A blog by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration about justice and peace issues

Posts tagged ‘poverty’

A year on the sidelines

This week marks one year until we will elect our next president. Campaigning has already been in high gear for months — months of campaigning and yet, if we had cast our votes this past Tuesday, what knowledge of the country and the candidates would we have actually had?

Media coverage rarely connects the policy statements of candidates (even if they are making them) with the lived reality of the people. Often media’s only focus is a “bump” in the polls. We are not engaged in a popularity contest; we are engaged in choosing a leader who will impact not only North Americans, but the world.

It seems important then that we take the time to know what poverty, the environment, education, immigration, militarism, racial inequities, gender inequities, children, the elderly, health care, etc., look like in America today. We deserve to know what is needed, not just what will play as a sound bite.

Let’s travel to the margins, past the flashing signs of Donald Trump’s hair and Hillary Clinton’s granddaughter Charlotte, to see the world and the election through the eyes of the people and the earth who will bear the burden of our decision next November. I propose a “year from the sidelines” — a year in which we ponder what is needed in a leader, in a party, in ourselves, and in our communities from the perspective of those left behind or blamed by power.

To begin, I would like to share The Rag Blog’s Halloween at Hutto by Elaine J. Cohen that looks at the connection between immigration and militarism. It is easy to talk about stopping people from coming; it’s harder to understand why they come and how the United States is intimately connected to the forces driving people to the border here and the borders in Europe. This blog looks at migrants from Latin America in connection with our own militarism in their region.

Barred window inside of Hutto Detention Facility. Photo courtesy of thewire.com

Barred window inside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center Detention Facility. Photo courtesy of www.thewire.com

As we sat in the waiting area of the Hutto “Residential” Center, an unexpected spectacle unfolded before the three of us who had come to visit. It was Halloween in Hutto.

Originally Peggy Morton and I had planned to take Maria Luisa, field organizer for the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), to Karnes, another family detention center in Texas, that morning. It was October 30, when thunder and torrents of rain poured down on the hill country.

Still, I left my apartment on St. John’s at eight. In the time it took to walk from my building’s entrance to my car, I was soaked to the bone. Driving south on Lamar was an exercise in focus and I’m sure I cashed in a few of my good karma points as I drove with limited vision and somehow got to Wheatsville South at nine to meet them.

Peggy’s husband, Fred, had told her that a tornado had touched down in San Marcos — near our usual route to Karnes. We went to Peggy’s house where my wet clothes were put in the dryer. We decided that if the rain slowed down we would go north, rather than south — and visit with women at Hutto. Their hunger strike had just begun and we agreed that visiting there would be an excellent first visit to a Detention Center for Maria Luisa.

Over cups of hot tea and vegan pozole, the three of us shared stories about immigration, violence shaped and honed by this country’s military might and the extraordinary connectedness of decades of violence in Central America and the number of refugees coming across the border.

Maria Luisa Rosals had come to Austin on a southern/border states journey to learn about conditions here and share knowledge about the complicity of USian interests as manifest in the instruction of violence at the School of the Americas.

Protests began in 1990 at the School of the America’s base at Fort Benning outside of Columbus, Georgia, and have continued despite the change of name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). In a few weeks, the vigil will have its 25th anniversary. Many readers of The Rag Blog are familiar with the organization and its work. For those of you who aren’t, I refer you to the SOA Watch website — because the story today is really about the 27-plus immigrant women on hunger strike in Taylor, Texas.

Though as Peggy, Maria Luisa, and I spoke, it became obvious to us that, in fact, the hunger strike of immigrant women incarcerated under U.S. policy is very much related to the work of the SOAW. Peggy, an active member of the Hutto Visitation Program, has been visiting a woman who has been incarcerated there for over a year. As is my custom, I will not refer to her by her real name. Let’s call her Juana. All three of us signed up to visit Juana, who greeted us with delight.

The Corrections Corporation of America continues to assert ‘there is no hunger strike.’

Although the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the private business that runs Hutto, continues to assert “there is no hunger strike,” we were assured that the strike was real. Moreover, the women are highly motivated and optimistic. I asked Juana if I had her permission to mention her in my writing and she said that the women wanted “everyone” to know that, Yes, they are on hunger strike and that No, it’s not because the food is so bad (even though it is terrible) and it is an insult for whoever is telling those lies (hmmm, the CCA comes to mind) to pretend it is not about the absolute injustice that they are incarcerated for their attempt to escape from domestic, cartel, and state violence.

We laughed and exchanged stories about our families and talked a lot about tamales. Peggy was worried that talking about food wasn’t a good idea — but it seemed to cheer Juana — talking about something from her culture. When Maria Luisa and Juana discovered they were from the same area in Guatemala, there were broad smiles and, I believe, some comfort to Juana. In front of her was someone who knew where she came from — and had also come to the U.S. as an immigrant.

It seems that our visit to Hutto took place on the day that the CCA had encouraged its employees to costume up for Halloween. I’m serious. As we sat in the waiting room we watched as an angel in black tulle and a black halo left. A Thor-like Viking came on shift. The costumes were elaborate and at one point Maria Luisa and I caught each other’s glance and I whispered, “This is surreal.” Her eyes widened in agreement.

In the visiting area, the guard was straight out of the Flintstones. When Juana began to cry, I went up to the guard to ask for some tissue. I remarked on her costume, casually asking, “So, what are you?” She broke into a large smile (the first I’d seen) and said, “I’m a cave woman.” Fortunately, she didn’t appear to have a club. I wouldn’t swear, however, that she didn’t have one, hidden under the desk.

While immigrant women languish in this for-profit prison, the jailers play out their domination fantasies as Dark Angels, Vikings, and Neanderthals. Juana shook her head at the strangeness of the display. I suggested that Halloween was kind of like carnival and she managed a crooked smile. As we left, and we had our final hug (one is permitted at the beginning and another at the end of a visit), she again asked me to make sure to tell as many people as possible about their strike and how unjust is their detention.

In the days that have passed since I started this piece, participation in the hunger strike has grown enormously. This coming Saturday, November 7, 2015, there is a call to come to Taylor and show your support for the hunger strikers.

Sofia Casini of Grassroots Leadership reports of “the continuing escalation in numbers of women inside, far beyond the initial 27. We’ve seen retaliation in the form of solitary confinement, two of the strikers transferred to Pearsall Detention Center, threats of deportation, and citations for not leaving their quarters to eat. ICE continues to deny the strike is happening. Loco!”

The rally will be held across from the baseball field to the side of the detention center (1001 Welch St, Taylor, Texas 76574) this Saturday at 2 p.m. Sofia explains that “this time was chosen because it’s when the women are let outside — the hunger strikers asked us to come then so they can see us and gain strength from our presence. Even if they’re brought inside quickly, we’ve been told from women that in past rallies they can still hear the loud, amplified music — let’s raise our voice so high they can hear us, too!”

I was recently reminded that there may be readers who are unfamiliar with the complex mix of politics, racism, and greed that has brought us immigrant detention. Yet I worry that I have written so much about various aspects of the issue in the past year that some of the material may appear redundant. Am I laboring to explain that which I’ve already laid out? Finally I realized that I can’t assume that the earlier pieces have been read.

The School of the Americas Watch, with its insistence that we recognize and expose the complicity of the American Military in the training of the perpetrators of so much violence in the Northern Triangle, absolutely connects to the women on hunger strike in Hutto. It is precisely that violence which has driven them here.

But what of the violence that is the experience of the thousands of immigrants locked up in immigrant detention? Could it be that the monster personas I saw at Hutto were more than Halloween fun? Were these employees of one of the worst private prison corporations really showing us something about what it means to be a guard in a prison incarcerating the victims of violence?

It is the image of the Dark Angel walking around the Hutto detention prison that I can’t shake.

Read more articles by Elaine J. Cohen on The Rag Blog.

Rag metro writer Elaine Cohen moved to Austin in 1997 after she found Accion Zapatista’s website. She became involved with immigrants when she started work as a bilingual substitute for the Austin Independent School District (AISD). After another stay teaching in Mexico (2005-2010) she returned to Austin and discovered the Hutto Visitation Program and became involved in visiting women and children in Texas’ family immigration detention centers.

Beyond the middle class: Remembering those in poverty

In these last weeks of campaigning we keep hearing about the middle class. Certainly the concerns of the middle class are worthy and deserve the time and consideration of candidates. But what about those in poverty?

 U.S. Human Rights Network is working to bring a focus to a growing group of Americans who have been erased in the campaign for the White House. See below to learn more about their initiative and groups working to help folks in poverty…

In commemoration of the 64th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year, the U.S. Human Rights Network launched a campaign to highlight the important human rights work that our members and partners are engaged in domestically. In the 64 days leading up to December 10, otherwise known as Human Rights Day, the USHRN is highlighting 64 member and partner organizations as a way to raise awareness about the domestic human rights movement. For this week, when the United Nations recognizes October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we are featuring six organizations working with low-income communities, fighting against poverty, and challenging structural inequality. To round out the week, we also feature the important work being done at ColumbiaLawSchool’s Human Rights Institute, and the role it plays in the domestic human rights movement. Poverty is a deprivation of the full range of our economic human rights.

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PROJECT SOUTH: INSTITUTE FOR THE ELIMINATION OF POVERTY &
GENOCIDE Project South’s mission is to build the foundation for successful broad-based social justice movements. Project South works directly with communities pushed forward by conditions of poverty and racism in order to strengthen leadership for community organizing on critical frontlines of economic, racial, and social justice. Project South increases the number of skilled organizers in the South, creates space for leadership to converge and strategize for movement building, and produces cutting edge political education that reaches a national audience in order to provide direction for long-term movement organizing.Read more.POVERTY & RACE RESEARCH ACTION COUNCILThe Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) is a civil rights policy organization with a mission of connecting advocates to social scientists working on race and poverty issues and promoting a research-based advocacy strategy on structural inequality issues.  At the present time, PRRAC is pursuing project-specific work in the areas of housing, education, and health, focusing on the importance of “place” and the continuing consequences of historical patterns of housing segregation and development for low income families in the areas of health, education, employment, and incarceration. PRRAC’s work is informed by an extensive national network of researchers, organizers, attorneys, educators, and public health and housing professionals.Read more. SOUTHWEST GEORGIA PROJECT FORCOMMUNITY EDUCATION, INC.

The Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc. (SWGAP) seeks to empower rural communities to work for change through education, advocacy, and economic development. It originally began in 1961 as a project of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) when SNCC sent student Charles Sherrod to engage residents and coordinate activities for the Civil Rights Movement. In 1971 Charles Sherrod and his wife Shirley Miller founded the organization to continue the work of empowering black families in Southwest Georgia. Throughout its history, the organization has been an advocate for social justice through grassroots social community organizing among adults and youth, to register and educate voters, organize local advocacy groups, create jobs through the establishment of cooperative business and foods based businesses, and strengthen academic and leadership skills among youth.

Read more.

THE POVERTY INITIATIVE The Poverty Initiative’s mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor.Economic disparity and poverty are increasing around the globe.  By bringing an historical, political and economic perspective to these defining issues of our time, the Poverty Initiative deepens the way that activists, organizers, students, academics, clergy and the poor come together to think critically and act persistently to end poverty.  With its rigorous approach to leadership development and its immersive, boundary-crossing, and comprehensive programs, the Poverty Initiative creates the space where leaders can learn to “think as we fight,” learn as we lead,” and “educate as we organize.”Read more.MICHIGAN WELFARE RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONThe Michigan Welfare Rights Organization is the union of public assistance recipients and low-income workers in Michigan. MWRO has chapters across Michigan and is one of the founding members of the National Welfare Rights Union. MWRO’s goal is to organize recipients and low-income workers to fight for our rights, to eliminate poverty in this country and to build an army prepared to battle for the economic and human rights of millions of disenfranchised Americans.

Read more.

GEORGIA CITIZENS’ COALITION ON HUNGER

The Georgia Citizens’ Coalition on Hunger was founded in 1974 as a statewide coalition of concerned citizens to end hunger, homelessness and poverty in the state of Georgia. The Coalition has been at the forefront of grassroots organizing, service delivery and policy changes that positively impact poor and working class communities in Georgia for over 35 years. The Coalition operates a food pantry, community garden and four outdoor farmers markets while also engaging in grassroots organizing, public education and leadership development so that low income citizens can address their concerns around food and economic security.

Read more.

HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTE – COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOLThe Human Rights Institute sits at the heart of human rights teaching, practice and scholarship at Columbia Law School.  Founded in 1998 by the late Professor Louis Henkin, the Institute draws on the law school’s deep human rights tradition to support and influence human rights practice in the United States and throughout the world.  Over the past several years, the Institute and the Human Rights Clinic have become increasingly integrated, enabling it to multiply their impact on the field and engage students more fully in their work.HRI currently focuses its work in three main substantive areas: Human Rights in the United States; Counterterrorism & Human Rights; and Human Rights & the Global Economy.  HRI has developed distinct approaches to work in each area, building bridges between scholarship and activism, developing capacity within the legal community, engaging governments, and modeling new strategies for progress.Read more.

Hunger Games: May the odds be ever in your favor!

This post will make the most sense for those of you who have read the Hunger Games series or at least seen the first movie. If you are reading this and have not seen the movie or read the books I recommend giving them a try if only for the questions they raise.

Simple low down – Katniss Everdeen lives in the future United States. Through different past events the U.S. has shifted from states into regional districts and  the districts are ruled by the Capitol, the nation’s largest city. Katniss lives in District 12, one of the poorest districts and the one responsible for providing coal to the Capitol for energy.

The Capitol, in an effort to maintain control over the districts, holds an annual “Hunger Games.” Each district (excluding the Capitol) holds a “reaping” in which  a female and male “contender” who are between the ages of 12 – 18 are selected in a drawing ran by Capitol officials. These contenders are then brought to the Capitol to live in an arena where they will fight to the death. The last one standing is considered the “victor” and when they return home may live in the “Victors Village” in their own district.

The entire “games” is televised and seen by Capitol citizens as entertainment while the families in the district must watch as one of their own children kills or is killed or both. Katniss’ sister, Primrose is chosen, but Katniss volunteers to replace her in the games. And so begins an incredible story of survival, the bounds of love, and the power of  the powerful to change a life.

The Hunger Games is a gruesome story line and one that is easy to dismiss as too fantastic. When would any country demand that their children fight to the death in a televised spectacle?

And yet as you read the book or watch the film there is something chilling and familiar in the lines of the story – tell me if any of this rings a bell …

A part of the world that guzzles resources while those who live around it are cast into poverty…

A part of the world that watches “real life” on T.V. finding humor, entertainment, and even pleasure in the struggles, humiliations, and tragedies of others…

A part of the world where a child who dies in one neighborhood is treated differently than a child who may die in another neighborhood…

Sound at all familiar?

The Hunger Games draws from realities in the present and casts them into the future – what will it look one hundred years from now? Reality T.V., consumerism, government, how we are in relationship to one another?

Will the great – great grandchildren of today’s first graders stand in a line praying that their name is not called ? What do we need to create today, what do we need to change today to make sure that the “odds” will be forever in everyone’s favor.

Read the book, see the movie, have a conversation and tell me what you think.

Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign

“What you have done to the lest of these, you have done to me…”

Dear All – This week I travel to Minneapolis to be a presence with the Poor Peoples Economic Human rights Campaign as they struggle to have their voice heard at the Republican National Convention. They are doing a March for our Lives and a Truth Commission on Poverty in the United States.

Thinking of the million of dollar figures that are thrown around in regards to the campaign trail, it is amazing to think that anyone in the United States or outside of the United States has to organize to have enough to eat, a place to live, and work that respects their full dignity as a person. Yet we all know that this is the daily lived reality for so many and most tragically for so many children, who make up the largest percentage of those who fall below the “poverty line.”

The Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign, is organizing around the Declaration of Human Rights which states that poverty is a violation of human rights…the right to live safely, to be educated, and to work for a fair wage…the right to eat and drink healthy food and water…these are inherent communal rights. Not rights granted through public policy, but a lived reality that every community and institution is responsible to provide to everyone – anything less is a violation. Therefore the very notion of  a “poverty line” presents the slippery public policy slope toward accepting a notion of those who will have and those who will have not, a notion that some must exist without for some to exist with all. It brings to mind St. Francis’ radical understanding of how an accumulation of goods breaches our relationship to Sacred Mystery by distorting the notion of gift that imbibes everything we live within and live with.

So please keep us and the Campaign in your prayers this week, as they work to create a creative space for the voice of the poor to speak to those in power and demand that the United States fulfill its obligation to its people, to the Declaration of Human Rights, and most importantly to its own children. For some more information on this campaign go to….http://www.economichumanrights.org/index.shtml

Many thanks to WomensWell and Sister Delmarie who will host us while we are there! – Much Peace Liz


Elizabeth Deligio
FSPA JPICC Coordinator
8th Day Center of Justice
205 W. Monroe
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 641-5151

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