill fails.  Similar measures in Chicago and New York in years past were not able to successfully override Mayoral vetoes. Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Listen or download audio here.

DC wants to cast ballot in any congressional vote on military action in Syria

DC Veteran Speaking at War Memorial in front of Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor GrayCongress returned to Washington today and immediately took up the possible use of military force against Syria. But despite paying federal taxes and often having served in the military,  DC residents are not represented in the debate. The District of Colombia’s non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, called today for DC to be included in a Congressional vote. FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports.

Standing in front of the D.C. War Memorial, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton joined local officials and DC veterans today to remind President Obama that as he seeks Congressional approval for the use of military force in Syria, he should remember the D.C. women and men who served in the military, but don’t have  representation in Congress.

NORTON: “For us, the slogan of the revolutionary war now has a perverse meaning. Give your country your money, and prepare to give your life, but do not expect to have a say on either.”

Norton added that with the evidence she’s seen thus far, she’d vote no.

NORTON: “I haven’t heard more of the intelligence and perhaps there’s something I don’t know, but I certainly am not convinced by what I’ve heard.”

Norton drew attention to the many Congressional representatives who can vote and who have been inundated by constituents who are against military strikes in Syria.

Many members of Congress, including those who voted for intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, are bringing back  anti-war messages from their constituents. Politico reports that of the 83 Republicans still in Congress  voted to give George W. Bush authorization to invade Iraq, only 10 have come out in support of military action in Syria. Noelle Galos, Free Speech Radio News, Washington.

Download or listen here.

Activists call for closure of Guantanamo, end to force feedings

Former military officials, prisoners and activists gathered in front of the White House today to protest the ongoing detention of prisoners at Guantanamo.  They also drew attention to the force-feeding of 30 detainees on hunger strike at the facility, a practice that human rights groups consider torture.  FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports.

Surrounded by supporters wearing orange jumpsuits, human rights activist Andrés Thomas Conteris underwent a voluntary force feeding Friday in front of the White House.  He has been fasting for 61 days in solidarity with prisoners in Guantánamo and Pelican Bay Prison in California.  Pelican Bay hunger strikers ended their protest on Thursday. Today’s action aimed to raise awareness about the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees.  Protesters demand the prison’s closure.  Eric Montalvo is the attorney of former Guantanamo detainee Mohammad Jawad:

“I’m not here to say they are innocent or guilty, but they deserve a trial.  And when you start trying to do a trial 10 years after the fact, that undermines the entire justice system and the rule of law, which is what it’s all about.”

Last week, the Obama administration transferred two detainees to their home country of Algeria, the first release from Guantanamo in more than a year.  One-hundred sixty-four detainees remain, 84 of whom are already cleared for release.  Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Download or listen to the full piece here.