Everyone Has the Right to...

Everyone Has the Right to... Front cover only

When President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress in January 1941, he called for “a world founded upon four essential freedoms”—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Popular conceptions of rights at the time moved beyond the constitution’s narrow framing of civil and political rights to include basic social and economic rights.

When Roosevelt gave this speech, the depression still lingered on. The official figure for unemployment in California was at 11.7 percent. As it happens, in March 2009, California was once again facing an unemployment rate of over 11 percent, the highest since 1941. Today, the politics of fear and the ubiquity of want have many calling for a new “New Deal.” In this issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment we take a look at the kind of organizing needed to win social and economic rights for all.

As the current recession deepens, fundamental rights to housing, employment, healthcare, and safety continue to retract. As usual, low income people and communities of color bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Foreclosure and unemployment rates in African American communities are double the national averages. The tragic murder of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day in Oakland by a transit police officer is emblematic of how even straightforward civil rights to life and liberty are in daily jeopardy. More...


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Freedom from Want (Introduction to "Rights...")

— Franklin D. Roosevelt
From the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941
“ In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

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Illustration © Art Hazelwood www.arthazelwood.com


Editors Emeritus
Carl Anthony
Luke Cole

Juliet Ellis


B. Jesse Clarke

Design and Layout
B. Jesse Clarke

Copyediting and Proofreading
Merula Furtado, Marcy Rein
Christine Joy Ferrer

Publishing Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer


Brooke Anderson, Scott Braley, Derek Chung

Urban Habitat
Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)   
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)
S.F. Mayor's Office of
Community Development

Carl Anthony
Cofounder, Urban Habitat

Malo Andre Hutson
Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California, Berkeley

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Arnold Perkins
Alameda Public Health Department (retired)

Organizations are listed
for identification purposes only.

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RP&E was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.


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Everyone Has the Right to... From the Editor

By B. Jesse Clarke

When President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress in January 1941, he called for “a world founded upon four essential freedoms”—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Popular conceptions of rights at the time moved beyond the constitution’s narrow framing of civil and political rights to include basic social and economic rights.

When Roosevelt gave this speech, the depression still lingered on. The official figure for unemployment in California was at 11.7 percent. As it happens, in March 2009, California was once again facing an unemployment rate of over 11 percent, the highest since 1941. Today, the politics of fear and the ubiquity of want have many calling for a new “New Deal.” In this issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment we take a look at the kind of organizing needed to win social and economic rights for all.


As the current recession deepens, fundamental rights to housing, employment, healthcare, and safety continue to retract. As usual, low income people and communities of color bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Foreclosure and unemployment rates in African American communities are double the national averages. The tragic murder of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day in Oakland by a transit police officer is emblematic of how even straightforward civil rights to life and liberty are in daily jeopardy.

While civil rights organizing has a long and successful history in winning social justice in the United States, a broader human rights framework—which includes the rights to housing, employment, healthcare, and safe communities—has less often been central to building mass movements. In this issue’s roundtable discussion on rights, participants discuss ways in which this platform is being brought into existence in organizing campaigns in cities and counties across the country (and around the world).

As David Harvey says in his interview with Amy Goodman, the “Right to the City” Alliance and parallel campaigns across the world are raising questions about democratic control of public resources and even private priorities. Capitalism has always depended on state intervention to reconfigure itself following the inevitable financial collapses brought on by monopolies and speculation. But workers have also sometimes succeeded in using these crises to meet their own needs. Despite the fact that the Obama administration refused to attend the recent United Nations conference on racism and has taken reparations for African-American slavery “off the table,” grassroots agitation for redistributive justice is on the rise.

Towards the end of Roosevelt’s life, he engineered the creation of the United Nations but died shortly before its founding conference. However, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt continued to advocate for social and economic rights and became the chair of the United Nations subcommittee of the Commission on Human Rights and led the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 25, which declares “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” is the inspiration for this issue’s cover art.*

The silver lining in the current catastrophe is that ever more people—including many who previously refused to consider alternatives to capitalism—are understanding that the existing system is fundamentally flawed, and broad based coalitions for structural change are becoming a reality?

This issue’s cover photo by Robert Terrell and Jean McIntosh and the illustration on page 4 by Art Hazelwood are excerpted from the traveling exhibition. Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present presented by the California Historical Society and curated by  Art Hazelwood.  (See page 78 for details of the exhibition.)

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From the Director's Desk

While the current recession has trapped countless people under the weight of a foreclosed home, unexpected loss of employment, or the evaporation of a life’s savings, those who were struggling before this economic meltdown to meet their basic needs are more vulnerable than ever. This is certainly the case in Richmond, California where the housing crisis has resulted in more than 2,000 foreclosed properties, most of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Simultaneously, cutbacks in public transit services, fare increases, and the related dependence on automobiles, oil, and freeways are increasing the isolation of poor communities. At Urban Habitat, while continuing our long-term commitment to land use issues, equitable development, and regionalism, we have also been working hard to win basic rights in the two key arenas of housing and transportation.

As a founding member of the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), a diverse coalition committed to ensuring that the city’s low-income people and communities of color benefit from development policies and financial investments, Urban Habitat has been advocating the right to affordable housing for Richmond residents for over four years.

In March, Urban Habitat and REDI organized a town hall meeting on housing to hear community voices and to present a set of demands to elected officials from the city, county and state. Over 500 people participated—including families in foreclosure, renters, and concerned community members. Notably absent were the banks responsible for the majority of foreclosures in Richmond: Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase.  (See story on page 55.)

Emotional testimony from homeowners in foreclosure put a human face on the tragedy of this crisis, while data presented by REDI revealed the discriminatory patterns in mortgage lending to Latino and African-American borrowers of all income levels. REDI partners pressed officials to endorse a list of proposed actions, which include stopping all preventable foreclosures and setting long-term housing goals for the city. A majority of the Richmond city council signed onto the platform and committed to focus on translating the recommendations into action.

On the transportation front, Urban Habitat was a keystone member in a broad coalition of groups that brought Measure VV to victory in last November’s election, thus preserving low-cost AC Transit bus passes for youth, seniors, and the disabled.  But despite the coalition’s victory at the ballot box, the fundamental structural inequality in transportation funding and investment in the Bay Area continue.  Bus systems which serve low-income people are shortchanged and expensive infrastructure projects are funded for billions. To secure transportation as a right, we need a fundamental shift in political power. We have now joined with others to build a national coalition. (See story on page 67.)

To get to the systemic issues that plague this country and the world, we need to confront the central problem of the haves and the have-nots—those that have rights and those that do not. At Urban Habitat, we define environmental justice very broadly: people have the right to live, work, and play in environments where they’re not disproportionately burdened by toxics, or a lack of housing and transportation.

For the past 20 years, we have worked with community partners and progressive allies in labor, business, philanthropy, and government, to address the pressing issues that threaten our region’s most vulnerable communities. As we move into a new economic, social, and political landscape, I look forward to our ongoing partnership. Please visit our website www.urbanhabitat.org, to learn more about all of our programs.

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Rights Roundtable

Interview by B. Jesse Clarke


  •    Juliet Ellis, Executive Director, Urban Habitat
  •    Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Executive Director, Green for All, Former Director,  Working Partnerships USA
  •    Dorothy Kidd, Co-Chair of Media Alliance and Professor of Media Studies, University of San Francisco.
  •    Adam Kruggel, Director, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization
  •    Shalini Nataraj, Vice President of Programs, Global Fund for Women
  •    Renee Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator, La Raza Centro Legal

Clarke: One of the themes that we’re trying to investigate is whether you make a rights framework (tenants’ rights, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights) part of your organizing work. The United States has a long tradition of civil rights with a certain level of successful organizing, particularly to gain equal rights for African Americans and overcome the legacy of slavery. But people organizing around the right to a job or the right to housing have a much more challenging environment. It’s not a given that people believe that you actually have a right to housing or a right to a job or a right to freedom to control your own social and economic participation.

Do you organize around expanding civil rights to embrace a broader concept of social and economic rights? What are some of the strengths of this approach? What are some of the drawbacks that you’ve run into? Whyen do you or don’t you use it when you’re working on specific campaigns?

Kidd: The international network, “Our Media”, is made up of advocates in community radio and video and in human rights groups and other social movement groups who are fighting for national legislation to protect independent and alternative media. Internationally, for about the last 10 years, people have been trying to use the idea of communication rights as an umbrella to bring all of those groups together. Many groups, particularly in Latin America and India, already use a human rights framework that is a lot wider than that used in the United States and includes social, political, and economic rights. The idea of communication rights resonates with a lot of organizations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The people’s right to be able to communicate links groups fighting for better water, quality education, women’s rights, and many other issues.

Urban Habitat
Urban Habitat is a 20-year-old social and environmental justice organization. The framework we use focuses on a large definition of environmental justice. It allows us to work on different issues over time. Our organization has worked on everything from food security and jobs to land use, transportation, and affordable housing, all under the umbrella of trying to ensure that low-income and communities of color are able to impact decisions that affect our lives. The issues may change over time but this kind of larger framework—building around constituents having voice, having power, being able to control their destinies, looking at issues of disproportionate impact—is the common thread. In the last couple of years we have dealt a lot more with housing and transportation and their connection with quality jobs. But if you were to look back five years ago, 10 years ago, there were different issues on the table, yet we still supported marginalized communities that usually don’t have the voice to impact decisions.
—Juliet Ellis, Executive Director 

The problem in the United States is that those rights are not taken for granted. The United States government has not signed on to the United Nations covenant for social, political, and economic rights. But some groups are trying to not only organize at the grassroots for the right to quality media but also for groups to be able to direct their own media to represent themselves. The rights approach can be useful. But the problem comes in when people think of rights as something that can be secured through law or through courts. That’s not going to happen for a long time.

Saucedo: We absolutely put organizing around immigration rights issues and immigrant workers’ issues into the framework of building human rights in the United States. Because the mainstream media almost always uses the term “illegal immigrant,” migration gets characterized as a criminal issue rather than as a product of international economic policies that force people to leave their loved ones behind, and risk their lives to come to the United States for any work that they can find.
Huge challenges go along with that. It justifies oppression against immigrant communities through intense enforcement and denial of benefits. The opposition is formidable. It’s an uphill battle. Not that we don’t or can’t win, because we do, thanks to the courage and inspiration of the immigrants themselves. But as long as the discussion around immigration or immigrants’ rights is limited to punitive law enforcement, we have to keep working on really making it part of a larger human rights framework.

Nataraj: We use the human rights framework to assess the proposals that come to us for funding, but in some circumstances—in the midst of occupation conflicts, such as in Iraq—that may not be very strongly articulated. So we work with groups where they are, while striving for the systematic and transformative change that has to happen in order for women’s rights to be honored and valued.

Rene Sauceedo was just speaking about the rights of migrant workers and the factors that send them in search of economic and human security. We try to address that on the other side, on the ground, in these communities; to see what women need to really push their own agendas, to promote their rights to sustainable development and for a voice in the decisions and policies of their countries. The United States has a very heavy footprint all over the world. We see a strong linkage between what we do overseas and how that expresses itself here in this country.

Working Partnerships USA
Working Partnerships was created as a partnership between the labor movement and communities of color and the faith communities. It started out of a regional labor federation that has about 110,000 members who came together with community groups to figure out how to transform the new economy that is being created through technology and make sure that working people have a voice and that the solutions being created actually make their lives better. We’ve done everything from universal health care legislation for children, to small business [development], to living wages. And now we’re trying to figure out how to leverage those public and private investments into change that’s measurable We ask ourselves how to connect the labor movement with people of color and faith communities to create a majority that’s capable of contesting for power and change. Our strategy is based on building power to make change happen.
—Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Former Executive Director WPUSA, Incoming Director, Green for All

Ellis-Lamkins: We also use a human rights framework. When it comes to the right to organize [as described in the Declaration of Human Rights, we are specific. Beyond that, we try to make the case that people have fundamental rights to healthcare and housing, and we talk about what that looks like. People respond well when we talk about opportunity. For example, when we say children should have an opportunity for a good education and point out that a smart child from a low-income background performs worse in school than a less-intelligent child from a more financially stable family, people respond.

When you say, “Look, we want to figure out what conditions people need to be able to succeed,” you get to rights, but you also look at the process of how you get there. We don’t ever just start and say, “Everyone should have healthcare.” We start with, “Kids don’t do well.” And then you graduate to, “And parents can’t participate in school when they don’t have healthcare or when they don’t have time because there isn’t housing that people can afford in their community so they end up commuting two hours a day.”
I think the framework is right but the process of how we get there is as critical as the framework.

Based on my experience at Urban Habitat, the idea that everyone is entitled to human rights runs counter to United States culture. Whether you talk about housing or healthcare or gay and lesbian rights or folks who are incarcerated, it’s not generally accepted that people have intrinsic rights.

La Raza Centro Legal
La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco sponsors several programs, among them the San Francisco Day Labor Program and the Women’s Collective. We work with day laborers and domestic workers, many of them undocumented migrants. Through our organization, they find work in a dignified manner and are able to empower themselves and organize around issues that impact their lives. At the San Francisco Day Labor Program, we provide our members with comprehensive services, including leadership development and organizing. Members decide what they need in order to be able to find productive employment and to assert their legal rights as workers. We provide job referrals, training, and support services to prepare individuals for the work force. Our program develops the leadership of these workers, not only locally but also at a national and regional level, so they can protect their own rights. Our national organization is the National Day Labor Organizing Network. The Women’s Collective (which consists of domestic workers) is part of the National Alliance of Domestic Workers. Participants learn about the law and educate fellow workers, organize pickets against unscrupulous employers, campaign to stop police harassment of day laborers on street corners, and obtain dignified space for day laborers’ centers. This year our main campaign dealt with national immigration reform. One of our central tenets is that members decide which campaigns they work on, including the agenda, and strategies involved.
—Renee Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator

At Urban Habitat, we’ve defined environmental justice very broadly: people have the right to live, work, and play in environments where they’re not burdened disproportionately by toxics or by a lack of education or lack of transportation.
We also promote the general concept of what we are for: environmental justice, economic justice, social justice, equal access, opportunity, and self-determination. But we very often don’t approach the conversation with the idea that there are basic human rights that people are afforded. And I think it’s unfortunate, because if you want to get to the systemic issues the country and the world are facing, the central problem is that there are haves and have-nots. In fact, some people have rights and some people don’t. Whatever human right you are talking about, most of the communities we work with are the “have-nots.” For many people, it’s a big leap to say that everyone is entitled to a certain level of rights.

Kruggel: To consider how we are called to live with one another, we draw on some of the many different faith traditions that have given us teachings and reflections on this over the last several thousand years. All of the work we do is shaped by the idea that we are “created in the image of the creator.” We believe that every person, by virtue of their birth, is sacred and precious and that we are called to build a world that honors that sacred value. Within that there are core values that shape how we build our society—one being that the needs of people be provided.

When we talk about rights in this country, we talk a lot about the Constitution. When we work with immigrants, we spend a lot of time talking about what the Constitution means. The Constitution isn’t just for citizens. It doesn’t just apply to legal residents. It applies to everybody. Regardless of your country of origin, regardless of where you’re at, you have rights, by virtue of the values that shape our country.

We believe, in a very clear, programmatic sense, that people have rights to healthcare, to adequate shelter, to quality education, to work, and to live in a healthy community.

Right now, nationally, we’re having this debate about the fundamental right to quality affordable healthcare. That’s indisputable. If you don’t have healthcare, you will die in this world. It’s a central right and need that everyone has.

But to win your rights, you need to have the power to compel. We don’t always invoke the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, because we’re trying to build power. We’re not trying to rest on documents; we’re trying to create power to create new things. We have an over-arching vision that people have all these rights but we try to scaffold it by building power and being strategic and helping to create change.

I think the limitation of rights language is that it fails to communicate the urgency of the action that people need to take to make rights real, to make them active and alive in our society. It has this danger of becoming a rhetorical device or a platitude. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is a beautiful document, but the UN has no power to make it real. I think it’s a vision and an aspiration that’s beautiful but it’s meaningless if we’re not building power to create those concrete changes.

Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO)
CCISCO is based in one of the fastest-growing counties in California. It has undergone tremendous demographic transformation over the last 10 years. We have the largest population of young people and the highest homicide rate for people ages 16 to 24, in the Bay Area. It’s a tremendously diverse county that’s home to crushing poverty and fantastic prosperity. Our work centers on the issue of equity, how you build regional and local communities that are equitable and have opportunity for all people.
We work in cities like Pittsburg, Antioch, and Richmond, California that have been some of the most violent and deadly cities in the state and the country. They’ve been at the epicenter of a number of crises, with some of the lowest educational attainment and high school graduation rates in the state, and some of the highest foreclosure rates in neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates. These communities are just a few miles away from some of the wealthiest and most prosperous communities and cities in the country.
We primarily work through institutions that exist in religious congregations within communities. We also work with neighborhood councils and schools. We have close to 40 different religious denominations that we currently organize with across the country. And so our constituency is incredibly diverse and it bridges a diverse geography over race/class, ethnicity, language, and generational differences.
—Adam Kruggel, Director

Clarke: I’m interested in the ways in which the rights framework can bridge some of the tensions that historically exist between groups that should be progressive allies but actually end up working at cross-purposes or in opposition when it comes to certain kinds of political issues.

In what ways are you building change within existing institutions that have historical tensions—or building alliances among constituencies that sometimes haven’t worked together?

Ellis-Lamkins: Any time you work with people, you need to recognize where they start. And so we always remind people that, in this moment, construction and building unions have almost 30 percent unemployment. They have democratically elected officials, and they’re trying to figure out how to get their members to work, because that’s what they are good at and because they believe in it. The really practical challenge for us as a movement is to understand where people come from and to try to make that okay and then help them be successful. In San Jose, we’ve done that by recognizing that local people want to have an opportunity to have quality jobs, which means union jobs. As a person of color and a woman I see the best route out of poverty is to be a member of a union.

I just sat in a room full of [people from] national women’s organizations who were all saying that the unions offer the best way for women to move out of poverty and stay out. It’s the same thing for people of color. We have to recognize that we need to be able to meet each others’ needs and help each other.

For example, in the East Side Union High School District, as they were building, we created a programto help move kids in a predominantly Latino school district into apprenticeship programs. They got to work in their school, but they also got the chance to find permanent jobs. And whether people are undocumented, or just out of work, or in communities that are struggling, everyone wants to figure out how to get a quality job. We have to figure out how to meet those needs and not see them as competing interests. So I actually think it’s a challenge that our movement hasn’t risen to at this point.

Global Fund for Women
At the Global Fund, we don’t do direct organizing within the United States, but we are the largest women’s fund that supports women’s rights by  organizing and mobilizing. In our 21 years, we’ve worked in about 167 countries. So, in a way, we are just the opposite of Adam Kruggel, who talked about Contra Costa County being a microcosm of the world.
We work in the world and we’re trying to see how building local connections can help us further our own agenda in terms of really being able to promote and protect the rights of women overseas.
The focus of our work is building women’s agency, getting their voices to decision-making in all areas of society, and realizing that women face multiple discrimination from class, caste, poverty, culture, and social factors. And those of us who work with immigrant and migrant communities in this country know that such discrimination carries over from the countries of origin.
The linkages are very strong and clear. We look at ways we can work with organizations that are addressing how international development aid is deployed from this country, to make sure that it really takes the concerns of women into account.
—Shalini Nataraj, Vice President of Programs

Clarke: Can you talk about some of the successful examples of building cross-constituency coalitions?

Kidd: I agree with the point about the rhetoric of the Human Rights Declaration being really difficult. I come from Canada where we have a different social contract. But in my experience, campaigns or struggles around rights—whether it’s the right to water in Bolivia or the right to education for the girl child in India or union rights in Colombia—concrete campaigns for real people have always been really inspiring and motivating. And those kinds of intersections are really important to encourage.

In the last year, I’ve been working on the Raising Our Voices program in East Oakland. We had a group of people from different social justice organizations, from different immigrant communities. Whether it was from Central America or Mongolia or from the Caribbean, the sharing of experiences around how they’ve made their own campaigns, and of their personal life stories, was probably the most significant learning experience. I think communications are key to all of this. One of the most important things that Race, Poverty and the Environment can provide, and communicators can provide, is that opportunity for people to intersect and find out about struggles in other places.

Nataraj: Increasingly, in organizing overseas, those linkages are being made between environmental, social justice, human rights, and women’s rights movements. As we all know, there are very disparate agendas within the women’s rights movements. One of the things that I think helps in promoting a funding agenda is to look at opportunities that can really catalyze those linkages. There are also different approaches overseas that can be used here more effectively. One is the notion of class action suits. Now that isn’t very widely used here in the United States, but actually bringing suits under international law to promote things, such as the right to housing or the right to healthcare, would be a very strong organizing tool.

Media Alliance
Media Alliance is about 30 years old. In the last 10 years, as media and technology have been available more inexpensively, our emphasis has gone from working with the professional gatekeepers to working with social justice organizations to teach media and communication skills so they can represent themselves. Broadly speaking, we utilize a communication rights framework that supports both people’s right to represent themselves in media and  their right to receive quality information.
Recently, we’ve been involved in two campaigns. One is a media training program in East Oakland called Raising Our Voices conducted with leaders of community organizations. Areas of concern have been on attacks on immigrants, violence concerning youth, and lack of quality education in the Oakland schools.
The second is to build a more equitable communications system. For example, the federal government is directing stimulus money toward increasing internet broadband access. Working in coalition with the media justice network (MAGNET) and also the Media and Democracy Coalition, we are trying to ensure that the stimulus money actually goes to organizations redeveloping their own community’s communications infrastructure.
—Dorothy Kidd, Co-Chair of MA

Clarke: How do you see moving forward with human rights organizing in your work?

Kruggel: This is an important time in history to be doing this kind of work. Some of the work done by our sister organizations in Rwanda and in El Salvador has allowed us to see how people, in the most marginal and desperate conditions, have been able to reclaim a spirit and sense of dignity and truly organize around basic human rights. People in our country need to learn from this quickly.

We’ve had a tremendous experience over the last year in building alliances across different arenas with labor, educators, and healthcare providers, between immigrants and non-immigrants. We’re standing on the edge of an abyss, but we also have a tremendous opportunity to make a lot of these linkages. Our organization just had a big action last night in Antioch, California. We had Tongan and Latino and African-American students from the high school and from the community all working together on a comprehensive agenda for reforming the high school system so that kids can get access to apprenticeship programs, and eventually land living wage jobs and gain access to decent housing. We were also able to link it to a new form of transit-oriented development. We had the Central Labor Council supporting it. This is a catalytic moment where we have the opportunity to dramatically transform their way of living so we can save the planet and really save each other.

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David Harvey on The Financial Crash and the Right to the City

The Financial Crash and the Right to the City
An Interview by Amy Goodman

David Harvey is a Marxist geographer and distinguished professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He’s the author of several books, including The Limits to Capital and A Brief History of Neo-liberalism.

Goodman: Can you talk about what you mean by “the right to the city”?
What I mean by the right to the city is that we have a real need right now to democratize decisions as to how a city shall be organized and what it should be about, so that we can actually have a collective project to reshape the urban world. Here in New York, effectively, the right to the city has been held by the mayor and the Development Office and the developers and the financiers. Most of us don’t really have a very strong say. The democratization of the city, of city decision-making, is crucial. And I think we want to reclaim the right to the city for all of us, so that we can not only have access to what exists in the city, but also be able to reshape the city in a different image, in a different way, which is more socially just, and more environmentally sustainable.

Goodman: What do you think of the proposals from the government regarding the financial crisis?
Harvey: What they’re trying to do is reinvent the same system. There’s a lot of squabbling on the details, but the fundamental argument they are making is, how can we actually reconstitute the same sort of capitalism we had and have had over the last 30 years in a slightly more regulated, benevolent form, but not challenge the fundamentals? I think it’s time we challenge the fundamentals.

Goodman: What are those fundamentals?
Harvey: The fundamentals have to do with the incredible increase in consolidation of class power. Since the 1970s, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in inequality, not just in this country, but worldwide. In effect, the assets of the world are accumulating more and more in fewer hands. When you look at the nature of the bailout programs, the stimulus programs and all the rest of it, what they really do is to try to keep those assets intact while making the rest of us pay. And so, I think it’s time we stop that and say, “actually, we should be getting more of the assets and much greater equality.”

Goodman: And how would we get more of the assets? How would there be greater equality?
For example, the nature of the bailout of the banks and the sort of restructuring that is going on is about saving the banks and saving the bankers, while actually sticking it to the people. I mean, we’re the ones who are going to have to pay for this in the long run. So what I’m arguing for is a political awareness that this is happening.
In fact, it has been happening over the last 30 years, sort of step by step. It’s been disguised in this kind of rhetoric about individual liberty and freedom of markets. But if you look backwards, you will see that this is not the first financial crisis we’ve had. We’ve had many of them over the last 30 years, and they all have the same character. We had our own savings and loan crisis back in the 1980s. There was a Mexican debt crisis back in 1982 when Mexico was going to go bankrupt. And if they had gone bankrupt, then the New York investment banks would have gone under. So what did they do? They bailed out Mexico, therefore bailing out the New York investment bankers, and then they made the Mexican people pay.

Goodman: If you were the Treasury Secretary what exactly would you be doing?
I would take a lot of that money, and I would put it into some kind of a national reconstruction corporation. And I would say, “Look, your first duty is to take care of the foreclosure crisis and the people who have been foreclosed upon. So go into cities like Cleveland and areas in California that have been devastated and take care of the foreclosure crisis.”xvc NB
One of the ways you could do that is to start buying out all of those houses that are about to be foreclosed on and put them into a municipal housing association or some collective form of that kind, and then allow people to remain in those houses, even though they’re no longer necessarily owners. So the ownership rights would shift.
What we’ve seen in the housing market is a tremendous plundering of the assets of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. I mean, this has been the biggest loss of asset wealth to the African American population that there’s ever been.

Goodman: What is the connection between gentrification and the mortgage crisis?
Harvey: The gentrification process here in New York was again about reconstructing urban environments. A lot of the reconstruction entailed a big investment in housing, particularly when it was corporate-led. You then have the problem of who’s going to buy the housing. And it’s not only gentrification, it’s also new development, new condominiums and all the rest.
It’s interesting. Finance controls both, the creation of housing and also its consumption. You lend money to the developers. They go in and gentrify a neighborhood. You then lend money to the people who are going to occupy it. You’ve got to find that market for gentrification once that process goes on. And so, the connection in this is that the financial operators are working both ends of this game.

Goodman: Do you see neo-liberalism as dead?
Harvey: I don’t see neo-liberalism as dead, if you say neo-liberalism is about consolidation of class power, because actually we’re seeing the further consolidation of it right now, rather than the lessening of it. And that’s what I was referring to when I was talking about the bank bailout—that’s what it was doing. This is why I’m concerned.

Goodman: Were you for no bank bailouts?
Harvey: Well, I was in favor of solving the foreclosure crisis. You see, if you’ve solved the housing crisis, the banks wouldn’t be holding any toxic assets. If you had gone in and bailed out all of the people, there would be no problem on Wall Street. You wouldn’t have the foreclosures. So we should have gone in there right at the beginning and actually held down the foreclosure crisis.

Goodman: And why didn’t they?
Harvey: Because that would mean bailing out poor African Americans and people of that sort, and they’re not concerned with that. They’re concerned with protecting the bankers, not the people.

Goodman: Is there anything that gives you hope?
Harvey:  I think now people might see that this is what has actually been happening over the last 30 years—it hits you in the face straightaway. Something different has to happen. Some sort of movement has to come out and say, “Look, enough is enough. We’re not going to continue in this particular way.”

Goodman: What do you see as the role of social movements?
Harvey: Right now, it’s a desperate moment. In the sense that if we’re going to come out of this crisis, it’s going to be because of the formation of very strong social movements that say enough is enough. We’ve got to change the world in a very, very different way.

Social movements of this kind don’t form overnight. They take a little while. It’s interesting when you look back. In 1929, there’s the stock market crash. The social movements didn’t really start getting into motion until 1932. It took about three years. Right now, I think we’re in a legitimization crisis. They’re trying to rescue the system as is. And I think more and more people are beginning to say this is an illegitimate system, and therefore we have to think about doing something different. Out of that, various kinds of social movements will arise.

We have this relatively new movement called the Right to the City Movement. It’s here in New York City, and it’s in several other cities in the United States. There’s a national coalition. It’s small right now and it’s getting its act together. But these kinds of things can grow very fast, very quickly. So there  are likely to be many movements of that kind. In other countries, there are already quite massive social movements. [The United States] is a little bit behind on that trajectory.

Goodman: And what would you identify as those massive social movements elsewhere?
Harvey: In Brazil, for example, there is a Right to the City Movement around housing provision and a landless peasants’ movement, which is very active and successful in what it is trying to achieve. There’s a peasant movement in India, too, which is actually really quite strong.

There’s a real moment here, where we also have to think about these things connecting globally, which is, of course, where the World Social Forum originated. And so, there are ways in which we can start to think about coordination between different parts of the world.

Amy Goodman is host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! program where she conducted this interview. She is co-author of three books written with her brother, David Goodman: The Exception to the Rulers, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and People who Fight Back; and Standing up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.

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A Tale of Two Zip Codes

Recession Worsens Rights gap between Rich and Poor

At the corner of Turk and Hyde Streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, just a few blocks from the glittering commerce and bustling tourism of Union Square, lies a little slice of the Third World that visitors rarely see—unless they go to India or Africa. In just a minute’s stroll, fashion stores and boutiques hustling Armani and Prada, and European-style cafes peddling panini, cappuccino, and white wine give way to adult book stores, liquor markets, pay day loan stores, overnight SRO (single-room occupancy) hotels, drug rehab clinics, and bargain-basement deals on crack.

Nestled in the heart of downtown between Union Square and Civic Center (the city’s house of government), the Tenderloin is a chaotic theater of suffering, struggle and survival, performed in the open every day yet eerily separate from nearby neighborhoods that rank among the nation’s wealthiest. Fundamental rights that most Americans take for granted—rights to privacy, housing, health, safety, and employment—are starkly absent. Even the post office, that most democratic of government institutions, won’t guarantee they will deliver the mail.

This paradox of normalized, unabashed poverty and extreme separation from the city around it—“we know we’re not welcome outside our neighborhood,” says an elderly man with red sores freckling his face—maintains the Tenderloin’s status as an island surrounded by rivers of cash and opportunity that rarely wash ashore.

Amid the deepening economic recession, the ranks of homeless and poor folk are rising while anti-poverty programs are shriveling—posing an as yet unmet challenge to address intensifying poverty. In a city famous for its liberal politics and its pockets of epic wealth—much of which remains despite the tanking economy—the recession has also revived questions of how the public sector can redress the widening chasm between rich and poor. 

“The biggest problem in the neighborhood, after crack, is bed bugs,” says Joseph Jones, a 70-year-old retired janitor who lives in a Tenderloin SRO. Jones, a 26-year veteran of the Tenderloin and a self-described “amateur social anthropologist” with a Master’s degree in Asian history, is speaking at a meeting of tenant representatives at the Central City SRO Collaborative, a city-funded nonprofit that fights for SRO residents’ rights. Behind the group, butcher paper pasted to the wall lists “Bed Bug Myths,” such as: “can’t get disease,” “alcohol kills eggs,” and “only happens to the poor;” and “Facts” like: “drink blood,” “in seams of mattresses,” and “7 eggs a day.”

In the middle of the meeting Jones declares, “I just killed a bed bug right here.” Another tenant rep tells of finding bed bugs on toilet seats in his hotel, and ongoing resistance by management to get rid of them. Heat kills the bugs, one rep informs the group, to which another responds: “Global warming.” Bed bugs, causing all manner of skin rashes, insomnia, and other maladies, are “epidemic” here, says Jeff Buckley, director of the SRO Collaborative. The Department of Public Health “just doesn’t have the manpower to check every hotel.”

The Health department and the Department of Building Inspections each have just two monitors tasked with evaluating conditions in roughly 350 San Francisco SROs, of which about 250 are in the Tenderloin, Buckley says.

A host of other indignities pervade Tenderloin residents’ daily lives. Water damage in walls and ceilings is common. Buckley and SRO reps say tenants are forced to ask building managers for toilet paper—“imagine that you have to take a dump and you have to ask the manager for permission to do it.” Broken elevators stay in hazardous disrepair for weeks (“luckily we haven’t had anyone die in an elevator breakdown, but it’s just a matter of time,” Buckley says). During a rather fortunate bathroom visit one evening, a man narrowly escaped a chunk of ceiling which fell where his head would have been had he been sleeping in his bed.

Then there’s the mail. It never comes. “The Post Office doesn’t want to deliver to poor people,” Buckley says. “They don’t consider SROs as permanent housing, so people don’t get their mail delivered... all the stuff that anybody else takes for granted, they’re still fighting for.” In April 2006, following a campaign by the Collaborative and District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, San Francisco initiated a mailbox ordinance requiring the Postal Service to deliver to SRO residents. But the Post Office refuses to comply, Buckley says, so a lawsuit may be in the works to enforce mail delivery.

Poverty Deepens, Aid Decreases
As I interview Joanne Harris, a thin, red-headed 39-year-old white woman donning a camouflage sweat jacket, a man crouches by a car a few feet away and fires up his crack pipe. “He does that right out in the open, like it’s legal, that’s what drives me crazy,” says Harris, who lived on the street for two years before moving into an SRO hotel with her boyfriend. “The police crack down on public drinking but they ignore the crack.” The recession, she says, has pushed the newly unemployed out of her SRO, into the streets and out of town—“the only people doing well are the drug dealers.”
The streets here are always rugged, but life in “the TL” is getting tougher as jobs disappear and services dry up due to massive city budget cuts. “It’s getting a lot more tense, people are more stressed,” says Yvette Love, a 40-year-old homeless African American woman in a wheelchair. “There’s a lot more fighting over money, and people stealing from each other a lot more.”

Despite its reputation for egalitarianism, the City by the Bay is a town divided—the extreme and entrenched poverty of the Tenderloin butting up against bastions of comfort and extreme wealth.  Examined through the lens of two city zip codes, the numbers tell a story of Dickensian disparity.
Consider the gulf between gritty Tenderloin (94102), which includes part of slightly better-off Hayes Valley, and tony Marina/Cow Hollow (94123), just a mile away over the mansion-topped crests of Pacific Heights.  Marina residents take home roughly five times what Tenderloin denizens make, and nearly twice the city average. In the Tenderloin, the official poverty rate soars over 23 percent, more than double citywide and state levels, while it’s virtually non-existent in the Marina. Despite the Tenderloin’s ballooning poverty, San Francisco boasted the seventh-lowest municipal poverty rate in the nation in 2007, Census data show.

Rich Get Richer
Meanwhile, the Bay Area millionaire population keeps growing. According to the 2007 annual World Wealth Report produced by Merrill Lynch and consulting firm Capgemini, 123,621 households in the Bay Area “had $1 million or more in financial assets in 2007, up 10.8 percent from the year before,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Some 665 of those resided in zip code 94123, a surprising 116 in 94102. The report projected ongoing millionaire growth despite economic turmoil. 

“It’s kind of like Third World and First World,” says Don Simms, who lives in a Tenderloin studio condo and works in a retail store in the Marina.

When the Mayor’s Office of Housing examined 2000 Census data, it found the Tenderloin median household income was less than half the citywide amount. The Tenderloin was home to several of the city’s 33 “areas of low-income concentration,” census tracts where more than half of households had incomes below 80 percent of the city median.

San Francisco sports some remarkable racial, geographic, and income divides. A 2006 city Human Rights Commission (HRC) report, citing 2000 Census data, showed that, per capita, whites in Supervisorial District 2, which includes the Marina and other well-off neighborhoods, hauled in $80,256 on average, while Asian/Pacific Islanders in District 6 (the Tenderloin, South of Market, and other neighborhoods) took in just $17,074; worse yet, Asian/Pacific Islanders in the city’s 9th district (the Mission, Portola, and other working-class hoods) earned just over $10,000.

In 2005, San Francisco’s official homeless count (widely viewed as a serious undercounting) showed an even more stunning poverty divide. Of the 2,497 homeless people counted in shelters, service centers and jails, almost half, 1,232 were in District 6, while just 22 were found in District 2. While African Americans made up about 6.5 percent of the citywide population, 36 percent of San Francisco’s homeless were black.

Drilling down further, the data reveal severe disparities in wealth, health, and education. Nearly half of the Tenderloin’s 964 families with children aged 5 to 17 hovered just above the poverty level in 2000, while just 21 of Marina/Cow Hollow’s 435 such families endured this stress, the HRC found. The Tenderloin zip code ranked among the city’s worst areas for asthma hospitalization rates, while the Marina rested at the comfortable bottom with one-third as many incidents. The HRC also showed a huge education gap: District 6 had half as many high school graduates as did District 2, and just a third of the number of college graduates.

The Right to Shop and Dine in Style
It’s a clear warm afternoon, a mellow breeze ruffles the well-manicured hedges next to me, and I can see Angel Island resting in the Bay. It’s quiet here on the corner of Green Street and Steiner in the Marina at about four-thirty, at a peaceful remove from the urban crush. In place of rattling shopping carts and angry street disputes, I’m met with the occasional jogger, a multi-task unit of mom-kids-dog-cell phone, and, every couple of minutes, a passing Prius, Mercedes, Lexus, or Range Rover. Recession?

Underneath the hood, there are in fact signs that the recession has hit the Marina/Cow Hollow area hard. It’s different from Tenderloin hard, though: “I don’t think people are losing their homes here, they’re just not buying dresses,” says Heather Sweeney, who works at Flaunt, a fine women’s clothing boutique on Union Street.

Flaunt is upscale: T-shirts are $60, jeans go for $200, and those dresses run up to $500. But Stephanie Stokes, the soon-to-be owner, says her clientele are “a lot of trickle down from Pacific Heights, women who usually spend one-thousand dollars, and they’re not doing that right now.” Sales are falling off, as even wealthy shoppers cut back and others flock to big discount stores. “Business is sucking right now,” says a retail worker at a high-end men’s clothing store. “Union Street is kind of a train wreck.” 

At least 18 Union Street businesses have shut down in the past year (a couple due to retirements), says Leslie Drapkin, co-owner of Jest Jewels, who writes a column for the neighborhood’s monthly Marina Times. With commercial rents falling by 20 percent, and small-business stimulus on the way, she’s “edging toward the positive now.” But she adds, “it’s been crazy, everyone is worried... the thirty-some-things that have never experienced a recession, that’s our clientele.” Even the rich, she says, are spending less: “the percentages go all the way down the line.”
Her business partner, Eleanor Carpenter, president of the Union Street Merchants Association, is fast-talking and bullish. “It’s time to move now, time to go—I’m looking to expand,” says Carpenter, sporting stylish thick-frame glasses and a pearl necklace, and multiple bracelets draped over her wrist. She’s planning to tap Small Business Administration money for expansions. But the longtime Marina resident acknowledges people there are retrenching: “I don’t think they choose to eat out as much, or spend money on Armani or Prada.”

When asked about poverty in the Tenderloin, Carpenter and Drapkin vent exasperation. “There are all these programs,” says Carpenter, “why aren’t these people using these programs? What’s wrong with them? I guess they’re just collecting their checks? It breaks my heart that they’re in the condition they’re in, but they don’t help themselves.” Drapkin adds, “I’m not one for the homeless programs we have—people need to work hard.”

From Raw Deal to New Deal?
“Every single day, positive and beautiful things happen in the Tenderloin,” says James Tracy, a veteran organizer with the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership, which runs housing and transition programs for homeless people. “All the ingredients are here,” he says, citing activist tenant councils and grassroots organizing groups fighting for better conditions—but he says something bigger and bolder is needed.

“We should have a green municipal New Deal,” argues Tracy, a stocky, bespectacled San Francisco native. “We should be paying people to do community theater, to put solar panels on these buildings. Why can’t they make sure the kids who grow up in this neighborhood learn how to do the sound and lights in the theaters here?” Expanding public sector employment and union organizing rights, too, “would help all workers, shrink the surplus of labor, and give working class people more leverage” in the marketplace.

Instead, the kinds of programs that train and employ the homeless are fading from the public landscape even as poverty intensifies.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless in need of help appears to be rising. A survey by the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee in October 2008 found two-thirds of homeless people were being turned away from shelters. Providers, such as Tenderloin Health, are seeing three times as many homeless as they’re contracted to serve, says Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

“We have this huge increase in the number of people who are poor, and a disintegration of the cornerstone poverty abatement programs, such as job training and affordable housing,” says Friedenbach. “It’s the exact opposite approach of what you would want. You would want in this time of recession and increased needs to have this really creative response from city government to turn it around, and instead the proposals on the table are to balance this huge deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable San Franciscans.”

Facing a massive $438 million projected deficit, Mayor Gavin Newsom has called for stinging budget cuts that hit the Tenderloin especially hard. The Tenderloin Community Resource Center, the area’s primary resource center for homeless folks, loses its funding as of July 1. The Tenderloin’s main day treatment clinic for the mentally disabled, run out of the Tenderloin Outpatient Clinic, is also getting axed. Shelters at Geary and Polk are limiting access, and job training programs are “being pretty much decimated,” says Friedenbach. 

The cuts have inspired a feisty response in legislative chambers and on the streets. At a protest in front of City Hall in late March, 700 city workers railed against cuts to health and human services and demanded a different approach. “People are losing their houses, people are losing their savings, their retirement, and it’s the services in San Francisco that help those people in crisis,” said Damita Davis-Howard, president of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) municipal workers local.  

Barbara Lopez, a community organizer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which will also see deep cuts, sees a growing contradiction between the federal stimulus and local policies. “I think the stimulus is about protecting the safety net and stabilizing communities, so why does our mayor feel the need to cut these services?” asks Lopez. “The city leadership has moved to the right of national leadership.” San Francisco, she says, “has this reputation as a very liberal city, and socially it is liberal, but I think our dirty secret is that we’re really economically conservative.”

Lopez and others pointed to the Mayor’s hiring of 58 new executive managers in the past year (allegedly to the tune of $8 million), and chauffer and limousine services for fire chiefs and others, as symbols of misplaced spending priorities. The unions and advocacy groups propose a blend of alternate cuts and revenue measures to restore vital city services for the poor and working/middle-class San Franciscans. 

Indeed, there is a growing push to counter the deficit and the cuts by taxing some of San Francisco’s phenomenal wealth. In February, Supervisor John Avalos called for a special election this summer—as yet unplanned—that would install a gross receipts tax on large firms (it was repealed in 2001), along with taxes on downtown commercial properties and sales. “If these corporations pay their fair share, we can generate millions that will go towards keeping health clinics, youth and senior services, and jobs safe for San Franciscans,” Avalos said in calling for the election. “The shock of the deficit is being used to make some of the changes that more conservative forces in the city have been trying to make— privatization, reduction in services to the most needy, and cutting health services that are primary care services,” says Avalos, who represents a largely working-class district. “We can’t lay off people to get out of this, we have to raise some revenue. We have a lot of wealth in this city, and we have to move it around to alleviate the deficit.”

The Mayor’s office has yet to support or oppose specific revenue measures, but press secretary Nathan Ballard insists, “We’re open to new revenue measures, but it’s got to go hand in hand with reform, which includes consolidating departments and streamlining government.” Ballard says the Mayor “stands by his decisions... there are no easy choices. Every cut has a constituency.”

Meanwhile, the Coalition has produced alternative budget cuts that focus on capping salaries for upper-level administrators, trimming some high-paid city executives—the number of which has risen dramatically since 2005, according to a Chronicle report—eliminating city limousine chauffers and other bloat.

It remains to be seen whether advocates for the poor and small business groups might act in concert to push for a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity. Such a coalition could, for instance, press for stimulus monies and revenue streams from new taxes to create new jobs and training programs, and to channel small-business supports to the Tenderloin and other embattled areas.

“You can’t have the division that we have,” says Tracy. The solution, he says, “has to be beyond generosity—there has to be improved community hiring… There’s employment apartheid here. What about City Hall opening its doors to jobs for Tenderloin folks—not just make-work, but make-future?”

Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author based in San Francisco. His work has appeared in Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. Reach him through www.christopherdcook.com. This article was jointly produced with www.spot.us, an open source project for “community-funded reporting.”

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

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A Place to Hang a Hat: Property Rights and the Law

Commentary by T.J. Johnston

The Oprah Winfrey Show threw a spotlight on Sacramento’s tent cities in March 2009. Now, more than 100 homeless people will move from encampments to apartments and other temporary housing as part of a compromise between the city, its homeless residents, and area nonprofits.

The homeless folk will be allowed to bring their stuff along this time—and given safe storage for it.
A year and a half prior to this settlement,  a class action suit was filed against Sacramento for civil rights violations incurred when police and sheriff’s deputies confiscated homeless people’s belongings during sweeps. Usually, homeless people are issued citations for “abandoning property” and sometimes their belongings are destroyed.  Often, this is standard procedure in most cities nationwide.

Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento Housing Organizing Committee, Francis House, and 11 homeless individuals allege that the rights of homeless residents under the Fourth, Eighth, and  14th Amendments were violated.

In short, they said they deserve the right to have a place to keep their stuff as much as housed people do.

When the term “property rights” is bandied about, usually it arises from companies who assert their dominion over the assets they own and reap profit from. Seldom does one hear such arguments from individuals, let alone poor and homeless ones.

The property seized from homeless people is often necessary survival gear: clothing, sleeping bags, identification, medicine, and other items that those with homes can take for granted. By necessity, such materials are carried in bags and trucked along in shopping carts; often, no notice is given when they are taken away. The loss of personal security accompanies a loss in housing. People who stay in shelters with no storage facilities usually keep their belongings nearby for fear of theft.

Human rights activists argue that people’s personal safety and security of their possessions is an extension of the right to housing under the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

More than likely, the city and county of Sacramento were less concerned with such lofty ideals and more with the precedent set by a similar case last year in Fresno, where homeless people were awarded $2.3 million.

Such payouts—or any negotiations between governments and their unhoused citizenry—wouldn’t be necessary if every one had a place to hang their hat.

T.J. Johnston writes for Street Sheet and Street Spirit, newspapers serving the homeless community and their allies. His work also appears in Newsdesk.org and the Poor News Network. 

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Hobos to Street People

Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present

Available in book form at www.freedomvoices.org/new/hobos

In the Great Depression of the 1930s many artists began to address issues of human rights. The large number of poor, displaced, and homeless people was one important focus. Artists were not only observers, but they actively found ways to influence society through exhibition and distribution of their work. In the late 1970s, with the rise of the modern era of mass homelessness, many artists again began to focus on what was happening to poor people in our society. Structural changes in the American economy and a return to fiscally conservative ideology began a period of increased poverty and economic inequality. By 2008, an estimated 3.5 million Americans lived without housing and homeless children in school exceeded 900,000, according to the US Department of Education.

The Hobos to Street People exhibition presents the work of artists who have sought to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness. Some of the artists in this exhibition personally experienced homelessness and poverty, some worked directly with organizations to combat poverty. They felt that their art could be used to focus attention on issues of homelessness. They believed their art would engage society in the struggle for a better world, and that everyone should take an interest in the well-being of less fortunate people.  

Hoboes to Street People Exhibit and Events
California Historical Society
678 Mission Street, San Francisco
through August 15, 2009

Panel Discussion
The Role of Artists in Social Commentary and Advocacy
Thursday, June 4, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers from: Western Regional Advocacy Project, San Francisco Print Collective, and other arts organizations. Moderator: Art Hazelwood, Curator of Hobos to Street People

Panel Discussion
The History of Documentary Photography to Address Social Issues
Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers: David Bacon, Francisco Dominguez, Ira Nowinski. Moderator: Ken Light

Panel Discussion
The History of Public Funding and the Arts
Thursday, July 2, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers: Lincoln Cushing, Tim Drescher, Mark Johnson. Moderator: Gray Brechin, Project Scholar, California’s Living New Deal Project

Labor Fest Event Exhibition walk through and Mural Tour
July 18, 2009, 2:00 p.m.
An exhibition walk through with curator Art Hazelwood, independent scholar Tim Drescher and artist Jos Sances.

Artists’ Panel
Hobos to Street People Artists Discuss Their Work
Thursday, August 6, 2009, 6:00-8:00pm
Speakers: Christine Hanlon, Joe Sances, Jesus Barraza, Doug Minkler Moderator: Art Hazelwood, Curator

August 30- October 25, 2009, the exhibit will be at:

Kolligan Library, University of California, Merced

To preview the exhibit visit the Western Regional Advocacy Project website: www.wraphome.org. 
For information about the traveling exhibition: www.ceraexhibits.org; info@ceraexhibits.org;  (415) 525-1553 

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Mortgage Meltdown

Solutions stop the Foreclosure Crisis

The foreclosure crisis continues to build momentum, two plus years into the mortgage meltdown. More than two million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure, and that number could top eight million over the next five years, according to many estimates. This crisis has decimated personal wealth, particularly wiping out assets in communities of color disproportionately impacted by subprime lending. And the ripple effects of the crisis keep spreading, as it drags down neighborhoods, public infrastructure and services, and local economies.
Dynamic collaborations between grassroots organizations, community groups, and policy advocates have helped drive the housing debate in a more progressive direction. More such efforts are needed. Several recent examples spotlight the possibilities that open up when local organizing efforts link with state and national strategies to move community solutions to the foreclosure crisis and push for the right to housing.

Local Initiatives to Fight Foreclosure
San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, Phil Ting, has helped to convene several gatherings of city officials and community groups in the Bay Area interested in figuring out what can be done at the local level to stem foreclosures. City assessors and recorders are responsible for determining the value of real estate for property tax collection, as well as keeping public records of notices of default. Ting and other Californians in this position have raised the problem of declining property tax revenues due to foreclosures, and underscored its impact on cities.

“Municipalities and counties have inherited this problem. Some blame property owners, others lenders, but everyone can agree cities had nothing to do with it and we are stuck with this situation,” Ting says. “Property tax revenues are starting to be negative in places like Contra Costa County. There are public safety issues, blight issues, school district issues, public works, and public health. There are huge costs to cities.”

Home foreclosures can cost cities anywhere from $6,000 up to $30,000 for each abandoned property. The public pays these costs, either in higher taxes or in reduced city services. Ting wants to charge financial institutions a “foreclosure fee” and is pursuing a local measure to implement it. Such a fine could add pressure on lenders to modify loans instead of foreclosing, and raise much-needed funds for municipal budgets as well.

The foreclosure issue has motivated more housing and community economic development organizations as well as tenants’ rights groups to work together.

“Putting these two groups together is a powerful statement. In San Francisco those groups have been pitted against each other,” Ting adds. “It’s a powerful way to talk about how important it is for people to have a safe, affordable place to call home. This is not negotiable—it’s something we will fight for.”

Assessors and other local officials in Contra Costa and Solano counties, as well as the cities of East Palo Alto and Vallejo, have begun exchanging ideas on  how local jurisdictions can do more on foreclosures. Advocates hope city policies can also drive a statewide discussion on more progressive legislation, while giving communities more organizing handles to create “no-foreclosure zones” in their neighborhoods.

Protecting Tenants and Neighborhoods
At least one-third of California’s residential properties in foreclosure are rental units, meaning that more than 225,000 renters were affected by foreclosure in 2008, according to a recent report by San Francisco-based Tenants Together.
“No longer can the mortgage meltdown be viewed solely as a homeowner problem,” says Dean Preston of Tenants Together.
Most renters living in foreclosed properties face evictions from banks, which say they want the properties vacated so they can prepare them for sale. But, many properties sit empty while some tenants have been forced into homelessness. Banks have also argued that they were not party to the rental agreement and therefore are not required to return security deposits. Tenants endure utility shut-offs and lack of notification that their rental homes have gone into foreclosure.

The California Reinvestment Coalition and its community allies began raising these issues at meetings with banks earlier this year. At the time, financial institutions claimed to have little to no awareness of the ways their foreclosures affected tenants. Representatives of several large banks expressed some willingness to address the needs of renters in their foreclosed properties—though they remain wary of “becoming property managers.” There are two pending California bills, sponsored by Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Western Center on Law and Poverty respectively, to protect renters in foreclosed properties, as well as national legislation proposed by Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

Calling attention to renters in the foreclosure crisis has helped to broaden the discussion about the community-wide impacts of housing policies. Grassroots groups like Just Cause Oakland and ACORN have been working in the hard-hit East Bay to bring together local allies in defending homes against foreclosure and address the effects foreclosures have on neighborhoods.
“We started out tenant organizing, and then recognized that housing impacts working class folks of color whether they are homeowners or tenants,” says Kim Ota, a Just Cause organizer. “Over time we’ve expanded. Last year we reached out to public housing residents and now we are building toward how to make the neighborhoods stronger—including reaching out to churches and small businesses.”

Local Leaders Advocating National Solutions
Jaime Silahua, a resident of Antioch, California and a member of the Pacific Institute for Community Organizing (PICO) affiliate—Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Communities (CCISCO)—helped lead an anti-foreclosure rally in Holy Rosary Church attended by 800 concerned residents in October 2008. A few months later, he was in landlord-tenant court, trying to stave off eviction after he lost his home to foreclosure due to a family medical emergency. He and other CCISCO leaders took that opportunity to argue that instead of going to landlord-tenant court to ask for more time before eviction, he should have the right to go before a bankruptcy judge to seek a modification of his home loan so that he and his family could remain in their home and in the community of which they have become such a big part.

  The Recovery Express:
PICO's Foreclosure Awareness Raising Trip

People Improving their Communities through Organizing (PICO) leaders recently embarked on a cross-country trip designed to raise awareness about foreclosure issues. The “Recovery Express” departed from Antioch, California on March 6, 2009 and arrived in Washington, D.C. on March 9. Along the way, the bus caravan made stops in six cities and held public rallies to put a human face on the housing crisis plaguing neighborhoods across the country.

PICO has been actively involved in trying to prevent housing foreclosures. They found that the most at-risk are homeowners who were victims of predatory lending, and are now paying the price while they watch banks get bailed out. One in 10 home mortgages is either delinquent or in foreclosure. Over 13 million families owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

So far, over three million families have lost their home to foreclosure, and another 10 million could do so before the crisis ends. In Antioch, foreclosures are expected to continue over the next five years. In Aurora, Colorado, 34 percent of people with mortgages may be eligible to benefit from President Obama’s comprehensive foreclosure plan. In Kansas City, Missouri, PICO pastors and leaders organized a community-based loan modification event to help borrowers who were victims of predatory lending. In Springfield, Illinois, just in 2009, approximately 3,300 families have lost their homes to foreclosures. In Chicago, Illinois, the Recovery Express was joined by riders who previously waged a successful campaign that resulted in Cook County imposing a moratorium on all foreclosure evictions. In Flint, Michigan, riders saw how high unemployment leads to blight and crime. In Camden, New Jersey, foreclosures were up 164 percent in 2008, but PICO leaders have partnered with city officials to develop a program that makes “forgivable loans,” which burn off at a rate of 20 percent per year. Finally, in addition to the Recovery Express bus stops, the cities of Bakersfield, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada held solidarity events in support of the caravan.

While in Washington, Recovery Express riders joined with over 300 PICO faith and community leaders and held meetings with members of Congress and the Obama administration.
They specifically asked that Congress:
1. Hold banks and lenders accountable to families and communities by creating requirements and incentives for financial institutions, especially those receiving taxpayer assistance, to perform loan modifications that help keep families in their homes;
2. Swiftly enact bankruptcy reform to empower homeowners whose banks will not work with them to modify their loans in court;
3. Create new regulations for the financial industry to protect the American public and prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.
To further underscore the importance of this critical issue, a prayer rally was held in front of the Capitol Building. Another 300 PICO faith leaders, including Recovery Riders, pressed for quick passage of bankruptcy reform legislation. The rally was covered by CNN, Associated Press, Reuters, CNBC, PBS, ABC, CBS, and Fox, and reached an estimated 9.3 million homes. Momentum for foreclosure reform has increased dramatically.

On Sunday, March 15, 2009, Rev. Lucy Kolin, Recovery Rider and national clergy spokesperson for the PICO National Network, appeared on CNN’s “Face of Faith.” She made a clear request to Members of the United States Senate to give struggling homeowners—whose banks will not work with them—an option to save their homes by passing bankruptcy reform legislation.

This article was contributed by the PICO National Campaign to Stop Preventable Foreclosures, www.piconetwork.org/keep/familiesinhomes.

Weeks later, Silahua and other CCISCO leaders boarded a bus to travel to eight cities for anti-foreclosure actions, before arriving in Washington, D.C. to lobby for bankruptcy reform legislation. [See “The Recovery Express” above.]

This spring, both the federal government and the state of California rolled out policies to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The Obama Administration’s plan, announced in early March, aims to assist three to four million people by using $75 billion to subsidize loan servicers in modifying mortgages. Most advocates see the plan as a welcome first step despite its shortcomings. It still relies on voluntary incentives to prod servicers into making loan modifications, though they should have been doing so all along to prevent thousands of preventable foreclosures. The plan also fails to promote principal reductions. California leads the nation with 1.9 million borrowers whose mortgages exceed the value of their  property (more than 30 percent of all borrowers) according to First American CoreLogic.

California’s foreclosure prevention law went into effect in May 2009. While the law theoretically calls for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, CRC opposed the legislation because it lacks the means to monitor what loan servicers are actually doing.  Furthermore, it doesn’t require them to prove that they are actually modifying loans to be affordable and sustainable.
However, these policies should keep the spotlight on loan modifications for the next phase of the foreclosure crisis. Advocates will have to look at ways to implement modifications, monitor their success, and address the issues of fair lending and disparate servicing outcomes for people of color, immigrants, and low-income populations.
The California Reinvestment Coalition has continued to emphasize four main points about foreclosure prevention that are becoming even more critical now:

1. There must be an adequate moratorium of 90 to 180 days so the highly disorganized and overwhelmed servicing system can revamp itself under the federal and state guidelines. Without this, it is all too likely that many borrowers will fall through the cracks.
2. Loan principals must be reduced to make loan modifications meaningful. Modifications that only lower interest rates for a few years without writing down the principal will make it more likely that many borrowers will again default.
3. Bankruptcy reform must give judges the option of modifying home loans by “cramming down” or lowering the principal loan balance. This is a necessary “stick” to enhance the effectiveness of the government’s voluntary program. The threat of cramdown by bankruptcy judges is key to pushing servicers to make more modifications on their own.
4. Reporting requirements need to be in place to monitor whether loan modifications actually get made—by which companies and under what terms— and who is being helped according to their race and ethnicity, language spoken, and income. This data should be made publicly available so that borrowers, communities, and policymakers can see whether the plans are working, which companies are part of the solution, and whether all members of the community benefit equally.


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Organizing and Winning in Oakland Chinatown

The Right to Affordable Housing
By Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP)*

"Let the sheriffs come and drag me out.” So said Yen Hom, an elderly tenant and resident who stayed to fight evictions at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza (Pac Ren) when she and other residents of the 50 affordable housing units in Tower II of the Plaza received eviction notices. As the struggle to keep the housing intensified, Art Hom described his mother’s strategy: “In the 60s, we conducted sit-ins. Well, for the last six months, my mom has been conducting a live-in.”   

In April 2003, over 150 people started moving years of belongings, memories, and hopes out of the heart of Oakland Chinatown, scattering to senior housing, market rate and other apartments in Oakland, and as far as Fremont and Los Angeles. Like Mrs. Hom, the elderly tenant who had witnessed the spectacular evictions of elderly manongs from the International Hotel nearly 30 years earlier, those who stayed became the soul of a community struggle for the right to affordable housing in an era of rampant gentrification and housing speculation.

This struggle links them, and us, to prior displacements of people of Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese descent, low-income communities of color across the nation, and to larger movements for justice, dignity, and human rights. We, Chin Jurn Wor Ping (CJWP) or “Moving Forward for Peace” in Cantonese, are a collective of people of Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese heritage with progressive political worldviews, working together in the Bay Area for peace and social justice.

Together with the tenants, we re-envisioned the meaning of community, and offered “staying in place” as an act of defiance to centuries of forced movement. We struggled not only against the developer Lawrence Chan, but also against and alongside the City of Oakland, and within our coalition. What was won was a little piece of something we might call resistance to the seductions of global capitalism—imagining alternatives that reflect our communities’ strongest self-image, honoring past struggles, and creating a future where human rights, justice, and dignity are valued and honored.

Why Places Like Chinatown Matter
Chinatowns in Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles came into being not as the tourist attractions or bustling places of business as seen now, but as way-stations for migrant workers going to farms, ports, and railroads. They were ethnic immigrant ghettos on the outskirts of town, places of refuge for “the Chinee” from rampant anti-Asian sentiment and violence at the end of the 19th century. Thus, Chinatowns have historically been an organizing center against and refuge from racial discrimination, expulsion, relocation, cultural marginalization, forced evictions, lack of legal tenure, low affordability, and gentrification.
Although a residential community, Oakland Chinatown was categorized and zoned as a light industrial area and not subject to protections and controls for property owners’ rights and land values for most of the first half of the 20th century. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chinese business owners petitioned City Council for funds and a redevelopment plan to replace dilapidated shops with new buildings. Living in the era of the Black Panthers and the International Hotel housing struggle, Oakland Chinatown community activists fought for community benefits in the plan: affordable housing, the Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library, a cultural center, and the public plaza.

Working with other organizations in the Stop Chinatown Evictions Coalition (SCEC), the initial goals of the campaign were to stop the evictions and secure the right to stay for the few families who had not moved out after the eviction notice, and the right of return for those who had. With the initial stay of evictions granted in September 2003, the campaign’s goals shifted—at the insistence of the tenants and their families—to keeping the 50 units at PacRen as affordable housing and the repayment of the loan forgiven under the developer’s false claims.

Research revealed that (a) the history of PacRen’s “community benefits” were a direct result of organizing efforts in the 1960s and 70s, and (b) the City forgave a loan to PacRen’s developer, Lawrence Chan, to the tune of $7 million, which would have been worth over $17 million upon repayment to our cash-strapped city. The first finding challenged us to honor the work of movement predecessors. The second, offered us a legal lever to keep the 50 units as affordable housing. Through a protracted legal strategy that included three community law suits involving the City, some tenants, and several nonprofit organizations, the coalition sustained pressure on the City and the developer to successfully maintain affordable housing at PacRen.

The Tenants
The opportunity to live at PacRen meant more than just affordable housing, it was also access to doctors and other service providers speaking their languages, proximity to friends and family, and accessibility to community churches, temples, and schools. Many tenants in the affordable units were elderly and disabled; a few were young couples with children. Most were new immigrants and non-English speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

Some elderly tenants fell ill immediately and died in the first few months after the evictions. Other tenants’ health deteriorated rapidly. Several were forced to enter nursing homes. Over the course of the lawsuit, one tenant’s diabetes became severe. He lost his eyesight and use of his legs. As we saw, and health researchers have found, the psychological and emotional toll of evictions are severe, and for seniors, may result in premature death. Senior rights’ organizations advocate strongly for the right of elders to age in place.

Amidst all the local controversy, some community members and the Chinese paper portrayed the developer as a respected community leader and businessman. Chan claimed that it was his vision that turned PacRen into the epicenter of all activities in Oakland Chinatown. Tenants were portrayed as ungrateful liars, suing Chan self-interestedly to get cheaper rent. Some were sympathetic but many felt the evicted tenants had gotten lucky with a great deal and should feel fortunate for the 10 years they spent in the affordable units.

The tenants expressed not only immense stress from being displaced, but also shame. They were upset about what had happened to them and even more so once they learned about the history of affordable housing in Chinatown. We struggled to talk to the tenants in our broken Chinese. They began to finally open up after six months of community meetings. Through gatherings, they began to allow themselves to feel angry, and this united them in a collective struggle.

Volunteer organizations have a long history of active support in winning campaigns for human rights, dignity, and justice. While we could not be plaintiffs in the lawsuit, we worked on the campaign in many additional ways. At times, not being central to the lawsuit allowed us to branch out into other areas. Here are some of the things we learned along the way.

Make tenants the locus of transformation. Encourage tenant leadership and organizing as they are the best people to speak about their own needs. Provide opportunities for involvement and education by tenants through community meetings, rallies, and personal exchanges. This was a deep motivating factor throughout the time of our involvement, and it included not just the spaces of community organizing, but also the ones of familial bonding and obligation: dinners, banquets, Lunar New Year visits, and commemorations.

Learn from the past. When the word of PacRen first got out among Asian American activists, many of our movement elders immediately made the connection to the I-Hotel. Activists from that struggle participated in our events, and we learned a great deal from our predecessors. We also linked to key struggles around housing and gentrification throughout the Bay Area, and to struggles for historical preservation of a previous Chinatown. Benefit from diverse interests. CJWP’s members brought interests, expertise, networks, and skills that included researchers, artists, and organizers. We encouraged each member to help out in the ways that they felt most strongly about. Our multilingual and cultural abilities allowed some of us to act as interpreters between the lawyers and the tenants while other skills, interests, and networks led us to play roles as, liaisons with other affordable housing advocates; writers and designers of press releases and pamphlets; and community outreach conductors to students and religious groups—work that staffed NGOs did not have the capacity or funding to do at the time. In addition, our perspective on political education and movement linking led us to introduce the PacRen tenants to people in the San Francisco Chinatown Tenants Association and brought a strong cultural component to the campaign. We also accessed youth and arts organizations that the other coalition organizations did not. Similarly, our political analysis forced us to consistently advocate for coalition members to search for and take more innovative solutions than they would have otherwise, which ultimately led to a creative solution that the nonprofits, elected officials, and the City of Oakland were able to claim as their victory.
Cultural work for memory, inspiration, strength. CJWP members wrote and performed street theater and poetry, painted tenant’s stories and Chinatown struggles on canvas and glass, created a video-poem that was widely shown, and provided documentation of years of action through photographs, audio recordings, and writing. Elders and young people alike expressed pride in the storytelling and identified with what Ching-In Chen called “the rhythm of bilingual children, singing a cross-continent creation story.” At the conclusion of the campaign, we advocated for an arts and cultural component, which has been implemented through a mural for PacRen. It will serve as a visual tribute to the legacy of Oakland’s Chinese communities and our struggles for self-determination.

There’s a lot of freedom when you have no funding. Since we had no budget, we never had to worry about our various actions or “programs” competing for resources. In our best moments, CJWP and the more formally resourced organizations in the coalition were able to mutually support and benefit from each other.

Issues framing. The early part of the campaign focused on portraying tenants as victims. This was useful for mobilizing others, to support them, but was not an empowering framework for the tenants. An anti-racist and rights framing helped the tenants to see themselves as powerful, take pride in their courageous actions, and accept recognition for their historical wins.

Sustained media presence. We believe that a sustained presence of progressive views in the ethnic press will, over time, result in a base of knowledge that will predispose other members of our community to progressive thought. This requires building up language capacity, including challenging dominant vocabulary or reclaiming derogatory phrases. We would get together to practice—or reclaim and reinvent—words and phrases related to the specific issue.

Staying grounded in your values. CJWP’s values included having the tenants at the center. They also included increasing housing options like land trusts and maintaining the rental housing stock. Early proposals presented by other coalition members would have resulted in the loss of the PacRen units and/or the rental status of these units. Over five years, we pushed the coalition to explore and create options that did not compromise these values and demands, eventually coming to an agreement of which we could all be proud. While the final result was not what we had been pushing for (a land trust, which through the process of research and exploration, we came to understand to be a difficult solution), the process and dialogue itself pushed all the individuals in the coalition to strive for a better result, far more than what would have been won for the community otherwise.

The story of Oakland Chinatown is being repeated across the continent: communities and neighborhoods built by working class immigrants have become sought-after places to live and playgrounds for the wealthy.

As a collective of volunteers, CJWP was able to support the campaign through community organizing, cultural work, and political education, and by consistently pushing for the realization of “unrealistic” goals.

We are already seeing the legacy of PacRen’s struggle. Both tenants and volunteer activists have become engaged in the future of this and other Chinatowns, with some CJWP activists now working on similar efforts in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Riverside, Calif. These are lessons learned over and over again and we offer our appreciation and gratitude to older generations of Bay Area activists, the brave Pac Ren tenants and all the people of SCEC.

Residential Displacement in Oakland Chinatown: A Historical Timeline, Compiled by Eric Chang
1880: Oakland Chinatown located at 8th Street and Webster.
1906: San Francisco earthquake spawns influx of San Francisco Chinatown refugees into Oakland Chinatown. Overcrowded housing and rising rents ensue.
1910-30: Chinatown zoned as a “light industrial” area, creating a buffer between the more livable downtown area and the heavy industrial area by the waterfront.
1945-55: Construction of Nimitz Freeway destroys nearly 2000 low-rent housing units along 6th Street and Castro.
1960: Chinatown’s business leaders generate idea of redevelopment in their neighborhood.
1970s: BART District facility displaces 50 Chinese families, who move to East Oakland.
1987–90: City of Oakland chooses Lawrence Chan to develop Pacific Renaissance Plaza, with over $30 million in public subsidies for building the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, public library, and 1500-space underground parking garage and another $7 million construction loan. In exchange, Chan agrees to allocate 50 apartment units as affordable housing for a minimum period of 10 years.
1993: Occupancy commences at 50 affordable apartments at Pac Ren.
1999: Chan’s companies engineer transactions that ultimately lead to the complete forgiveness of the City’s $7 million loan (worth nearly $17 million with accrued interest).
2003: In April, residents of PacRen’s 50 affordable housing units receive eviction notices. Tenants and community advocates organize and initiate a lawsuit. They lobby the City, which agrees to sue the developer to reclaim the $7 million loan.
2008: Litigation concludes. Settlement agreement includes the sale and management of the 50 units at Pac Ren by EBALDC, as first time home ownership units, to remain affordable for 45 years, with profits going toward building permanent affordable rental units in Chinatown.


* This article was written primarily by Diana Pei Wu, Jen-Mei Wu, Pui Man Wong, and Stella Ng. Other members of the Chin Jurn Wor Ping Evictions Committee who were involved include Eric Chang, Emily Jie-Ming Lee, Ching-In Chen, Kenji Liu, and Xiaojing Wang. Gordon Lee, Joy Liu, Steve Louie, Darryl Dea, Le Quach, Michael Wong, Derek Chung, Francis Chang, Art Hom, and the tenants at Pac Ren were essential to the work of the committee. For more information visit www.cjwp.org.

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"Let the sheriffs come and drag me out.”

Richmond Residents are REDI for Housing Rights

Even a determined family effort was not enough to keep Jessica Peregrina’s home out of default. “We bought a six-bedroom home in San Pablo for $540,000 to house our large tight-knit family and keep us close together,” says Peregrina. Shortly after they bought the house, their mortgage lender went bankrupt. Another bank bought the mortgage and switched it to an adjustable rate. The house lost 30 percent of its value, while the family’s payment ballooned by $1,200 per month, sending them into foreclosure. “My family has sought help from multiple sources,” says Peregrina.  “I looked everywhere for an organization or program to help and I can’t find any.”

Peregrina and many others told their stories at a Housing Crisis Town Hall meeting at St. Mark’s Church in Richmond, California. More than 500 community members and elected officials packed the church for the March 12, 2009 event sponsored by the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI).
Housing as a human right is under threat, perhaps as never before. Richmond is one of cities most impacted by the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area. Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood, home to St. Mark’s, saw 254 homes go into foreclosure last year.

As Peregrina and others testified, images of abandoned and blighted properties flashed on a wall behind them. The abandoned properties themselves drag down the quality of life in the neighborhood, one resident said. One longtime resident (who wants to remain unidentified) says she is surrounded by foreclosed properties that have been taken over by illegal activity. Drug dealers set up shop in several homes while others are used to traffic stolen property. Someone was gunned down in front of her house. Her friends are afraid to visit and she is afraid to go outside.  “Eventually, something’s going to go down and someone’s going to get hurt,” she says. “Bullets don’t have eyes.” She has called the police department hotline and nobody answers. She has called other city departments, but nothing has been done.

The testimonies evoked tears and outrage, but the church erupted in cheers when Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and a majority of the City Council members signed on to REDI’s comprehensive housing program and committed to meeting with the group within 30 days to begin making the proposals real.

REDI created a partnership of advocacy, research, and community-based organizations, including the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Asian Pacific Environmental Network -Laotian Organizing Project (APEN-LOP), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE),  Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), and Urban Habitat. It aims to build a Richmond in which every resident has access to affordable housing, quality education, health care, a clean environment, and safe and reliable public transit that connects them to living-wage jobs.

Already on the ground for two years working on local employment, just cause eviction and fair rents, REDI’s collaborative efforts crystallized with the General Plan Campaign. A city’s general plan defines the type, amount, and location of future growth and development. It guides decisions made by city officials and staff and can have a deep impact on people’s lives. For example, a general plan can require developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in new projects.

When Richmond’s General Plan came up for revision in 2006, REDI saw an opportunity to influence city policies affecting the lives of low-income people and people of color. Through research, community meetings, and trainings with city officials and members of its partner organizations, REDI developed several policy recommendations. One of these called for strengthen­ing Richmond’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
Redi's Housing Platform

Keep Families in Their Homes

Require banks to modify loans to make them affordable. We urge Congress to enact bankruptcy reform as quickly as possible.
Require the State of California to provide clear data on which banks comply with the state moratorium on foreclosures and which banks modify loans.
Pass county legislation requiring banks to identify, disclose, and record all investors on foreclosed properties and to fine them $1,000 a day if they do not comply. Apply the fines to a job training program that rehabilitates homes to “green” standards.
Pass state legislation to protect tenants impacted by foreclosure by allowing families who are paying rent to remain in their homes and requiring any notices or legal documents to be written in the tenants’ native languages.

Revitalize Neighborhoods
Establish a community land trust to keep homes permanently affordable for Richmond families.
Bundle bank-owned foreclosed properties and sell them to the City of Richmond, nonprofit housing developers, and the community land trust.
Aggressively enforce SB 1137 to fine banks $1,000 per day for failing to maintain properties. Use this revenue for a job training program that rehabilitates homes to “green” standards..
Set up a revolving home ownership loan fund to help Richmond families acquire vacant foreclosed properties, giving preference to families victimized by predatory lending.

Create Long-Term Sustainability for Affordable Housing
Adopt a Just Cause Eviction/Fair Rent ordinance.
Modify the law that requires new developments to include affordable housing to make more units available. Increase the in lieu fee so that it covers the actual cost to construct an affordable unit.

Create a Safe and Healthy Living Environment
Adopt city policies and programs to rehabilitate substandard rental housing without displacing existing residents or raising their rents. Require the city to make an annual report on the number of rental units inspected and their general conditions.
Provide a city rehabilitation assistance program to ensure that rental units are maintained and rehabilitated to comply with health and building codes.
Create a city fund for educating tenants on their legal rights under health and building codes.
Use the General Plan to ensure that contaminated lands near current or planned residential areas are cleaned up to meet state health standards and that improvements funded by the city benefit low-income communities. 

The ordinance now povides an option for developers to pay a small fee, called an “in lieu fee,” instead of constructing affordable housing. The fee is so small that it doesn’t cover the city’s true cost of developing affordable units on its own. In effect, the policy discourages affordable housing. REDI recommended increasing in lieu fees to encourage development of more affordable housing.

Delegations of community leaders, residents, and organizers met with elected officials to present this and other recommendations, and a large, well-attended community forum followed.

But land use planning moves at a slow pace. Richmond was supposed to adopt its new General Plan in early 2008. By 2009, a draft had yet to be published—and the housing crisis had thrust itself to the top of the public agenda.

In Richmond, with a population of just over 100,000, more than 2,000 homes were in foreclosure as of March 2009. The Richmond Finance Department projected that 3,000 more would go into foreclosure in the next year. The hardest-hit neighborhoods—the Iron Triangle and North and East—have large populations of African Americans, Latinos, and Laotians, many of whom have low-to-moderate incomes. 

REDI’s report, “Transforming the Housing Crisis in Richmond,” [1] indicates that nationally, subprime lenders disproportionately targeted communities of color, regardless of income. The report goes on to describe how in 2004, minority homeownership surged past 50 percent for the first time in history, with a foreclosure rate below one percent.[2] Now, however, minority homeownership gains seen in the past are slipping away, with African American homeownership rates nationwide falling back under 50 percent.2 Black borrowers will lose between $61 billion and $122 billion during this crisis, while Hispanic borrowers will lose between $76 billion and $129 billion.[3] A 2008 United for a Fair Economy report indicates that the current foreclosure crisis will result in the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in recent United States history.[4]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies adequate housing as one of the most basic human needs and a human right. In the United States, the right to quality, affordable housing is under attack, and the current economic crisis exposes how vulnerable historically marginalized communities continue to be. The current crisis requires accountability from financial institutions and new policies at all levels of government that will keep families in their homes, revitalize neighborhoods, and promote affordable housing.

REDI developed its Housing Platform to guide organizing and program development towards these goals. (See box above.) The platform, as presented to Richmond officials at the March 12 Town Hall, includes modifying loans so they are affordable; establishing a community land trust composed of foreclosed properties purchased from banks; a city revolving home loan fund; tenants’ rights education programs; passing just-cause eviction and fair rent legislation; and funding employment-training programs to teach residents to rehabilitate homes according to green standards.

Michael Katz is the REDI outreach coordinator. 

1.         Hartley, Kris, et al., Transforming the Housing Crisis in Richmond, California: Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), March 2009.
2.        Bajaj, Vikas and  Nixon, Ron. “For Minorities, Signs of Trouble in Foreclosures.” New York Times. 22 February, 2006.
3.         Carr, J.H. “Responding to the Foreclosure Crisis.” Housing Policy Debate 18.4 2007.
4.         Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008, United for a Fair Economy, January 15, 2008.

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Right of Return

Public Housing in San Francisco's Hunters Point

Many call Hunters View the most distressed public housing project in San Francisco, and even in the United States. But 149 families call it home and they want to stay there once it is redeveloped. They are demanding their right to affordable housing, due process, and inclusion in decisions that affect their lives. They are determined to defy the history of public housing “improvements” that have shoved tenants aside like so much dirt dug out for new construction.

Hunters View will be the first project redeveloped under HOPE San Francisco (HOPE SF), the city’s alternative to the federal HOPE VI program. Before it shuts down in 2006, HOPE VI had displaced tens of thousands of public housing residents across the United States.[1]

Under HOPE VI, the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA) demolished and rebuilt projects in Hayes Valley, Valencia Gardens, Bernal Dwellings, Western Addition, and North Beach. From 1994 to 1999 the projects lost more than 230 units. Hundreds of residents, mostly African-American, lost their homes and were forced out of San Francisco.[2]
The Housing Authority applied for HOPE VI funding for the Hunters View rebuild as well. By 2005, it had already selected the developers.

In response to stories about HOPE VI that had circulated from project to project, Hunters View residents gathered hundreds of signatures opposing SFHA’s HOPE VI application. However, the agency pursued its agenda until the federal program ended. It then transferred the project to the new local program and formed the HOPE SF Task Force to create guiding principles for the new program.

Community participation and one-for-one replacement of all public housing units are included in the HOPE SF guidelines, but many residents at Hunters View have little faith in developers, the Housing Authority, and the city to fulfill those promises.
The Hunters View Tenants Association began sending letters and public records requests several years ago demanding that the residents be informed of and included in the redevelopment process. Hunters View lies in a Redevelopment Area—which includes the Hunters Point shipyard—adding to residents’ suspicion. The Redevelopment Agency’s post-World War II urban renewal in the Fillmore District and the Western Addition—a.k.a. Negro Removal—killed the thriving African-American district, displacing some 2,500 families and causing nearly 5,000 businesses to close.[3]

“We need to be informed about development plans in progress for our homes in Hunters View,” Tenants Association President Tessie Ester wrote in a public records request to the Housing Authority on February 25, 2008. “In the past, we have not been given information relevant to the future of Hunters View, at other times we have been given misinformation.”

Hunters View will be the first mixed-use public housing redevelopment in San Francisco to include market rate homeownership, which is intended to pay for the construction of the public housing units. The plan includes one-for-one replacement of all existing 267 public housing units, along with 105 affordable rental units, 49 affordable homeownership units, and 315 market rate homes for sale.

Gaining a Voice in Decision-Making
“There’s been a tremendous amount of outreach and resident input,” claims SFHA Executive Director Henry Alvarez. But the developers didn’t form the resident working group in charge of making recommendations to the relocation plan until November 2008—three years into the redevelopment plans. According to Sara Shortt, HOPE SF Task Force member and Executive Director of the Housing Rights Committee, the firm hired by the SFHA to oversee the plan, Overland, Pacific & Cutler (OPC), has a reputation for sloppy relations with residents. “OPC did everything they could to do a bad relocation job.”

Once it formed, the relocation working group of 10 to 15 residents spent two months making changes to OPC’s plan, with the legal and technical support of the Housing Rights Committee, Bay Area Legal Aid, and the Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP).

“We went into this knowing how they treated the other public housing residents. We didn’t want anybody displaced,” says Lottie Titus, a member of the relocation working group, whose members were also responsible for distributing information to neighbors. “We were adamant about having a say.”

Securing the Right to Return
The working group revised the relocation plan to include a comprehensive needs assessment of all residents to try to ensure that no one would be displaced due to lack of an appropriate unit. They demanded fairer rules governing eviction and return, and written guarantees of the right to return, including for former residents who have moved away since the 2005 developer agreement.

“One sneaky way of getting people out is, ‘whoops, we don’t have the right unit size or we don’t have an accessible unit and you’re in a wheelchair, go somewhere else,’” says Shortt. Another pitfall in getting tenants back to their units is the challenge of keeping in touch with the relocated tenants. “We’ve seen what happened at North Beach and Valencia Gardens,” says Tessie Ester, who sent the Housing Authority numerous requests for records of tenants displaced by HOPE VI redevelopments in San Francisco.

The first draft relocation plan of November 2007 stated that in order to return to the new site, residents had to have all their rent completely paid up; be in compliance with all provisions of the lease agreement; have the ability to obtain service from utility companies; and be free of felony convictions since the date of the initial relocation notice. This likely would have made it easier for the Housing Authority to refuse the return of many people, especially since almost half the units are vacant due to the high number of evictions carried out since talk of redevelopment began.
Hali Reiskin, a lawyer with VLSP, says that while there were gains in promoting the right to return in the relocation plan, “federal regulations and public housing authority policy permit and promote evictions of entire families for alleged acts of a guest or household member.”Reiskin calls the 1996 federal law on public housing “draconian.” Known as “one strike you’re out,” a tenant who has been accused of an offense is banned from federal public housing assistance thereafter.

Fighting Eviction
For the last few years, the SFHA has boarded up vacant units at Hunters View instead of moving people into them. The 118 vacant units will make it possible for the SFHA to carry out its plan for phased on-site relocation of tenants during rebuilding. But tenants feel unsafe next to empty units, which are sometimes occupied by squatters, and they question the exponential increase in evictions in recent years. Many have seen former residents become homeless and end up begging downtown.
“The problem with phased [one-for-one] relocation is that anyone who has a problem with the Housing Authority is getting evicted to make room for relocation on-site,” says Rene Cazenave, a housing rights activist who serves on the HOPE SF Task Force.

“It appears that for some time the SFHA has conducted an eviction program at Hunters View, which purposely denies the targeted tenants their civil and due process rights,” the Hunters View Tenants Association told the Housing Authority in a June 15, 2007 letter. The letter called for the creation of a joint eviction review committee that would review all evictions dating back several years.

Instead, in March 2008, the city set up the “Communities of Opportunity” program to curtail evictions and avoid displacement, in addition to linking residents to social services. Though the program is housed in a lavishly converted unit right at the center of Hunters View, many residents don’t trust the facility, because it’s connected to the Housing Authority and the city, and they don’t really know what it is, according to Sara Shortt.

No Loitering

The John Stewart Company, which manages North Beach Place, will manage the rebuilt Hunters View housing as well. Its lease includes a 17-page list of house rules that overlap with the Housing Authority’s rules but are much stricter. Based on the experience of North Beach residents, the Hunters View tenants fear they may have to fight to keep their living space livable.
Although activist tenants at North Beach Place achieved one-for-one replacement after the rebuild there, many of the John Stewart Co. house rules have gotten people evicted.

“They don’t let you stand on the sidewalk, so I have to stand on the street waiting for my children to come home from school,” says an African American resident of North Beach Place, as she stands near fast traffic between two parked cars, fearful of getting pegged for loitering and then evicted. “They won’t let my kids play.”

Indeed, North Beach residents are not allowed to roller-skate, ride bikes, or play ball. As a result, a boy bounces a ball on the sidewalk near the busy street.

Barbequing is prohibited. Residents must wear shoes in common areas. Bathrobes are not allowed in common areas. Audio or video recordings are prohibited without permission from management. The use of medical marijuana is prohibited and quiet hours begin at 10 p.m.

“How you going to tell a grown woman not to have guests after ten o’clock?” says Venitta Logan, a grandmother and volunteer with the tenant-led group, Mothers Against Crime and Mothers Committee for Environmental Justice. “I’m not signing nothing. Those rules are not humane,” she says. Logan has contested several eviction notices in her nine years at Hunters View, and considers herself a victim of harassment by the Housing Authority.

“There are house rules that are adaptapted for each development,” says Margaret Campbell, project manager for John Stewart Co. “But there are certain rules we feel strongly about.” The rules haven’t been discussed with tenants yet. The company says tenants will have an opportunity to make recommendations. 

The Housing Authority sent the final Draft Relocation Plan for Hunters View to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval on January 8, 2009. The process is supposed to take three months. The Draft Relocation Plan could be approved any day now, quickly propelling Hunters View to a very different future.

In February 26, 2009, the San Francisco Housing Authority Board of Commissioners adopted a city-wide resolution as a result of the demands of Hunters View residents and advocates around the relocation plan. “Based on the policies developed for the Authority’s first HOPE SF site, Hunters View, the following policy regarding right to return is recommended for all other HOPE SF sites: All residents that are determined to be eligible for relocation benefits at HOPE SF sites will have the right to move into the revitalized units provided that they have not been evicted or served by the Authority with a summons and complaint of eviction,” reads the resolution.

Next in line for HOPE SF redevelopment are Sunnydale/Velasco in Visitation Valley, Potrero Terrace and Annex on Potrero Hill, and Westside Courts in the Western Addition.

“We’re hoping that the developer does exactly what we’ve asked them,” Titus says. “We’re hoping they keep their word.”

Deia de Brito is a freelance writer. She teaches elementary school students in a garden program in West Oakland.

1.        Tracy, James. “Hope VI Mixed-Income Housing Projects Displace Poor People,” Race Poverty and the Environment, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 2008.
2.         Howard, Amy. More than Shelter: Community and Activism in San Francisco Public Housing, 1938-2000, Richmond University. A forthcoming book based on her Ph.D. dissertation.
3.          Close, Carl. “How ‘Urban Renewal’ Destroyed San Francisco’s Fillmore District,”  www.independent.org/blog/?p=141

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Fair Employment

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

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Common Stuggle Common Dreams

Woodfin Workers Fight for Living Wages

Four years after they began organizing, workers are still battling the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Emeryville, California. Their fight for decent wages and working conditions sent ripples throughout the community. It fueled a successful drive for a living wage ordinance in the city, and brought together a new coalition advocating for low-wage immigrant workers.

Under the living wage ordinance, Measure C, the Woodfin owes dozens of working immigrant mothers some $200,000 in back wages for shifts they worked in 2006. The hotel pledged to take the matter to court rather than pay up—but the workers say they’re prepared to fight one day longer than their employer.

When I first met the housekeepers at the Woodfin Suites Hotel several years ago, they were hurting. Literally. As one worker, Lorena,* explains:

“I would get home with my feet very swollen, my hands swollen, and with a headache. When we couldn’t finish, they made us punch out after eight hours—and finish off the clock. I even started wondering if we were living in times of slavery. I asked God to open up a way for us to get justice because it was too much.”

Nationwide, the lucrative hospitality industry had been cutting costs by increasing housekeeper workloads—a cost transferred directly onto the injured backs and shoulders of its low-wage workers, most of whom lack health insurance. On top of that, hotels were vying for guests by offering more amenities, like bigger beds and in-room kitchenettes, all of which add to the workload of their already exhausted room cleaners. As Lorena suggests, workers were at a breaking point.

So, in November 2005, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), UNITE HERE Local 2850, and the Alameda Labor Council worked with Emeryville voters to adopt an ordinance establishing living wages and fair workload standards for large Emeryville hotels. The ordinance set a modest $9 per hour minimum wage for hotel workers, and required workers to be paid time-and-a-half if asked to clean more than 5,000 square feet of rooms in an eight-hour shift.

But by Spring 2006, workers hadn’t seen the change. Lorena and her co-workers were still cleaning 16 suites per day, each the size of a studio apartment, not the 10 rooms maximum suggested by Measure C. Fed up, dozens of Woodfin workers signed a petition to management demanding their rights, testified at city council, and spoke out in the media.

The Woodfin immediately moved to fire about 20 worker-leaders, including Lorena. The hotel claimed they had received Social Security “no-match” letters for the workers and had no choice but to terminate them, even though many workers had been employed at the hotel for years, and the letters themselves instruct employers not to take any action against workers.

After months of worker actions, growing community picket lines outside the hotel, a statewide boycott, interfaith prayer services, and multiple city complaints and lawsuits, the Woodfin finally brought the workload into compliance with the living wage law. Workload dropped nearly in half. However, by that time, the hotel owed workers around $200,000 in back wages.

Lorena and her fired co-workers never got their jobs back. But that didn’t mean they were going away. A broad-based community coalition raised $50,000 to support them and their families as they staged six-hour-per-day pickets outside the hotel demanding their back wages.

Tired of the worker-led protests, the Woodfin Suites—owned by wealthy San Diego Republican Sam Hardage—used its political connections to have Homeland Security investigate the immigration status of Emeryville hotel workers. In an apparent effort to drive workers from the picket lines, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents showed up at workers’ homes, interrogating one leader, Mariana,* in front of her daughter. “Having ICE at my house affected me a lot. I got so sick from the stress that I had to go to the hospital. Then Woodfin brought a racist hate group to our pickets. Sometimes I can still hear their insults,” says Mariana.

Today, over three years since the living wage law went into effect, Woodfin workers still haven’t seen a single penny. Some are owed up to $10,000. The city administration has twice ordered the Woodfin to pay but hotel management has vowed to take their appeals to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, workers like Lorena and their community supporters are still battling it out on the picket lines and in court, hoping for “God to open up a way.”

As Woodfin workers keep fighting for their back wages, worker justice advocates have seen unscrupulous employers all over the country use raids, deportations, and Social Security “no-match” letters to intimidate immigrant workers from raising workplace standards or joining unions. While such retaliation can be daunting, as Measure C worker-organizer Sarah Norr notes, “People assume that immigrant workers are too vulnerable to organize. But at the Woodfin, we have seen that they are willing to take risks to defend their rights.”
And non-immigrant workers are coming to understand that when some workers are denied their civil liberties, the rights of all workers suffer. “Fighting our employer’s English-only rule, we found that if we want a strong union, we have to fight united,” says Kathryn Lybarger, a gardener and a steward in her union, AFSCME 3299. “But we can’t be united when our immigrant co-workers are under attack. They are some of our strongest workplace leaders.”

For this reason, EBASE decided to help found and staff the Workers Immigrant Rights Coalition (WIRC), a growing alliance of more than a dozen Bay Area labor unions and worker organizations advocating for full labor rights for all workers, for healthy and inclusive communities, and for an end to immigration raids.

“Unions have been organizing low wage workers for years, and employers have frequently threatened to call ICE on worker leaders,” says Wei-Ling Huber, president of UNITE HERE 2850 and chair of WIRC. “But the Woodfin was a clear example of how work authorization policies weaken immigrant workers’ and all workers’ rights to organize. It created a sense of urgency and brought us together in a new coalition.”

WIRC has been fighting back against employer intimidation, leading know-your-rights and political education classes for worker and union leaders, training worker spokespeople, leading mobilizations at local ICE offices, and building consensus in the labor movement for progressive principles for immigration reform. Together, we are building a movement that will protect the rights of Lorena and other brave fighters for workplace justice.

Brooke Anderson is the deputy director at the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), which is celebrating 10 years of fighting for economic and social justice.

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Rights, Not Raids

When the Obama administration reiterated recently that it will make an immigration reform proposal this year, hopes rose among millions of immigrant families for the “change we can believe in.” That was followed by a new immigration position embraced by both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions, rejecting the expansion of guest worker programs, which some unions had supported.

As it prepares a reform package, the administration should look seriously at why the deals created over the past several years failed, and consider alternatives. Beltway groups are again proposing employment visas for future (post-recession, presumably) labor shortages and continued imprisonment of the undocumented in detention centers, which they deem “necessary in some cases.” Most disturbing, after years of the Bush raids, is the continued emphasis on enforcement against workers.

We need a reality check.

For more than two decades it has been a crime for an undocumented worker to hold a job in the United States. To enforce the prohibition, agents conduct immigration raids, of the kind we saw at meat packing plants in the past few years.
Today, some suggest “softer,” or more politically palatable, enforcement—a giant database of Social Security numbers (E-Verify). Employers would be able to hire only those whose numbers “verify” their legal immigration status. Workers without such “work authorization” would have to be fired.

Whether hard or soft, these measures all enforce a provision of immigration law on the books since 1986—employer sanctions—which makes it illegal for an employer to hire a worker with no legal immigration status. In reality, the law makes it a crime for an undocumented worker to have a job.

The rationale has always been that this will dry up jobs for the undocumented and discourage them from coming. Those of us who served on a United Food and Commercial Workers commission that studied Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids at Swift meat packing plants across the country learned that the law has had disastrous effects on all workers. Instead of reinforcing or tweaking employer sanctions, we would be much better off if we ended them.

Raids and workplace enforcement have left severe emotional scars on families. Workers were mocked. Children were separated from their parents and left without word at schools or daycare. Increased enforcement has poisoned communities, spawning scores of state and local anti-immigrant laws and ordinances that target workers and their families.

Employer sanctions have failed to reduce undocumented migration because NAFTA and globalization create huge migration pressure. Since 1994 more than six million Mexicans have come to the United States. Ismael Rojas, who arrived without papers, says, “You can either abandon your children to make money to take care of them, or you can stay with your children and watch them live in misery. Poverty makes us leave our families.”

Attempting to discourage workers from coming by arresting them for working without authorization, or trying to prevent them from finding work, is doomed to fail. To reduce the pressure that causes undocumented migration, we need to change our trade and economic policies so they don't produce poverty in countries like Mexico.

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, and AFL-CIO president John Sweeney wrote to President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper, reminding them that “the failure of neoliberal policies to create decent jobs in the Mexican economy under NAFTA has meant that many displaced workers and new entrants have been forced into a desperate search to find employment elsewhere.” The new joint position of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations recognizes that “an essential component of the long term solution is a fair trade and globalization model that uplifts all workers.”

Continued support for work authorization and employer sanctions contradicts this understanding. Even with a legalization program, millions of people will remain without papers. For them, work without “authorization” will still be a crime. And while employer sanctions have little effect on migration, they will continue to make workers vulnerable to employer pressure.
When undocumented workers are fired for protesting low wages and bad conditions, employer sanctions bar them from receiving unemployment or disability benefits, although the workers have paid for them. It's much harder for them to find another job. An E-Verify database to deny them work will make this problem much worse.

Workplace enforcement also increases discrimination. Four years after sanctions began, the Government Accountability Office reported that 346,000  employers applied immigration-verification requirements only to job applicants with a “foreign” accent or appearance. Another 430,000 only hired applicants born in the United States.

Despite these obstacles, immigrant workers, including the undocumented, have asserted their labor rights, organized unions, and won better conditions. But employer sanctions have made this harder and riskier. When raids and document verification terrorized immigrants at Smithfield's huge packinghouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina, it became harder for black and white workers to organize as well. Using Social Security numbers to verify immigration status makes the firing and blacklisting of union activists all but inevitable. Citizens and permanent residents feel this impact because in our diverse workplaces, immigrants and native-born people work together.

Low wages for undocumented workers will rise only if those workers can organize. The Employee Free Choice Act would make organizing easier for all workers. But “work authorization” will rob millions of immigrant workers of their ability to use the process that the act would establish.

The alternative to employer sanctions is enforcing the right to organize, minimum wage, overtime, and other worker protection laws. Eliminating sanctions will not change the requirement that people immigrate here legally. ICE will still have the power to enforce immigration law. And if a fair legalization program were passed at the same time sanctions were eliminated, many undocumented workers already here would normalize their status. A more generous policy for issuing residence and family-unification visas would allow families to cross the border legally, without the indentured servitude of guest-worker programs.
Immigrant rights plus jobs programs that require employers to hire from communities with high unemployment can reduce competition and fear. Together they would strengthen unions, raise incomes, contribute to the nation's economic recovery, and bring the people of our country together. Employer sanctions will continue to tear us apart.

Bill Ong Hing is Professor of Law and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis. His most recent book is Defining America through Immigration Policy. David Bacon is a freelance writer and photographer.  His newest book, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants is published by Beacon Press. This article first appeared in The Nation magazine.

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"To reduce the pressure that causes undocumented migration, we need to change our trade and economic policies so they don't produce poverty in countries like Mexico."

Clean Air, Good Jobs: Green-Brown Alliance for Worker and Community Rights

More than two million containers of cargo move through the Port of Oakland each year, making it the country’s fifth-busiest container seaport and a crucial link in the global supply chain. It connects the factories of China and the rest of the Pacific Rim with the United States consumer market, handling cargo for some of the wealthiest multinational corporations, such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot. The Port generates more than $7 billion a year in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, low-income residents of neighborhoods near the Port and the truck drivers who work at the Port miss out on their fair share of economic prosperity—and get more than their share of the health and environmental problems caused by diesel pollution from the trucks.

In 2006, the Oakland Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports (CCSP) was formed to bring an end to the broken Port trucking system, which contributes to a public health crisis in our community and keeps many truck drivers in poverty. Today this blue-green-brown alliance has grown to include more than 80 faith, environmental, health, environmental justice, labor, and community organizations fighting for cleaner air, sustainable jobs, and greater accountability from the Port of Oakland. The Oakland Campaign for Good Jobs and Clean Air is part of a national movement with campaigns underway in Los Angeles/Long Beach, Seattle, New York/New Jersey, and Miami.

For decades, progressive social movements have demanded basic human rights. The environmental movement has advocated for clean air and water; the environmental justice movement has organized to minimize the disproportionate impacts of toxics in low-income, people of color communities; the labor movement has called for a voice on the job and a living wage; and community organizations have demanded local jobs and safe streets.  Along with other movements seeking self-determination, they have been building power against multinational corporations that drive the race to the bottom, destroying communities and the environment along the way. Too often, our movements have fallen for the false dichotomy that pits environmental protection against good jobs. But the campaigns for clean and safe ports link these issues tightly—clean air for communities near the ports depends on good jobs for Port truck drivers.

At one time, Port truck drivers did enjoy a middle-class standard of living. But deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980 brought poorer working conditions and a drastic drop in wages. Trucking companies vying for business from big box retailers and steamship lines undercut each other and paid drivers less. Many trucking companies shifted employees to “independent contractor” status, thus avoiding payroll taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and workers’ compensation. The companies have shed responsibility for their fleets as well.  Port drivers must purchase or lease their own trucks and pay for vehicle maintenance, fuel, registration, insurance, and other costs.  They earn as little as $8 per hour, so many can only afford old, polluting trucks that are poorly maintained and unsafe.

Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 truck drivers operate at the Port of Oakland today. Most of them are immigrants. They contract with more than 100 small trucking companies, who in turn contract with retailers and shipping lines.  Drivers work an average of 11 hours a day, and many work 14 hours or more.  Inefficiencies in the system make them spend an average of two-and-a-half hours waiting in line for each load they pick up.  As they are waiting in line their trucks are idling, exposing themselves and residents to diesel fumes that their trucks emit.  Trucks regularly drive through and park in West Oakland, increasing air and noise pollution.  
“Currently, my family has at least 20 people who suffer from asthma,” said West Oakland resident Athena Applon. “Five of them use electric asthma machines and my mother uses an oxygen tank that stands at least two feet tall. Recently, I was diagnosed with asthma, too. I can’t help but wonder if there is a relationship between my family and friends having asthma and the black soot that comes from the trucks that travel in my neighborhood.”

Diesel truck pollution contains toxics that cause asthma and cancer. One in five West Oakland children suffers from asthma. Drivers report severe and persistent hearing loss, asthma, dizziness, headaches, and nausea.  Studies show that workers exposed to diesel fumes have up to 50 percent higher than average rates of lung cancer.

Truck drivers face the highest on-the-job fatality rates in the country. Only 14 percent of Oakland Port drivers receive health benefits. Many drivers rely on taxpayer-funded hospitals and clinics for primary care. 

Diesel pollution from trucks working the Port of Oakland costs the community $153 million per year in health impacts linked to asthma, increased risk of cancer, other diseases, and premature death, according to the recent study, “Taking a Toll: The High Cost of Health, Environment and Worker Impacts of the Oakland Port Trucking System,” conducted by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) and the Pacific Institute.” [1]

Communities near the Port include West Oakland, which is predominantly African American, and several Latino, Asian, and African American neighborhoods along the Interstate 880 corridor leading to the Port. All over the East Bay, working families are struggling in the current economic crisis.  Full-time workers line up at food banks, seek public assistance, and forgo healthcare.  The East Bay’s poorest families earned, on average, only 6.5¢ for every $1 earned by the highest income households in the area in 2007.  Under the current Port trucking system, wealthy global corporations pass the costs of doing business on to those who can least afford it: low-wage truck drivers and low-income communities of color.

“The situation is bad for everyone,” said Chuck Mack of International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Corporate greed is hammering the community, the truck drivers, and all the workers at the Port. It has to stop.”

Holding the Port of Oakland Accountable

Over the past decade, EBASE has worked in labor-community coalitions to pass policy initiatives that have raised wages and secured health benefits for many Port workers.

Beginning in 1999, the Maritime and Aviation Project Labor Agreement (MAPLA) set up a collaborative process to work with the construction industry and enhance accountability to the local community. EBASE provided research, technical assistance, and facilitation to the coalition that helped create  MAPLA. The project significantly increased access to more than $1 billion worth of Port-related construction work for local residents.

In 2002, 78 percent of Oakland voters approved Measure I, the Port of Oakland Living Wage and Labor Standards Charter Amendment, sending a clear message that the Port should lead the way in creating good jobs. The ordinance covers about 3,000 workers at airport and seaport businesses.  Another community-labor coalition worked with the Port of Oakland to incorporate Measure I’s employment standards into the Request For Proposals for Oakland Airport concessions, in an effort that directly parallels the CCSP campaign to set standards for the Port trucking industry.

Next Steps to Fixing the Port Trucking System
The Los Angeles Harbor Commission made history in March 2008 by voting unanimously for a comprehensive Clean Trucks Program that sets environmental, community, and labor standards.  The program, which went into effect in October, makes trucking companies responsible for a clean truck fleet by requiring them to hire drivers as employees, ending the “independent contractor” system. Port air pollution dropped quickly and dramatically. The Los Angeles program now serves as a model for sustainable operations in all West Coast ports.
In response to public pressure, the Port of Oakland is developing a Comprehensive Truck Management Plan.  CCSP will continue to advocate for reforms that make the industry responsible for cleaning up the truck fleet and improving working conditions for Port drivers. The Coalition is also pushing for a local hire program for residents in Port-impacted communities.

Despite these tough economic times, we have a unique opportunity to re-create the Oakland Port trucking system. All over the country, campaigns for clean and safe ports are showing the strength we gain when we join forces. We are seeing our once-separate fights for the rights to good jobs and clean air come together in a single struggle for environmental and economic justice.

1.        Lin, Jennifer and Prakash, Swati. Taking a Toll: The High Cost of Health, Environment and Worker Impacts of the Oakland Port Trucking System, Oakland, Calif. East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Pacific Institute, February 2009.

Aditi Vaidya leads EBASE’s work to promote living wage and health for workers at the Port of Oakland and helps to organize the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, an alliance of over 80 environmental, labor, faith, public health, and community organizations promoting sustainable economic development at the Port of Oakland. For more information visit www.oakland.cleanandsafeports.org.

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Health and Welfare

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.


Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Everyone Has the Right To... | Vol. 16, No. 1 | Spring 2009 | Credits

Building a Healthy Barrio in San José

In Mexico, I knew where my food came from. My parents and grandparents cultivated their own food or we ate food that was grown locally. In this country, fast and processed food is cheap, abundant, and addictive. Our eating habits changed completely.” So says Sandra M., community leader from the Mayfair neighborhood of San Jose, California, speaking about the diabetes epidemic affecting her family and community.

Diabetes is a disease known throughout the world. But few people are aware of the dangers associated with it until it actually affects them or someone close to them. Sandra M., who immigrated to the United States from Ocotlán, Mexico, saw her mother-in-law struggle with diabetes for 10 years before succumbing to it. Now her mother—like many others in her community—has been diagnosed with the same disease and Sandra is determined to fight the epidemic through a campaign of education and awareness.

A Bellwether for Latino Health
It is often said that the United States, as a nation, is facing a crisis of obesity and diabetes, but the population hit hardest of all are Latinos with 50 percent of their children projected to develop diabetes in their lifetime. In fact, for a snapshot of the problem, you only have to visit east San Jose, California, in the neighborhood of Mayfair; a poor, working class community of about 20,000, made up largely of recent immigrants from Mexico. Denied access to healthcare and health education due to poverty, racism, language barriers, and undocumented status, the population registers as one of the most overweight among all ethnic groups in Santa Clara County.

Undoubtedly, some extraordinary efforts have been made in recent years to enroll most children in Santa Clara County in a healthcare plan. But lack of access to healthcare is only one part of the problem faced by Latinos living in low-income barrios like Mayfair. The greater problem is posed by the very environment of the barrio—with minimal access to safe public spaces for physical activity, healthy meals at school, or public facilities offering health programs. There is also a lack of affordable fresh foods, such as organic fruits and vegetables, in local markets.

Cultivating Power
Somos Mayfair (www.somosmayfair.org) is a place-based organization with a mission to cultivate the dreams and power the people of Mayfair through direct service, cultural activism, and community organizing. Since 1996, Somos Mayfair has fielded a team of community health educators called promotores who have worked with hundreds of local families to increase their access to health services. Faced with the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes, over the past three years, Somos Mayfair has developed a unique and comprehensive approach to addressing the crisis.

Firstly, recognizing that any community organizing effort can only succeed with the support and commitment of individuals, Somos began by recruiting 50 Mayfair families annually to participate in a five-month intervention program to change behaviors that impact diabetes risk factors. The families participate in three months of weekly exercise and nutrition classes offered by partner organizations, following which, the participants are encouraged to initiate and lead a two-month community project focused on sustaining the health behavioral changes they have learned. Program participants are also urged to develop their leadership skills by passing on the health lessons learned to their neighbors in Mayfair.

Popular Theater Takes on the “American Dream”
On a larger scale, Somos works alongside community leaders to implement health education and dialogue campaigns using popular education and cultural activism, with the aim of increasing knowledge about the social, economic, political, and cultural causes of obesity and diabetes.

In the Fall of 2007, Somos collaborated with Teatro Familias Unidas de Mayfair, a Mayfair mothers’ theatre troupe, to develop a culturally relevant skit about the structural issues that contribute to poor health in the Latino community. The result was La Dulce Vida y la Amarga Muerte de Pancho Mojado (The Sweet Life and Bitter Death of Pancho Mojado)—a 25-minute play that uses humor and the traditional Mexican icon of death, La Catrina, to highlight the dangers of unhealthy eating and unmask the socio-economic causes of diabetes.

The story depicts La Catrina using the “American Dream” of excessive consumption to seduce people like Pancho to an early grave. With the help of the corporate food system and aggressive marketing, she takes advantage of the immigrant’s poor access to healthcare and healthy food to grow her business of death. Pancho’s wife struggles to convince him to change his habits and take diabetes seriously but he brushes aside her concerns and pursues his right to “the good life.” Ultimately, Pancho is shown the error of his ways by an indigenous woman who implores him to draw on his cultural and familial values and resist the false promises of the American Dream.

At the end of a performance, Somos facilitates a dialogue to deconstruct the messages within the play and assess their impact on the audience. To date, about 1500 people have seen the more than 35 performances, followed by participatory workshops to expand the analysis of the growing diabetes epidemic among Latino families.

Teatro Familias is currently exploring the connections between physical health and the ecological crisis affecting the global food system with a new street theater production called “The Cry of Mother Earth,” which premiered this April.

The Active Mothers of Mayfair

Also in 2007, Somos recruited a group of 16 Mayfair mothers—all of whom had a close family member with diabetes—to form Madres Activas de Mayfair (Active Mayfair Mothers), aka MAM. Over a five-month period, MAM conducted participatory action research to study the multiple environmental factors that contribute to the high incidence of obesity and diabetes in Mayfair. The women learned to use Photovoice, the community research method where resident leaders are given cameras to photograph the neighborhood and then analyze the environmental assets and barriers to exercise. The target for the group’s first health advocacy campaign was the neighborhood infrastructure for family physical activity and recreation.

The health infrastructure barriers in Mayfair are several: Firstly, the community has only one open space available for exercise, even though there are four elementary schools in the area; secondly, playgrounds in the affordable housing complexes are unsafe because of ill-maintained equipment; and thirdly, gang violence, drugs, and crime in the neighborhood effectively deter children and families from attempting outdoor physical activity.

MAM identified the new Mayfair Community Center, which reopened in January 2009, as key to implementing the goal of eliminating the environmental barriers to physical activity, obesity, and chronic disease among Mayfair families. They strongly advocated for health and wellness policies to be given priority at the Center and pushed for more community members to become engaged in promoting health. The Center, prior to opening, committed to prioritize health programming. Somos Mayfair and some of its partners have been selected as collaborating partners by the City of San Jose to deliver health programming in the community through the Center.

¡Sí Se Puede!
To successfully create a healthy community, the changes have to occur at many levels. Individual choices and institutional policies must both favor access to healthy food and healthcare, and a safe environment for exercise. Individual behavior changes, even within the most marginalized communities, can be influenced through outreach and education that is culturally relevant and community-led—as has been shown by the work of place-based organizations like Somos Mayfair. Once individuals are convinced of a need within their community, they must channel

Rebecca Bauen is associate director of Somos Mayfair. She formerly directed Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security, which helps low-income women establish eco-friendly cleaning cooperatives in the Bay Area. Aryeh Shell is the program director of Community Engagement at Somos Mayfair. She has worked for over a decade as a popular educator, organizer, and theater artist.

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California’s Child Exclusion Law Attacks Women and Children’s Rights

State of California welfare policies are depriving thousands of women and children of their rights to food, clothing, and shelter and endangering their health. The so-called “Maximum Family Grant” deprives newborn children of the very same benefits that their siblings receive because women who give birth to another child while on welfare do not see their benefits increase upon the birth of their new child. This perverse attempt to influence family planning decisions of poor women is in direct opposition to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

In 2006, the Women of Color Resource Center (WCRC) initiated a study of the impact of the child exclusion policies on the security and well-being of affected families and on the reproductive decision-making of women on welfare.[1] By every parameter of family security reported on, families with excluded children were less secure than families that had not been capped. Perhaps it was not the intention of the policy-makers to deprive women and children of food, clothing, and shelter and to endanger their health, but that has been the overall effect.

Women whose welfare benefits were capped reported higher levels of family hardship and distress. Their families experienced higher levels of housing and food insecurity; were more likely to have problems paying for transportation and utilities; have a significantly harder time providing diapers and clothing for their children; and are more likely to have taken a child to the hospital in the preceding six months.

Raising Families on $500 per Month
Of the 200 women interviewed (in Alameda, San Joaquin, and Los Angeles counties) nearly 76 percent had monthly household incomes under $1,000, with about a quarter of them living on less than $500 per month. On average, the women had 2.3 children living in households of 4.3 people. Fifty-five of the women surveyed (27.5 percent) reported that they had at least one child excluded from benefits because of the rule.

It is difficult to discover exactly how many children are denied support in California due to the policy because the state does not collect that data. But a General Assistance Office (GAO) study reported that on average 53,417 families per month were capped in 2000—that’s 9.5 percent of California’s caseload and nearly 50 percent of the total families capped nationwide.[2] The report estimated that a two-person family that had an additional child while on welfare in California stood to lose $121 per month in cash assistance. With average welfare grants amounting to $544 per month, that’s a significant reduction of a family’s already limited financial ability to care  for their new child.

In the WCRC survey, 41 percent of the women affected by the Maximum Family Grant rule were Asian, 30 percent Latina, and 24 percent African American—with the rules disproportionately affecting families with lower English language skills, despite a law that requires annual notification of the Maximum Family Grant rules in native languages to those with limited or no English literacy. The Vietnamese-speaking Tran family, for example, did not find out about the rule until after their daughter was born. And without additional support, they were often unable to afford enough food to keep the whole family healthy. Their story, unfortunately, is all too typical of families whose benefits are capped.

Punishing Children to Punish Families
A disturbing find of the study is the effect of the welfare cap on a family’s ability to provide for the basic needs of excluded children. Forty-six percent of affected women reported not being able to adequately feed their families; while 45 percent reported not being able to afford diapers or clothing for their children (as compared to 26 percent of families not affected by the cap). An even more disturbing find is the proportionately higher number of children from affected families who had been to the hospital in the six months prior to the interview—more than 20 percent, as opposed to 15 percent among unaffected families. This clearly speaks to both the heightened vulnerability of these families and the increased burden on social services.

The adoption of the child exclusion policies is one of the many results of a decades-long campaign to stigmatize people on welfare. It’s a campaign often characterized by racial bias, misogyny, and contempt for the poor. In California, advocates and service providers have been fighting the child exclusion policy since its introduction in 1997; and since the early 2000s, a collaborative of racial justice and women’s rights groups, legal advocates, and direct service providers has been working towards a legislative response to the welfare cap. Their work culminated in the 2007 Provide for Every Child (AB 22) bill, introduced in the California legislature by Representative Sally Lieber. The bill aims to revoke the Maximum Family Grant rules on the grounds that the state had reneged on its obligation to enact laws that serve the best interests of children.[3] It makes the argument that a legislative act that excludes poor children from receiving necessary assistance cannot be working in the best interest of those children and violates their basic human rights.

The bill stalled in committee last year and given the dismal state of California’s budget in 2009, is unlikely to pass this year despite support from the Speaker of the House and well-known child advocate, Karen Bass.

No Stimulus for Poor Children
The grim state of California’s coffers is simply a reflection of the nation’s economy and offers little immediate hope. The economic stimulus bill currently under consideration is $40 billion short of what was originally proposed and makes further cuts in food stamps and aid to the unemployed. The only bright spot in the current national social services scene is President Obama’s recent reinstatement of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which publicly recognizes the need for healthcare for young people.

Further lobbying efforts in 2009 are unlikely to yield success. Instead, collaborating organizations are focusing on reinstating benefits for families today, while education and advocacy around the legislation continues. Law students working at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, Calif. are currently reviewing about 300 Maximum Family Grant cases and are also putting together a how-to guide for child advocates to fight such cases. A media strategy by reproductive justice organizations and faith-based groups continues to keep the impact of the policy alive. This is also the perfect moment for communities to support advocacy and social service agencies directly—as well as keeping up pressure on legislators—to ensure that the human rights of California families are not an afterthought, but a central priority of the state.

1.        The study was conducted in partnership with the East Bay Community Law Center, Oakland, St. George’s Health Center, Modesto, California Women’s Law Center, Los Angeles, and Black Women for Wellness, Los Angeles.
2.        Welfare Reform: More Research Needed on TANF Family Caps and Other Policies for Reducing Out-of-Wedlock Births (GAO-01924 9/2001).
3.        The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 3. “In all actions concerning children undertaken by administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Linda Burnham is a long-time activist and writer focused on women’s rights and racial equality and a co-founder of the Women of Color Resource Center. Anisha Desai is the executive director of the Women of Color Resource Center.

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Greening for All

The Right to Access Healthy Food

In a mild late-winter afternoon, fifth-graders at Verde Elementary School in North Richmond squat on soggy ground, poking beans into the dirt with thin sticks. They move on to carrots, marveling at the tiny seeds that get stuck on the palms of their hands. Fava beans, bright yellow and orange calendula, and a whole pharmacy of herbs are flourishing in the garden’s rock-rimmed plots.
Last year Verde Partnership Garden produced close to 1000 pounds of vegetables. The students set up a farmers market in front of the school every two weeks. Parents were so eager to buy that they sent orders in with their children, said garden co-coordinator Bienvenida Mesa. North Richmond, like many depressed communities across the nation, has more than its share of liquor stores, but no stores that sell decent, much less organic, produce.

Verde Garden gives much to the school as well as to the community. Teachers work it into lesson plans. Students come for recess or respite and don’t want to leave. Mesa and the other garden coordinator, Cassie Scott, have to gently herd them back inside.

The garden started in 1995, after a group of Laotian immigrants simply began digging there. Hmong and Mien women who went to an ESL class at Verde decided they needed a garden and began hand-tilling the rubbish-filled vacant lot next to the school. Scott worked as a play therapist at Verde at the time.

“I saw a large number of women with hoes working there and within a short time they’d dug up a vacant piece of land next to the football field. And I was inspired,” says Scott.

Modern Diggers
Like the “Diggers” who began farming on Saint George’s Hill in the spring of 1649 and inspired a brief, but radical, chapter in British history, the Laotian women’s act called into question the meaning of “public property.” They exercised their right to land by putting hoe to dirt, and joined Richmond’s deeply rooted and lively gardening tradition.

Other gardeners here have dug on vacant land, but asked permission first. Today, some are finding they need to claim their rights first in the city planning process. Urban agriculture, with its potential to build food security along with community well-being, has hit the public policy agenda. Funds are becoming available, and questions of access and inclusion are raising their heads.
In the early 1900s, the North Richmond area around Verde School was called “Cabbage Patch” for its dozens of truck farms. Victory gardens bloomed around Richmond during World War II, when waves of rural migrants swelled the city’s population to around 100,000. Okies and Arkies and African Americans from the South worked the shipyards and defense plants, and grew their fruits and vegetables.

“Sure, we had gardens all over the city,” says longtime community and environmental activist Lillie Mae Jones. “People had to have gardens so they could survive.” Like today’s urban gardeners, they used techniques such as sheet mulching, composting, and companion planting to raise more and healthier crops.

Today Richmond has about a dozen garden projects, including an urban agriculture class at Richmond High School, several school gardens—at least two of which may be casualties of the school district’s financial woes—and “Lots of Crops.”
North Richmond has upwards of 40 vacant lots that invite illegal dumping and become eyesores and health hazards, according to Saleem Bey of North Richmond Green, which runs Lots of Crops. So far, the group has gotten permission from owners of 10 of those lots to use them. It plans to build raised beds, employ community youth as gardeners, and distribute the produce in the neighborhood—free or at low cost.

“We consider these lots public lands,” Bey says. “We walk by them every day. We think that if you have a need and the land is available, the greater good supercedes ownership. While they are not being used, we have the right to use the land in our community.”

Food Self-Sufficiency
Richmond has been known for crime and violence, poverty and pollution since the postwar years when industry fled and malls destroyed downtown. “But Richmond could be the most food self-sufficient urban community in the U.S.,” says Park Guthrie, who works with the nonprofit Urban Tilth and the  5% Local Coalition, which wants to see 5 percent of west Contra Costa County’s food grown locally. “We have a climate that lets us grow year-round, a number of agrarian traditions, lots of open space and public officials who are interested,” says Guthrie.

Richmond elected a Green mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, in 2006, and she and her allies on the City Council express active interest in the prospect.

“All our development has to produce an equitable society and we have everything here to go forward,”  says City Council member Jeff Ritterman. “And we have the California Endowment being interested in Richmond for a 10-year investment, and I think they’ll be interested in this.”

City planners see the newly minted Richmond Greenway as a prime site for urban gardens. The Greenway runs a mile up an old railroad right-of-way, past cyclone fences and boarded-up windows, broken-down factories and neat bungalow homes. Near the west end of the trail, the Lincoln School Garden and Lincoln Community Garden make use of the Greenway’s wide swath of open space.

At the east end, Khmhu immigrants—who like the Hmong and Mien come from the hill country in Laos—raise eggplants and peppers, cilantro, cucumbers, squash, and beans. Father Don McKinnon and Sr. Micaela O’Connor of the Catholic Church’s Khmhu Pastoral Mission helped them work through the city’s bureaucracy to get permission to use the land—a process that seemed odd to the Khmhu.

“In my country, when you want to garden, you just find some place, cut down the trees and plant,” says Kham Sousamphan. “We don’t have fences.” Her smile says she found the idea of fenced lands not so much offensive as ridiculous.
Now staffers from city agencies and nonprofits are working with Friends of the Richmond Greenway (FORG) under a planning grant from the National Park Services’ Groundwork Program—and some community activists are getting nervous. The history of the Greenway project itself is feeding their anxiety.

When she was head of Richmond’s Neighborhood Coordinating Council in the late 1980s, Lillie Mae Jones started an organization called CYCLE (Community Youth Council for Leadership and Education). Every summer, CYCLE gave young people small stipends for environmental learning and service. In 1999, CYCLE got $1.9 million in grants to begin developing the Greenway.

“We did all the footwork,” says Jones—but she fell ill, and while she was in a convalescent home, the project moved forward and left her behind.

“When the Greenway opened in 2007, I found out about the dedication by accident,” she says. Now Doria Robinson from the 5% Local Coalition is the only person from the neighborhoods near the Greenway who sits on the steering committee for the planning project.

“As FORG,  we’ve struggled along as volunteers for years,” says the group’s co-chair, Cheryl Maier. “We’ve worked with the neighborhood councils, which are supportive, but taking on green issues is difficult for them. They’re organized around issues of safety, crime, and property valuation.”

Gardens and open space can be attractive amenities that boost property values, according to a 2006 study done by New York University. Property values went up as much as 9.4 percent over five years in neighborhoods next to well-kept community gardens in the Bronx—and low-income areas benefited most from the gardens.

This means Richmond will need to move carefully to be sure the Greenway doesn’t turn into “a Roman road to gentrification,” says Robinson. The Romans first built roads and made other “public improvements” in areas they conquered or hoped to conquer.
“Communities like mine deserve greenways and open space,” Robinson says, “but when we’re moving forward with greening we can’t get myopic. We have to be clear that we’re working for the people who live here, not doing things that will end up moving them out and moving in people with more means.”

A real commitment to “greening for all” will involve patient work in the neighborhoods to draw people in and be sure they have a meaningful voice in land use planning. History suggests another path as well, the one taken by the Hmong and Mien women at Verde School. From the 1400s to the mid-1600s, Europe’s landed gentry gradually “enclosed” or privatized public lands that had been used for grazing and farming. People who depended on those lands for survival launched struggles to reclaim them. The Diggers chose direct action against the gentrification of their time: they began to dig and plant, hoping to overturn society with the turning of the soil.

Marcy Rein and Clifton Ross live in Richmond’s cooperative housing complex, Atchison Village.  Marcy was most recently a communications specialist for the ILWU and is now a freelance writer and editor.  Clifton Ross is a videographer, poet, and essayist.  He teaches at Berkeley City College. His newest book is “Translations from Silence” published by Freedom Voices.

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Self-Determination and Reparations

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 13.

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

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Allensworth Freedom Colony

An Experiment in African American Self-Determination
By Mickey Ellinger
Photos by Scott Braley

A century ago, in a dusty corner of Tulare County, California, black visionaries planned and developed a town governed by its black residents. The settlers’ goal was utopian in the highest sense: to show the rest of the United States what African Americans could do in a secure self-governing community built by their own efforts without interference, harassment, or persecution. Their bold experiment attracted U.S. Army soldiers and veterans, small business owners, skilled artisans, professionals, and farmers from all over the United States. Residents named the town Allensworth to honor the colony’s founder and chief promoter, Colonel Allen Allensworth, whose life journey from slavery to a high rank in the U.S. Army epitomized the capacities and dreams of African Americans. 

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The town ran its own school that taught world history and fostered black pride, and was praised by the state superintendent of schools as the best school in the San Joaquin Valley. Residents practiced a deeply held but inclusive Christianity. They established institutions of self-government and participated in local government and civic life. They farmed and founded small businesses. The town’s fortunes were followed closely in the national black press. And even though many residents worked on neighboring white-owned ranches, they were committed to economic self-reliance for themselves, their families, and the Allensworth community.

Allensworth, like dozens, possibly hundreds of African  American towns in the South and Midwest, was a conscious effort to pursue the dream of freedom in an unrelentingly repressive society. Slavery had been abolished for 40 years, but the federal government abandoned Reconstruction in 1877, pulling out United States troops. Segregation was upheld by the United States Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1895. State legislatures effectively disenfranchised black voters in the South, and the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black people, especially black landowners. Between 1882 and 1908, when Allensworth was founded, 3,347 people were lynched in the United States, according to the Tuskeegee Institute. The vast majority were black men. Some mostly white towns went so far as to expel their black residents completely. In 1908, while Colonel Allensworth and his partners were buying land, a white mob in Springfield, Illinois, hometown of Abraham Lincoln, burned dozens of buildings in the African American community, lynched two men, and drove most of the 2,500 black citizens into the night.

Still, people were determined to find ways to make the most of their new-found freedom. Crusading journalists like Ida B. Wells exposed the crimes of lynching, and Negro political leaders proposed strategies for progress. In the late 1870s and beyond, tens of thousands of people founded self-governing African American communities, some in the South, more in the Midwest and the Oklahoma Territory. Between 1879 and 1881 alone, 60,000 people left the South. Historians estimate that as many as 100,000 people migrated between 1879 and 1910. Cartoonist and historian Morris Turner has identified more than 200 African American towns and settlements, most founded by people hungry for land and seeking a haven from white violence.

Two currents of thought guided the struggle for freedom. In the growing urban African American communities, the struggle focused on gaining equal civil rights, such as the right to testify against white people, to receive a public education in integrated schools, and to vote. W.E.B. Dubois and his followers articulated this strategy and embodied it in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909.

Booker T. Washington was the chief spokesman for the emphasis on self-reliant economic development. Washington was criticized for not directly opposing segregation, but his ideas resonated with black businessmen and farmers all over the country. African American towns were laboratories for Washington’s strategy, and while Allensworth residents and practices supported both currents of liberation thought, Colonel Allensworth and other town founders saw themselves as followers of Washington.

Early residents had warm memories of life in Allensworth. Elizabeth Payne Magee, a daughter of town founder William Payne and the first teacher at the Allensworth school, told an interviewer, “One of the outstanding things I remember about Allensworth was the library. It was the best equipped small library that I have ever seen, and I spent many happy hours in there, reading and taking books out. And all of us read a great deal. There were no illiterate children in that area. Everybody read and enjoyed reading and studying, and we all sang, and many of us played instruments… it was an unique town.”
Helatha Smith, who also lived in Allensworth as a child, recalls, “We played croquet and we played ballgames with the boys. They were always running, playing blind man, and all of those crazy games where you got to run all over the place.

“We played baseball too. Sometimes the girls would play the boys and then other times we would play mixed. We had girls that were really good players. We had one girl, Cecelia Hall, she wasn’t afraid to try to stop a ball. She was good, she always played shortstop. Most of the girls would get out of the way as soon as the ball was going, but she wouldn’t. She’d just stop the ball.”

The people of Allensworth faced enormous obstacles, some faced by most small farming towns in agribusiness California, some particular to their lack of economic and political power:

• Few land companies would sell to African Americans, and the town’s overpriced alkaline soil was not generous.

• The water supply dwindled and the land company reneged on its agreements to supply it.

• Farmers north of Allensworth built a spur line that took away the revenue from the grain depot at Allensworth; train traffic fell.

• In a completely unforeseen tragedy, Colonel Allensworth was killed by two white motorcyclists while walking on a Monrovia street.

• While the colony was still mourning the Colonel, the plan to found a vocational school at Allensworth was defeated by indifference in the California legislature and opposition from black leaders in San Francisco and Los Angeles, who feared that a school in Allensworth would undermin
e their efforts to integrate education.

The Disappearing Black Farmers
Black farmers were becoming an endangered population throughout the United States. Farm ownership declined steadily after 1920, when almost a million black farmers still owned land in the South. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, farmers in the South were forced back into sharecropping. In Allensworth, work on white-owned farms became the only work available. Cotton had come into the San Joaquin Valley and Allensworth became a place people lived in during the cotton season, and then moved on.

Today, in California as elsewhere in the United States, black people are overwhelmingly urban. There are fewer than 500 black farmers in the state; they mostly farm small acreages of specialty crops for urban farmers’ markets.    
The struggle for African American economic equality has moved to the cities, but the history of Allensworth still resonates with black Californians, who have supported the town’s reincarnation as a state historic park.

In 1969, Ed Pope, who lived in Allensworth as a child in the 1930s, was working for the State Department of Parks and Recreation, preparing graphs and charts for the annual report on the state’s historic sites. “All the different ethnicities were represented, but nothing at all on black people,” Pope says. “I went over to the capitol and lobbied Merv Dymally and Willie Brown. By the time I got back to my office, my phone was jumping off the hook. Merv Dymally said, ‘What’s this about 127 sites and no representation of black people? Taxation without representation! Let’s get on it.’” Pope sums up the situation with a smile. “It was 1969. Not that much earlier, the Black Panthers had been in the Capitol Rotunda. Let’s just say the Legislature was in a listening mood.” The Park was dedicated in 1976, and more than 20 historic buildings have been painstakingly repaired or rebuilt.

Today the park comes to life during special events. Groups come by bus and train to absorb the history and imagine themselves living in the town. Docents in period dress portray early residents and explain the furnishings of the buildings and their use in daily life.

One frequent visitor told us this story: “I remember the very first time that I came through here, and the announcer—she was one of Allensworth’s granddaughters—said, ‘I’m going to tell you something —we’re family up here. Mothers, let your children go. We don’t have any axe murderers, we don’t have anybody who’s going to hurt them, let them go. This is their place. This is what I’m telling you. And if they do something, every parent here is going to take them back to you. We expect you to uphold what we have said.’ That did it. I said, ‘This is home!’”

The town of Allensworth still exists just south of the park. Its few hundred mostly Latino residents still struggle for a reliable water supply and a healthy environment. In 2007, townspeople and park supporters worked together to defeat a plan to permit two huge dairies nearby that would have added to air and water pollution problems.

As lifetime resident Sam Pierro sums up, “Allensworth served as a beacon of light to people, because there’s a vein of struggle that goes through the black community. There are obstacles that seem insurmountable. When Allensworth founded the town, he was trying to build something to address that, because he was coming out of slavery, and what was happening to blacks continued on. They killed him six years after the town started. All the adversities that were stacked against Allensworth, they continued on. We had to face it, all the stuff that we had to undergo. But it gave us a certain strength; it was a blessing to us. A difficult life, but a blessing to us. I appreciate it. That gives me as a person something to hold on to.”

Mickey Ellinger is a freelance writer. Scott Braley is a freelance photographer. They worked with Mrs. Royal to create Allensworth, the Freedom Colony. Order the book from Heyday Books.

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Any discussion of reparations for African-Americans should always begin with an important historical fact: such reparations were, in fact, once begun, at a time when they were most easily administered and had the best chance of achieving their desired goals. And then, abruptly, the process was stopped.

Late in the Civil War, a group of African-American leaders petitioned United States General William Sherman at Savannah, Georgia to help secure the well-being and future of the thousands of former African captives freed by Sherman’s western armies on their march from Atlanta to the sea. Sherman was no abolitionist, and certainly no “nigger lover” (to use the common phrase of the day), but he was concerned about freed African captives—“contrabands of war” as they were called—fleeing the plantations and clogging the roads behind and alongside his army on his drive north through South Carolina, as they had done during his march through Georgia. Sherman needed some incentive to keep the African-Americans in place. The African-American leaders wanted the same thing, but for distinctly different reasons. They wanted land for their people, and the resources to work it.

What resulted was Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 15. Issued in the field by a commanding general as a wartime measure, it had the force of law. The order commanded, in part, that the Georgia and South Carolina sea islands and abandoned rice-fields running thirty miles inland in those states were to be “reserved and set apart for the settlement of the Negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.” Each family was to be given a plot of “not more than forty acres” (the origin of the 40 acres and a mule promise). The general further ordered that “in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed peoples themselves, subject only to the United States military authority, and the acts of Congress.”

Field Order No. 15 was put in effect, and many of the islands and plantation lands measured off and parceled out to the people formerly held on them in slavery. In all, some 400,000 acres were divided up.

Might Have Beens

Had Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 been allowed to stand and been expanded to the other slavery states, and had the Union Army remained stationed in the former Confederacy until a generation had passed to ensure both the freemen’s vote and to protect their property ownership, a stable, African-American landowning class would have been established. The ravages of race and violence of the following 150 years might have been avoided, and the history of this nation changed for the better.
But Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 was not allowed to stand. Following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in the spring of 1865, President Andrew Johnson rescinded Sherman’s order in his attempt to pacify the former Confederate rebel plantation owners and induce them to swear allegiance to the federal government. Shortly before Lincoln’s death, abolitionist Congressmember Thaddeus Stevenson tried to put a Black land-dispersal provision into the first Freedmen’s Bureau Act, proposing to give the newly-created agency “authority to set apart for use of loyal refugees and freedmen such tracts of land within the insurrectionary states as shall have been abandoned or to which the United States shall have acquired title by confiscation or sale, or otherwise; and to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, as aforesaid there shall be assigned not more than 40 acres of such land.” Congress voted that provision down.

The result was that most African-Americans freed from slavery did not receive land, most of the land promised in Sherman’s field order was not dispersed, and large portions of the land already dispersed to African-American families was summarily taken back. Instead of becoming a landowning class that could have protected themselves, African-Americans were plunged into displacement, servitude, and a Hundred Years of Terror—of anti-black racism—the bloody and shameful results of which remain America’s legacy and reality to this day.

150 Years—Plus Interest
Nothing that has happened in the years following that spring of disappointment almost 150 years ago—when both President Johnson and Congress failed to follow up on Sherman’s reparations actions—has changed the fact that reparations for African slavery in America were never paid, and remain due and payable. The arguments to the contrary are easily rebutted.
Lincoln himself believed that the long continuation of the bloody Civil War may have been God’s retribution on both the North and the South for slavery, saying in his second inaugural address during the fourth year of that war, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’” During recent discussions on African-American reparations, you hear a sort of bastardization on that theme: the idea that the blood of Union soldiers fighting to end slavery in the Civil War constituted a payment of reparations to the former captives. This argument neatly leaves out the work of the soldiers from Confederatet states—once and current members of the United States—who fought to preserve slavery.

A second argument is that the various civil rights measures of the 1960s—the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, for example—constitute a substitute for reparations. But reparations are given for specific offenses to the specific populations damaged by those offenses. As we have seen in so many recent court decisions, the various civil rights acts of the 1960s and beyond are not currently judged to be solely for the benefit of those damaged by African slavery in America and, in fact, it is often the case that those acts are used by plaintiffs and the courts to retard African-American advancement, rather than enhance it. If these are reparations, they sound suspiciously familiar to the reparations of 1865, taken away almost as quickly as they were given.

Reparations to African-Americans descendant from those held in captivity in America continue to be owed, both for slavery itself, and for the Hundred Years of Terror that followed between 1865 and 1965. Unfortunately, to have anything but an esoteric meaning, a debt must not only be owed, it must be collectable.

Uncollectable Debt
The problem is two-fold and encompasses two simple questions that pose complicated dilemmas. What form should reparations take, and who should get them? In my opinion, regardless of the continued justness of African-American reparations, the complications surrounding the answers to those questions are fatal to the process.

In 1865, the logical form of post-slavery reparations was land redistribution. Most African-Americans in 1865 were farmers who would have immediately been in a position to put that land to use, and for those who were not farmers—the artisans and skilled workers and others—some other accommodation could have been made. Today, even if enough land could be made available in the United States to redistribute to African-Americans as a reparations payment, it could not provide the same sustainable economic benefit it would have 150 years ago, and most of it almost certainly would be immediately sold off. A cash payment would, in fact, be the easiest form of reparations to calculate and deliver, but to what end? With the business infrastructure of the African-American community long since shattered by the integration movement, most of the cash reparations payments would be quickly spent leaving most  African-American citizens in little better shape than they were before.

Other Forms of Reparations

There have been suggestions, in the alternative, of reparations taking other forms.
One suggestion is to have a massive educational “Marshall Plan” designed to overcome the phenomenon popularly known as the “achievement gap.” In statistics measured two years ago, African-American 4th graders trail 28 and 36 percentage points behind whites in performance below grade level in reading (86 vs. 58 percent) and math (85 vs. 49 percent). The numbers are just as dismal for their older brothers and sisters in the 8th grade where African-Americans trail whites 88 vs. 62 percent in reading below grade level and 89 vs. 59 percent in math below grade level. [1]

The problem is, even if the nation committed to the enormous amounts of money needed to bridge this gap, there is little current agreement among educators—black, white, or in mixed-group settings—as to what methods should be adopted to close the gap or even if that goal is achievable at all under the current national social system.

Another alternative to cash is some combination of projects aimed at raising up specific sectors of the African-American population. One could look at reversing the rolling trend of the loss of African-American-owned agriculture land, making African-Americans more food-independent. In 1999, African-Americans constituted 2 percent of agricultural landowners in the country, with 0.9 percent of the land at 1.2 percent of the total agricultural land value.[2]  It is almost certain that those numbers have gone down since then.

Another such sector might be African-American businesses. The Minority Business Development Agency of the United States Department of Commerce estimated that if African-Americans had a parity share of American business 10 years ago, the number of such African-American-owned firms would be 2.6 million (instead of the actual 0.8 million), with $2.4 trillion in receipts (instead of the actual $70 million), and employing 13.13 million (instead of the actual 0.7 million).

There are other reparations-alternative suggestions that would address similar black-white disparities in such areas as criminal justice and home ownership; some might work, some appear more fanciful. One could go on and on within every important aspect of American economic and social life, and somewhere in this morass of programs, there is perhaps some combination that might, once and for all, make whole the debt owed to African-Americans by this country. Perhaps. But aside from any other complications, this opens the question of who would decide what the combination should be. With no conceivable group of leaders or organizations to speak for African-Americans—as might have been possible even as late as the early 1970s—the political squabbling over the form of reparations would dwarf any other single political battle we have seen in this country in our lifetimes.

But far more difficult—probably even impossible—than the question of what form is the question of who should receive reparations. In 1865, sorting out those who had previously been enslaved but were then freed would have been complicated, but manageable. Five generations later, how could such decisions be made as to who was descendant from enslaved people? The troubling part would be that while many of these applications would be shams, many would be accurate and legitimate, and sorting the one from the other would be a national mess.

It is bitterly unfair that the United States is unwilling and perhaps politically unable to pay the debt of slavery to those of this nation descendant from the enslaved people. But life is often unfair and, as President Lincoln once opined, perhaps that payment will of necessity come in other ways.


1.        Children’s Defense Fund, “The State Of America’s Children, 2008.”
2.        Gilbert, Jess, Wood, Spencer D., and Sharp, Gwen. “Who Owns The Land? Agricultural Land Ownership By Race/Ethnicity.” Rural America. Winter 2002.

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor writes for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Alternet, and numerous print and web publications. He lives in Oakland. 

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Communications Rights, Creativity and Social Justice

The networked political and financial power of citizens on the Internet played no small part in President Barack Obama’s election, so it is not surprising that his administration has targeted more than $8 billion of the national recovery stimulus for broadband deployment in rural and urban areas on the short end of the “digital divide.” However, much of that money may not reach underserved African-American and Latino neighborhoods, because the cable and telecommunications giants that control up to 90 percent of the broadband lines will get the biggest hand outs. While the Media Democracy Coalition, made up of media activist and consumer groups, is organizing in Washington to ensure that the infrastructure is provided where it’s needed most, a growing number of groups are working at the grassroots to ensure full communications rights, seeing them as an integral part of a twenty-first century vision of community development.

A worldwide movement has developed around a broad vision of communications rights. Its holistic approach connects creativity, media production, social justice, and sustainable development and informs a wide range of projects, campaigns, and institutions.

This approach to communications rights lays the basis for the Internet Rights Charter developed by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).[1] It also unites citizen watchdogs of mainstream media with activists protecting community media from state repression, offering media training for poor and marginalized communities, and enacting visionary new laws. The new Bolivian Constitution, for example, not only opposes media monopolies, it also supports community media and affirms the rights of indigenous people to create and administer their own communication systems and networks. 

Many of these campaigns refer back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by the United Nations in 1948. The Declaration goes beyond individual civil and political rights to ensure collective economic, social, and cultural rights. Article 19 guarantees the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of [his] choice.” Article 27 states that “everyone has the right to participate freely in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

During the 1970s, the non-aligned movement of countries of the global South demanded a more radical approach to communications rights. They argued for more equitable distribution of global communications infrastructure and their own news and entertainment, rather than the existing system dominated by western corporate players; and for community-based media. After a decade of discussion in United Nations forums, the overwhelming majority of countries reached consensus. However, their bold recommendations were blocked by the United Kingdom and the United States, which withdrew from UNESCO, and many of the UN-funded communications projects were shelved.

Until recently, activists in the United States have been slow to connect with this international movement. Human rights in the United States are narrowly framed as individual civil rights, and communications as an individual’s speech rights.  In addition, the greater media wealth among even the poorest United States communities, and perhaps the abstract and foreign nature of the campaign, meant that the need to work holistically around all of these concerns was less urgent.

By the 1990s, the overbearing weight of giant, unaccountable media corporations and authoritarian governments, and the corresponding rise of alternative and community-based media, propelled a renewed movement for communications rights. Community media producers, social movement activists, public interest advocates, and researchers set up a loose global network, framing communications rights within the emerging international consensus of economic, political, and social rights.
Groups such as San Francisco-based Media Alliance now recognize the digital divide as the latest in a continuum of communications inequities stemming from systemic economic, social, cultural, and political exclusions. Big media historically excluded working class, immigrant, and especially African-American and Latino communities, despite their powerful role as creators of culture, including music, dance, storytelling, and other kinds of art. Telecommunications giants redlined these communities, and they have historically lacked capital to produce and circulate their cultural work.

Media Alliance, a member of the Media Democracy Coalition, began organizing for digital inclusion for marginalized communities with the  Internet4All campaign in San Francisco in 2003. Drawing on lessons from that campaign and others that followed, Media Alliance Executive Director Tracy Rosenberg recently drafted a “National Broadband Policy for the Twenty-First Century: Thoughts from the Grassroots.”[2] Rosenberg argues that we need much more than a technical fix. In addition to broadband infrastructure, she proposes new oversight rules for communications giants to ensure Net Neutrality (equal access to the internet as opposed to control by the giant telephone and cable incumbents); economic stimuli based on public and community interests; continuing support for older, but still necessary media, such as cable access TV, low-power FM, and broadcast news; and affordable training, digital production and networking for marginalized communities. A new wave of community-based initiatives is already putting these ideas to work in low-income communities of color in the United States.

In Detroit, Allied Media Projects is supporting community-developed broadband infrastructure as part of a media-based economy, bridging the innovative new digital cultural communities with the venerable Motor City music industry.
“Folks in Detroit—or anywhere that requires a hustle to survive—know that creativity is an abundant and renewable resource. We can build on that,” organizer Jenny Lee writes. “Amid the current crisis we have an opportunity to fill the gap in our region’s economy with diverse local initiatives, including community-based media, which thrives off the city’s creative past and present.”

The Main Street Project in Minneapolis is organizing for rural broadband within a broader vision of media justice, economic development opportunities, and extended political participation for Native American, poor, immigrant, and farming communities.

“We know that Internet communication is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” says the project’s Senior Fellow Amalia Deloney in her blog. “Broadband communication plays a central role in politics, economics, and culture in our society.  Increasingly, broadband will play one of the central roles in our communications infrastructure.”

Understanding the larger possibilities, Deloney connects her participation in the Indigenous Peoples Green Jobs Task Force with broadband. “Rather than looking at Green Jobs and Broadband as separate and unrelated aspects of the stimulus package, we could instead challenge ourselves to be more flexible in our thinking and problem solving,” she writes. “What if, for example, every home [in Minnesota] that received weatherization also had a new router or antenna placed on it?  What if the new Green Jobs hires also studied digital inclusion? What if our commitment to ecology generally included broadband ecology and environmental ecology specifically together?”

Working on communications rights is part of what Deloney calls “thinking things through together.” This practice, which she learned from Angela Davis, requires us to be more flexible in our creative thinking, and connect things that initially appear unrelated. The confluence of the economic and ecological crises, the growing scarcity of high-quality news and information, and the emergence of so many gifted media activists makes the linking of communications, economic, social, and political rights all the more urgent.

Dorothy Kidd is the co-chair of the San Francisco Bay Area Media Alliance and an associate professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco.

1.        www.apc.org/en/pubs/briefs/all/apc-internet-rights-charter
2.        www.media-alliance.org/index.php

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Unversal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

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Bus Rider Rights

Manuel Criollo, Bus Riders Union lead organizer, is the son of immigrants from El Salvador and life-long resident of Pico/Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Manuel was elected to the BRU Planning Committee before joining staff. He focuses on grassroots leadership development and mentoring organizers-in-training and new organizing staff.

Clarke: How is transportation an issue of human rights for the people you work with?
Criollo: “We are the BRU and this is our fight. Mass transportation is a human right. We want 50-cent fares and $20 passes, because mass transportation belongs to the masses!” This was one of our breakout chants from the early 1990s. Transportation access is a critical human rights issue. If someone doesn’t have access to public transit, the system is in essence denying them basic human rights: access to education and healthy food; access to jobs; access to healthcare; and the pursuit of goals beyond mere survival. In a city like Los Angeles, with its many social and economic extremes, transportation denial further en-trenches neighborhood and racial segregation.

Clarke: How does lack of access to public transit affect working class people, communities of color, and low income people?
: For the poorest of the poor to have mobility—I mean literal mobility as well as economic and educational mobility—we must have quality public transit. The over 500,000 primarily African American, Latino, Asian, and white working class bus riders of Los Angeles have had to negotiate their lives on a third-tier transit system that has historically failed them and systematically denies them access to quality jobs, schools, and hospitals.
We believe that transportation should meet the needs of those who are most dependent on it. We are not asking for “equity,” but true transformative change that can transfer wealth from political elites and transnational corporations to working class communities of color.

Clarke: Why should transportation be a central organizing issue?
Criollo: Transportation organizing is central because it’s a race, gender, economic justice, environmental, public health, and climate justice campaign all packed into one. Transportation justice is at the intersection of civil rights, mass transit, and environmental justice. In cities like Los Angeles, 90 percent of all bus riders are people of color, historically robbed of equitable funding by entrenched transit segregation policies pursued by the leadership of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA MTA). Women, more often than not, are your typical bus riders. They not only have to negotiate discriminatory transit policy, but are also at the frontlines of having to deal with unbearable overcrowding and often endure sexual harassment by their fellow passengers. Worst of all they have to juggle their lives from home to job to day care to groceries to doctors to schools for four to five hours a day on public transportation.
Our organizing and political viewpoint has been shaped and influenced by the Black Liberation Movement in the United States. The struggle for black people’s democratic and civil rights has been shaped by the transportation justice struggles—from the horrendous Plessey vs. Ferguson decision that legalized “Jim Crow” to the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott that was the first mass blow against it.
Transportation justice campaigns can support the growth of a broader, re-invigorated civil rights movement, and help promote the possibility of a progressive future for the United States.

Criollo: We engage bus riders on the root causes that impact the L.A. transit system—institutionalized racism, the corporatization of public policy and resources, and the ecological, moral, and ethical impacts of the massive subsidy to the single-passenger automobile and highway expansion.

Teams of organizers and members leave each morning to recruit new members, and educate and engage bus riders and drivers. Our key objective is to win political space on key bus lines and neighborhoods for our demands.
Our breakthrough 1994 Civil Rights Title VI lawsuit put us on the map of Los Angeles politics. More importantly, the Federal Court intervention and its early findings were grounded in the legal concept that the LA MTA, through its discriminatory policies, relinquished its ability to truly represent L.A. bus riders. In the lawsuit, and in effect at the political level, the Bus Riders Union is a class representative of the half-a-million African American, Latino, Asian, and working class bus riders.
We reach hundreds daily. Communication starts with organizing three major L.A. bus lines—the Wilshire corridor carries over 90,000 riders daily, the Vermont corridor carries about 50,000, and the Crenshaw carries over 20,000. We speak and carry organizing materials in three languages—Spanish, Korean and English.

Clarke: How do you transmit organizing information across a broad region like Los Angeles?
We have tried almost every conceivable organizing tactic and educational methodology from bus teatro, poetry, and one-on-one organizing to media organizing, civil disobedience, and direct service tactics to reach our people. One successful tactic has been our solid relationship with the so-called “ethnic” press. Often the Los Angeles media market is viewed as only the English broadcast networks and the Los Angeles Times. In fact, La Opinion, Telemundo, Univision, Korea Times, the Sentinel, and the Wave have a large number of loyal followers. Although they are not on our “side” per say, they do represent fair and balanced reporting that reaches our core base.

Clarke: How often do you actually go on to the buses in informational or membership campaigns?
Criollo: We organize on several L.A. buses six days a week. We do specific community bus line organizing in South Los Angeles, Pico-Union, Koreatown, East Los Angeles; and we have a growing base in the San Fernando Valley. As we board a bus, we often open up and break the ice by making a short and loud pitch, such as “My name is Esperanza, I am a Bus Riders Union organizer, a civil rights organization that is fighting the MTA’s racist fare increase and we are here to recruit new members to the struggle.” We cover the whole bus, flyer-it out, and recruit bus riders. Our membership dues are $10–$50 a year. You can start membership for $1. Organizers and members collect phone numbers and emails to follow up on one-on-one conversations. That is the bread and butter of our organizing.

Clarke: What’s the decision-making process within the organization?

Criollo: We have an elected Planning Committee. Five volunteer members are elected for a one year term by the whole membership. The planning committee sets much of the political direction and policy for the entire organization. This year we had seven candidates for five slots. The elected members are joined by four appointed full-time staff members. The body is composed so that volunteers are the majority, but staff are included both for organizational continuity  and to ensure that staff are accountable to volunteer leaders.  The BRU monthly meeting is also an important decision making space—it has been hard work to build a democratic, respectful, diverse body that attracts 80 to 100 members monthly.

Clarke: What sorts of work do the members do?
Criollo: They organize on the buses, Some run monthly membership drives, and others organize on their daily commute. There are three very active membership committees: 1) a mailing committee  that produces a monthly mailer, 2) an action committees that execute actions and strategic activities set by the planning committee or general membership, and 3) a membership committee that sets up the monthly meeting and deals with the related logistics. In the past, we had a very active Teatro group that produced on-the-bus and street theatre. We had a city saturation committee that supported BRU campaigns by posting posters and lawn signs throughout the city. One of our most important membership assignments was to track MTA overcrowding by collecting and processing data for on-going monitoring of the civil rights Consent Decree.


Clarke: How do you balance electoral, grassroots, and judicial objectives in your organizing?
We start from our overall goal: we are trying to build a progressive, independent, internationalist informed left in the United States. The Bus Riders Union is a comprehensive progressive mass organization on wheels. We see the electoral, grassroots, and legal objectives as tactics in our overall game plan—often moving together, sometimes emphasizing one tactic because it has more traction, but quickly returning to another tactic to move forward. We have no rigid view that one tactic is more important than another. Our primary objective is to expand our base and to strengthen the influence of the communities that we represent—but tactical flexibility has been one of the keys to our experiment.
The courts are asked to support justice and civil rights, but they are also not necessarily our friends. The courts in the United States have supported slavery, separate and unequal doctrine, and other discriminatory forms. We often try to explain and educate our members about this contradiction.
When we have won court orders to MTA to buy buses to reduce overcrowding, MTA has stalled and filed appeals. During that legal lull, we launched a “No Seat, No Fare—We Won’t Pay for Racism” civil disobedience campaign to bring pressure from the streets for political intervention.


Clarke: Do you have a national campaign?
Criollo: Yes, we are organizing for a new civil rights and environmental justice intervention led by transit riders for the re-authorization of the Federal Surface Transportation Act. The new initiative is called “Transit Riders for Public Transportation.” (See page 69 for the demands of the campaign.)
Overall, we are calling for 80 percent of funding to go towards public transit, and 20 percent for highway funding. [The exact opposite of current priorities.] The emphasis will be on reinstating operations funding for public transportation to reverse the national trend of higher fares and service cuts. We are also demanding specific equal protection clauses to restrict discriminatory local policies.
We are building this campaign with other organizations across the country including the New York-based West Harlem for Environmental Action and UPROSE, the Chicago-based Little Village Organization for Environmental Justice, the Atlanta T-Riders Union, PODER in Austin, Center for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans, and Just Transition, Public Advocates, and Urban Habitat in California.

B. Jesse Clarke is the editor of Race, Poverty, and the Environment.

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Dismantling Transportation Apartheid

In November 4, 2008, voters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties approved Measure VV—a  parcel tax increase that would preserve low-cost AC Transit bus passes for youth, seniors, and the disabled—demonstrating clearly what a broad coalition of social justice groups could achieve by organizing for transportation justice. But despite the coalition’s victory at the ballot box, the fundamental structural inequality in transportation funding and investment in the Bay Area—such as, the prioritization of suburban expansion over preservation of the existing transit system and the bias in favor of capital projects over essential operating funds—remain firmly in place.
If we are to secure transportation as a right—of working class people to access jobs that are increasingly scattered across the region; of youth to get to school; of seniors and people with disabilities to live with dignity and access essential services—we need a fundamental shift in political power. Meaning, the Bay Area’s transportation justice movement needs to evolve beyond analyzing policy and organizing progressives against decision-making bodies like the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MTC), to building true grassroots power. Successful transportation justice movements, like the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union (LA BRU), have demonstrated that a multiracial, multilingual, working class base of bus riders is the most effective vehicle for organizing such efforts.

Transportation Inequality Creates Measure VV
In January 2008, AC Transit came out with a proposal to raise the cost of monthly passes from $15 to $28 (or 86 percent) for youth and from $20 to $28 (or 40 percent) for seniors and the disabled—to meet a budget shortfall.
The budget crisis was the result of both, short- and long-term factors. In the short term, the sudden and dramatic surges in fuel prices were a strain on AC Transit’s operating budget. But the more important factor was the systematic failure of MTC to provide the same per passenger subsidy for bus systems that it provides for rail systems (BART and CalTrain), thus creating a separate and unequal public transit system for people who most rely on public transportation.

Given that AC Transit carries the highest percentage of minority transit riders in the Bay Area, most of whom (57 percent) are estimated to make under $30,000 a year, the sharp increase in fares just as the global economic meltdown was becoming apparent would have stripped most youth, senior, and disabled riders of their right to affordable transportation. The campaign begun by transportation justice advocates Urban Habitat and the Transportation Justice Working Group—and widely supported by many community-based organizations—to reject AC Transit’s unjust fare increases ended up as the successful Yes on Measure VV campaign.

Transit Riders for Public Transit (TRPT) Campaign Demands
1. A reversal in the existing funding formula for transportation so that 80 percent goes to public transportation and 20 percent to highways, leading to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases and public health impacts.

2. The creation of auto free zones, auto free rush hours/days, and bus only lanes in metropolitan areas and the assurance of viable transportation for the disabled and for rural areas through federal and state funding.

3. Dedicate a minimum of 50 percent of the Federal Surface Transportation Act’s transit allocation to operating costs, with at least half of that restricted to bus operations to prevent massive fare increases and service cuts, while allowing for the expansion of service and fare reductions.

4. Prioritize capital preservation over expansion, with at least half of all capital funds restricted to bus fleets. Bus is the most cost-effective way to move people in larger urban and rural areas but has historically been short-changed on federal funds because of the powerful rail lobby.

5. Establish a Title 6 provision that would prohibit racial discrimination in any federally funded transit projects and allow private parties, such as civil rights and community groups, to bring discrimination complaints against federally funded projects based on “disparate impacts.”

6. Mandate a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution for all federally funded projects and require each project to demonstrate at least a 25 percent reduction in such emissions prior to funding. Ensure that complaints to the FTA and EPA can result in projects being stopped immediately.

For More Information on TRPT, visit: www.urbanhabitat.org/tj/trpt
V for Victory At The Polls
In all, 16 organizations joined together to demand that AC Transit secure additional funding to prevent the fare increases. Some among the coalition had long histories of fighting for transportation justice while others saw transportation as a vital part of their members’ lives and a right.* In the end, AC Transit management agreed to place Measure VV on the ballot and delay any fare increases until the outcome of the vote in November 2008.

The Yes on Measure VV coalition was soon joined by Oakland Rising—a coalition of progressive base-building groups from Oakland made up of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Ella Baker Center, and Just Cause Oakland—in conducting a grassroots electoral campaign that also included efforts to defeat Propositions 6 and 9, both of which were designed to grow the prison-industrial complex. Among them, coalition members:

  •      Worked 750 volunteer shifts of two to four hours each during the four weeks before the election.
  •      Distributed over 4,000 flyers at 14 events.
  •      Contacted 4,716 voters through phone banks or door-to-door campaigns.

That the Measure passed with a 71.7 percent vote is a tribute to the coalition’s grassroots work.

Transit Justice Groundwork
For years, Urban Habitat and the Transportation Justice Working Group have worked to address the structural inequalities in regional transportation funding and its impact on low-income and transit-dependent communities and communities of color, through policy advocacy and analysis of funding decisions. Our work has focused on both, elected officials and the MTC, whose inaccessible and fundamentally undemocratic decision-making structure fails to accurately represent the region’s population. We believe that a more focused grassroots rights-based approach, which involves building the base, reframing the debate, and equalizing investments is required to achieve transportation equity and justice.

To achieve this goal, Urban Habitat has been partnering for several years with a collaborative that includes the public interest law firm Public Advocates and Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS) to develop and launch an East Bay Transit Riders Union. Recently, the collaborative identified Oakland ACORN as a partner to lead the grassroots organizing of East Bay bus riders, with help from the Labor/Community Strategy Center of Los Angeles—the group that founded LA BRU. They will develop an organizing model that fits the economic, political, and cultural conditions of the East Bay and the transit riders who live here.
In 2009, Urban Habitat joined civil rights and environmental justice groups across the country to support the launch of a national campaign to ensure that the Congressional re-authorization of the $500 billion Federal Surface Transportation Act (FSTA) funds prioritizes the needs of transit riders in low-income communities of color, which form the backbone of urban transit ridership. This effort, called Transit Riders for Public Transit (TRPT), is being organized and led by the Labor/ Community Strategy Center.

Towards New Transit Priorities
Since the 1950s, the FSTA has allocated 80 percent of its funding for highways and only 20 percent for public transit. To curb global warming and address the unmet transit needs of the urban poor, TRPT is boldly advocating for a dramatic reversal of this funding policy to allocate 80 percent of the money towards an expansion of public transit.

The re-authorization debate comes amidst a nationwide crisis in transit operations caused by municipalities cutting back transit services, despite record-setting ridership increases, be–cause of budgetary woes. In the Bay Area, Urban Habit and its allies have been challenging funding decisions by the MTC to ensure that existing transit services for low-income communities are maintained and improved.

Transportation apartheid will only end when transportation itself is recognized as a right that allows people access to other social goods—such as, education, economic opportunity, and housing—that are already viewed as part of a rights-based political analysis. It’s useful to remember that Rosa Parks helped catalyze the Civil Rights movement on a bus. The Bay Area needs a rider-led grassroots transit riders union to establish transportation as a right that cannot be ignored.

Bob Allen is the director of the transportation and housing program at Urban Habitat.

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Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
3700 E. 12th Street, Suite 2D
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 535-9882

Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency
2065 Kittredge Street, Suite E
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 649-1930

Bus Riders Union
Labor/Community Strategic Center

3780 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1200
Los Angeles, CA 90010
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Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports
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Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization
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East Bay Alliance for a
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East Bay Asian Local
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East Bay Community Law Center
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Global Fund for Women

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Good Jobs First
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South Bay Labor Council
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Working Partnerships USA
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Everyone Has the Right To... | Vol. 16, No. 1 | Spring 2009 | Credits

Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

* All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

* Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

* Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

* No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

* No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

* Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

* All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

* Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

* No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

* Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

* (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
* (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

* No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

* (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
* (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

* (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
* (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
* (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

* (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
* (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
* (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

* (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
* (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

* (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
* (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

* (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his or her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
* (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
* (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

* Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

* (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
* (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
* (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
* (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

* Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

* (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
* (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

* (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
* (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
* (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

* (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
* (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

* Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

* (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
* (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
* (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

* Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Order a copy of "Everyone Has the Right to...". | Vol. 16, No. 1 | Credits | Spring 2009 | Subscribe

Oscar Grant; Rest in Power

By Christine Joy Ferrer

People are angry.  Sometime after the midnight hour, a 22-year-old black man was murdered on New Year’s Day—another innocent victim of police brutality. His name was Oscar Grant, shot and killed in Oakland, California by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency policy officer. Onlookers video-phoned the horrific spectacle: Grant surrounded by officers, unarmed, bleeding to death on the station platform, his arms shackled behind his back, his face pressed against the cement.

Several hours later, Laron Blankenship, a friend of the deceased, locked himself in a sound studio. He flashed back to the words Grant had spoken to him one day, “No matter what happens, even if I was to die, don’t quit doing this music thing.” His hands trembling, crying and near broken down, Blankenship produced a compelling rap anthem dedicated to Grant, “Never be Forgotten.” He sings, “I know for a fact your soul is still alive and you will never be forgotten.”            


A few days later, artist and activist, Melanie Cervantes’ memories flooded back to the many instances of police brutality she witnessed growing up in Los Angeles. At five years old she watched the local library call security to kick her father out of the building.  As a teenager, police victimized her peers on a regular basis. She says the video-taped beating of Rodney King and the later riots induced post-traumatic stress, which was re-triggered by Grant’s all too similar death. Spurred by these emotions, Cervantes and fellow artist Jesus Barraza create a visual call for justice that would resonate within the community and beyond. In a single evening, within the confines of their kitchen, they produced the first 50 silkscreen copies of their widely distributed poster bearing the slogan “Justice for Oscar Grant, Justice for Gaza, End Government Sponsored Murder in the Ghettos of Oakland and Palestine."


One week later, during a protest demanding justice for Grant, a young Mexican woman’s voice singing in her ancestral Nahuatl language inspired graffiti artist Desi of Weapons of Mass Expression, while he painted the face of Grant in vibrant colors on the plywood sheets boarded over the windows of a 14th Street storefront. It read, “Rest in Power Oscar Grant” and “All Power to the People.

Thousands have been appalled by the Oscar Grant shooting and have taken a stand to fight injustice.  Many have chosen to creatively express their stance through the arts. Its forms have been many: Songs have been written and dedicated to Grant. Poems, paintings, and posters have been created. Graffiti artists have painted murals. These artists have contributed works to the Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project, an online, print, and multimedia compilation of works dedicated to Grant’s memory.

Editor Jesse Clarke at Race, Poverty and the Environment says he co-sponsored the project because, “Art is an essential element in building the movements for social change. Oscar Grant’s murder is a catalytic event that crystallizes underlying social and political tensions.” Clarke says, “If his death is memorialized and communicated as a representation of those tensions, it can help build a movement. Similar tragic incidents which do not get codified can leave people feeling traumatized, disempowered, and more isolated.”

Movement Art
From the civil rights movement in the United States to the antiapartheid struggle in Africa and environmental activism internationally, art has been used as a symbol, to frame the message, to attract resources, to communicate information, and foster emotions.

“The strongest voice I have is my art,” says graphic artist Santos Shelton, another contributor to the memorial project. “Every day, people of color in this country are reminded that they don’t matter by the powers that be.”  He says he made his piece entitled “Fighting for the Lost” because  “Regardless of the fact that a president is black, the generations of hatred and social injustice that are still within society will take way longer to change.”

According to sociologist Jacqueline Adams, movement art helps communicate a coherent identity, mark membership, and cement commitment to the cause. It’s not only pervasive in many movements, it’s instrumental in the achievement of a movement’s objectives.[1] Craig McGarvey, quoted in Art, Power, and Social Change agrees. He says art is a catalyst that makes change possible as it shapes the dreams, aspirations, and problems of people, thus inspiring them to work with activists/organizers to develop their collective authority and ability to build their community.[2]

“We dream it and then we manifest it into some form of reality and then it can actually happen. It’s an accessible way for people to identify with the issues and the movement. You can argue with protesters but not with the painting,” says muralist Desi.

Movement art is a crucial means of attracting people, pulling them together, and opening up their interconnectedness, McGarvey explains. Cultural change is made possible by the connecting influence of cultural exchange.

“Two summers ago, myself and a lot of other artists were working on an antialcoholism mural at the Raindeer Indian reservation in northern Cheyenne, Montana,” says Desi, reflecting on an experience where he witnessed people provoked to change by an artwork. “It was two to three stories tall, in the center of town, at an intersection. During the process, people were crying. Many came up to us, emotionally moved by the piece, promising to check themselves into Alcoholics Anonymous.”

A Catalyst for Social Change
From art emerges political and cultural resistance. We’ve seen it in the Civil Rights movement through the tradition of music in the African-American church, and in the farmworker rights movement through teatro in the fields.  The birth of the hip-hop movement in the Bronx paved the way for a marginalized group of black and Latino youth to express themselves, communicate their experiences, and criticize social inequality and poverty. The use of photography by the Mothers of the Disappeared at Plaza de Mayo, in the context of post-dictatorship Argentina, reminds us of the state violence done to those denied the most basic human rights and the recognition of citizenship in a functioning democracy. [3]

On behalf of mostly elderly Filipino and Chinese tenants who were fighting a battle against eviction at the International Hotel in the 1970s, artists protested alongside tenants and other advocates to become the cultural arm of the struggle by silk-screening protest posters, painting murals on the I Hotel, and producing exhibitions and publications. It wasn’t until hundreds of artists marched down Mission Street, with their faces painted white protesting the displacement of people of color in San Francisco, did the global mass media finally pay attention to the anti-gentrification message advocates had spent years trying to get  across.[4]

Rooted beneath these acts of artistic liberation, produced by the soul’s inherent expressive nature, is the artist’s pain. Lives entrenched in poverty and hunger, a desperate need for healthcare, gender inequality, police brutality, institutionalized racism, and the myriad other evils of the system create deep wounds in the psyche. Creative visionaries recognize these injuries and their efforts are intrinsic to the healing process.

“The complexity of the racial reality comes down to the economy. Crimes happen because of poverty, which happens because of no jobs, yet millions of dollars are going into the police force,” says Cervantes. “I hope people see how various struggles are connected.”

“Police harassment is a symptom of the prison- industrial complex—it’s more valuable to put people into prison than to educate. It’s about trying to maintain power,” Desi argues.

The Struggle Continues
In 2009, in honor of Oscar Grant, artists are once again compelled to speak out using the greatest gift that they know how to use. They hope to spark change, fight corruption, and build stronger communities. Their designs not only critique the failures of the system that denies many of their human rights, but also pose solutions and open avenues to social health.

“The last time I spoke with Oscar Grant was the day he called me to wish me a happy birthday on December 3. I felt like getting back at the police officer. But instead, I wrote,” says Grant’s friend Blankenship. “I grabbed a dictionary to look up a couple of words to define the pain I felt—‘overwhelmed,’ ‘overexposed,’ and ‘despair,’—another innocent life gone. But my rhymes are not just for my situation. It’s for those that have lost someone dear and are feeling like life’s a wasteland.”
For poetry writer and activist Dee Allen, this was the best way she could pay homage to the memory of an African American working class man who was denied his right to a fair chance.

“Bay Area Rapid Transit’s management needs to know that the public will not forget this act of violence. No community—black, brown or white—needs young sacrificial lambs slaughtered because of some cop’s racist/classist power trip,” says Allen.

Brutality, never an “accident”
It’s systemic
And replicates itself
In different cities to the nth degree.
Stony hearts blame such handiwork
On “a few bad apples.”
And everyone knows
How that tired old maxim goes.
Tell that to the last
Victim inside the chalkline.

(Excerpt from Face Down by Dee Allen.)

Houston hip-hop artist Rukus chose to reach out specifically to Oscar Grant’s daughter. He wrote a song called “Dear Tatiana” like a letter, and dedicated it to her. “We all know that this is unjust. People are gonna’ march. People are gonna’ protest. There’s gonna’ be a big court battle. Hopefully, this guy will end up going to prison,” says Rukus. “But at the end of the day when the dust is settled, when the last person has marched and put down their picket sign, there’s still gonna’ be a young girl that doesn’t have a father.”

Dear Tatiana,
Please don’t ask why does a man have to die
just to touch the sky.
I don’t have the heart to lie and say it’s alright when your daddy isn’t home tonight...
This is for father’s day, this is for single parent fathers who really give a damn and take care of their daughters. Ay.
This is the way I pray, wishing for a better day.
I’m staring at the picture of concrete where a brother lay.

(Lyrics from Dear Tatiana.)

The Power of Icon
The images created in memory of Oscar Grant, from the compelling figure with a halo and a spear, to the countless graffiti and poster prints of his face, bring to mind icons of past struggles.
One can see the resonance with “Handala,” the image created by Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali’s, which portrays a 10-year-old refugee boy with ragged clothes, bare feet, and his back to the audience—a symbol of Palestinian struggle and defiance.5
One can hear thousands of demonstrators marching through Mexico City chanting “Todos somos Marcos (We are all Marcos),” referring to the Zapatista Subcomandante who was being hunted by the Mexican government.
Oscar Grant’s memory lives on—encased in collective artistry, something that can’t be killed. Epitaph expressions painted on the side of buildings, gates, and even on mailboxes, echo the heart of the masses, “I am Oscar Grant.”

Christine Joy Ferrer is the curator of the Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project. She recently graduated from San Francisco State University with a dual major in journalism and dance. She is the publishing assistant for Race, Poverty, and the Environment.
To see the full compilation of creative works in the Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project visit: www.urbanhabitat.org/rpe/oscar.

1.        Adams, Jacqueline. “Art in Social Movements, Sociological Forum, Vol 17-1 (March 2002): 21.
2.         David, Emmanuel A. and McCaughan, Edward J. “Editors’ Introduction: Art, Power, and Social Change.” Social Justice Vol. 33, No. 2 (2006): 1-4.
3.        Ibid. page 3
4.        Martinez,Maria X. “The Art of Social Justice.” Social Justice Vol. 34, No. 1 (2007): 1-4
5.        Naji al-Ali remarked that “this being that I have invented will certainly not cease to exist after me, and perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that I will live on with him after my death.” www.najaialali.com


Everyone Has the Right To... | Vol. 16, No. 1 | Spring 2009 | Credits

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“The role of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.” —Toni Cade Bambara, Writer and activist

Racism and the Right to Due Process

Commentary by Jack Stephens

“You never seen the police break up a strike, by hittin’ the boss with his baton pipe”
—Boots Riley, The Coup

Very early on New Year’s Day, 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was shot and killed in Oakland, California by a Bay Area Rapid Transit agency police officer. Grant was unarmed, his face pressed down against the floor. Onlookers video-phoned the horrific spectacle as his life was taken from him.

The killing of Oscar Grant was not an anomaly. It was a direct outcome of the racist use of police force  in capitalism. The inherent racial inequality of the socioeconomic system, as upheld by the judicial system, means that police killings and police corruption are not simply a product of a few “bad apples” within the system but the inevitable reenactment of racism and violence that sustain capitalism within this country.

This system was built upon the genocide of the native population, the enslavement of millions of Africans, the invasion of lands through imperialist wars to expand United States borders, the systematic implementation of racial privileges for whites, the attacking of effective trade unionism, and the expansion of capitalist “free-trade” to other nations and peoples across the globe. These are macro examples of the kind of violence that sustains this economic system.

In advanced capitalism, social control is not accomplished by brute force alone. It is also done by promoting an ideology in which the class interests of the economic elite are considered the interests of all—from street beggars to chief executive officers.
In the United States, this capitalist ideology is built upon white supremacy and racial privilege. The white working class has been given better paid jobs and greater access to the national wealth than the African American (or more generally, people of color) working class. Since the very beginnings of slavery in the Americas, the white elite has exploited the African American population and other people of color. It has then used white supremacist ideology to split the working class movement by pitting white workers against the rest.

Because capitalism depends on some level of consent by the working class, the African American history of struggle and dissent against white supremacy creates a major problem for the white elite. Portraying African American men as inherently dangerous—and then shooting them to prove the point—is one piece of the process. Without a subjugated African American population the cogs of capitalism cannot continue to turn.

African Americans and other people of color in the United States are under constant attack from the police. (Witness the arrest and conviction statistics at the county, state, and federal levels.) African American men are shot by police on an almost weekly basis. While the circumstances of each shooting vary, the net effect is to maintain racial and class inequality. A key mission of any urban police department is to harrass and subjugate communities of color in order for white supremacy—and this variant of capitalism—to survive.

What was enacted on that BART platform that New Years day was one more act in a long  history of racial violence against African Americans by the police.

Jack Stephens is a freelance writer and a student at the Graduate Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California.

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Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project

Creative Expressions, a Catalyst for Social Change 

Editor's Note: Early morning on New Year’s Day 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was shot and killed in Oakland, California by a Bay Area Rapid Transit agency police officer. Grant was unarmed.  His face—pressed down against the cement. Onlookers video-phoned the horrific spectacle as his life was taken from him.

Over three dozen artists have contributed to the Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project. Our goal was to gather the creative works dedicated to Oscar Grant from artists, musicians, writers, photographers and others. Any form of creative expression was accepted-- a video of a dance work, audio, song, poster, photo, etc. Selected portfolio work will be featured in several Bay Area publications (print and online). If you have any questions contact its curator, Christine Joy Ferrer at christinejoy@reimaginerpe.org.

Brooke Anderson PhotographyPeople are angry. Thousands have been appalled by the Oscar Grant shooting and have taken a new stand to fight injustice.  Many have chosen to  creatively express their stance through art. Songs have been written and dedicated to Oscar Grant. Poems, paintings and posters have been created. Graffiti artists have painted murals. Some of this is compelling art, some is ephemera.  Some of this art is controversial in its subject matter or its expression, but above all this art is the expression of a critical moment in the movement  to end police violence.

For this project, Media Alliance and Race, Poverty, & the Environment act as a clearinghouse, collecting and archiving copies of the material and coordinating its presentation by partner publications including: Race, Poverty & the Environment Journal, Media Alliance, http://media-alliance.org, and Street Spirit Newspaper. This work is supported by a grant from the Akonadi Foundation.

 This project is co-sponsored by Media Alliance and Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Media Alliance’s mission is to defend, develop and strengthen independent media to support the creation of a truly democratic society and to build capacity of low income people and communities of color to create and be represented by media responsive to the communities needs. MA helps create alliances between media creators and media consumers to bring light to under-reported issues, build public support for fundamental rights to communicate and lift up best practices for the inspiration of a broad range of communities, regionally and nationally.

Since, 1990 Race, Poverty and the Environment (RP&E) has been exploring issues at the nexus of race, class and the environment. Founded as a joint project of the Urban Habitat Program of Earth Island Institute  and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

Remembering Oscar Grant (All Contributed Works): 

Graffiti Memorializing Oscar Grant

Photography & Art





The material presented on this portion of the site does not originate from RP&E and does not necessarily reflect the views of RP&E. In accordance with Fair Use guidelines, these images and text are reproduced for educational and research purposes only.

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Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project. Recollections: 10 years on.

Graffiti Memorializing Oscar Grant

Elliot Johnson Photography

Contributing Artists and Photographers: 
Amend TDK
DESI, Weapons of Mass Expression
DNO, Teach More Culture

David Heyes
Elliot Johnson
James Wacht
Brendan Cox
Eric Arnold
Brooke Anderson
Christine Joy Ferrer


The material presented on this portion of the site does not originate from RP&E and does not necessarily reflect the views of RP&E or Urban Habitat. In accordance with Fair Use guidelines, these images and text are reproduced for educational and research purposes only.

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Dirty Cops

Kill Dirty Cops


The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

I am Oscar Grant - Various Artists

Unknown Photographer
Source: http://www.socialrupture.blogpot.com

Source: I am Oscar Grant - Brendan Cox

Photo by Brendan Cox

Photo by Eric Arnold

Unknown Photographer
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/riddlebiddle/3223469367/

I am Oscar Grant(4)

Photo by Elliot Johnson



Unknown Photographer
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digiant/3203325777/

I am Oscar Grant(5)

Unknown Photographer

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance


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No Justice, No Peace

No Justice No Peace - Jail the Police; Photo © Eric Arnold

By Amend TDK
Photo by Eric Arnold

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

Protesting Police Brutality: A Mural in Progress - Various Artists

February 27, 2009
In Memory of Oscar Grant's 23rd Birthday


March 20, 2009

Photography by Christine Joy Ferrer
A Mural Project in the Making - Various graffiti artists, including Desi of W.O.M.E., Arrow-Soul Council, Mr. E, Melissa and family, Abicus, have been collaborating to create a piece protesting police brutality on the side of a local business on 16th Ave and East 12th Street in Oakland.

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

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R.I.P. Oscar Grant - Various Artists

David Heyes Photography

Photo by David Heyes

Unknown Artist



Elliot Johnson Photography

Photo by Elliot Johnson
Unknown Artist



James Wacht

Photo by James Wacht
Unknown Artist


Brooke Anderson Photography(2)

Photo by Brooke Anderson
Unknown Artist



Brooke Anderson Photography(1)

Photo by Brooke Anderson
Unknown Artist

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance






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Rest in Power Oscar Grant

Frederic Larson, San Francisco Chronicle

DESI of Weapons of Mass Expresssion
Photo Taken by Frederic Larson, San Francisco Chronicle

Desi and AeroSoul

Desi and Arrow-Soul Council

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

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Teach More Culture


By DNO TMC - Teach More Culture

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Photography & Art

Adrienne Miller - Photography

protest flags

Protest Flags

By Adrienne Miller
January 14, 2009: Oscar Grant protest in downtown Oakland.
Visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/venusmedia/sets/72157612539468505/

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Carina Lomeli - Painting

Carina Lomeli, Poor News Network
Image of Idriss Stelly & Oscar Grant from the Fallen Victims of Po'Lice Terror Mural created at POOR Magazine's Office Opening & Mural-Making party. SOURCE: http://www.poormagazine.org/index.cfm?L1=news&story=2179&pg=1   

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Eric Arnold - Photography



By Eric Arnold
(See more from Eric Arnold:  "Various Artists- I am Oscar Grant" and in "Graffiti")

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From Oakland to Gaza - Poster

Courtesy of East Side Arts Alliance

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance


Jocelyn Goode - Poster

Gwen Harlow

Poster by Jocelyn Goode
Photo by Gwen Harlow

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance


Keba Konte - Photo Essay

Photo Essay by Keba Konte




Justice for Oscar Grant Photo Essay by Keba Konte
Shown at the Eastside Cultural Center

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

Khalil, StudioBendib - Comic

© StudioBendib

By Khalil, StudioBendib
Source: StudioBendio

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Kirstina Sangsahachart - Photography

Thou Shalt Not KillStop Police Racism

Kirstina Sangsahachart
Source: http://www.ohdangmag.com

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Matthew Williams - Bart Logo

Bart Logo

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Melanie Cervantes & Jesus Barraza - Poster

Melanie Cervantes

Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza -"Justice for Oscar! Justice for Gaza!" 
Source: http://dignidadrebelde.com/blogpost/view/88

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Nina Sparks - Photography

By Nina Sparks

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Pitzeleh8 - Illustration

Illustration by Pitzeleh8

Illustration by Pitzeleh8
Source: http://pitzeleh8.deviantart.com/art/Oscar-Grant-109060838

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored byMedia Alliance

Police are Pigs - Art Design

Police are Pigs

Artist Unknown

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Shelton Santos - Art Design

"Fighting for the Lost"
By Shelton Santos 

"My main inspiration was of course the sad story of Oscar Grant. I tried to infuse cultural images such as Adrinka african symbols. I wanted the piece to focus on the local perceptionof African Americans and how this relates to the violence going on in Oakland. American colors flow into the word 'respect' upside down above a picture of the U.S. upside down to convey the lack of respect for people of color in this country. The 'O.G.' stands for Oscar Grant. The picture of the young black boy in the right side represents all of our youth and the anger they must feel, wanting to fight back against the system. The African symbol in the red patch is called Akoben(war horn). This is a symbol of vigilance and wariness. I used the checkered patch to represent the game we all have to play to exist in this society." - Shelton Santos

Visit: www.santossheltonart.com

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Various Artists - Other Cultural Works

By Bettina and Isaac 


Unknown Artist 


Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes

"This young native man was killed exactly one year before Oscar Grant by the Oakland police. [He had an outstanding warrant for BART fare]. As artists we feel that it is important not to focus on one incident but to take a step back and look at the structural racism that continues to impact our communities-particularly mechanisms of the State that enact violence on people of color." - Melanie Cervantes 



Unknown Artist
Source: http://www.socialrupture.blogpot.com



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Face Down

"Face Down" by Dee Allen

Smashed vehicle windows
Cannot scream.
Burning dumpsters
Cannot unleash their agony into the smoky evening sky.
Neither damaged
T-Mobile nor
McDonald’s nor
Wells Fargo
Can feel pain.
Underground subways
Cannot fight their sudden closure.
So there’s no need to wring hands & agonise

Over property destruction.

Demolished property
Can be replaced.
The once
Full lives
Taken by law enforcement
Never are.

Brutality, never an “accident”.
It’s systemic
And replicates itself
In different cities to the nth degree.

Stony hearts blame such handiwork
On “a few bad apples”.
And everyone knows
How that tired old maxim goes.

Tell that to the last
Victim inside the chalkline.

Reason for anger,
Cause for alarm,
Millions have seen.
Father of one,
Age 22.
First cruel hours
Of the new year.
Young witnesses.
Four cops.
Face down.
Cold concrete.
Hot lead.
Close range.
Loud boom.
Here lies
Father of one,
Age 22.

Face down.
Subway platform
Was the killing field.

The truth cannot be erased,
Try as the guilty might,
Covering their crime.

Father of one,
Age 22.
His name joins
A seemingly endless
Sea of names,
Compendium of martyrs

To their same last sights:
Uniforms & weapons drawn.
Needless State violence
Upon the unarmed.
A little Black girl of four
In Hayward goes to bed
Without her father tucking her in.
A Brown woman sleeps
Without her lover’s face to awaken to the next morning.

Reason for anger,
Cause for alarm.
The powderkeg
Called Oakland exploded twice.
Now that a legitimised
Slayer has been captured & released
Into the general public on bail,
A new explosion looms over the future’s horizon.

More fire
Put to the ‘keg.
Perhaps the murderer’s protectors
Will take notice this time
Because that young father they’ve targeted
Was one of us------

He could’ve been anyone

Anyone’s son, anyone’s brother,
Anyone’s neighbour, anyone’s friend
Anyone Black & Brown
Could be the one in submission, lying face down
In the path of a lethal device
Engineering their quick demise.
[For Oscar Grant III-----1986-2009]

Dee Allen is a local poetry writer, spoken word
performer and activist from San Francisco.

"This was the best way I could pay homage to the memory of a African working-class man
from Hayward. Considering what he went through minutes before his death at the hands of Bay Area Rapid Transit police officers Mersehle and Pirone [that one should've been indicted and punished two months ago]. The outpouring of community support needs to continue, nationally and locally. The fight against police brutality and corruption needs to continue. Bay Area Rapid Transit's management needs to know that the public will not forget this act of violence committed by their own officers on those who depend on their subway train system for transportation. No community--Black, Brown or White--needs anymore young sacrificial lambs slaughtered because of some cop's racist/classist
powertrip." - Dee Allen


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For Oscar

"For Oscar" - a poem by Sheilagh"Cat" Brooks

How do I explain to my three year old why im marching in these streets
How do I explain to my three year old why she aint seen me all week
How do I explain to my three year old what his death has done to me
How do I explain to my three year old another black man was killed by police

They killed him
Shot him in the back in cold blood
And now we stand in awe and anger and pain
Im not exactly sure why we're shocked
Its not new, just more of the same
Black blood flowing in the white man’s streets
Black blood flowing and yet they’ll set that pig free
History repeats itself and still we never learn
Perhaps the only the way they’ll know is if we let this fucker burn

I am Oscar Grant
That is what the masses scream
I see the thousands in the streets
And feel Im in a dream
How can we be Oscar Grant
Will we be there when his baby girl screams
And will we be there to answer the question
When she asks why there are no cell phones in heaven
So see now I'm on a hell bent mission
To upturn, destroy and tear down this system
That murders my men without retribution
Because that bullshit badge somehow gives them permission
To do as they see fit

How do I explain to my three year old why I'm marching in these streets
How do I explain to my three year old why she aint seen me all week
How do I explain to my three year old what his death has done to me
How do I explain to my three year old another black man was killed by police

And now we’ve reached the breaking point
But I wonder what we’ll do
Is this a fight for Oscar Grant
Or an attack on the red white and blue
His death has stamped a clear impression
Of the mentality that was the birth of the system
That enslaved us then and murders us now
And still there are some who wonder how
This could happen here and today

But we're not free – still merely slaves
jim crow just has another name
with the cops and the klan playing out the same games
slave owners and chasers did back in the day
History repeats itself and yet we never learn
Maybe the only way they’ll know is if we let this fucker burn

How do I explain to my three year old why im marching in these streets
How do I explain to my three year old why she aint seen me all week
How do I explain to my three year old what his death has done to me
How do I explain to my three year old another black man was killed by police

Im in these streets cause I have to be
Cause I cant stand the thought of it being you and not me
And there is nothing else that matters to me
With your birth, I finally reached the end
Of saying to myself, well one day when
The white man decides to set me free
Ill finally discover what it means to be me
But that’s not the fate I want for you
And THAT is why I do what I do

And maybe one day you’ll understand
And maybe one day you won't
But I couldn’t stand to be in my skin
If I didn’t teach you to fight to win
That nothing matters if you’re not free
That is my hope for my legacy
That I’m raising a revolutionary
And she won’t have to be cautionary
In her struggles for freedom
And revolts for her rights
And God(dess) knows I hope I’m teaching you right
So, yes baby girl, I’ll be late again tonight

How do I explain to my three year old why im marching in these streets
How do I explain to my three year old why she aint seen me all week
How do I explain to my three year old what his death has done to me
How do I explain to my three year old another black man was killed by police



The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

Forty One Shots and Nineteen Hits

"Forty One Shots and Nineteen Hits" by Raul Estremera
For Oscar Grant & Richard Lua

That terrible nine millimeter sound-
with hollow point bullets strewn all around.
And Amadou Dialo WAS DEAD before he hit the ground.
A life- snuffed out in the wink of an eye.
Then the killers went free, while a mother cried.

Forty one shots and nineteen hits!

Oscar Grant the third
Whose young voice will never be heard?
Because of a coward, and racist RAT.
Who put a bullet INTO HIS BACK
Then took his hate, along on his flight.

But throughout days and half the night
The people raged and took up the fight.

A community’s pain, and struggle, so well invested.
That Johannes Mehserle was finally ARRESTED .

But the struggle it seems was to no avail.
When a racist judge granted him bail.
But don’t worry good mothers, lets remain as ONE
Because our struggle for his justice, has only begun.

So don’t stop the March, or n either the rally
till the whole group of that night will face the tally.
We have marched it seems throughout our history
But the year 09 will see us through victory.

Forty one shots and nineteen hits!

Abner Louima, dancing to the rhythm of a third world beat.
Stepped out of a club, and onto the street.
Was suddenly arrested and brutalized,
Then after the beating was—SODOMIZED
And this heinous crime was done by who?
You guessed it my people- the punks in blue.

Forty one shots and nineteen hits!

Patrick Dorismond, MURDERED and put to rest,
By New York’s finest, Ghouliani’s best.
Thousands came to join the family
To pay their respects in peaceful harmony.
The police then attacked them –WOE AND SHAME
But the people responded with some of the SAME.
They burned the flag and overturned barriers.
Then policemen responded with personnel carriers.
But the people united and had their way.

And so the cops learned that dreadful day,
What even Al Sharpton would have to say-
Not to mess with the people when they come out to pray.

Forty one shots and nineteen hits!

To the murderers in blue, hear my accusations:
You serve as the soldiers of the ruling class,
But your days are numbered, and your killings passed
Cause it’s time for the people to whip some ass.

We’ve seen you murder workers and persons of color.
Destroyed Native people and other cultures.
Then laid claim to some eagle,
When you’re really vultures.

Forty one shots and nineteen hits

To the people in the audience I’m here to say:
Will you heed my message or turn instead.
Go back to your computer and live in your head.
Just shooting them dead

There’s only one way to clear the confusion,
And one clear path to a sound solution.
We’ve tried everything else
Why not revolution!
Why not revolution!
Why not a revolution
Within yourself!

Forty one shots and nineteen hits!

Raul "Curly" Estremera is a former political prisoner, a member of the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Coordinator of the Committee in Solidarity with Cuba and Latin America. Curly read his poem on February 20th to community gathered in support of the family of Richard Lua.

Richard Lua was murdered by San Jose Police on February 11th. He went into medical stress from a taser shot when he was trying to get into his home and died at the scene.


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In Honor of ALL fallen Victims of Po'Lice Terror

"In Honor of ALL fallen Victims of Po'Lice Terror" by Tiny

Oscar Grant, Nadra Foster, Idriss Stelly,
Ahmed mohammed, Sean Bell,
Amadou Diallo, Lucerno Rodriguez,
Marlon Crump ,Mama dee gray-garcia and me,
Some of these folks you know-
some you never will see
Taken away,
silenced, destroyed
and killed by Po-lice,
racism and povertee

We share one hit-
one shot
–one mark
-one drop
Someone had the power
someone did not!
Its called the po’Lice
and they called the shots

From Palestine to Oakland,
From LA to KPFA
inside outside
streetside –to parkside
with homes and without
a culture trained to kill is called upon to intervene
cause people say we have nothing else-

I say -
what does that mean?
For poor magazine
it means we make something else
do something deep-old and rooted in earth,
the creator, our elders-you and me-
we convene-
as a community-
for as long as it takes
we take back out voices-our spirits,
our cultures, our languages, our power-
our beauty- our land – our humanity…

we get off the corporate , capitalism, product –driven-violence
perpetrating- thing wanting train until we can see that there is
another way to resolve conflicts that never means
Po-lice brutality

agents with guns- trained to kill and destroy
instead of protect
even one

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia co-editor POOR Magazine/PNN, welfareQUEEN
and daughter of Dee.


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"ONE (Ode to Oscar Grant)" by Shiko

One man
One man in uniform
One man in uniform with

one steel
one steel hard
one steel hard cold gun
in one

one hand with

one man
one man face down
one man face down on the hard ground
begging for mercy hoping to live for his

one daughter
who will cry every night for his
one soul

Oscar Grant's Glimpse of the New Year

"Oscar Grant's Glimpse of the New Year" by Rashida Mack

I am an African American 22 yr old man,
I am told to hit the ground,
pushed down,
I am lying on a Los Angeles platform,
As commanded,
Face down,
I hear a shot,
Then feel pain
I am shot,
Fading black.

Your Happy New Year to me,
Now called a mistake?
Glock 9mm,
Taser gun,
Glock 9mm,
On my stomach,
Face down,
Taser or Glock,

My body lies face down,
Shot down,
On the ground,
Murdered in the first degree,
On January 1st,2009,
In the United States of America.

My name was Oscar Grant.

Source: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/oscar-grant-s-glimpse-of-the-new-year



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Slide Show (a poem)

Slide Show (January 2009) by Carrie Leilam Love
It can be read in rows left-to-right or in columns top-to-bottom.


this is Oscar Grant bending.
being bent.
this is me waiting at the
window for her to come home.
heart elephant. weighing down
one side, teaching the other
what empty is.
this the biggest boss that we have seen this far, with the baddest bitch
in the game dancing to an old song, at last love, at last love, at last at last thank god almighty we are president at least.
this is Oscar Grant, bent
and headed to the ground.
hit and head to the ground.
this is me waiting at her heart for the window to open. this is Palestine. these are the dead weighing down one side, holding
up the lighter dead. this is the bad
math of mass murder, equation
here we go laughin, cause on a
MTV cribs re-run, only thing in Missy Elliot's bedroom sides a Ferrari bed is a life-size cut-out of Janet Jackson half-naked.
this Annette Garcia, this the Sheriff who shot her in the back. These are her children,
and this is just
how they looked, shocked not surprised, this just how they looked: tough and into distance.
these are my dead: bowler hat and big belly, bowed legs and bright smile, big hands & mad to the marrow. this my grandmama mean as
vinegar and picked through,
preserved against men in the
bone-yard calling: dear wife, dear mother, dear mother, dear grandmother, come join us in the loam.
here we are underground, swinging
on bulb roots, waiting for
the lilies to tell us it's July.
this is Oscar Grant's heart,
opened and filling his empty. this is his back, softer, in this case, than his belly.
this is her back. she welts easily when I scratch. this is a speckled brown egg, narrow end down, yok weighing into the point. This is my back.   this is me, learning empty is full of breath, shoutin: Please don’t shoot!  


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PDF icon carrieleilamloveslideshow.pdf14 KB


Oscar Grant Memorial Art Project PosterThe Oscar Grant Memorial Art Project has produced a memorial poster in cooperation with Media Alliance and Inkworks.  We are distributing this limited supply of printed posters to interested community organizations and individuals free of charge. You can also download the pdf version and distribute it to your own communties and contacts.

PDF icon OscarPoster5-13-09.pdf307.77 KB


Dear Tatiana (video)

"Dear Tatiana (Letter to Oscar Grant's Daughter)"
Rukus - Produced by Kid Konnect


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Audio icon deartatiana.mp35.79 MB

Mad World

Novel dedicates “Mad World” to Oscar Grant By SOHH Soul Rebel

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My Life

"Oscar Grant III Tribute (My Life)" ft. Jennifer Johns & Codany Holiday - Mistah F.A.B. and Amp Live (Zion I)


The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

Same Shit


By Aidge 34, Aesthetics Crew
October 22nd Coalition, LA

"Same Shit" draws links between the the genocide in Gaza, Oscar Grant's
case & Los Angeles police brutality.

Click on the link below to download "Same Shit."

The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance

Audio icon Same Sh_t Clean Edit.mp32.11 MB
Audio icon Same Shit.mp32.11 MB

Too Many

"Too Many" by Siaria Shawn
(Lyrics only)

Too many of us,

Struck, down, in cold blood,

What did we do?

You don’t see in me, what you need to


So where do I put my rage,

I wanna act out, give me a stage,

So I can use my voice, to voice the pain

One too many bullets, have left,

One too many guns,

And I can’t stomach another daughter or son,

On the ground


So where do I put my rage,

I wanna act out, give me a stage,

So I can use my voice, to voice the pain


And you should be ashamed(repeat)

Siaira Harris is a singer/songwriter who goes by Siaira Shawn. She wrote this song inspired by what happened to Grant and the ongoing and preceding injustices that people face, especially concerning police brutality.


The Oscar Grant Memorial Arts Project is Co-Sponsored by Media Alliance


Featured Video:


Youth Movement Records
Jasiri X


Youth Movement Records - Never Will Be Forgotten

Never Will Be Forgotten from Youth Movement Records on Vimeo.

"Never Will be Forgotten" - Youth Movement Records

Click here to hear "Never be Forgotten."


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"Everyone Has the Right to..." Release Party May 28, 2009 6 p.m.

Celebrate the release of the new issue of
Race, Poverty & the Environment

Reception & Release Event
Thursday, May 28, 6-8 p.m.
Pro Arts Gallery
550 Second Street, Oakland

Featuring music and speakers on
the right to: housing, transit,
health, jobs, reparations, and more.
Free! Music, Talk, Food, Drinks, Magazines, Posters, & Fun

RSVP or for more information call (510) 839-9510
or email rsvp@urbanhabitat.org

In this issue:
Oscar Grant Memorial Art Project poster
which will be distributed free at the event and to community organizations
Poster sponsored by Race, Poverty & the Environment,
Media Alliance and Inkworks