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Archive for the ‘Occupy Philly’ Category

Disastrous Financial Priorities and a Community Mourns

School Nurses Forewarn the District

Outside the Philadelphia School headquarters, on a cold January day in 2012, a gathering of school nurses, bundled up against the chilling wind, protested the district’s laying off nurses. The nurses, calling themselves the Occupy 440 movement, continued the protest for five months, assembling every Wednesday at 440 Board Street. The district cut over 100 school nurse jobs in the 2011-12 school year, and other staff reductions left schools at the state minimum of one nurse per 1,500 students. According to The Notebook, “Nurses warned that the District was potentially endangering children by failing to have trained medical staff in buildings most of the time.”

Betsey Piette carries poster Picture of Laporshia.

Betsey Piette carries picture of Laporshia.

Vigil for Laporshia

Samir Robinson from Musicopia plays for the Vigil

Samir Robinson from Musicopia plays through the Mist

Just 17 months later, the nurses organized a candlelight vigil for Laporshia Massey, who arrived home from her school, Bryant Elementary, suffering from an asthma attack and dying later that evening at Children’s Hospital. Laporshia fell ill during school the day, reportedly complaining of difficulty breathing. At that time, no nurse had been on duty at the school.

Father, Nurses, Youth

Laporshia’s father, Daniel Burch (holding umbrella) stands with school nurses, who organized the vigil.

Austerity Cuts Deep

Pennsylvania Governor Corbett and the Republican-controlled legislature have imposed substantial education cuts throughout the state, causing the School District of Philadelphia to fall into a deep financial crisis. The Governor failed to release $45 million of federal funding earmarked for Philadelphia schools. While evoking the concept of “shared sacrifice” to justify cuts in education, in contrast, the legislature passed a corporate tax cut that would cost the state $600-800 million per year, more than double Philadelphia schools’ deficit for the next fiscal year. In addition, the district carries an enormous debt. According to City Paper,

The district spends more than ten times the national average serving its debt, with an astonishing $280 million—12 percent of its entire budget—going to interest payments and $161 million going to Wall Street firms in what have been called “toxic” interest rate swaps, under criticism in other cities for unjustly robbing schools of resources.

Girl With Candle CRChildren’s Health at Risk

When authorities cut school nurses from budgets, children who have health problems may not receive proper treatment while at school. Children on medications may have to rely on untrained staff to assist them. Children with epilepsy, ADHD, diabetes, food allergies and asthma are particularly at risk. The question arises is who is responsible for schools’ record keeping on each child’s health concerns if no nurse is present to evaluate a student who becomes ill during the school day. AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote in an open letter to Pennsylvania Governor Corbett that one in five students in Philadelphia have asthma, and that “parents and educators—would sleep easier knowing their children’s schools had enough school nurses, guidance counselors, safety personnel and support staff so that a tragedy like this would not befall another child.”

Ironically, a day before the candlelight vigil for Laporshia, the district learned that Philadelphia will receive the $45 million in federal funds that Corbett had been withholding. A spokesman for Corbett stated that the release of the funds and Laporshia’s death were not connected. Philadelphia school superintendent, William Hite, stated he did not plan to rehire any nurses because the district has “met the state’s caseload standard.” Are parents left wondering whether there will be another time the school nurses will be holding candles outside the 440 Building?

Candle

An Empty Desk

Bryand ES Final

Bryant Elementary School is located at the corners of Cedar Avenue and 60th Street in West Philadelphia. Playground equipment stands securely on one corner of the school lot, and along the walls of the brick building, colorful murals illustrate scenes of children swinging, dancing and jumping rope.

While economists, bureaucrats and government officials argue the merits austerity measures, one mural might be different now.

Links

Her Name is Laporshia Massey and Our Hearts are Breaking

Justice for Laporshia Massey Update

Vigil for Laporshia Massey – Victim of Philly Schools Budget Cuts

The Great Austerity Shell Game

Sick Days: The Philadelphia School Nurse Shortage

Philadelphia’s May Day Celebration 2013

Honoring Workers Who Fought and Won the 8-Hour Work Day

images Many people believe that May Day is a socialist or communist celebration, when in fact the May Day holiday grew out of  the eight-hour working day movement in the United States in 1884. The struggle for a shorter workday began in the factories as the unions pressed their employers for shorter hours and higher wages. At that time, millions of people were out of work. During the convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions announced that eight hours “shall constitute a day’s work from and after May 1, 1886.” Honoring May Day is an important part of our American heritage, and in Philadelphia Elmwood Park provided the perfect place for a rally and celebration in front of the monument by Irish artist, John Kindness, which stands as a tribute to the American worker.

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Alexandria with John Jerzak, member of Friends of Elmwood Park who advocated for the labor memorial.

Jim Moran, Committee Chair of the May Day Committee introduced Alexandria Knox, proudly representing her union, the American Federation of Musicians, Local 349, Manchester, New Hampshire. Alexandria played a rousing version of Scotland the Brave on the bagpipes, beginning the afternoon’s entertainment. We were extremely fortunate that Alexandria, who is dedicated to the cause of unionization and solidarity, had agreed to play for the event as she is one of a very small number of totally visually impaired Highland bagpipers throughout the world. Next up Mike Stout & The Human Union Band  filled the air with energetic rock music with a worker message.  I was moved by their first song, The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Song, especially in light of the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, where over 1,000 workers were killed in a building collapse. I immediately bought three of their CDs. Mike describes himself as

a socially conscious singer song-writer and community leader who leads crusades against local and global economic injustice, rallying people with his music, and he organizes them to take action.He tells his stories from the heart about people who are affected by unemployment, or social injustice or war.

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Mike Stout and the Human Union Band

Other musicians performed including K&A Mob, Tha Truth, Dina Yarmus and Maryta Fields, who sang the National Anthem. IMG_2489Pete Matthews-AFSCME DC 33, Gwen Ivey-APWU 89, Cathy Scott-AFSCME DC 47, John Johnson-TWU 234, Helen Gym-Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia Student Union, Chicago Teachers Union 1, Cathy Brady-Friends of Elmwood Park & SEIU HCPA were some of the scheduled speakers. A member of the Chicago Teachers Union, Andrew Heiserman, shared stories of  their courageous battle against the city’s austerity measures against the schools. . Sonia Sanchez, Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate, spoke about peace benches. Jim Moran presented the Aggie Moran Human Rights Awards to Sonia as well as to labor historian, Alice Hoffman, labor rights campaigner, Barbara Rahke, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. The “SRC 19,”  the activists arrested at the last School Reform Commission meeting in Philadelphia when the SRC voted to close 23 Philadelphia Public Schools, were also honored. Occupy Philly Food Committee provided a great selection of food: sandwiches, bbq, salads, cake and beverages.

Selected video highlights from the event:

May Day Celebrations around the World 2013

Holiday Tree for Social Justice

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.   Isaiah 1:17

Inspired by my son John and his friend Jim’s activism for social justice causes, especially as advocates for workers’ rights, I decorated a holiday tree for them in the spirit of the season. Resurrecting a 30 year-old artificial tree, recycling/altering old ornaments and repurposing activist buttons . . . voila! an activist holiday tree!

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Details in slideshow.

Chicago Teachers: Progressive Unionism and Advocates for Education

On Saturday, November 17, representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union, Michael Brunson, Debby Pope, and Rolando Vasquez, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd  in Philadelphia about their strike in September 2012.

According to the mission statement of the union, which represents nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff, they by extension also represent students and families they serve. This is truly the goal of unionism: to consider the big picture in advocating for better working conditions and pay, progressive reforms in society and democracy the work place.

The union has addressed issues on charters, privatization and standardized tests. The union has also confronted the demonization of teachers and organized labor. In the past corporate-model school reformers dominated the discussion around issues of  accountability and standardized testing; Chicago teachers have focused on funding, poverty  and inequality.

Chicago teachers were successful because militant grassroots leadership from the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), guided the union membership in 2010 to build unprecedented community and parent support for educational reform.

Philadelphia schools have suffered drastic cuts under Gov. Tom Corbett and the confrontation continues over a radical restructuring and privatization plan advanced by the state-controlled School Reform Commission and backed by the powerful William Penn Foundation. In response, this past September hundreds gathered to found the Philadelphia Coalition for Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), a broad union-community coalition set to counter the Boston Consulting Group-drafted restructuring plan.  PCAPS asks for your advice by completing a public education survey to aid in developing a plan in which the citizens can contribute their ideas.

Video below features selected comments from the panel.

Social justice unionism, democracy in the workplace, shared leadership and responsibility are ideals shared by the Industrial Workers of the World. As the labor movement embraces these principles, mobilization will continue to grow and resist monied interests that obstruct educational reform.

Event Sponsors:  Labor Working Group (created during Occupy Philly) and the progressive Teacher Action Group (TAG).

Holiday Giving: Charity for US Children?

It’s Down to Having a Pencil and Pad of Paper

Yesterday the mail brought the usual Christmas catalogues, including one from World Vision Gift Catalog. The catalog reads that “85% of every gift goes to program helping children and families overcome poverty in nearly 100 countries.” Throughout the pages, smiling and sometimes sad faces of third-world children tug at prospective donor heartstrings. This organization specialized in donations of chickens, ducks, rabbits and other animals in addition mosquito netting and medicines.

One page in particular was disturbing:

Urgently needed

clothing, and more for 

kids in America

and

school supplies 

for U.S. classrooms

It’s not that I didn’t know this was the case, it was the context of being included with children in under-priviledged nations. The United States’ GDP is the largest in the world, signficantly larger than China, Japan, India and Germany, at at figure of

$14,720,000,000,000 

and we can’t support our children with school supplies and clothes?

Where is all that wealth going and why do our children have to depend on charity? The problem lies in wealth inequality.

In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.    Wikipedia

The richest Americans control most of the wealth and add on top of that their financial privilege of supporting candidates that further their own interests rather than the common good where every citizen benefits.  How can our $35 contribution to a political candidate match the thousands that someone with wealth can give to the candidate of their choice?

As long as the current distribution system and campaign financing remain as policy, looks as if we will have to rely on charity, pleading for money for even basic school supplies for America’s children. I guess that’s the great equalizer with developing nations, we can all grovel now.

Sunday Afternoon at Occupy Philly

November 13, 2011

On a pleasant fall afternoon, Nada Alwali, journalist, writer and researcher from Bahrain, and Holly Phares, Choir Director at Tabernacle United, participated in the afternoon program at Occupy Philly.

Nada Alwadi ~ Inspiring Words to the Activists

Musical Interlude led by Holly Phares

Support Occupy Philly!

Specter of Economic Injustice Haunts the Nation

During our years working on the  Swarthmore College Living Wage and Democracy Campaign we used many venues, such as panels, rallies and lectures to advance the cause of a living wage for campus workers. For some of these events we incorporated street theater as one of the methods to bring attention to low wages at the College. Around Halloween in October of 2004 the Specter of Economic Injustice began wandering about the campus and town. Signs warned that the Specter was coming:

The Specter haunted the area for several weeks, sometimes showing up at events or just floating across the landscape. Over seven feet tall, the Specter, draped in black robes, carried chains intertwined with dollar bills. Piercing red eyes glowed in the night. Usually a sign carrier accompanied the Specter to clarify the message to those who were unaware.

We also distributed flyers stating . . .

Issues of unfair workers’ compensation have haunted the Philadelphia area. Many low-wage workers have difficulty putting food on the table, and food pantries have seen a huge increase in the number as working poor who seek their help. Swarthmore students have organized around this issue for years, citing their College’s commitment to Quaker values.  They believe Swarthmore College with its billion dollar endowment cannot teach students to improve the world while practicing social injustice toward campus workers.

This Halloween would be a good time for the Specter to appear again. I’m sure the Specter would be warmly welcomed  by  Philly Occupy. But just like the ghosts in Charles Dickens‘ Christmas Carol, the Specter would be visiting the Scrooges of the world.  So who are the Scrooges? The Specter might consider those who

  • block legislation for campaign finance reform
  • oppose universal health care
  • criticize workers for standing up for fair pay and benefits
  • support unregulated corporations
  • allow the public to suffer the consequences of pollution when companies make profits
  • thwart efforts to improve education
  • advocate for tax structures that give loopholes for the rich and hardships for the poor
  • profit from war

For us mortals we have to rely on other methods to further economic justice.  The Occupy folks have made the first successful steps. Now we must take up the banner and move forward. We can join with others who share our concerns to form a broader movement, run our own candidates, pressure the politicians with the vote, disengage from corporate control and encourage those who are making a difference.

Relying on the good will of the rich and powerful to relinquish influence and wealth will only result in the continued nightmare on Main Street.

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