Sociological curiosity got the best of Queque this weekend. We wondered just what sort of do-righting masochists call a meeting for 8:30 on a Saturday morning — then force-march volunteers block by block, banging on silent doors?
We were pretty sure nobody would show as we tiptoed into Guadalupe Park to find one bundled young woman with a quiet smile. But show they did, and taught our wretchedness a thing or two about the purpose-driven life. A bag of breakfast tacos struck peace with residual bleary-eyed hostility. Then, in their second block-walk to date, members and supporters of the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition hit the street to continue building support among local residents for their ongoing lawsuit against the City for the right to march, protest, and hold vigil on publicly owned streets. The City’s new parade ordinance — crafted last year and currently under injunction for being unconstitutional; although the City has tweaked it and asked the court to take it out of time out — grants the SAPD too much leeway in assessing fees for permits, say its critics, and allows them to charge for First Amendment-related demonstrations. `See “I love a charade,” January 16, 2008.` Free Speech/International Women’s Day organizers see a discrimination at work that affords City-sanctioned and City-sponsored events a free pass, while others are burdened with thousands of dollars in what could amount to financial gag orders for grass-roots groups with a Constitutional bone to pick.
Saturday’s street action (chronicled in video on Curblog) follows a year of organizing in quiet cafecitos, in bright street theater, and with trans-organizational gatherings. More than 2,000 residents have signed a petition in support of Free Speech’s ambitions. The public drives are aimed at showing Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez that San Antonians of diverse backgrounds care deeply about the decision that will face him when the case returns to court on January 26.
In a historically low-income community like San Anto, having free access to public spaces is vital to public political involvement, say the coalition’s organizers.
“We just think the larger community, not just San Antonio, but the nation, continues to lose access to the commons,” said Esperanza Peace & Justice Center Executive Director Graciela Sánchez. “Dissent continues to be quieted down and stifled … These streets and the parks and the public venues, it’s the only thing we have left.”
So, yeah, that hangover was our counter-revolutionary bad. Political activism on (“whose streets?”) “our streets”any time of morning is a thing to treasure.
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’Course, a little judicial activism would be welcomed when it comes to our County’s pee-cup policies. With lawsuits against Bexar County Adult Probation sweating on the sidelines, we’ve been anxious to peer into the well of mismanagement of to-be-determined depths. `See “Test-tube maybes,” October 1, 2008.`
Bexar County and the state-funded Bexar County Probation Department both (eventually) complied with state law and sent us loads of requested information (by column inch, more about the goodies they are not required to release than the sunshine-induced, useful stuff) regarding the contract between the Probation Department and the now-under-investigation pee sniffers at Treatment Associates. One curious item suggests that although Adult Probation has the right to audit the performance of TA, found to be lacking on so many fronts (starting with the Attorney General’s investigation of client records tossed into a Dumpster and allegations of software glitches that skewed test results), no such audit has been undertaken.
Questionable-to-shoddy practices uncovered by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from 2004 to 2006 — underreporting the number of misdemeanor and felony cases the department handled in one year, failing to provide probationers with terms of their supervision, etc. — have grown into a respectable mound on our desk. Still, the greatest hit may be yet to come: TDCJ will release their most recent audit next month. Rumor among the rank-and-file at Probation suggests this report will find the department among the lowest-performing in the state. Not to be a lecher for bad news, but our humble chops leak with anticipation.
Still not as popular as Mulchie
The EPA’s final cleanup plan for the asbestos contamination at the Big Tex site, commenced with optimism November 10, now looks like it will exceed low-profile Thanksgiving and extend on into Santa season, denying owner James Lifshutzand EPA On-Scene Coordinator Eric Delgado their best-case-scenario Christmas wish. `See “Dust bunnies,” in the August 13, 2008 Queque.`
Delgado, who detailed the plan at a November 5 public meeting at Brackenridge High (also reported on your humble Curblog), told the QueQue this week that contamination has already been discovered in four additional grids, multiplying the cleanup time and, ultimately, the cost. EPA’s investigation had initially found unacceptably high levels of asbestos residue in 26 soil-sampling grids, two buildings, and seven of 11 “activity-based sampling” locations.
“My mandate to the removal team is we’re going to have zero visible dust,” said Delgado of the soil-removal process. The grids adjacent to those already slated for disposal are also being tested, which means as many as 63 grids — that’s 2,750 cubic yards to you — may ultimately need to be scraped. Buildings 21 and 23 will undergo Indoor Clearance Sampling once they have been scrubbed.
“We’ll be working seven days a week, sunup to sundown,” said Delgado. Work was suspended on November 15, though, due to high winds. While EPA’s plan sounds comprehensive, many citizens who live near the site remain concerned.
“W.R. Grace covered up their tracks real well,” said longtime resident Santiago Escobedo of the notorious company responsible for bringing the asbestos from their Superfunded Libby, Montana, mine for processing at the facility. “What else went on there that we don’t know about?”
Delgado tried to reassure folks, saying, “You guys gotta remember vermiculite was a commodity. They didn’t want to waste it. They wanted to sell it.”
While Big Tex is not technically a Superfund site, Delgado said EPA is cleaning it up with “Superfund authority.” He pegged the final bill at around half a million dollars and said EPA is footing the tab while the legal system continues to sort out who’ll get stuck with the check. A community-relations trailer is located at the EPA command post at Blue Star to answer questions, and you can also direct your browser to the EPA’s official Big Tex home page, epaosc.net/BigTex and Curblog for updates.
“No more Mr. Nice Gay”
That’s the collective attitude syndicated columnist Dan Savage recently attributed to LGBTs angry about California’s November 4 passage of a same-sex-marriage ban — some six months since the state began granting licenses to brides and brides and grooms and grooms. Savage suggested that the ballot proposition, which threw thousands of lesbigay civil unions into legal limbo, had unleashed a feeling in the gay community that the time had come to aggressively, unabashedly push for full civil rights.
Proposition 8 protests occurred throughout the country on Saturday, November 15, but while the San Antonio gathering didn’t lack for frustration, anger was not so prevalent.
About 200 protesters converged on Main Plaza shortly after noon, carrying signs with messages such as “STR8 Against H8” and “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right.” The most common phrase heard at Main Plaza was “enter a dialogue.” Speakers told protesters that many Prop 8 supporters were good people who’d been misinformed, and that the gay community has to engage the electorate on the most basic levels: talking to family members, sending emails, making YouTube clips, and opening up a conversation with anyone you hear making homophobic comments.
Robert Luedecke, a local doctor, carried a sign that read “Christians Who Support Gays.” Luedecke said he and his wife attended the rally because “we have some friends who are gay and I’ve seen them being discriminated against for years. The reason that I decided to carry the sign I’m carrying is to let people know that there are lots of Christians who are not into persecuting other people and trying to take rights away from other people.”
The Proposition 8 rallies are unique because they’re not protesting a legislative or judicial act, but the honest expression of voters. For some gay-rights advocates, however, the question of revising the California constitution’s position on marriage should never have been left to the rabble.
“I don’t understand how they can pass a law to ban gay marriage, have the court overturn it, and then make another law banning it,” Bill Patterson said. “The majority should not take away rights from a minority. I don’t understand why they think it’s going to hurt their marriages. I guess it’s just fear, like it’s a gay disease and it’s going to spread or something. It diminishes us as people.” •