Reader’s Forum–Harriet Hoffman

TERRIBLE VIRTUE

A Novel by Ellen Feldman

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Harriet Hoffman at an informational picket protesting the privatization and undermining of public housing in NYC.

Margaret Sanger was not just a fighter for access to birth control and the founder of Planned Parenthood.  She was a political maverick who defied all kinds of cultural norms at great personal cost and was attacked as much for her personal lifestyle decisions as for the courageous campaign she led to provide birth control information for poor women.  As a political activist and mother of two children, I deeply felt the emotional pain and the social cost of her refusal to abide by the rules of the time, especially her decision to reject the expectations of traditional motherhood.

Actually universal access to birth control information took a very long time to be accepted in the U.S.  Before the sexual revolution in the mid-1960s there was little talk about birth control.  Those of us who were adolescents in the late fifties and early sixties can certainly remember what that was like.  “Nice” girls didn’t have sex and certainly didn’t tell anyone if they did; abortions were illegal until 1973 when Roe vs. Wade was decided; and you usually had to either get married or put your child up for adoption if you got pregnant.  In fact sex education in schools was practically nonexistent until about 20 years ago.

Sadly, this is a very timely book.  It is one hundred years since Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, and Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY, and today Planned Parenthood is under serious attack. Sanger chose Brownsville for her clinic because it was home to poor women whose lives and health were being negatively impacted by their lack of knowledge and access to birth control. While the attacks on Planned Parenthood today are focused on abortion, most people are unaware that Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of low cost health care and birth control in the U.S.  An estimated one in five women in the U.S. today has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life.  Without Planned Parenthood it is young and low income women and men who will likely be the ones to lose needed health services.

Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits.  She is the coordinator of the popular monthly independent volunteer gathering, Talkin’ Independence, a program of IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

 

 

Readers’ Forum–Steve Richardson & Lou Hinman

STEVE RICHARDSON

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I finished the book last night.  Honestly, it was not my type of book.  I rarely read novels and found the quasi-biography and this author’s style awkward.  I could not even remember who Sanger was, so I did learn some ugly truths about the history of contraception.  I could have learned more from a brief article, but this book was written for people who already knew her public story.  I may be reading too much into the story but should get an interesting reaction from Ms. Feldman, either way.

Terrible Virtue is an intriguing title that isn’t really explained in the quote of Margaret Sanger or by the author.  Most readers, myself included, are probably grateful for the deeds that ultimately led to reproductive freedom for women in the U.S. and wondered what was terrible about them.  The answer comes in the form of letters/testimonials by Sanger’s family and friends.  They paid the price by loving someone who could not love them the way they wanted and probably deserved to be loved.  Over and over, Margaret made the choices that contraception would make possible for all women.  It did not paint a pretty picture; it made her appear selfish.  But it did keep her from falling into the traps that had kept virtually all women in misery until she made rebellion her singular goal.

Sanger indulged what ambitious men learned long ago – that great achievements require indifference to expectations, especially those of loved ones.  History is not made by people who cling to comfort and sentiment.  Anyone moved by friends’ ordinary concerns cannot hope to withstand extraordinary challenges from enemies.  This does not mean there are no feelings; it means there are many choices to be made and those choices have consequences.  Margaret Sanger was willing to endure the judgment and disappointment of those she loved to pursue a worthy objective.  Feldman’s book reminds us that heroes are not always seen that way by those who were sacrificed on their journey.        

 

Steve Richardson is a founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association and serves on IndependentVoting.org’s national Election Reform Committee.

***

LOU HINMAN

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Terrible Virtue, by Ellen Feldman, is the story of Margaret Sanger, and her pivotal role in the long struggle to make birth control accessible and legal in the United States.

I remember that Lisa McGirr’s book The War on Alcohol (a Politics for the People selection two years ago) exposed how Prohibition was aimed at denying alcohol consumption to poor people, and the rapid influx of working class “foreigners” into American cities.  At the same time, the discriminatory enforcement of the Volstead Act allowed the well-to-do to go on consuming alcohol.  McGirr showed how the 18th Amendment was only possible because the development of democracy was subverted and held back at a time of rapid social change and economic growth, and how it’s overthrow was made possible by the rapid enfranchisement of new working-class voters during the 1920’s and the building of a new electoral coalition.

The struggle for reproductive rights (although not over even now) overlapped the struggle against Prohibition, and involved the same underlying issue.  The rich and the well-to-do had access to birth control, but poor people did not.  Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in American in 1916.  In 1921 (the year after the Prohibition became law) she founded the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

One of the virtues of Feldman’s book is its account of the appalling oppression of poor and working class women without access to birth control.  I have to confess that as a political activist who came of age at about the time that Margaret Sander passed away in 1966, I never thought much about this.

Another important virtue is Feldman’s moving account of Margaret Sanger’s development as a rebel.  Her rebellion was rooted, not in ideology, but in her hatred of oppression, and her fellowship with other working-class women – her sisters.  As she developed as an agitator and organizer, and as support for her work grew, she came to know many wealthy and influential people.  But she never let herself be deflected from her goal, and used her privileged social location to broaden the base of support for her cause.

Another virtue of Ms. Feldman’s book is that she depicts the personal conflicts and sacrifices Margaret Sanger endured in becoming a leader.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Natesha Oliver and Richard Ronner

NATESHA OLIVER

Natesha Oliver and June Hirsh (R)

Independent Voting activists Natesha Oliver and June Hirsh (r) at the National Conference of Independents, March 2015

One of the things that weighs heavily on Me about the struggle that Margaret Sanger endured to bring information to Women about and for Women is the way Men took such an offense to Women making decisions about their own bodies. If Men didn’t approve they could force conformity because they are essentially the “powers that be” and they enforced “laws” with no regard or consideration to the health, mental or otherwise, of Women. Yet these laws always negatively affect impoverished communities the most and are almost always never enforced on those with money.

It is mind-blowing how something as simple as WANTED birth control could create so much havoc. I personally do not know what it’s like to live in a time where Women had very little control over themselves and although Women still face gender challenges today, it’s nothing like it was. Margaret Sanger sacrificed a lot and admittedly there were times when Her sexual choices seemed out of character and shocking yet not really because She totally believed in freedom of choice as a Woman. She took up a cause that without a doubt is one of the most vital and important choices of being a Woman, the choice of procreation.

The way Ellen Feldman captured Her life coupled with the letters from others in Margaret’s life gave a broader view of Margaret as a Woman and a activist. Ellen Feldman gave a raw version of a real pioneer and that enhances the appreciation that I have for Margaret Sanger’s actions because although I came around many years later if Margaret had not picked up the cause I probably would not have had access to birth control measures because from the reading very few people cared about solving a problem versus medicating consequences.

Natesha Oliver is the founder of MIST, Missouri Independents Stand Together. She lives in Kansas City.

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RICHARD RONNER

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Medical Alert: Do not read this book if you have high blood pressure (or at least make sure you’re taking your BP medication as prescribed)! This book will make your blood boil, along with firing up your passion. The backwardness that Margaret Sanger encounters on every step of her journey – the mysogeny woven into the fabric of culture and life, the denial of women as full human beings – I’m left speechless. Women’s true and only function (maybe besides the sexual gratification of men) is to reproduce the human race. And to know and stay in their place. Sanger’s work on educating women and men about the possibility and methods of birth control was (a) the devil’s work; (b) illegal; (c) seditious and anti-American; and (d) against nature.

And Sanger, as revealed in this brilliant historical novel, is not only revolutionary and visionary, she is a passionate, flawed and sexual human being. It’s really thrilling to read of a time when, despite the deeply conservative and essentially religious superstructure of our society, the very activity of building and organizing progressive organizations, such as the Socialist Party, allowed people to live radical and progressive lives. Sanger and her contemporaries fought sexist double standards and challenged conservative and religiously-infused institutions such as marriage, fidelity, and women’s (and men’s) roles. It was, by turns, heady and punishing. It’s also a bit shocking to realize that for as long as we have been fighting these fights – and with all the cultural evolution, revolution and development that has taken place – we are still, a century later, fighting some of these same bugaboos! This is a book you cannot put down!

Richard Ronner is a nurse practitioner and a long time independent activist.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Jeff Aron

 

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Jeff Aron with his mother Sylvia (pictured here, at age 95), a Polish Jewish immigrant raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn

After reading the wonderful novel, Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman, I wanted to comment on the controversy regarding Margaret Sanger and the accusations of racism which have been made against her.

I grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn on Amboy Street near Pitkin Avenue, just a few doors down from the original site of Margaret Sanger’s first birth control clinic (established in 1916). When I lived on Amboy Street (in the 1950’s and 60’s), there was no plaque or marker for that clinic (I do not know if there is one now). In 1916, Brownsville was home to poor Eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants (my grandparents were typical of the immigrants from Poland who lived in Brownsville and my family continued to live there as it was transitioning to becoming a poor neighborhood of African Americans and Latinos). While I did not know about this clinic, I knew that Margaret Sanger, a socialist, like my parents, was committed to giving poor and working class women the right to determine if and when to have children. And that her commitment was complete and heroic.

So it was no surprise that she found common cause with W.E.B. DuBois and African American socialists fighting for the rights of women of color. In 1930, with their support and that of African American doctors, nurses, social workers and ministers she established the first birth control clinic in Harlem. More than three decades later, in 1966, Martin Luther King was the recipient of the first annual Margaret Sanger Award (shortly before she died). Statements by both Dr. King and Coretta Scott King at the award ceremony paid tribute to Margaret Sanger and her contribution to family planning and to “the human race”.

However, it was a surprise to learn that there are critics of Sanger’s who have likened her efforts on behalf of poor and working class women and in particular, African American women, to a Black holocaust. Most of the comments from these quarters come from the political or religious right and have taken Sanger’s statements out of context as part of an effort to discredit planned parenthood,  to shame Black women for exercising their right to choose and to separate out the struggles of women, people of color and poor people – an effort which is in direct opposition to Dr. King and the movement he led.

One criticism of Sanger (from both the Left and the Right) is that she spoke with women who were members of the Ku Klux Klan (keep in mind that five presidents of the United States were members of the Klan at one time in their lives). And that this proves that she was a racist. However, as an activist and a political organizer, it is an inspiration to me that she was willing to speak to any and everyone on behalf of birth control and women’s rights. This criticism also ignores the fact that African American women, since the earliest part of the 20th century, have been very active participants in the reproductive rights movement and in the struggle for safe, affordable and reliable family planning services (something that is seldom highlighted).

For many progressives, there is on-going concern about the international family planning movement (funded by organizations such as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations). There are anti-imperialist critiques of the excesses of population control. And there are arguments from the perspective of cultural relativism that point to family planning as a “western” practice that is insensitive to non-western societies.

Thus, in a sense, Left and Right critiques serve to impede women’s access to birth control.

I think it is important to acknowledge the highly charged emotional, political, and  economic issues in these debates and in the diverse interests of classes, communities and countries. It is in this context, that we should honor Margaret Sanger’s commitment to providing all women with the educational, medical, and other resources they need to actively and forcefully take control of their lives.

Jeff Aron is the son of Sylvia Aron who, like Margaret Sanger, was a loving, passionate and “difficult” woman, and for more than 8 decades lived and fought on the front lines for social, racial and economic justice and was an inspiration to many of us in the independent political movement.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Charles Isildur writes on EVICTED

The piece below was sent to us by Charles Isildur from Staten Island.  Charles is an independent and an activist with the New York City Independence Clubs.  His post shares his experience nearly being evicted from NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) housing.  He began his piece before our conversation with Matthew Desmond, author of EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City and finished it this week. I am glad to be able to share it with you today.

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I looked forward to listening to this discussion of Author Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted.”  Even though—I have never been technically homeless; I had a few close calls in my life in which I was almost evicted from NYCHA for falling behind on my rent.  The most recent circumstance—was during the last three months of 2013, because of circumstances beyond my control.  I was laid off from my State job at the New York State Department of Correctional Services (renamed Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in 2012).

I had never read the author’s book of “Evicted”, and I can never fully relate to a person, who has experienced it firsthand.  However—I can tell you from my own personal experience that being on the verge of eviction, causes high degrees of stress and a range of emotions stemming from anger to depression.  I can relate more to the political side of the “homeless crisis”, because, I have wrestled with the bureaucracy of the State and the City firsthand, when it comes to accessing their funded services—the programs that are supposed to be designed to help a person to survive, and stay afloat.

Unknowingly to an individual, who becomes unemployed; there is a set of “barriers” to overcome—just to access the immediate funds of the “unemployment insurance.”  That federal program that our taxes support, and is supposed to be available from the time the claim for unemployment is filed, and approved.  This is the common belief of those, who lose their job.

However—it had taken four weeks before I saw my first check of $401.00 in 2013, from the time I was approved for the funds.  The first two weeks was spent waiting to receive notification that I was approved for the “unemployment funds” in the mail.  Then I had to call a toll-free number, and deal with the prompts of an automated system to find out when I am receive my first unemployment benefits by a specific date.  This was when the four-week grace period begins, after that confirmation by the calling of that number.  I am not sure if I had to enter a pin code.  Another thing that the unemployed individual does not know at the time is that this $401.00 is taxable like a regular income check, which means that the unemployed individual actually receives less money after the standard deductions. I do not remember what that amount was back then; but to get that full $401.00 dollars back in the following weekly checks, I had to fill out an exemption form for the withholding of my income tax in my future checks.  I had done this part online, once I registered on the New York State Department of Labor website.  Our newly elected governor, Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, had initiated sweeping changes during his first year in office.  He wanted everything automated as quickly as possible.

Another thing that a person, who is unemployed, has to use the following form called, the Work Search Record Form (WS5).  I had downloaded this form onto my computer, and I had to use this form to make a record of my job search for the first 20 week minimal requirement to collecting the weekly, unemployment check.  This was a mandatory requirement by the State.  This information can be requested at any given time by the Department of Labor as proof of the individual’s attempts to find employment.  I never received the minimal 20 weeks of unemployment, because of the Federal Government Shutdown from October 1 through 16, 2013.  The Unemployment Insurances benefits were temporarily disrupted, and this had taken effect during the last week of December of 2013, because Congress was late in replenishing the funds.  My last unemployment check was issued through direct deposit on that week.  I was heading into the New Year of 2014, owning a month, and-a-half of rent.  After January 1st, 2015, I had received an eviction notice later that month.  I was officially served.  I was angry, because of a situation that was no fault of mine.  This is part of the new realities that the unemployed individual is subjected to, when unemployed for the first time.

I see this now as part of the politics on a basic level—part of a greater complex system that was, and still is—levels beyond my understanding.  The rules of collecting unemployment have changed since the latter part of 2013, with more restrictions enacted through Congress, regardless of Party affiliation.  I had gradually learned that these congressional committees draft these policies in the name of dealing with the national debt, and our congressional leaders argue these agendas through their speeches from their constituents (mostly lobbyists) to justify why a program should be cut, or eliminated in the justification of its failure.  The biggest arguments are the claims of fraud, abuse, or it takes away an individual’s incentive to find work, when dealing with the nation’s unemployment issues.  Republicans would argue the new restrictions to free up money for other uses in the name of budget reduction.  The Democrats would argue for the program’s increase, or to not be touched.  The bill to fund the unemployment insurance has other attachments (bills) hooked onto it, because these attachments would not pass a majority vote as a stand-alone bill, or be considered on the floor for a vote.  So—therefore these “other bills” are attached to a major funding bill like the Unemployment Insurance.  This bill will be stalled in Congress, due to opposing partisan views, which can become extreme at times, during our highly dysfunctional “two-party” system.  Then there is political partisan maneuvering, and both Party’s will deploy the Mainstream Media to shame the other in the Public.  This kind of process continues for days, and weeks at a time.  There are lengthy speeches in return, while Congress is in session.  I would watch this kind of political bickering/maneuvering unfold, while watching this coverage on C-SPAN, on cable television.  I would watch as much I as could stand, before I change the channel.  However—the end result is some kind of bi-partisan agreement in the dysfunction that is Congress.  A last minute passage of an Unemployment Bill, during the last hour.  However—such a bill will not reach the president’s desk, until days later to be signed into Law.  The Mainstream Media will report that the bill was passed, but not the mechanics behind that bill, and the attachments that go with it.   They will not speak of what was in the Unemployment Bill, which is funding other agendas.  These agendas have nothing to do with the basic human need to survive, and provide for oneself, and their family.  This is an example of the politics behind what is a necessity for the average person.

A person depending on the unemployment insurance to survive, and get by, can no longer buy what food they can, or pay some kind of bill, like a much needed utility, or a rent payment to keep from being served an eviction notice, when this Federal Program is disrupted for any reason.

Most people in my experience do not understand, or care about the politics behind why that “check” was not there—when it was supposed to be.  The only answer they want to know is how do they get food, pay their rent, and keep a roof over their head.  When there are children involved—the anger and desperation is much greater.

The Poor are used as a political leverage to achieve greater agendas which involve millions of dollars that do not address the quality of life of the average person trying live, whether they are either part of the middle-class, or the “low income” brackets according to statistics.  Where did this “lower-middle class” terminology come from?  What is an “upper-middle class?”  When did this social class split occur in the middle-class definition, to avoid being labeled “poor?”  How did the definition of $50.000 become the standard of what is defined as “low income?” (Learned the $50.000 part from Lenora Fulani.)

A person trying to survive—does not care about the political complexities, and the decisions made that effect how they would receive that unemployment check on the local level, in their home States.  The confusion of the bureaucracy is mainly dismissed as nonsense (BS acronym), and that person will go back home to their friends, and family to relate their own tale of how the City or the State (sometimes both), screwed them over in how they (the agency office) took their money (canceled benefits), did not pay them their money (delayed funds from Congress), or say that they no longer qualify for that unemployment check (change in eligibility requirements from Congress).  Confusion and anger will first grip that individual.  Then the state of depression arrives later.  The state of desperation is the last step in the need to survive in which all moral inhibitions in Society disappear from that person’s mind, when desperation sets in.  Then they are willing to “do what they need to survive.”

Most people, who I have encountered, are politically ignorant of the politics behind the funding of these anti-poverty programs by the government, and the struggle to understand the complicated language when applying for these programs, and so on.  There are social workers, who lack the patience to explain the complicated manner of the forms, one must fill out.  Some of the questions are vague, and some are intrusive.  Even I have struggled with some of the wording of such documents.  The situation is complicated further when a person has to deal with the sometimes negative attitudes of these State workers, who are hired to run these agencies.  This is the bureaucracy at work, on the ground level.  The average person does not have that lawyer-like level of intelligence, or that apprehension.  Yet—when a mistake is made—it is made the fault of the person filling out the paperwork, because of that misunderstanding of what it was they was support to write in the space after the question on a given form.  Explaining the meaning of the languages of these forms to another individual in a manner that they can understand, can be stressful within its self.

When such anti-poverty programs are temporarily disrupted, or cut?  This situation triggers the first step towards being “evicted” on the State level.  The bills do not stop coming in, and the landlord is not trying to hear why a person cannot pay.  My last unemployment check was the last week of December of 2013, because the Republicans in the Congress did not fund the program, before it shutdown, due to their obstructionism against the Democratic president, Barack Obama.  The Management in NYCHA is not trying to hear all that, when I was severed a letter of eviction in January of 2014 for being a month behind on my rent.  The eviction notice has stated that I owed two months back rent, which I knew was lie.  This happened days after I had received a notification of my disability retirement approval from the State of New York.  I had to challenge my eviction of course, and get a date from the Richmond County Civil Court.  I disputed the amount in front of the county clerk, and I eagerly accepted my assigned court date, and I was dismissed without as much as a “have a good day” comment or something from the clerk, as an act of courteousness.

My court date was approximately two months from the time I was served my eviction notice.  This was ample time for me to pay the remainder of my back rent, before I had to appear in court since, I was now receiving disability retirement pension monthly.

On the day of my court appearance, I had felt an anxiety build up within me, because I was representing myself.  I had no attorney, because I cannot afford one.  Even though all my rent payments were current, I still had to appear in the courthouse.  I had to go to that courtroom where the judge would be presiding over my case.  I turned that anxiety to anger, because if I had to fall—I was going to go down fighting against people, who were knowledgeable of the Law, and I was not.  My case was not dismissed, and Housing can still seek a tenant’s eviction, because the terms were violated.  Did not matter that my circumstances were beyond my control; the bottom line was my failure to my rent in a timely fashion.  The contractual agreement was broken.

The day I had to appear in court, while I sat in the waiting area of the court room.  I had seen attorneys going around speaking to the tenants there to negotiate a settlement with them, before the court proceeding begun.  I did not really pay attention to the others in the room.  I was in attitude mode, and I was angry.  When I did pay attention?  I saw a few people silently crying, and very upset, because their problems had overwhelmed them.  Being served an “eviction” was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” according to the lives of those who wept?  There were others with grim faces.  I guess they were trying to mask how they were feeling.  The attorneys, who went to those who wept, were offering comfort.  Others called out names of persons, who did not show up. When one attorney got to me, he says that my case was dismissed.  He did not ask my name.  He just assumed it was me.  Now that I look back on this, I have to believe that I was the last person to be called from a list.  I was in a moment of disbelief in how I was addressed without formal introductions.  I got off the bench were I sat, and approached the man at the table, where he sat sifting through his papers, and I asked him to repeat what I thought I heard.  He stopped—looked at me and repeated what he said, and showed me the paper of dismissal of my case, and his updated information showing that I no longer owed the money the claimant NYCHA had made against me.  I left the courthouse in a pissed off mood, because I had a payment arrangement with the management office in how I was going to catch up.  Regardless of my honesty, I was still served an eviction notice regardless, because of a situation beyond my control. I realized that NYCHA does not really work with a person when they temporarily fall behind in their rent.  I had thanked the lawyer—the man—in the courtroom, and I quickly exited the courthouse.

It was not my first time, I have been in Court, and I am no stranger to that intimidating fear, and that welling up of anxiety, when the weight of the Law is upon me.  It is only their lawyers, and there is nothing for me, the tenant, or the defendant in these landlord tenant cases.  It was only their lawyers.

There is no legal counsel to represent the defendant, or the resident facing eviction.  The poor/low income person has to face that reality that they cannot afford a lawyer, and all that they have is their wits for their defense, should they go before the judge.  When their lawyers are negotiating a deal with the defendant, they are representing their client’s interests—not the tenant.  This is when the reality of “you are a broke-ass” sets in.  There is no more denying or pretending at this juncture.  The letter of the Law is tougher then the hard exterior facade, that a person has worn, until that defining, terrifying day. Than that shell is broken. A cruel form of humility visits that person, if they don’t know it already. The Court officers are always at the ready–to pounce a person during an outburst.  When their rage becomes uncorked—that last act before the judgement of the judge, who holds the fate of that person in his hands, because in his courtroom, they are like God.  Because in the courtroom—the judge’s decision is supreme in their judgement, and there is a finality in their words.  If—the judge does not take pity, upon a given situation involving the person being “evicted?”  The doom of “the evicted” is assured. That last sense of self-worth is destroyed, while Society’s label of “worthlessness” is stamped upon their forehead. What came before, which had defined that life will ceases to exist.

Society continues to move forward after that; except for those, who were cast out. It is always the Mainstream Society’s desire to make such people irrelevant in the end. Disappear!

I was nearly perfect in all of my rent payments, and until I was officially declared delinquent.  A person can be perfect in all of their rent payments.  When it comes to the bureaucracy of the “system”, that kind of history does not matter, and neither does how many years a person lives in a place.  This has no bearing when it comes to the rules and regulations involving Housing.  Get labeled as a delinquent…your name gets submitted for lease termination according to guidelines.  There is really no leeway.

NYCHA does not automatically readjust a person’s rent, when there is a reduction of income.  The unemployed tenant has to show proof of receiving an unemployment check for first four weeks, after receiving the payments.  After this bureaucratic condition it satisfied, only then will Management will submit a request for a rent readjustment in which there is a grace period of two rent cycles, before the change is reflected in a person’s future rent, which is 30% of yearly income.  The tenant is still responsible for the old rent amount, under the previous salary, despite the fact that income no longer exists.  The bureaucracy of the Housing system is designed against the tenant.

I wished that Ramon had said what was the legal loophole that his former landlord had exercised to get him evicted after 20 something years, when his short story was posting on your blog, Cathy.

My understanding is that the landlord does not have to renew your lease anymore, especially if the tenant does not, or cannot afford to pay the higher rent of the new lease.  The issue of this continues to crop up on the NY-1 nightly program of the Road to City Hall, when there are discussion about the Mayor Bill De Blazio’s current housing policies, and that of past mayors, when it comes to the “tale of two cities” concept.  The explosion of the homeless began when all the rent control laws were abolished during former mayors Rudolph Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg’s previous administrations, while no new units of affordable housing were being built.

Each victim of eviction will relate a similar story of the numbers of years that they have lived in an area—a given neighborhood, before they were ousted.  They speak of it as if this should have had weight and substance in the decision making of that former landlord; but this belief is as empty as the void.  The real-estate industry is all about development of land, and profit.  Then—through the legislative process, enact economic policies like “imminent domain”, and “land seizures” in the poorer neighborhoods in the name of “economic development”, or “economic improvements” to bring that “greater prosperity.”  A prosperity which applies to those with the wealth to spend it, and not those, who lack the incomes, or are just too poor to adapt to the changes that come in the name of what is “profitable.”

The worth of human dignity is measured by where you live, and what you have.  The wealthier a person is—more respect is given by this type of social judgement; also where a person lives also has a bearing on their Public image.  Could this be why I tend to notice how others expend so much mental energy to conceal the fact that they live in a state of economic depravity; that state of being “poor”, according to Society’s standards, so they will be rejected in Public.

The greatest cruelty is when others make the main assumption that a person is homeless, because they were on drugs, and that their suffering is all their own doing—self-inflicted, and never consider the “external forces” beyond the average individual’s control, that created this state of impoverishment—that economic deprivation.

The only time that the existence of the Poor in this nation matter, is when they are used as a political leverage between our elected officials, when it is convenient for them to do so.  This is the unfortunate reality within our “two-party” system, to achieve that greater agenda both on the Federal, State, City, and County levels.  The only champions of the Poor are those, who fight “the system”, and the “status quo,” and Party affiliation is not needed for that.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Isildur

Finished date: December 12, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Readers’ Forum–Al Bell and Catana Barnes. P4P Call Tonight

Our final commentaries on EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City are by Al Bell from Arizona and Catana Barnes from Nevada.

Dial in this evening at 7 pm EST for our conversation with the author of EVICTED, Matthew Desmond.  The call in number is 641 715-3605 and the access code is 767775#.

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Al Bell (R) with Arizona democracy activists, Tim Castro (L), Patrick McWhortor, Amanda Melcher and Adriana Espinoza

 

Evicted is a story we need to know. It can only be known by living within it, not talking about it. Matthew Desmond knows and we are privileged to be exposed to that knowledge.

Your respondents have made the clear case that most of us have never had to face the life Matthew Desmond shared with us in Evicted. Many thing can be said of this powerful story. One of them is that, if one has ever lived in circumstances like those Mathew describes, his ability to convey what that feels like is exceptional, indeed. While our family was never evicted in the way Matthew depicts, I do remember living as a kid in a trailer camp where the four year old girl next door burned to death because she tipped a can of kerosene on a hot plate on the floor of the sixteen foot trailer her family lived in (same size as ours). When the trains roared by, a couple hundred feet away, everything shook and rattled. We were in our own world and the “other” world where real people lived was something of a mystery. The vast difference between that experience and those Matthew describes, however, is that we had a way out and it eventually worked.

Yes, housing does matter and we escaped owing to unique circumstances. The people Matthew writes about will never enjoy those circumstances as long as our current housing culture prevails—and probably not even if it changes for the better. Lag times and generational gaps are immense. Having spent 47 years in the community planning business, I could go on all day about the multiple dimensions of how the dice are loaded for people like those in Matthew’s book. You’re lucky: I won’t do that!

What is truly incredible about Matthew’s story is how he lived it himself—an act of commitment most of us would never contemplate, let alone carry out. This story reveals so much because it is told through the eyes of real experience, not vicarious tales. I was waiting through most of the book to find out if this is real, or some feat of imagination. Then came the last chapter and an avalanche of insight and revelation.

In contrast to most investigative reports, I spent a significant amount of time with his chapter notes. They could be a book all in themselves.

I know you will express our book club members’ gratitude for Matthew’s commitment to revealing reality by living it himself. That is true dedication. I have no idea how he did that and managed to live his own life at the same time. We are truly in his debt. His wife must be some kind of saint! You can certainly add my name to the list of appreciative and highly impressed readers.

And thank you, Cathy, for exposing us to this amazing work.

 Al Bell is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

Catana Barnes

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Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is one of the best books I have had the pleasure to read. The accounts of real life struggles brought me to tears more than once as I watched someone I know going through the very issues being faced in the book as well as the very real struggles I face myself. I was also struck by the number of societal pitfalls that ensnare those who are not fortunate enough to buy their way out of their plight.

I grew up poor, by all American standards, and have become even more impoverished throughout adulthood. As I was reading Evicted, I came to the realization that the lives of my children, many of my friends and I have been significantly influenced by the societal pitfalls Matthew Desmond alludes to in his book. Unfortunately, it appears that the societal pitfalls are becoming more expansive at the same time there is greater monetary reward for landlords.

One of the most striking chapters I have read so far is Chapter 2: Making Rent. I learned a great deal about the impact of corporations moving their companies out of the country in search of cheap labor as well as the impact of President Clinton’s welfare reform that took place in the early 1990s. I also learned that there are people who have had to and are paying up to ninety percent of their income on rent alone and the fact that laws and policies protect landlords and punish tenants.

Matthew Desmond does a superb job at reaching the conscience and heart of the reader. He also does a superb job at educating the reader about a highly destructive societal pitfall. As I stated previously, I consider “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” to be one of the best books I have ever read and highly recommend it to everyone.

Catana Barnes is the founder and President of Independent Voters of Nevada.

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Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

TONIGHT

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Tiani Coleman and Dr. Jessie Fields

Tiani Coleman

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Dr. Lenora Fulan with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

How I Relate to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

As I read Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, the portrayal of the friction-filled lives and terrible living conditions experienced by eight tenant families in Milwaukee as telling “an American story” that can be found in average cities across the country, and isn’t reserved to places like Detroit, Los Angeles, or Chicago, I thought about two opposing experiences I’ve had living in two different cities:  New York City and Salt Lake City.

In 1998, when I first graduated from law school, having accepted a job offer in NYC, I took a day off from studying for the NY Bar Exam to go on a housing hunt.  Not being from the City, safety was a concern.  I scanned the newspaper for good places to rent.  The cheapest place I could find that still met our basic requirements was on the West Side.  As I got closer and closer to the address, I noticed that the surroundings were getting dumpier and dumpier.  I pushed the buzzer on the walk-up, and a man buzzed me in, but when I opened the door and saw the dark, dirty, banged-up, ever-so-steep flight of stairs, I got the heebie-jeebies, turned around, and walked away.  I soon found out that that had been in Hell’s Kitchen.

So I have a confession to make (a big, bad one):  I gave up on trying to find the perfect, relatively cheap place full of character, and was lured into signing a promotional contract with a new development  — yes, Donald Trump was my “landlord” — I was the very first tenant to move into the first Trump Place on the upper West side by the Lincoln Center, along the Hudson.  Apart from riding the subway, I didn’t see too much of the stereotypical inner-city life, spent long hours at the office, and went to church with lots of other DINKS.  But within a year, I had a baby, and my husband and I moved to downtown Salt Lake City.

When we first went to church in downtown SLC, we quickly discovered that it looked nothing like the congregation in NYC.  For one thing, the pews were relatively empty (ironically surprising).  For another, the people were not well educated, and with the exception of a wealthier retired community and a few others, the congregants were primarily residents of a retired and/or disabled public-housing high-rise, or part of a permanent low-income class, living in ghetto-like neighborhoods, including three homeless shelters.

Shortly after getting sworn in to the Utah Bar (still nursing my baby), I discovered that I would be called upon regularly (along with a couple of others) to be the pro bono legal services for my congregation.  My first case was an eviction case.

A family with young children was being asked to vacate immediately or incur triple damages and attorneys fees, with back rent owed regardless.  After helping my clients put up bond, and counterclaiming with, among other things: partial payment, with prior notice of a broken furnace and sewage problems; and stolen tools (the landlord had taken my handy-man client’s specialty tools, affecting his ability to work), I got chewed out by opposing counsel.  He said, “What are you doing?  You must be new around here; this isn’t the way it’s done.  You’re unnecessarily complicating things.”  When I went to court, I saw that the docket was set up for these cases to be rubber stamped quickly; the judge and opposing counsel were chummy from having seen so much of each other, with nobody there with representation to defend themselves against their slumlord.  The case dragged on (for discovery) while the living conditions got worse and my clients looked for other options.  The landlord, nervous about some of the allegations against him, did return the tools, and we got the case dismissed, without damages or attorneys fees; but ultimately, my clients moved back with the in-laws out of state, and the landlord was never really held accountable as a bad actor.

I spent four years living in SLC’s inner city before moving to the suburbs.  I saw situations similar to  Desmond’s documented vignettes of how the poor are exploited, and how people’s housing situation affects every other aspect of their lives:  from the devastating effects of high interest pay-day loans to try to keep afloat, to the heart-wrenching stories of DCFS being so quick to take children away from poverty-stricken families and putting them into juvenile homes or foster care, to people living in constant fear, if not of gang violence or deportation, then of eviction.

Desmond eloquently explains that when we discuss the housing issue, “[t]here are two freedoms at odds with each other:  the freedom to profit from rents and the freedom to live in a safe and affordable home.”  While he paints a picture that makes it clear that we can’t blame tenants for their plight (they have no options to get ahead), he doesn’t cast all of the blame at the feet of landlords, either:  “[i]f given the same opportunity, would any of us price an apartment at half of what it could fetch or simply forgive and forget losing thousands of dollars when the rent checks didn’t arrive?”  But we’re deceiving ourselves if we say the housing market should just be left as is to regulate itself; after all, the government is actively supporting the exploitation, with a system that “legitimizes and defends landlords’ right to charge as much as they want; that subsidizes the construction of high-end apartments, bidding up rents and leaving the poor with even fewer options; that pays landlords when a family cannot, through onetime or ongoing housing assistance; that forcibly removes a family at landlords’ request by dispatching armed law enforcement officers,” and on and on.

I completely agree with Desmond that we need to “uncover the ironies and inefficiencies that arise when policymakers try to help poor families without addressing the root causes of poverty.”  After all, simply increasing wages, without any other action, just leads to higher rents, and the poor still have the same impossible burdens to meet.   Desmond believes there’s a way to re-balance the two competing freedoms: by significantly expanding our housing voucher program (and ensuring regulation).  I’m not sure this will solve what’s a very difficult problem, but we certainly need to have a real, serious conversation about it.

It starts with awareness.  Just as I failed to witness the day-to-day struggles of many living in NYC, many residents of SLC are oblivious to the dire situations of people just blocks southwest of their high-end downtown living.  Now when I drive along the West Side Highway in NYC, I feel sick as I see that the entire West Side has been turned into a long string of character-lacking, high-end housing, bearing the name of Trump.  I contributed to there being fewer and fewer places for low-income people to live within the City because I couldn’t see the big picture.  Why haven’t we been having these conversations during this election season?  In the last several months, we’ve scarcely heard about the ever-increasing income gap or what the two major-party candidates plan to do about the multi-faceted problem of poverty in our country.  Both parties seem to benefit from not finding answers.  We need to create a less polarized, less special-interest driven electoral system that allows us to see each other, talk to each other, understand each other’s concerns, needs and interests, and start making real progress for the good of our country.  For me, the inner city is a crazy memory, but for millions of Americans, it’s a devastating daily reality.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Dr. Jessie Fields

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Dr. Jessie Fields and Kerry Malloy (r) at the 2105 Anti-Corruption Awards

The book, EVICTED Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond teaches us so much about how eviction impacts the lives of poor people in America and about how profitable poverty is in our cities.

I find the book to be a powerful combination of personal tragedies, grit in the face of exploitation and hardship, and important revelations about causes of poverty. It is a stirring, compelling must read. We come to live with the families as the author did and many moments in the book provoke deep sadness and tears at their suffering.

When Vanetta and Crystal, two young black women who had been evicted and were staying in a shelter were denied housing because of their race, the author explains that housing segregation was not an accident of urban industrialization.

The ghetto had always been a main feature of landed capital, a prime moneymaker for those who saw ripe opportunity in land scarcity, housing dilapidation, and racial segregation.”

Property in poor communities plagued by long standing housing segregation cost landlords less, they are still able to charge relatively high rents without the expense of having to maintain the property.

One of the many stories in the book is the disproportionate impact of eviction on Black women, their children and families.

The everyday stories of our cities: too bleak to wrap in stanzas

Such fury jumps the meter, misery will burst the rhyme

Like a forced move down below

With no heat in winter

Clogged sinks and empty shelves

To worse on the streets.

Arleen, Jori, Jafaris

Vanetta and her little boy

Crystal spinning out of control.

Lamar and the boys

The Hinkstons: Doreen, Patrice, Natasha

Lorraine, Pam and Ned

However poor whites

And blacks kept divided.

Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor moved into Tobin’s trailer park in May 2008 and lived there for several months, followed by living in a rooming house in the black community on the North Side of Milwaukee until June 2009. Desmond immersed himself in the lives of poor families black and white and he worked to understand the landlords as well. In the last chapter of the book, “About This Project” he writes about the personal impact the work had on him.

The honest answer is that the work was heartbreaking and left me depressed for years.”

“You do learn how to cope from those who are coping.”

There is also in the book many examples of the decency and humanity that poor and working people steadfastly uphold even in the midst of it all.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

 

***

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#

Readers’ Forum – Doug Balder and Harry Kresky

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Harry Kresky (l) and Doug Balder (r)

In his wrenching book, Evicted, Matthew Desmond observes that the first step on the devastating journey from eviction to homelessness is often the loss of an apartment in subsided or “public” housing.  A family that lived in a stable home is forced into dilapidated, private-sector housing, owned and operated by landlords seeking short-term profits from tenants who are likely to face further eviction, impoverishment, and social disintegration.

Here in New York City more than 500,000 people live in public housing operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), equal to half the entire population of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city Desmond writes about.  The “projects” are a critical part of New York City’s infrastructure.  Maintenance could surely be better and capital improvements are badly needed.  But, for generations of poor and working class families, the projects provided stability, security, community and, of course, a roof over their heads.

This year, under the City’s “progressive” Mayor, Democrat Bill DeBlasio, NYCHA has begun to implement its “NextGen” master plan.  Under NextGen’s “infill” program, playgrounds, sitting areas, and other public spaces in NYCHA housing complexes will be sold to private developers, who will be permitted to build high rise apartment buildings containing a combination of market-rate and “affordable” units.  However, the “affordable” units are beyond the means of the average NYCHA tenant.  In addition, the plan allows the sale of existing NYCHA apartments to private landlords, who will receive a subsidy as long as the present tenants remain.  After that, the unit can be rented to families chosen by the developer, and earning up to $142,395 for a family of four.

Dr. Lenora Fulani and her Committee for Independent Community Action is campaigning against NextGen and has widespread support among public housing tenants and other New Yorkers who care about the lives of poor and working people.  CICA views NextGen as the first step in full privatization.  NYCHA claims these drastic steps are needed to meet its $17 billion capital deficit and $98 million annual operating deficit.  However, NYCHA’s own projection is that infill and the sale of apartments will generate a total of $300-600 million, a fraction of the capital deficit.  For real estate developers, NextGen provides an opportunity to build on what is now very valuable land, such as that at Holmes Houses overlooking the East River on Manhattan’s upper east side.

For those displaced by privatization, the consequences will be as drastic as those described in Eviction.  One need only look around New York to see massive luxury development in what were once working-class neighborhoods in Hell’s Kitchen, Long Island City and Williamsburg, and accelerating gentrification in Harlem and East New York.  We look forward to hearing what Professor Desmond has to say about this unfolding social catastrophe.

Douglas Balder is an architect and on the Board of Directors of the All Stars Project.

Harry Kresky is counsel to IndependentVoting.org and one of the country’s leading experts on nonpartisan primary reform and the legal issues facing independent voters.

***

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#

 

Reader’s Forum–Ramon Pena

 

It’s an honor to write a small piece after reading the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. I have read many books but none has hit as close to home as this one. Why? Because I was evicted from my apartment in 2014 after 20 years of living there. Never a missed rent or late payment. I was evicted because of greed.My neighborhood was changing and rents were skyrocketing. My landlord had a legal maneuvering to get rid of me and my mother. He had no pity for us. We even got a sheriff notice to leave the premises.

I ended up in one of the worse shelters in New York City I became depressed and angry. I was disappointed  by my Democratic Political leaders. The party of the poor turned their backs on me. I spent 2 years in a system that was meant to keep your spirits down. Daily fights, drugs, prostitution, was the program of the days in that shelter. I could write a book about it and one day I might.

I eventually gave up on a system that really was not designed to help the homeless. I left to another state. The state of New Jersey.In less than 3 weeks I found something. A small studio which I can can afford and call mine.

I want to thank Matthew Desmond for this book, it’s real and gritty the way life really is.

Again thank you for being a voice of the homeless and evicted.

Ramon Pena is a long time independent activist, currently living in New Jersey.

ramonRamon, with family and friends  in his apartment in Perth Amboy, NJ

***

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#

Reader’s Forum–Mary Fridley talks EVICTED

 

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In a conversation with Fred Newman some years ago, I asked him how he decided what books to read. He basically said, “If you enjoy the conversation, read it; if you don’t, don’t.” After reading Evicted, I immediately recommended it to Cathy Stewart because I believed that she and other independents would appreciate the conversational journey the book and its author Matthew Desmond take us on. While it is not an easy journey, I found it to be an extraordinarily compassionate and thought-provoking one. Since Desmond is perhaps the quintessential “outsider” – a white, Harvard-trained academic – I appreciate that he took the time to build relationships with people who we get to know, not as “subjects,” but as a delightfully human group of Black and white women and men (whose stories remain with me) trying to fight/manipulate a system that refuses to relate to them, regardless of color, with any humanity at all.

I have spent much of my adult life doing all I can to end poverty, but reading Evicted showed me how easy it still is to relate to it as an abstraction rather than as an endlessly complex and interconnected industry out of which it is becoming more and more impossible to escape. Thus, I appreciate that, while Desmond does not shy away from sharing the foibles and failings of Scott, Patrice, Arleen and the others we meet in Evicted, he does so without blaming or shaming them.  As he says in a Huffington Post article I recently read, “Eviction is fundamentally changing the face of poverty. One way we can interpret eviction is like, ‘Oh, it’s a result of irresponsibility, it’s bad spending habits.’ But if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

He is also sensitive to the fact that the housing/eviction crisis is not impacting everyone the same way. I was touched/haunted by his observation that, “If incarceration has come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, evictionwas shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” As a woman and an independent determined to transform a political system that is locking out growing numbers of Americans regardless of race, class or gender, I am glad we have an ally in Matthew Desmond and look forward to continuing – and growing – this much needed conversation.

Mary Fridley is the Director of Special Projects at the East Side Institute and a longtime independent activist from Brooklyn, NY.

***

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#

***

 

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