Reader’s Forum—Al Bell

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Al Bell at 2017 National Conference of Independents

I was forced several times in reading Ratf**ked, by David Daley, to stop and reread the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. It contains 52 of the most powerful words in the vast heritage that has brought us to this point in The Great American Experiment. The unprecedented We, the People… leads off this statement of vision, purpose, mission—and that foundation quietly emerges time and again throughout Mr. Daley’s book. It is an echo, as it were, of the point of the whole story.

Ideas generated by the current selection of the Politics4thePeople book club clearly demonstrate the value of exchanging ideas and hearing different voices, a key quality that powers the club. While there have been fewer posts (so far) on this selection than some in the past, their content is highly instructive and provides valuable insights that aid the rest of us in processing what the author is telling us.

Dr. Jessie Fields provided an excellent overview of the essence of the Republican Party’s successful campaign to gerrymander legislative districts at state and federal levels to enable the party and its candidates to select voters rather than the reverse. The responsible perpetrators express pride in what they have done. That mentality is a pathetic distortion of Americanism. It perverts everything we stand for.

Then, comes along Lou Hinman’s pointed commentary that makes explicit what haunts many of us in the independent voting movement: both parties have become cynical masters of political intrigue and gamesmanship by which they collaborate in crowding out any voices they do not wish to hear from We the People. Lou clearly unmasks the mutual game of chicken the major parties play in controlling our political process. As Mr. Daley points out, the Democratic party is belatedly tuning in to the power of Maptitude as a means of unraveling as much of the Republican party’s advantage as possible. The game remains the same; just the actors change.

The bottom line here is that the Democratic and Republican parties, over many years, have jointly shanghaied our democratic republic. While they properly share the blame, the Republican party currently owns the front lines, paid for in cash.

Oh, one more question. Why, exactly, did We the People let them do it? That is a question for another dialogue.

I would be negligent in failing to note the significance of Arizona in this tale of woe as told by the author. Citizens established Arizona’s Redistricting Commission by initiative. State Republican leadership sought to eliminate it via court action and lost at the Supreme Court. More recently, our Republican Legislature enacted laws to seriously impede citizen initiatives and referenda. Citizens are now organizing, seeking to reverse that action. Mr. Daley describes the earlier challenges faced in the Arizona redistricting process with considerable insight. It was not flawless, but it is easy to envision a significantly more political—and Republican dominated—outcome had the Legislature remained in charge of the process. Politics will always be a factor. The real question is, can such deliberations at least avoid political considerations as the sole driver? The Arizona example says yes. So far.

I will come to our author’s defense for focusing on the Republican party in this sense. The GOP has initiated a new level of political weaponry, escalating quickly from muskets to machineguns. Whether Mr. Daley has it right or not about the Democratic party’s leadership default in this case, he reveals the new weapons of political war that currently victimize our nation. That naturally leads to the question of what to do about it.

The author suggests seven strategies to reverse or at least mitigate this cynical onslaught against our electoral processes. They include:

  1. Support Democratic efforts to recapture enough legislative seats by 2020 to enable them to lead a “permanent gerrymandering disarmament plan”. In other words, lead toward the high ground, don’t just recapture lost ground.
  2. Seek establishment of even more independent redistricting committees at state levels than now exist.
  3. Wherever possible, seek initiatives to reverse gerrymandering practices.
  4. Continue to push for Supreme Court decisions that impose controls on gerrymandering and reverse the most egregious cases of it (now an active arena; see the current North Carolina case).
  5. Experiment in at least one state with multi-member districts to defuse the partisan control mechanisms.
  6. Enrage and engage more voters in supporting redistricting reforms to enfranchise voters instead of parties.
  7. Aggressively motivate progressive voters to vote in mid-term elections in contrast to historic minimum turnouts in such elections to wrest control from the Republican vote gathering machine.

None of these is easy, nor are they feasible everywhere. However, chinks in the armor can be achieved one initiative, one state, one city, and one court case at a time. It will take a long time, certainly more than anyone aggrieved by the current system would prefer. Mr. Daley offers ample motivation to start down that path.

Another tactic strikes me as having value in reinforcing his suggestions. It consists of a relentless effort by many of the public interest organizations and their memberships in the U.S. to conduct media, public education, and political campaigns at whatever level or levels they may operate. Campaign messages could make any or all of the following points. It would make sense to target Democratic and Republican transgressions similarly, wherever they occur.

  1. Depriving any qualified voter from exercising his/her franchise is unconstitutional and cynically anti-American. It is an insult to the very foundation of our nation. It blatantly denigrates the sacrifices of the more than 1.3 million Americans whose lives have been lost in defending our right to self-governance under the Constitution.
  2. Perpetrators of the so-called RedMap system manifest a perverse rejection of the basic premise of our Constitution: that it belongs to all of us. They have a right to their opinions, but they have absolutely no standing to destroy the very foundation that underpins every citizen’s rights, including their own! They do not own our vote; we do. At least, so we thought.
  3. Spending dark money to intimidate candidates, structure legislative districts that cut citizens of any political persuasion out of an effective voice in electing our leaders, and imposing voting districts that advance this mentality, is cowardly behavior. It reflects a pathetic lack of confidence in the legitimacy of their positions and seeks, instead, to avoid challenges by neutering other voices. It is logically incomprehensible and solidly hypocritical for passionate believers in competitive free enterprise concepts, to throw obscene levels of money at arbitrarily suppressing the competition of ideas. There is a name for governance structured this way and democratic republic isn’t one of them.
  4. The RedMap system is a tool for destroying this nation and the governance it so desperately needs in these times of overwhelming division, complexity, rapidity of change, global challenges, uncertainty, technological breakthroughs, and all of their cumulative and profound social and economic implications. Intentional destruction of governance systems for essential dialogue and reasoned negotiation is irredeemably Anti-American.
  5. Disenfranchisement by any means is essentially a form of theft and extortion. It seeks to slice targeted Americans out of the governance process. It is anything but a legitimate source of pride.
  6. We often hear that “all is fair in love and war”. Many would readily add: “and in politics, too.”

No it isn’t.

Of course, politicians and their supporters, past and present, have demonstrated atrocious behaviors in politics. At some level, that will continue by Republicans and Democrats alike (see Mr. Hinman). Still, real American leaders set points beyond which they will not go. The stakes have become so great because of cumulative misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance by both parties that it is time to talk openly and loudly about the price we are paying for their hypocritical behavior. If they will not, we must.

One can say many things about such behavior. It is fundamentally inexcusable. No amount of rationalizing doubletalk can explain it away. Those who perpetrate this approach to our governance structures are exhibiting unpatriotic behavior in the extreme. We must not “give a pass” to those who are numb to the needs of our nation and proud of disenfranchising their fellow citizens by playing clever games. Why would we allow them to hide behind their arrogant defenses? Let’s call them out for behaving as enemies of the people. We the People.

Reinforced by David Daley’s clear documentation, we cannot repeat his message too often and in too many places. Today it is the Republican party. Tomorrow, by its own admission, the Democratic party intends to storm down the same path. Thank you, David Daley, for bringing such a clear picture of this Anti-American swamp to our attention. Now it is up to us.

All of this is enough to make you want to be an independent voter! Hmmm.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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Queens’ Reader’s Forum

Today’s Reader’s Forum features commentary from two P4P members from Queens.

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RICHARD RONNER

RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley, reads like a sophisticated political thriller, with great characters, suspenseful strategizing, and brilliant, offensive (in both senses of the word) tactics. What’s jarring, though, is that it’s a true story – about us, the American people, and the ongoing assault and trampling of our democracy. I found reading this book an emotional experience – initially disheartening and infuriating, at the level of corruption and moral bankruptcy of large parts of our governing class. I repeatedly reminded myself that all this is not a surprise, that I have known about this in theory and in its broad outlines, but it still packs a punch, being confronted with the details and calculating methods, and the personalities involved.

But the second, more considered emotion, was one of optimism and hope – there are great exposings going on these days; we need to know how these things work, we need to know sensually why and precisely how our votes don’t translate to our power. It reminds me of the experience following Hurricane Katrina, when the effects of the racism in the fabric of our society was visible for all to see in the coverage of the storm’s aftermath in New Orleans. Of course, I also believe that without ways of acting on this information, it will not remain in our consciousness for long. But the exposing, the pulling back of the curtain to reveal the inner mechanisms, is a good, if sobering, thing.

An overall reservation I have about the book, is that I find it still partisan, in the distinctions made between the two parties. Whether the Democrats were too busy partying, or caught sleeping after Obama’s election in 2008 while Redmap was being hatched, or whether they were calculating on whole other level, I don’t know, and we may have to wait for another book to discover. I don’t really buy that one party is a whole lot smarter than the other. In some respects, I attribute the success of some agendas over others to the more creative and practical activism of some segments of the population compared with others. But this is a book about the parties and how they work. Others will have to write on the role of the grassroots in this effort.

Richard Ronner is a nurse practitioner and a long time independent activist. He is active with the NYC Independence Clubs.

 

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NANCY HANKS

“America has got to be more than its Parties and Americans have got to be more than party pawns,” says Natesha Oliver in her review of Dave Daley’s book, RATF**KED: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy.  I agree — Americans must be more than party pawns. But will we? And how? We’re Ratfucked — or we develop.

I was a kid when  they did away with the poll tax, born and raised in the mid-1950s-early ’60s in northeast Arkansas. I cast my first vote in 1972 at age 18 in Richmond VA (the US Supreme Court had just lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 through the 26th Amendment to the Constitution) for George McGovern.

My first vote was a hopeful, if youthful, and defiant anti-war vote. Little did I suspect that I would spend my whole adult life working at the grassroots for ordinary people on behalf of voting rights, with Cathy Stewart, Fred Newman, Lenora Fulani and many many others.

Dave Daley’s RATF**KED led me to my bookcase to leaf through an earlier book with a similar theme: Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America (1973) by Walter Karp. Writing of Lyndon Johnson’s failed Great Society, Karp says

 “… there is a political reason for a reform President frustrating his own pledged reforms. It is none other than the ruling political principle in modern American politics-the preservation of party power, that power whose sole foundation is organization control of the political parties…. the essential and inherent danger to party power is independent political ambition, the presence in public life and public office of men who ignore the interests and defy the dictates of party bosses and oligarchies. To preserve their power, party organizations must try constantly to eliminate the political condition that breeds independent ambition. That condition, in general, is the free political activity of the citizens themselves, their own efforts to act in their own behalf, to bring into the public arena issues that interest them and to encourage their activity the independent ambition of public men. The political activity of the citizenry, whether within or without the major parties, whether it be as local as a village election, is always a danger to organization control of parties, and precisely because it strengthens independent ambition. There is in this Republic, however, one great wellspring animating citizens to act in their own behalf: their own understanding that by means of politics and government what is wrong can be righted and what is ill can be cured. In a word, political hope.”

I’m grateful to Dave Daley for his current insight and spotting the Bullsh*t  that serves the powers that be. We don’t need them. We the American people don’t need this kind of political supervision. We need to develop.

Independently yours,

Nancy Hanks.

PS – Our next Queens Quarterly Gathering is this Sunday, June 4th, 6-9PM, the Politics for the People conference call.

Nancy Hanks is an independent activist and the coordinator of the Queens Independence Club.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

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Reader’s Forum–Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver on Primary Day in Missouri

 

Ratf**ked by David Daley is a “in Your face” hard reality about a major aspect of our political process. Drawing district lines seems to be just as important as voting itself or should I say the understanding of and the careful watching of how district lines are drawn should be just as important as the discussion of how we vote.

When I first heard the term “redistricting” I was in Mississippi and naturally assumed the issue stemmed from stopping the African American vote. I don’t doubt there was a time when that was probably the case but now it looks pretty damn clear that it’s not about stopping a race of people, although it is still about maintaining political control for a small group of people.

Just because Republicans got more brazen in their “unethical, dont understand how its not criminal” strategizing doesn’t negate the fact that both parties play this type of “game”.

Reading this book is infuriating!!! And I’m not talking about the need to vent type of thing, I’m talking about how can our Government continue to operate with impunity when it come to holding these Parties/Elected officials fully accountable?

It’s a dead democracy when those entrusted to uphold the moral sanctity, if You will, of politics are the very ones breaking the freaking laws of democracy.  The parties keep “isms” afloat just enough to keep Americans targeting one another instead of them, the parties.

To hear it from people participating in the ratfucking process like it’s just business, blows My mind. What parties do and the money they spend to ensure they keep an upper hand is ridiculous, it’s like witnessing a bunch of undisciplined children with no regard of how their actions actually affect life and considering we live in a “better You then Me” type of culture, Americans have to take some responsibility in the decaying of our electoral process and our democracy.

Money may be a factor yet if there was no one to “buy off” then would money be an issue?

Parties are the demise of good government, maybe it hasn’t always been the case but there can be no argument that that is the case now, and Party supporters at some point have to reevaluate the role they play in this demise when they continue to allow their Party to operate without being checked.

America has got to be more than it’s Parties and Americans have got to be more than party pawns.

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

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Lou Hinman

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In Ratf**ked, David Daley tells, in vivid and painful detail, how the Republican Party, planning for the reapportionment that would follow the 2010 census, hatched a plan that would give them a crucial edge in the state legislatures that would carry out the redistricting.  They were so successful that they were able to control the gerrymandering of enough congressional districts to create a very probable Republican congressional majority until the 2020 census.

Gerrymandering was not new.  Almost from the beginning of two-party politics in the United States, gerrymandering has been used by both parties to make particular districts uncompetitive (“safe,” that is, for one of the parties or the other).  What was new was the novel idea of targeting particular state legislatures, and well laid plans to get a very slim party majority in them in advance of redistricting.

It may well be that the Republicans violated the gentlemen’s agreement with the Democrats about how this game was supposed to be played.  However, I feel that Ratf**ked makes too much of the Machiavellian ruthlessness of the Republicans, and is correspondingly too soft on the Democrats.  To me, it defies belief that Democrats were just too innocent to know how bad the Republicans were, or that they simply got caught napping.

Here’s why.

The Democratic Party’s calling card is that they are “the party of the common man.”  But since their main allegiance is to the shared control of the political process, they are careful not to get too strong.  If they were to get too strong, a few embarrassing questions could be asked about why they are not more effective in serving “the common man.”  If those mean and nasty Republicans get too strong – well, what can you do, they just don’t play fair!  (For more on this neglected subject, be sure to read Indispensable Enemies by Walter Karp.)

Not getting too strong demands, above all, not mobilizing their base.  So for example, when the Tea Party was busy organizing “town meetings” to oppose Obamacare, you might have thought the Democratic Party would have organized a few of the 38 million people who had no health insurance into town meetings of their own.  Of course, they did nothing of the kind.  For the Democratic Party, the mobilization of it’s base is to be avoided like the plague, because they may not be able to control it.

Similarly, if the Democratic Party were to get into a brawl with the Republicans over gerrymandering, it would weaken the Democratic machine in at least two ways.  First, they might actually win!  This would put pressure on them to use their increased power on behalf of “the common people” they are supposed to represent.  Second, even if they didn’t win it would turn over the rock under which gerrymandering and other manipulations by the two political machines thrive – about which the less said the better!

Finally, the Democratic Party is plenty ruthless when it comes to attacking insurgents in their own party (ask Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders) or independents (ask Lenora Fulani).

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

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*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

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.

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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.

charles-isildur

 

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

catana barnes speaking

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.

***

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#

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