I, Too

MM at national conference

Michelle McCleary (second from left) with Danny Ortega (l); John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries; Kathy Fiess and Carrie Sackett at the National Conference of Independents, NYC, March 2017

Today’s selection was chosen for us by Michelle McCleary.

One of my favorite poems is Langston Hughes’  I, Too.  I love the simple defiance and hope of it.

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2015-02-02-LangstonHughes

 

 

I, Too  

By Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh and eat well.
And grow strong

Tomorrow
I’ll be at the table
When company comes
Nobody’ll dare say to me
“Eat in the kitchen”
Then

Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed.

I, too am America.

 

***

National Poetry Month 

At Politics for the People

Continues

Do you have a favorite political poem that you would like to share? Is there an original poem you’ve written?  Please email me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com with your suggestions for consideration.

Highlights from P4P Conversation with Matthew Desmond

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On Sunday, October 23rd, the Politics for the People book club spent an hour talking with Matthew Desmond about his book, EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City.  I am sharing a few highlights below and you can listen to the entire conversation at the end of this post.

(Note: if the audio links do not appear in the email version of this post, just click on the email to come to the blog.)

Our first audio clip includes my introduction of Matthew and an exploration of his process, his examination of poverty as a relationship between rich and poor, and how that framework brought him to look at and study the eviction crisis. I also talked with Matthew about the destabilization of New York City’s public housing taking place under the NextGeneration plan. This section ends with some of Matthews most surprising discoveries meeting people living in poverty across the country and the ways in which they refused to be defined by their hardships.  Have a listen:

goo.gl/gMbuFS

Ramon Pena shared his personal experience being evicted in New York City after “20 years of having never missed a rent payment.” He goes on to share his journey through homelessness, the shelter system and finally to a home out of state. Ramon and Matthew explore what our elected officials should be held accountable for. Hear their interaction below.

goo.gl/X128aW

Sarah Bayer found out she is a Cambridge, Massachusetts neighbor of Matthew’s as she delved into a fascinating exchange on her 25 years of work within the family shelter system, what she describes as our nations’ own “internal refugees”, and the unique financial constraints placed on a city like Boston. How does Matthew see the role that the shelter system plays in the eviction crisis?

goo.gl/pnx51M

Tiani Coleman, president of New Hampshire Independent Voters talked about her days of working in the court system in Salt Lake City,

“I did pro-bono work for my church community and was able to see first hand the impact of lack of representation for families that were facing eviction. I had to handle some evictions, and even had opposing council get rather annoyed with me and tell me I was unnecessarily complicating things… What do you think is the biggest impediment to getting the eviction crisis and the representation issue in housing court addressed?”

Matthew began his answer by acknowledging the important kind of community investment Tiani spoke of, “Thank you so much for your work, you were slugging it out in housing court… When folks have a lawyer by their side their chances of keeping their home go up dramatically irrespective of the case.” Hear their interaction below:

goo.gl/94pcqh

Attorney and Independent activist Harry Kresky shared his observations since moving to New York city to attend Columbia in 1962. Throughout his time here and through his work on the NYCHA housing crisis he’s seen that increasingly “so much of the face of New York is now for the wealthy people…. A lot of the focus is on so called ‘affordable housing’ which deals with middle class people and union members and people that have political clout,” but troubling to Harry was the absence of a coming together of “the affordable housing people,” and “the people living in intractable poverty and fighting to save public housing.” Matthew And Harry explore why that might be:

goo.gl/t4ORyM

 As we looked forward, Arizona P4P member Al Bell asked Matthew whether he had heard of any members of congress who truly understand this issue of eviction and could potentially become an advocate. Matthew shared some encouraging updates with news of happenings on ‘The Hill’ since the publication of Evicted.  Give a listen:

goo.gl/5Yc7FS

Michelle McCleary helped take our perspective from the macro to the micro-level. “If I knew someone was hungry, I’d buy them a sandwich. If they were cold, I’d give them a coat” she shares, “What is our personal responsibility to our fellow man?!’ “I personally think this is where the conversation has got to go if we are going to make any lasting change…” Matthew replied. “By 2025 about 1.6 billion people will live in substandard housing or unaffordable housing… climate change and housing are the biggest issues facing humanity.”

You can hear Matthew and Michelle’s conversation below.

goo.gl/r3D9M5

You can listen to the full conversation with Matthew Desmond below, ENJOY.

goo.gl/xME8VI

***

NEWS FLASH

Next Politics for the People Selection:

Terrible Virtue

book-image

by Ellen Feldman

Our conference call with the author

will be on January 22nd, 2017 at 7 pm EST

 

 

 

 

Readers’ Forum: Jeff Aron and Michelle McCleary

Jeff Aron

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Jeff Aron, the Director of External Affairs at Fountain House with Dr. Shekhar Saxena and Dr. Tarun Dua, the heads of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Evicted is an important book that moved me deeply. I have known and worked with people like those about whom Matthew Desmond writes for much of my life. He has shared (as they have shared with him) struggles, hard work, failures, pain and so much more. Through a variety of research efforts, both ethnographic and with the very detailed MARS, he powerfully demonstrates the economic and political forces that are arrayed against them and the rot and responsibility that we all share.

This book is both part of and brilliantly carries on a tradition of writers and activists including Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Lewis Hine, Michael Harrington and Upton Sinclair who exposed injustice and illuminated the lives of poor and homeless people. As I read Evicted, I found myself thinking about: 1) scenes from Les Miserables (in which Jean Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread); and, 2) the conditions that led to the making of the French revolution (and others).

I also thought about my early adulthood, when I was an anthropologist searching for alternatives to the racism and poverty which I witnessed in America – and my decision to leave academia to become a community organizer and activist.  I remembered how inspired I was when I discovered a movement that brought together people from different class, race and educational backgrounds in a shared commitment to engage poverty and to build new and independent organizations that were unconstrained by traditional and, to my mind, failed efforts.  We came from communities that didn’t ordinarily talk or work together,  and whose respective communities not only wondered what we were doing but opposed us being in each other’s neigborhoods and lives.

This was seen as illegitimate and we came to be seen as illegitimate. For example, we organized a union of welfare recipients, which was led by welfare recipients and organized with support from middle class women.  Leadership included a woman who did not know how to read, a mother of 14 children, and a former public school teacher. People of color and whites worked together to organize demonstrations, picket welfare centers, and mobilize welfare recipients in alliance with people from diverse communities and histories.  We organized for power rather than merely for benefits; we organized new political alliances independent of the established parties. Although we explored tenant and other forms of constituency organizing, we also had intense conversations about what kinds of organizations needed to be built. For nearly 40 years we have continued having these conversations and experimenting with new forms of organizing.

In particular, it continues with Lenora Fulani and the residents in NYCHA Housing; in the Development School for Youth, All Stars Talent Show Network and UX where young people and adults talk openly about being poor, the humiliation they feel and becoming powerful.

I strongly support Desmond’s prescription for a universal housing voucher and am very interested in his thoughts about the political and cultural transformations we might need in this country to have it become national policy. For example:

  • The relationship between what we need to do at the grass roots to create the conditions for legislation or executive action from the top down?
  • What kind of national conversation would we need to have in this country?
  • What changes in our political processes, e.g. can he envision the Democratic and Republican Parties coming to an agreement to implement this?

It seems unlikely to me that the voucher policy, as well as other progressive responses to poverty and homelessness, can be achieved without an opening of the electoral process to all those who, for a variety of reasons, have rejected the two party control of political decision making.

One of the reasons that I appreciate the Politics for the People Book Club so much is that it is both a part of and an exemplar of the kind of political and cultural activity that we need to engage in.

I deeply appreciate and respect the work that Matthew Desmond is doing as a writer, researcher, a leader in academia and as an activist who is in the struggle to reshape policy.

Jeff Aron has been active in independent political efforts in New York City and nationally since the late ’70’s. He is a passionate supporter of IndependentVoting.org.

***

Michelle McCleary

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I recently traveled to New Orleans, LA to attend a conference.  As the airport shuttle traveled through the streets, it was clear that New Orleans had yet to fully recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  The Sheraton, Marriot and other beautiful hotels stood proudly in the midst of grimy, run down streets and impoverished people. I was saddened, but unfortunately not surprised by what I saw.  I wondered to myself for the ten thousandth time, WHY, gotdammit!  Why do we as a country allow this deep poverty and abandonment to continue?  When will we take our country back and demand fairness and equality for all?  I, of course, already know the answer:  People are afraid.  History has shown us that when we take a stand, more often than not we lose everything: our livelihood, our family and sometimes even our lives.    The shame that poor people are made to feel is even more powerful than the aforementioned fear.  Of course, it’s your fault that you don’t have enough to eat.  Of course it’s your fault that you don’t have a stable place to live. Why else would you not have what you need?   America is a meritocracy.  We reward hard work! No free rides here! Blah, blah, blah.

I really appreciated Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City.  The author provides an emotional and riveting look into the chaotic lives of people whose unstable and often non-existent housing leaves them living on the edge.  As I read ‘Evicted’, I couldn’t help but think of how much human capital is wasted in America.  The amount of talent that is never developed or even seen because segments of our population are considered disposable is staggering.  In 2007, I began teaching at a not-for profit in Harlem.  My job was to help ‘vulnerable youth’ (court involved, foster care and young adults living in homeless shelters) improve their reading, writing and math.  Ninety-five percent of the participants had never met their parents. Ever.  These young adults – ages 16-23 – felt the pain of their abandonment deeply.   Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could help these young people because quite frankly, they could be mean and vicious.  One young man told me “bitch, I’ll get you fired”!! I knew that if I was going to be successful at his job I would have to bring out my ‘take no crap persona.’  I was also going to have to be as giving as possible because I simply refused to be yet another person who failed these young adults.  After a series of near show downs in the classroom (LOL!) I began to earn the program participants’ respect.  I began to introduce them to the power of performance i.e. pretend to be who you are not. I urged these young adults to read like they were me – a nerd who preferred a good book over a new pair of shoes! During early morning skits that we wrote together I watched as some of the young men (some of them I KNOW were in gangs) pretend to be ballerinas.  What a hoot!! As we went through this process together, they began to change and to let me and the other teachers see more of who they were:  talented writers and singers; great at math and science; and deeply caring toward some of their mentally challenged classmates.  I saw the reading scores of some of the program participants soar: 4th grade reading levels to 12th grade in SIX months!!!

I worked with this population – vulnerable youth – for seven years.  It was one of the hardest jobs I have ever held.  The most heart breaking aspect of this experience was that no matter how talented these young adults were, the chaos of their lives – shuttled from shelter to shelter or foster care parent – pretty much guaranteed that they would never get a chance to be fully seen or heard in our society.

I look forward to the day when we as Americans decide that our desire for justice and decency far outweighs our fears or our judgements.

Michelle McCleary is a long-time independent and the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

***

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Ego Tripping, by Nikki Giovanni

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Michelle McCleary brings us today’s poem.  Michelle is a long time activist in the independent movement and President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

Here is what Michelle writes about “Ego Tripping”:

Ego Tripping by Nikki Giovanni is one of my favorite poems.  The poem reminds me of the power and beauty of women: not only do we figure out how to make a way out of no way on a daily basis, but we carry and give birth to other human beings!!  I just wish that women could remember this as they/we doubt ourselves, stay silent or act dumb in the presence of men, and compete with each other for crumbs.  We deserve the whole cake!!”

 Ego Tripping by Nikki Giovanni

 

I was born in the Congo

I walked to the fertile crescent and built the sphinx

I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every one hundred years falls

Into the center giving divine perfect light

I AM BAD

I sat on the throne drinking nectar with Allah

I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe to cool my thirst

My oldest daughter is Nefertiti the tears from my birth pains created the Nile

I am a beautiful woman

 

I gazed on the forest and burned out the Sahara desert

With a packet of goat’s meat and a change of clothes

I crossed it in two hours

I am a gazelle so swift, so swift you can’t catch me

 

For a birthday present when he was three

I gave my son Hannibal an elephant

He gave me Rome for mother’s day

My strength flows ever on

 

My son Noah built new/ark and

I stood proudly at the helm

As we sailed on a soft summer day

I turned myself into myself and was Jesus

 

Men intone my loving name

All praises, all praises

I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard

My bowels deliver uranium

The filings from my fingernails are semi-precious jewels

On a trip north

I caught a cold and blew my nose giving oil to the Arab world

I am so hip even my errors are correct

I sailed west to reach east and had to round off the earth as I went

The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal

I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean … I … can fly

Like a bird in the sky

 

Our celebration of National Poetry month continues throughout April with poems chosen or written by P4P members.  

Reader’s Forum

By Michelle McCleary

Lisa McGirr’s ‘The War on Alcohol’ is the kind of book that stays with its reader.  I think this is especially true for a sensitive, long-time political and community activist like me who has spent decades anxiously hoping for and working toward the time when our world, simultaneously beautiful and cruel, will change.

Although I often experience the writings of historians as entirely too preachy and wordy, I found myself wanting to read every word of Ms. McGirr’s book. In the book’s chapter ‘Selective Enforcement’ I was impressed by the author’s courage in exploring the un-equal treatment of wealthy (mostly white) Americans vs. poor white and poor black people.  Although black people in America have a particular and brutal history, I have never believed that the color of one’s skin is the only indicator of one’s suffering.  No heat and no food in the refrigerator equals cold, sleepless nights and empty stomachs whether the person has blue eyes and blond hair or dark hair and brown or black skin.  Poverty and race in America far too often equals a life of everyday experiences that are harsh and unfair.  To add insult to injury, the message is always clear that these experiences should be shouldered alone.   If I had a dollar for the number of times that my middle-class, white peers have told me that they don’t want to hear about my everyday experiences, or insinuated that I was to blame for those experiences, I would be a millionaire.

Lisa McGirr did a wonderful job of opening my eyes to the short but deeply impactful Prohibition Era in America. Prior to reading “The War on Alcohol” my knowledge of this piece of American history was nearly non-existent.  I vaguely remember a scene or two in movies where smiling, imperially slim, white men and women danced their hearts out at glamorous parties during the fun, ‘Roaring Twenties.’  Meanwhile, in back alleys ‘shady’ characters exchanged money for boxes of liquor. I think Brad Pitt had blown dried, blond hair in one of these scenes!   In her chapter “Selective Enforcement” the ‘movie’ scenes that the author created were far from glamorous.  In painstaking detail, Ms. McGirr told the history of the enforcement of Prohibition.  I found myself needing to take breaks from reading the vicious details of the uneven ways that Prohibition was enforced:  white, wealthy and able to pay off enforcement agents equaled little to no penalty; poor white, black, female or Mexican equaled fines, imprisonment and sometime death for possessing even the tiniest quantities of liquor.

Although I wasn’t surprised, I was struck by how history repeats itself over and over again.  I found myself cringing when I read about Bradley Bowling, a poor, white, unarmed man in an Appalachian town, who was shot and killed by a Federal agent over a half gallon of whiskey, because he ‘put his hand in his pocket.’ While I read this, the faces of unarmed black men and women who have been shot by the police moved through my mind.  Ms. McGirr posits that whites’ experience of unfair and unlawful over-reaches by police during the prohibition era helps to explain why there was strong and popular push back against Prohibition.    As per Ms. McGirr, black people had YEARS of experience of abuse and coercion by police and other agents but this treatment was largely ignored as were the public lynchings of black men and women.

The white pushback against the abuses of prohibition agents reminds me of America 2016.  News channels are filled with pundits nearly scratching their heads as they try to explain the tidal wave of white, working class voters who are clearly angry and fed up with the corrupt political system and its impact on their pursuit of the American Dream. Real talk, the American Dream died a long time ago.  Black people have been aware of this fact due to double digit unemployment, brutal and dismissive treatment by the police and shabby treatment by healthcare professionals.  I have no doubt in my mind that poor white people have had and continue to have similar experiences, but sadly seem to be holding out hope that their white skin will come through for them.  They could learn a lot from Lisa McGirr.

 

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Michelle McCleary is a long-time independent political activist and the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

Reminder: P4P Conference Call

with Lisa McGirr

Sunday, April 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call in number (641) 715-3605

Access code 767775#

 

Reflections on Reflections on The Notion Of Family

 

By Omar H. Ali, Ph.D.

I first saw images of Latoya Ruby Frazier’s riveting book of photographs, The Notion Of Family, in an NPR article about six months ago entitled “A Rust Belt Story Retold…” I wasn’t sure what to make of the images, as they felt a little distant at the time, despite my being familiar–as a historian of black labor and politics–with some of the history of those communities living “in the shadow” of Carnegie steel mills.

And then, this week, after receiving and reading through Latoya’s book, I read the reviews and commentaries by Michelle McCleary and Dr. Jessie Fields, among others, on P4P.

I’m not sure which impacted me more–the book or the commentaries. This is not to detract from Latoya’s truly extraordinary book (few artists capture, which such honest detail, poor people’s lives by poor and working people themselves–making their stories their own). But reading through the snippets of Michelle and Jessie’s lives as part of their reflections made the images in the book feel closer.

You see, I know Michelle and Jessie. They are two of my long-time political colleagues–extraordinary women–who have spent many years building an independent political movement in the United States to empower ordinary people, poor people, the outsiders, the forgotten, the survivors. I don’t know Latoya. But Michelle and Jessie are helping me to better understand her work.

While each of their experiences are different from the other’s, there are similarities in their experiences and the roles that women played in each of their lives–their mom’s, grandmothers, aunts, or great aunts–in helping each of them thrive.

Michelle writes, “I had come to realize that the feelings of pain and shame that I and millions of people experienced were manufactured and NOT in our heads nor were our fault.  Those manufactured feelings were designed to keep us in our place.”

I then see one of Latoya’s photographs …

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier Pg 131, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007

And I hear (read) Jessie’s words “Ordinary people, though poor and abused are leading and fighting.” Part of that leading is giving expression to the plight of the voiceless, nameless, and unseen–here voiced, named, and seen through new performances.

Thank you, LaToya, for your book of photographs; thank you Michelle and Jessie, for your beautiful, painful, and moving words; thank you, Cathy, for giving us P4P and a space to reflect and support those who “stand in the rubble and fight,” as Jessie poetically writes, as Michelle explains, and as Latoya photographs.

Omar H. Ali, Ph.D., selected as the 2016 Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year in North Carolina, is a historian and community organizer who teaches black labor and political history at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. E-mail: ohali@uncg.edu 
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Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 C ALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Michelle McCleary

For our exploration of The Notion of Family, several Politics for the People members have chosen a photo from the book to respond to with thoughts, words, a photo or a poem. Today our second installment is from Michelle McCleary.

Gallery Image

The Notion Of Family, LaToya Ruby Frazier, pg 21: Home on Braddock Avenue, 2007

I felt a familiar wave of depression descend upon my body like warm honey moving through my veins as I perused Latoya Ruby Frazier’s book The Notion of Family.  The somber faces, bodies mangled from neglect and destitute living conditions reminded me so much of my life growing up in Harlem.  The picture in Latoya’s book on page 21 brought back the memories of the destruction of nearly every poor, black and brown community in America.

I remember the early morning when my family had to climb down the fire escape because my building was on fire. I was eight years old.  I can still remember my mother’s sharp shove and anxious command to ‘get up.’  Smoke was rapidly filling up our apartment as firemen came through the door and helped usher my family down the fire escape stairs.  I honestly don’t remember where my family and I stayed until day light but I do remember that I went to school that day.  I remember that I was silent and didn’t tell a teacher nor any of my wealthy classmates what I had experienced that morning.  I was a gifted scholarship student at a private school on the upper east side of Manhattan.  Even at the tender age of eight years old I had already begun to experience the vicious rejection of being poor, black and female in America. I had also begun to learn an ugly truth: You don’t talk about your suffering because no one wants to hear about it and no one really cares.

I moved back to Harlem 18 years ago.  Harlem was still in its pre-gentrification days.  As I walked the streets, tears filled my eyes.  Nearly every building on every block had been deserted, burned down and neglected for decades. I could literally still smell the smoke.   I was no longer a naïve little girl trying to figure out why some people seemed to have everything while others had nothing.   I had spent years reading and learning the lessons of writers who eloquently wrote about the nightmare of the American dream.  I had also spent decades involved in political activism both on the college campus and in poor and wealthy communities around the country.  I had come to realize that the feelings of pain and shame that I and millions of people experienced were manufactured and NOT in our heads nor were our fault.  Those manufactured feelings were designed to keep us in our place.

I recently participated in a march through Harlem with dozens of caring people from all around New York City.  We were marching to protest the New York City Housing Authority’s plan to basically get rid of its poor residents.  I cried tears of anger and pain as we marched and raised our voices in protest.  As we marched and chanted the people who lined the sidewalks chanted with us.  I had the spirit of my mother, a woman who was raised as a sharecropper and never learned to read and write, and millions of women like her with me.  I had the spirit of my father, a black man raised in the midst of vicious southern racism who came to New York alone at the age of sixteen in 1945, like so many other black and poor men, to try to make a life in a world that did not want him.  In the midst of my tears I remembered that ordinary people in America and around the globe had changed the world in big and small ways.  We were marching and chanting in solidarity with the children of Birmingham, Alabama, some as young as five years old, who had faced the viciousness of jails, dogs and fire hoses to say NO MORE!!

One day WE. WILL. WIN.

~Michelle McCleary

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Michelle McCleary is an independent leader with the NYC Independence Clubs and Independent Voting. She is the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

 

 

 

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

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