Vol. 2, No. 5 May 2002
ON (NOT) GETTING BY IN AMERICA
From late April through mid-May, the Washtenaw County community has a unique opportunity to focus on the choices that face low-wage workers both locally and throughout the country. A "community read" of Barbara Ehrenreich’s important book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America has been organized by Religious Action for Affordable Housing (RAAH), a local organization formed to galvanize religious community support for low-income housing efforts. Organizers are encouraging community members to read the book (extra copies are available at local public libraries and it is sold at bookstores), to join in any of a number of public discussions, and to conclude the series with a public lecture by the author on May 13.
In a review of the book published in the February 2002 Agenda, Phillis Engelbert described Nickel and Dimed as "an eye-opening book (that) puts the world of low-wage work under a microscope and concludes that it is possible in America to have a full-time job and still not be able to make ends meet." In the book, Ehrenreich describes her experiences over two years while working as a waitress, Wal-Mart clerk, cleaning woman, hotel maid and nursing-home aide in Florida, Minnesota and Maine. She describes not only the characteristics of these various work places, but the difficulties of finding housing, stocking a kitchen (when she could afford to rent an apartment at all) and, generally, making a limited income cover basic expenses.
So what exactly is a "community read"? It is an opportunity for a wide range of community members to read a book at the same time and get together to talk about it. It’s an opportunity to join a book club that is as broad and diverse as Washtenaw County. Public events that have been scheduled are meant to provide access to this discussion to as many people as possible.
First, through the publisher, extra copies of the book have been provided to both the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti district libraries. Check to see if copies are available. Local bookstores stock the book as well, as it is receiving a great amount of attention throughout the country.
Next, attend a public discussion. There are three scheduled for the general public: Monday, April 29, 5:30 pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (306 N. Division St.) in Ann Arbor; Tuesday, May 7, 7:00 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library, main branch; Thursday, May 9, 7:00 pm at the Ypsilanti District Library, main branch. These are truly discussions—book groups with an open membership—not lectures. Other organizations, including a number of religious congregations, are scheduling their own book discussions and you could do the same.
Finally, come hear the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, speak on Monday, May 13, 7:00 pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor.
RAAH organized this community read to further our understanding of the difficulties facing low-wage households in Washtenaw County. Although the focus of Ehrenreich’s book is low-wage employment, the scarcity of low-income housing is a repeating theme. RAAH hopes that public attention paid to the difficulties facing low-wage families will further the public commitment to providing low-cost housing. RAAH will be asking for a $10 donation (suggested) at the May 13 concluding public lecture. For more information, call St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 663-0518.
Friends of Welfare Rights Strives to End Poverty
Kathy Slay, longtime activist for welfare rights, was the featured speaker at the annual meeting of Friends of Welfare Rights of Washtenaw County, on April 12. From her work with Friends In Deed and her own personal experiences she reported that poor families are not faring well since welfare "reform" took place. Food banks get low on supplies by the middle of the month and non-profits have had to become much stricter in deciding who will be assisted. Many former recipients are now working, but mostly at low-paying jobs which are often temporary. There is no way a mother with two children can be self-sufficient while earning minimum or near minimum wages. The cost of childcare, transportation, and housing are overwhelming to such families. Furthermore, most mothers dare not even report their distress for fear of losing their children and being charged with child neglect. Slay cited statistics and instances showing the impossible situation in which single mothers find themselves. She concluded her remarks by discussing the caste system in place in this country and the humiliation poor people are subjected to when forced to use public assistance.
Friends of Welfare Rights strives by all legal means to improve the status of poor people through government action. We believe the purpose of welfare assistance should be to overcome poverty, not merely to eliminate people from welfare rolls. We lobby government officials, hold public demonstrations and educational programs, and support the work of the local Welfare Rights Union. Legislation of crucial importance recently approved by the Ways and Means Subcommittee in the House of Representatives is reauthorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). As presently proposed, this bill will add further draconian requirements and limits to a welfare measure which, as has been said, "didn’t make sense when it was passed, and still doesn’t make sense."
If you would like to join us in striving for a more reasonable system with the ultimate goal of overcoming poverty in this country, please call us at 734-482-8664.
2,000th ENDORSER BACKS NAT’L HOUSING TRUST FUND
The Shreveport, Louisiana chapter of Volunteers of America has become the 2,000th organization across the United States to endorse the National Housing Trust Fund Campaign. The Campaign aims to win passage of federal legislation to finance construction of affordable housing in communities nationwide.
Annie Holmes of the Shreveport group used the Campaign’s web site at www.nhtf.org to register the endorsement with Campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The groundswell of grassroots support from every state in the nation for the establishment of a national housing trust fund is attracting attention on Capitol Hill, according to Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The Coalition is one of the Campaign’s backers. "The tremendous support for this legislation across the country shows how serious the affordable housing problem is in every community," Ms. Crowley said.
In the House of Representatives, H.R. 2349 has 169 sponsors. The companion Senate bill S.1248 has 24 sponsors.
The most recent addition to the lists of co-sponsors was Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), a member of the House Committee that is responsible for housing laws.
The proposed National Housing Trust Fund would build and preserve 1.5 million units of rental housing for the lowest income families over the next 10 years. It would be financed with profits from housing programs operated by the Federal Housing Administration and Ginnie Mae. State and local agencies would match the federal money with their own funds and undertake the construction programs.
"I’m delighted that Volunteers of America was instrumental in reaching the 2,000 mark," said Ron Field, vice-president for public policy at Volunteers of America’s national headquarters in Virginia. "People nationwide are recognizing that lack of decent, affordable housing is at the root of many of our nation’s social problems, including homelessness and poor educational achievement."
(Reprinted from Safety Network,
"THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA IS BUSINESS"
There’s a prevalent idea in this country that what’s good for business is good for all the people. For quite a while now there have been more and more cracks developing in this concept. Were Enron’s business practices good for its workers who lost their retirement income? What about senior citizens who have to choose between buying food and buying the prescription drugs they need (which were developed largely at public expense)? What’s good for business is not necessarily good for the country.
This applies at the local level as well. The Downtown Development Authority has received the right to use the $2 million a year that comes from parking meter revenues downtown. Does the DDA, which receives the taxes from downtown businesses, really need this money?
Meanwhile the AATA is proposing raising its fares to make up a deficit. With all the money the city has, why should it give money to the businesses and then turn around and squeeze people—many low-income—who ride the bus?
We’ve editorialized in the past about how decisions made at every level of government which benefit business don’t necessarily benefit the majority of people. We’ve got to begin to do something about this at the local level. Think globally, act locally. Let’s figure out a way to subsidize the AATA which involves the business community paying its fair share. After all, downtown business also benefits from a decent transportation system.
On Another Note:
Some businesses have recently announced that they want to deal with panhandling in a way which is not necessarily in the best interests of the panhandlers themselves, but rather intended to keep them off the city streets so they don’t offend customers. We are not opposed to treatment programs, but we do not see the panhandling problem primarily as the result of people being mentally ill or addicted to drugs. Rather, panhandling results from the conditions which give rise to poverty, and it is these conditions—such as lack of affordable housing, low wages, high unemployment etc.—which must be dealt with. Keeping certain of our citizens out of business districts is not the answer; it is a classic case of adding insult to injury.
AATA PROPOSES FARE HIKES
The AATA claims that a combination of service reductions and fare increases totaling $1.5 million will be needed to balance the budget in fiscal year 2003, which begins on October 1st. Cutbacks in state funding and increases in the cost of doing business are cited as reasons for the current budget situation. Fare increases are projected to raise approximately $360,000 per year. Following a recommendation from their public relations consultant they have separated the comment time for fare changes from the service reductions "so as not to confuse riders." It should be noted that both proposals are very complicated.
Questions or comments about the proposed fare increases and service reductions may be submitted by the following methods:
Telephone: Fare changes hotline (734) 677-3918
Web Site: www.theride.org, click on "Customer Service" then click on "Tell US". (Note: also a source of information)
Mail: Fare Increase (or Service Reductions): AATA, 2700 S. Industrial Hwy., Ann Arbor, 48104
Fax: (734)973-6338, "Attention: Fare Changes (or Service Reductions)"
There will also be a May 22nd board meeting at 7:30 p.m. at AATA’s main office, 2700 S. Industrial Hwy. It is difficult to get to these meetings by bus so if you plan to go and can offer to carpool please call ICPJ at 663-1817 and leave a message for the Racial and Economic Task Force.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW?
The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) renegotiated their contract with the City to run the parking system and included the 2 million dollars in yearly revenue from on-street parking meters in their revenue stream. In a process resembling a train wreck the city council and the DDA fashioned the contract in a marathon session on April 15th. You may have heard about that.
What you probably don’t know is that Councilperson Bob Johnson introduced an amendment to include a Living Wage requirement for the parking attendants. It passed and is included in the contract, much to the dismay of some DDA members.
But they really need the money to run the parking structures and thus had to live with the requirement. At no time was there any discussion about how many parking spaces Ann Arbor needs, given the level of downtown development.
Demonstrating that what is past is prologue: Commissioner Preston stated that what also bothers her about the plan is that there is no data that defines what is available now in terms of parking and what will be needed if new buildings are constructed in the area. She would encourage council to request the data and use it in making their decision to create (emphasis added) the DDA. (Planning Commission minutes 10-26-82, p.15)
NATIONAL HEALTH CARE ACCESS CAMPAIGN
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? America’s health care system is failing. It costs too much, covers too little and excludes too many. One seventh of Americans, over 40 million people, lack insurance and suffer unnecessary illness and premature death. Tens of millions more are underinsured and cannot afford needed services, particularly medications. Communities of color endure major disparities in access to quality care.
WHAT IS THE RESOLUTION? The Congressional Universal Health Care Task Force was created in 2000 to promote discussion and strategic planning in Congress and the nation on how to achieve affordable, high-quality health care for all. In April 2001, members of the Task Force introduced the Health Care Access Resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 99) directing Congress to enact legislation by October 2004 that provides access to comprehensive health care for all Americans. The Resolution lists 14 key attributes of a just and efficient health care system. It does not specifically endorse any one model of reform.
So far the Resolution has 65 Congressional Sponsors and 257 organizational endorsers.
Contact UHCAN (Universal Health Care Action Network) for a full list of Congressional signers and organizational endorsers, for further information, to receive UHCAN’s "Action for Universal Health Care", or to learn how you can help: UHCAN, 2800 Euclid Avenue, Suite 520, Cleveland, OH, 44115. Phone: 216-241-8422. Visit: www.uhcan.org.
California State Study Shows Single-Payer (Universal Health Care) Saves: A recently released State of California study has demonstrated that adopting a single-payer model of health care would save the state residents more than $220 billion in health care costs over its first ten-year period.
(Source: Action for Universal Health Care)
GROUP SUES OVER YPSILANTI HUMAN RIGHTS ORDINANCE
A petition to amend the Ypsilanti Human Rights Ordinance so as to eliminate protection based on sexual orientation has been certified by the city, and if the city council approves the ballot language, it is scheduled to be on the November ballot.
However the Ypsilanti Campaign for Equality has filed suit against Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County, to force the city to withdraw its certification of the petition, and to ban the county from putting the issue on the November ballot.
The suit claims that the ballot issue should be cancelled
The petition seeks to ban any local ordinances that would provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The ordinance at present bans discrimination based on 14 categories, including race, religion, sex, marital status, height, weight, and sexual orientation.
The Campaign for Equality had filed a complaint with the city last August, based on the same four reasons, asking that they not certify the petitions, and advising that they planned to file suit should the city do so.
WHY IS WAR SUCH GOOD BUSINESS?
Though the financial community routinely denies it, warring (on foreign soil) always produces economic expansion. When the conflicts begin, centralized demand (controlled by the government) mobilizes previously ‘unused’ people and resources. As the fighting continues, large amounts of ‘humanitarian’ aid are gathered to support the fighters. When the fighting ends, the losers’ infrastructure will be in need of rebuilding, and the winner’s militia will also need restocking. In both cases, legions of business people stand ready to help, while also collecting the resulting large profits for their groups.
This may be the main reason these ‘small’ wars have been recurring so often in recent years. (Remember Bill Clinton’s last federal budget had a large cash surplus!) President Bush has likened his new ‘war on terror’ to World War II, saying it will take many years to complete and cost many millions of dollars. It will also result in a government structure much more control-obsessed, invasive of personal privacy, and less respectful of constitutional rights.
The current excessive increases in defense spending will surely underfund many important civilian government service programs if not reversed soon. Mass economic deprivation cannot be a sound policy of long-term political leadership. Be sure to vote wisely!
TRANSCRIPTS RELEASED IN HADDAD CASE
On April 19th a Federal Appeals Court denied the government’s request to delay release of the court transcripts in the case of Rabih Haddad. The three-judge panel said that the government had failed to establish a reason to keep the proceedings secret. Thousands of pages of court transcripts were released immediately, although the government said it may pursue an appeal of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A deportation hearing for Rabih Haddad and his family, scheduled originally for April 10, was postponed until April 24 and again to June 19 while the issue of disclosure was being resolved. Haddad’s three previous immigration hearings in Michigan were all closed to the public and the press. The suit to have the transcripts released and future hearings opened was brought by the ACLU, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and several newspapers including the Ann Arbor News.
U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds ruled on April 3 that the Justice Dept. had improperly barred the media and public from the hearings. However at the request of the Justice Dept. the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted a stay on the release of the transcripts until further notice. The stay was lifted in the April 19 Appeals Court decision.
Haddad remains in prison in Chicago charged only with overstaying his visa.
On a related matter, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals has refused to stop a judge from considering secret evidence against the Global Relief Foundation, an international charity co-founded by Haddad. Global Relief’s assets were frozen and its records seized on December 14, 2001, the same day Haddad was arrested. The Global Relief Foundation filed to have their assets released. U.S. District Judge Wayne Anderson will review secret evidence offered by the government in its effort to have the Global Relief Foundation’s lawsuit dismissed.
Meanwhile the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York has filed a class action lawsuit against Ashcroft and other U.S. officials alleging that the plaintiffs, hundreds of Middle Eastern men detained on immigration charges after Sept. 11, have been subjected to unreasonable and excessively harsh conditions. This is the first lawsuit filed on behalf of the detainees.
ROUGHLY 100,000 PEOPLE
CONVERGE ON WASHINGTON
Tens of thousands of progressive protesters (police estimates: 75,000; rally organizers estimates: 100,000) converged in Washington D.C. the weekend of April 19th through April 22nd. Issues addressed ranged from public policy in Colombia, war and racism, the Middle east crisis, and globalization. In addition, solidarity protests were held throughout the world.
Protests at meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank have become common. It is encouraging that citizens were willing to protest given the conventional wisdom expressed by many people (being conventional doesn’t make it right) that you shouldn’t criticize our institutions in this "time of war". There were several things that made these protests different.
Unlike previous protests, there was no assertive attempt to prevent the meetings from occurring. Instead, the main protests were "permitted" protests. Indeed, a main concern of the Sunday coverage reported on National Public Radio was that some protesters were going to try to disrupt rush-hour traffic in Washington on Monday morning. Oh no, not that! Now that would be serious. The change in tactics may be a result of the chilling federal Patriot Act, legislation designed to address terrorism, that may also be used to deter domestic dissent.
Another thing that was different about this series of protests was the very diverse nature of the groups gathering in Washington. The challenge will be to find ways to couple advocacy of each topic with the solidarity needed to be effective.
Thanks to all who had the courage to go to Washington or show solidarity by participating in the local rally. Don’t agonize, organize!
LOCAL RALLY SUPPORTS
On Saturday, April 20 a local solidarity rally was held at noon at the federal building in Ann Arbor while an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people demonstrated in Washington D.C. against the war, against globalization, and for freedom for Palestine.
Nearly 50 people attended the local rally, the largest number of people at a peace rally since September. The night before, another crowd attended a sendoff for over 100 people from this area who went to Washington.
At the rally in Ann Arbor people marched in a picket line while chanting. A number of people spoke representing a variety of peace and social justice organizations. This was followed by a march to Main St. and to the Ann Arbor News (which failed to mention the event). The rally and march were characterized by a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
PEOPLE’S PROGRESSIVE NETWORK RESOLUTION
AGAINST ISRAELI VIOLENCE
IN THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES:
The members of the PPN wish to make it known to all that they utterly oppose the continued violence being perpetrated upon the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories by the Israeli army of occupation. Furthermore, the PPN also wishes to make it clear that we abhor our own government’s support—both monetary and military—for the Israeli government’s violent and intolerable actions. Collectively and individually, we intend to do all in our power and according to our own consciences to fight for peace in the Occupied Territories and to fight the racist, militaristic and inhumane actions that are rampant there.
Washington DC is Overrun by Peaceful Demonstrations
by Holly Severson
Washington DC was rocked from April 19th-22nd by several different peaceful protests as powerful pro-people, anti-war and anti-globalization/anti-corporate greed demonstrators from all areas of the US came together to raise their voices and fists in signs of solidarity with oppressed peoples everywhere.
The protests began on Friday and continued through Monday, with only small numbers arrested each day (from 1 to fewer than 50 each day, out of the tens of thousands present), despite occasional pockets of outright hostility and provocation by some police and so-called "patriotic" American counter-demonstrators.
I arrived in downtown DC Saturday morning and marched with tens of thousands of peaceful American protesters. The people that I saw were amazingly diverse—ranging from young, scruffy anarchist youth dressed in black, many with video-cameras or home-made drums or peace-puppets, to Arab-American families—many of them pushing baby strollers or with children in tow, as well as carrying anti-violence, end-the-occupation signs and Palestinian flags, and every imaginable American in-between. The total Saturday crowd size of all the peace and anti-globalization protests was estimated by police at 75,000 strong, although it may have been as high as 100,000 from other estimates I heard in the city.
The Saturday marches and rallies converged in a unified show of defiance on the mall between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument Saturday afternoon. Several groups—such as Revolution Books, the International Socialists, and various peace and religious groups (even the Hare Krsnas were there, dressed in red-white-and blue sequins, no less!) had booths where they disseminated literature and buttons/tees etc to the masses.
Sunday a concert and rally at the base of the Washington Monument bravely endured the driving rain for hours. This rally had representatives from the School-of-The-Americas protests selling and distributing free literature about the ongoing fight against this military-training camp in Georgia that is funded by OUR tax dollars every year and which trains the leaders of the death-squads in several Latin American countries. Food not Bombs was serving food to the stalwart hundreds of bedraggled souls who stood huddled in ponchos listening to the folk musicians and sharing literature from around the country and globe.
Monday morning I personally witnessed our upgraded police state, as DC Police officers grabbed the backpacks of black-bandanna-wearing young people on the mall. I wrote down the badge numbers and took the names (when possible) of several of these angry officers who were video-taping us on the mall and trying to provoke a reaction so they could make some more arrests. Stay tuned to upcoming editions of The Street Wall Journal (Ann Arbor’s new weekly free paper) for more lengthy reports on the ugly events Monday.
Monday afternoon and evening well over a thousand pro-Palestinian protesters and anti-Middle-East-war demonstrators gathered outside the Hilton where AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) was meeting. Police presence was alarmingly high, with a helicopter hovering over the site, police in black lined up with video cameras (and presumably weapons) atop every adjacent building, police in riot gear in lines around the "protest pit" where they penned us in with fences on three sides. None of the police would tell me why we were penned in (they told me to ask DC Police Chief Ramsey who, of course, was not accessible to give me a statement), and police on horses, motorcycles, bicycles, in vans, buses and automobiles lines the adjacent streets.
I would estimate that the police outnumbered the protesters by at least 2 or 3 to 1 and they had guns, pepper spray, handcuffs and batons, as well as vehicles (including empty city buses to round us up in, if they deemed it necessary), whereas we protestors were armed only with cameras, tape-recorders, signs and notebooks. Despite this frightening scenario, the diverse crowd—this time ranging from Hasidic Jews with anti-Zionist signs and literature to pro-Palestinians, from revolutionaries to housewives to students to just plain American families—remained peaceful and stood their ground for hours under intense duress. I am told we stopped rush-hour traffic for hours and that only one arrest was made—this of an AIPAC member who spit at the peaceful demonstrators outside the hotel.
All-in-all, I’d say the peace demonstration in DC was a rollicking success—we came out in vast numbers and from diverse groups from across this nation and no one was badly injured or really rude to others there at all. Many statements were made and hopefully some changes will gradually come about as a result of the actions we many thousands took. I, for one, am inspired by this event and hope that it will lead our leaders toward acting more justly around the globe... please join in making a better world for all to share!
Signed Elements ©