Reader’s Forum–Howard Edelbaum, Jessica Marta, Richard Ronner and Sheryl Williams

14947948_10209598211565790_78427255916291282_n    HOWARD EDELBAUM

As someone who grew up poor in the West Brighton Projects on Staten Island remember public housing as being a place we were proud to live. The grounds were clean, the elevator was never broken, there was always heat when needed and our apartment was big and perfectly accommodated all of us with three bedrooms. My parents did not have money, but we were able to get what we needed to lead a decent life.

In reading $2 A Day by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer I was appalled at the lack of concern and viciousness towards the poorest populations. The book describes horrific situations such as people selling their plasma twice weekly, over 20 people sleeping and surviving in one small location and selling SNAP benefits, going hungry while facing possible fines of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The authors document incredible stories of determination, entrepreneurship and hard work but due to bureaucracy and political circumstance people living on $2 a day have no support to harness such skills to have what they need to live their lives.

The US Government develops programs and tax breaks that help many constituencies if they have political power. The authors show how both major parties use the issue of poverty as a political football  to garner votes and actually at times make the situation worse.

The book lays out some viable solutions and hopefully will open up the conversation to make the issue of poverty the priority it should be.

Howard Edelbaum is active with the New York City Independence Clubs and is an Accounting Consultant.

***

Marta     JESSICA MARTA

In Two Dollars a Day, the poor can never catch a break.  Each story has a common theme: As soon as someone gets close to finding their way our of poverty something happens to drag them back.  The book opened my eyes to the extreme poverty that exists right here in the USA.  From living without running water, to selling plasma ten times a month, survival is a full-time job. Mothers care for children, and families struggle to provide food and shelter.

It’s also the story of Welfare “Reform.”  Welfare was a hot-button issue for Bill Clinton’s campaign,  Dismantling welfare got him elected.

Two dollars a day tells of so many who fall through the cracks and never get out.  I look forward to our discussion.

Jessica Marta is an independent activist with Independent Voting and the New York City Independence Clubs.  She lives in Manhattan is an Adult Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.

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RRonner    RICHARD RONNER

This is a rather remarkable little book, evoking a range of strong emotional responses. Kathryn Eden and H. Luke Shaefer help the reader understand the current phenomenon of extreme poverty by describing, throughout the book, the history of government assistance to the poor, starting with some state programs following the Civil War to the federal programs of the Great Depression in the 1940s, to the “War on Poverty” of the 60s and 70s, to efforts to diminish this aid by Reagan, and finally to the “Welfare Reform” of the 90’s under Bill Clinton, who proclaimed the “end of welfare as we know it.”

The meat of the book, though, is the painfully intimate immersion in the day-to-day lives of 8 families struggling to deal with life on $2.00 a day per person poverty in America. It’s a heart-breaking struggle, that alternately made me cry at its impact on the human spirit, or to scream in rage at the heartlessness and inhumanity of our society and government. At a time when I find myself consciously reducing my exposure to daily newscasts or newspapers due to the unremitting barrage of horror and tragedy, not to mention farce, I found it hard at first to get into this book; it is not an easy read. But it is worth it.

It’s the third part of the book that brings to the foreground hope, a way forward. Titled “Conclusion: Where, then, from here?, it reminds me of something my political mentor Fred Newman used to say: the solutions to the world’s problems are not that complex. Looking at the specific actions of our government that precipitated the growth of dire poverty, and taking cues from programs implemented, often poorly or underfunded, or policy proposals overlooked or rejected, Edin proposes a way forward that seems sensible and do-able, humanistic and humane. While it’s only decent to have a safety net program of cash assistance for extreme circumstances, what the poor overwhelmingly want is to be a part of this society, to have the opportunity to be productive of needed goods or services, in jobs with dignity, that relate to them as the deserving human beings they are.

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

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IMG_20171125_084439    SHERYL WILLIAMS

I’m so glad that this book is our Politics for the People book club selection. I was lucky enough to have been in the room when Dr. Kathryn Edin spoke at the All Stars Project President’s Roundtable event. The event was hosted by Gabrielle Kurlander, President of the All Stars Project and Dr. Lenora Fulani. I knew then that I would be reading her books and learning more about what Dr. Edin had to say as a poverty researcher.

From that event and from reading the book, I also understand that there is a very real relationship between changing public policy and ordinary people being able to see what the problem is in this case, poverty in order to be able to do something about it. As Americans, we have been taught to only see, believe in, and discuss prosperity and success even when that’s not our life experience.

Edin’s book gives us a vivid up close and personal look at the lives of people living in the dire circumstance of abject poverty. This book teaches some very important history lessons of the welfare system in America. As a young person in my 20s during much of Reagan presidency, I remember hearing without understanding about some of the changes that were being enacted in the welfare system.  Being able to read the detail of what was happening then as an adult now really clarifies some things for me including the extent to which we have a system that if one is deemed eligible for relief, that relief is not dispensed without kicking people while they are already down.

I believe as Dr. King said in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize address, that we have the resources to get rid of poverty. And now with Dr. Edin’s powerful book in hand have a new tool to help build and shape the political will that this country has never had to create a new standard of decency where it no longer acceptable to allow millions of Americans to live their whole lives languishing in poverty.

Sheryl Williams is a long time independent activist and works at the All Stars Project.

***

As we head towards our call with Kathryn Edin, one of the co-authors of $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, I wanted to share an interview Dr. Edin did with Hari Sreenivasan on the PBS Newshour from October 10, 2015.

 

Please Join the Politics for the People Conference Call

With Kathyrn Edin

Sunday, December 3rd at 7 pm EST

Call In and Join the Conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 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#

Ratfucked book image

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.

***

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–Richard Ronner

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The Missing Middle: How Gridlock Adds to the Wealth Gap

In Chapter 18, “The Missing Middle,” Hedrick Smith quotes several veteran legislators describing a time of bipartisan cooperation and interparty camaraderie, when families of legislators of opposing parties would have dinner together in their homes, or offer to help one another with re-election–practices impossible to imagine in today’s toxic partisan climate.  He compares the passage of the healthcare legislation of the 60’s–Medicare in 1965–with the Affordable Care Act of 2010, and looks at the passage of the signature Democratic legislation of the 60’s, the civil and voting rights acts, which could not have been achieved without significant support from key Republicans.  Smith demonstrates that common, innocuous (if unethical) practices like gerrymandering safe districts inexorably leads to increasingly extreme political views, and the disappearance, over time, of the moderate middle.

Smith relates the fascinating history in a very readable narrative, in this case beginning with the political realignment initiated by these highly controversial (in some quarters) bills–the deliverance of the southern block of conservative Democrats to the Republican column, culminating, over decades, in the rise of the far right.  Reading this material raises questions and a hunger for more understanding of a complex history–the convoluted and obscure story of the history of the Senate’s operating rules, for example, having to do with filibusters (talking and phantom) and cloture thresholds of 67 senators needed to cut off debate.  Though not everything can be addressed even in this rather sizable volume, there is a tremendous amount of political information and understanding to be gained from this book.

Richard Ronner is a nurse practitioner and a long time independent. He is active with the NYC Independence Clubs and New Yorkers for Primary Reform.

 

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Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

 

 

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