The Snipers of Jersey Shore

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

Garder54 calls Kevin June “a real scum.”

LadyDawg4 calls him a “sleazeball.”

Proud2bMom calls him a “liar and a thief.”

Kevin June is the reluctant leader for the 37 families of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Jersey Shore, Pa., who were evicted from their homes, most of which they owned and paid a monthly lot fee. Some of the residents lived there for more than three decades. Most of the residents are elderly, disabled, or living slightly above the poverty line. Several are employed; all are struggling to survive in a bad economy.

In late February, Aqua–PVR, a joint operation of Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners, bought the 12-acre trailer park for $550,000. It plans to build a pumping station to withdraw up to three million gallons of water a day from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and send that water through a newly-constructed pipeline system to natural gas companies that use fracking. The controversial practice involves forcing as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, toxic chemicals and potential carcinogens deep into the earth to withdraw natural gas. The Marcellus Shale, primarily in Pennsylvania and parts of four surrounding states, is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas.  Health and environmental pollution problems are widespread near the wells.

Aqua–PVR had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it a month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation incentive in its eviction. However, the cost to move each trailer is between $6,000 and $11,000 plus any sheds and ramps.

Most regional trailer parks are either at capacity or won’t accept the older trailers. Getting an apartment is also difficult. Because of the natural gas boom, with thousands of out-of-state workers moving into the area, there are few vacancies, and rents have doubled and tripled. Senior citizen housing isn’t a viable option—waiting lists are as long as a year or two in most areas.

Some have been forced to sell or throw out many of their possessions and move into studio apartments or rooms with relatives. Seven families remain at the trailer park.

But the harpies who have written several hundred posts that appear on the online site of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette have been relentless in their condemnation of the residents. Hiding behind anonymous screen names, the writers, who sound like drunks in a bar fight or callers to an afternoon talk show, could be among the thousands of gas company employees who have moved into the area. They could be those who have leased part of their land to the oil companies. They could also be the business owners who have profited because of selling products to the workers. But almost all of them condemn the residents.

Linhk48, who posted several dozen times, believes “the new owner’s only obligation is to give you notice to vacate. He is under absolutely no obligation to subsidize your move, allow you to live rent free until you move, or hire professionals to help you with relocation. Anything he does is a generosity and SHOULD be appreciated!” Linhk48, like many, called them “rabble-rousers/troublemakers/trespassers.” Czkb217 thought the police or National Guard could move in, and advised the residents, “SO just pack your stuff and MOVE, you are now breaking the law.”

It’s doubtful any of the commentators know Pennsylvania state law, but there are legal processes that must be met to evict persons from their homes. One of the issues lawyers for Riverdale will be pursuing is whether those mandated processes were met.

CitizenQ, who opposes helping the residents and who posted several times, claimed, “some of the residents have been seen stealing from others.” However, the facts are that residents who left the trailer park took what they could from their own trailers, many of which could not safely be moved or which would cost too much to move, and specifically told other residents they could take whatever was left.

Linhk48 thought Aqua–PVR should take the residents to court “for leaving the property with trailer shells and trash all over and ask for clean-up costs—and punitive damages after they were so generous.”

Several repeatedly questioned where the donations to Riverdale went. Some specifically accused Kevin June of theft and fraud, apparently not having the time or intelligence to learn about the controls and regulations to release money from a bank-held account that is a registered 501(c) charity. “The residents know exactly where the money went and why,” says June.

When those writing into the Sun-Gazette later learned some of the money was used to buy phone cards, a camera, lawnmower, and weed whacker, they increased their assault. Had they taken the time to think or ask questions—something those who type and pound “SEND” often don’t do—they would have learned that June used the phone cards to cover his expenses in numerous calls to and from attorneys, the media, and others who had an interest in the problems of the residents. They would have learned that the lawyers specifically required June to document the appearance of the village and the residents’ activities. They would have learned that both the previous and new owners had no intention of mowing the lawns or killing the weeds. With pride in their community, the residents took care of the grounds. Cutting grass and eliminating weeds also served to help protect their health; living near the river, with the warm seasons approaching, the residents knew there would be increased black fly and mosquito infestations.

Woolrich haughtily wants to know, “Why on earth would you not have saved money for when you eventually had to move your MOBILE home???” Perhaps, Woolrich, it’s because when you have poverty-level income, it’s hard to save anything.

Czkb217 thought the residents should have just gotten together and bought the park. Possibly, Czkb217, since most of the families live slightly above the poverty line, they didn’t have an extra $550,000 plus lawyer fees and closing costs laying around. Nevertheless, Czkb217 believes the residents should “Just man up and put your big boy panties on and MOVE.” He objects that his taxes are supporting some of the residents who are using Legal Aid, which receives state and federal funds to assist the impoverished. In addition to North Penn Legal Services, the Community Justice Project in Pittsburgh and the Williamsport law firm of Murphy, Butterfield and Holland are assisting pro bono.

Justin1 wants the residents to “Get out of the way of progress already.”  

On Friday, June 1, the final day of eviction and the day Aqua–PVR said it would start construction, about 50 persons showed up to blockade the entrance to the park. “We are here to fight against the exploitation and abandonment by a society of the economically vulnerable,” says Dr. Wendy Lee, one of the organizers. The protestors are often identified as “out-of-town activists” or, more specifically, “environmental activists.” Bobbie2 called the scene a “liberal zoo . . . a veritable microcosm of the liberal social system.” Joe123 called the protestors “unorganized morons,” and decided the residents “are on display by ‘Fame Seekers’, like trick-monkeys in a circus.” Proud2bMom, with no facts, something that never stymied any of the others who wrote into the online site, claimed “the residents left that are trying to get out are more or less being held prisoner in their own homes because of the few who feel they need to block the roads.”

Many of those who attacked the residents and defended corporations probably believe they are good Christians; they go to church regularly and, in one of the more conservative and highly Christian parts of the state, undoubtedly praise God publically.

However, the Rev. Leah Schade doesn’t see them as good Christians. “It is a craven, cowardly way to snipe at people,” she says. Those criticizing the residents “are profiting from the way things are or they are so insulated from the pain and suffering the people are undergoing that they are unable to respond with compassion,” says Schade, pastor of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in nearby Lewisburg. Schade has been to the trailer park several times to minister to the residents. “As a Christian,” she says, “I make a decision to do what Jesus calls us to do—to minister to those most vulnerable and resist the powers and the principalities that seek their own self perpetuation and their own profit.” Schade, who is completing a Ph.D. in theology, points out, “The church has a long history of offering a prophetic voice to persons who are oppressed and made vulnerable by powerful systems, and who need advocates to speak for and alongside of them in the public arena. The teachings of Jesus would tell us that what is happening to these families isn’t right. He would ask, ‘Who controls the resources; who does not?’ The residents and the surrounding ecosystem are the disempowered ones.”

A meeting between attorneys for residents at Riverdale and Aqua-PVR was held June 5 to discuss improving the incentives and settlement for the residents. Aqua-PVR, at that time, said it has no immediate intention to remove the residents.

            [To assist the residents, go to http://www.saveriverdale.com/

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist/columnist and the author of 17 books, most fusing history with contemporary social issues. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales From the Revolution.]

 

 

 

Progressive bloggers and advocates set the stage for immigration reform in 2010

From the Restore Fairness blog.

"Not the usual suspects-" This is how Nico Pitney, National Editor for the Huffington Post and moderator on a panel discussion about the prospect of immigration reform, introduced his fellow panelists. Organized by the Center for American Progress, Netroots Nation, and America's Voice, the panel featured some of the leading voices for comprehensive and just immigration reform, including Markos Zúñiga, founder and editor of Daily Kos, Andrea Nill, immigration blogger for Think Progress, and María Elena Durazo from the AFL-CIO.

Using the context of Rep. Luis Gutierrez's progressive CIR ASAP immigration reform bill introduced in mid December, the recent election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts (and the obvious question of how this will affect the progressive agenda including immigration reform), President Obama's campaign promise to address immigration reform with his election, a lively discussion ensued on what makes the present time ripe for the passage of immigration reform legislation. Unlike the harsh and divisive debates of failed reform in 2007, the overall outlook amongst the panelists was positive, as they approached the topic from the point of view of electoral vote politics, the economy, and the labor movement.

Using Rep. Gutierrez's bill as a solid base, Andrea Nill began by clarifying the fundamentals of Comprehensive Immigration Reform which would include,

An earned path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, including registering with the government, a background check, paying taxes, and ensuring their integration into society.

Creating flexible channels for the future legal flow of immigration which could adjust itself to the ebb and flow of the economy.

Smart enforcement policies including moving resources away from spending money trying to detain and deport immigrants and "chasing busboys and nannies through the desert" into addressing problems such as drug and human trafficking at the border.

Markos Zuniga made the distinction between the political climate around immigration in 2007 and now by talking about today's polls that show 66% of voters (an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans) support reform making it a truly bipartisan issue. With Latino groups reaching a plurality in 2050 and Asian and other minority communities growing rapidly, the co-relation between electoral votes and reform is clear. For many Republicans, falling back onto nativist rhetoric and hate-mongering like in 2007, could mean a significant loss in votes from Latino and other immigrant communities."President Bush won 40% of the immigrant vote in 2004, John McCain only got 28% in 2008, so the long term health of republican party is in jeopardy if they can't appeal to immigration groups."

Andrea Nill added that while there are three groups largely responsible for the nativist rhetoric - FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is also division between the anti-immigration movement, including within the Republican party between moderates willing to engage with immigration reform, and hardliners such as  Rep. Joe Wilson and Rep. Brian Bilbray and other members of the House Immigration Reform Caucas.

Speaking on behalf of  the labor movement, Maria Durazo said there is high expectations from the administration and Congress to deliver on its promise of reform."These are people who harvests our crops, build our buildings and work in our restaurant...they do services for us but then when we need to respond to their need to bring them out of the shadows we call them names - law breakers, illegals...we want to make sure any immigration legislation has protections for workers, both native born and undocumented immigrants who will come out of the shadows - because we will all lose if we don't work together."

In terms of Sen. Scott Brown's recent victory, the panelists felt that it has little effect since immigration reform has and always will be a bipartisan issue. But on a larger scale, the election felt emblematic of the waning of Democrat popularity due to their lack of engagement with many issues, including immigration, and while voters are looking for the 'hope' and 'change' that they were promised, immigration reform is an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to work together towards a viable solution.

But there is also an economic argument for reform. According to a recent Center for American progress report, immigration reform will be crucial for the economy, with mass deportation causing a loss of $2.6 trillion as opposed to a growth of approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period if reform passes. And since the economy, like healthcare,  is a foremost priority of the Obama administration, this is an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously.

The panelists were unanimous on the fact that the present situation is highly favorable towards immigration reform and highlighted the expanse, width and strength of the present coalitions, which today include faith-based groups, LGBT groups, ethnic groups, immigrant rights advocates and immigrant communities in general.

Looking ahead, while Rep. Gutierrez's progressive immigration bill which has 90 co-sponsors would serve as the progressive conscience, everyone is waiting for the bill that Sen. Charles Schumer is working on with Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing for debate in the Senate. It will then move to the House where it will be written by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The penultimate point of the discussion centered around ensuring that the mainstream media begin to report on the issue and mobilize around reform. Maria Elena pointed out the importance of providing people with honest information about the implications of enforcement actions such as raids and detention to families and the economy. Markos Zuniga pointed out that Latino and Asian communities are virtually invisible to the mainstream media, thus removing one side of the immigration story. Stressing the importance of building a pro-immigration story into the media narrative, the speakers highlighted the essential role of online journalism, blogging and networking in building knowledge and momentum for the movement.

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