Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Social Justice’

International Women’s Day: A Rally for $15/hr Minimum Wage

Philadelphia, 10th and Market Streets

Activists teamed up with retail and fast food workers to campaign for a $15 minimum wage by standing together at a rally on Market Street. I came into Philly to support this initiative because I participated in the Swarthmore College Living Wage and Democracy’s campaign to raise the base wage, and documented that effort here.  That campaign resulted in a wage increase for the lowest-paid employees at the College.

Many corporations that pay poverty wages compensate their CEO’s hundreds of times larger than their workers. For more information, check out this article, “466 Hours of Worker Overtime Equals One Hour of CEO Pay.”

Rally participants broke into groups to distribute red flowers to female workers at four different locations including McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King and CVS.  Most folks who passed by the demonstration responded positively, and drivers honked their horns in support.

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Links:

15 Now.org

Activists in Philadelphia Join Nationwide Protest of Low Minimum Wage

On International Women’s Day, Street Actions in Philly for Living Wage

 

Living Wage Lament

Rich folks have the money,
they also have control
poor folks have no money
we’re even in the hole.

We represent diversity
but we are not you’re cream
cause your diversity comes packaged
in a sales pitch lean and mean.

You keep you billon dollars
safely in the bank
no way in hell can touch it
for us who have no rank.

The future is what you talk ’bout
as if that’s all that matters,
you forget the present d’termines
who’ll remain in tatters.

We try and try to tell you
but you got blinders on.
for you can’t see or hear us
‘fraid you’re sense’s gone.

Those who toil and work
are different kind of folks
and never in a billion years
will you remove our yokes.

So it’s up to us to do it
for we must seek the prize
to get equal pay and benefits
and open people’ s eyes.

Save the Environment: 5 Easy Steps We Can do Now to Help Out

I’ve thought of several ideas on helping the environment and finally inspired to carry through and write down suggestions after reading a Daily Kos article, Two Small Changes in the Bathroom Could Improve the Environment and Your Health by Laura Clawson.

1. Add water to just about everything, especially when soaps and cleaners have a small amount left. Yes, probably shouldn’t add water in some cases, but if you can think about diluting where might be proper, do so. Detergents get thick at the bottom and adding water and shaking vigorously stirs up a lot of extra product.

2. Cut toothpaste and other tubes in half. I’ve managed to get two extra weeks out of a cut tube of toothpaste.

3. While making purchases, don’t use plastic bags for anything you can put in your pocket or purse. Have large reusable bags handy in the car and use for all of your shopping trips, not just to the grocery store. As our family was driving through the Delaware countryside, I noticed plastic bags stuck in the fields, ditches, trees and streams. We could organize crews to clean up, but far better that as consumers, we decide not to use plastic bags.

4. Think about the right measure to use for each product. Corporations may promote bigger portions to sell more. I realized that I don’t need to take a big swig of mouth wash. A little bit does the same job. A judicial amount of shampoo gets the job done and less soap goes down the drain.

5. No recyclable trash cans nearby? Carry home bottles and recycle.

You’ve probably figured a few things to do that help the environment. Please contribute to the list, as these serve as reminders or new approaches to consider.

Every bit helps and a few steps we take together mount up to big savings for humanity and our planet.

Protester, Philadelphia 2013

Protester, Philadelphia, 2013

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

Doomsday Plan Could Wreck the Regional Rail Lines in SE PA

Update: November 20, 2013, Pennsylvania House voted 104-95 to give key preliminary approval to the $2.4 billion transportation funding program.

Passengers on

A Ticket to Ride

Last evening as I was boarding the Media-Elwin Regional Rail at the 15th Street Station, I watched as passengers streamed onto the train filling up the seats and then standing in the aisles. It seemed incredulous to me that considering both the crisis of global warming and the thousands of riders who depend on public transportation, that SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) has presented a “doomsday” proposal to shut down the Elwin-Media line, as well as closing eight other regional rail lines.

Market St Station

Will deserted stations become the norm?

During the Pennsylvania State Transportation Committee hearing held at Temple University on September 12, 2013, SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey stated that these changes would affect 89,000 daily transportation users. Yet, just two months ago, SEPTA announced an all-time high in regional rail ridership. Passengers made over 36 million trips in a year’s time, including 2.9 million on the Media-Elwyn line.

Leaving Staton

Leaving the Wallingford Station

Commuter Nightmare

The hardships created by such a shutdown are almost immeasurable. People with disabilities, senior citizens, and those unable to afford an automobile would be prevented from getting to their jobs and medical appointments. Paratransit service for the handicapped would be reduced. Students requiring transportation into the city from the Western suburbs would find it difficult to get to Penn, Temple and Drexel, and the 31 other universities in the city and surrounds. The young man sitting next to me was studying a medical textbook. Trains allow time for people to study, read, socialize or just relax, which is totally unavailable to automobile commuters. Increased car traffic would add to the congestion on our already crowded highways. Economic losses would befall Philadelphia as suburbanites rely on public transportation to bring them into the city for volunteer work, cultural activities and special events. Philadelphia could lose 60,000 jobs. According to a study released by SEPTA, home values would drop if Regional Rail service would be cancelled.

The average property value premium for houses located in counties is $7,900. Homes in communities with higher levels of Regional Rail service and parking capacity, the property value premium averages between $31,000 and $37,000 per house.

Ticket Office Closed

Closed Ticket Windows . . . the future for Delaware County Riders?

Funding Held Up in State House

Without funding from the state for SEPTA’s backlog of critical repair work to the tune of $6.5 billion, the Authority will have to significantly shrink the transit system over the next 10 years, SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey reported during his testimony at the hearing. Four trestles, which are over 100 years old, need significant repairs. Unless Pennsylvania legislators approve this funding, commuter citizens will be held hostage by the politics of the State. A small minority of state legislators are set against it as lawmakers wrangle over funding allowances and tax increases. Currently, the bill is held up in the Republican-led house.

Conductor

Cuts will cause layoff of hundreds of SEPTA employees.

Citizens Rally for Transportation

Delaware County citizens have been rallying support for SEPTA funding. A Swarthmore college student started an on-line petition and has collected over 3,200 signatures so far. At a press conference on October 18 at the Media Courthouse, (Former) Governor Rendell, standing with local Democrats as well as a few Republicans, expressed his objections to the possible closure of the Media-Elwyn line. Rendell encouraged supporters to support the passage of SB-1, the transportation bill that’s been proposed to fund SEPTA.

Protest at Media Courthouse

Protest at Media Courthouse

Rendell addressed the crowd stating,

There are 37 counties with transportation systems in Pennsylvania and all of them would benefit, in my opinion by the bill. The bill would have produced $400 million dollars a year annually for public transportation . . . something that is desperately needed, something in the past we wouldn’t be talking about closing the Media-Elwin line, we wouldn’t be talking about cutbacks not here in Delaware County . . . we should actually be talking about improving public transit.

Rendell

Former Governor Rendell speaks to demonstrators.

End of the Line?

Later that week, after returning from Philadelphia on the Media-Elwin line, I watched as our train left the Wallingford station, fading into the darkness. I wondered if concerned citizens can rally lawmakers so that our public transportation does not disappear from sight.

Shakey Train

A Corner in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia

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Greene Street and Carpenter Lane

Taking a writing course offered at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore led me into a community in West Mount Airy at the corners of Greene and Carpenter Lane. Despite the bleak winter afternoon, the community offered a warm atmosphere as the little shops that lined the streets invited me to stop in to visit. In addition to taking a writing course, I had also enrolled in a photography class at an art center in my community, so I had brought my camera along, as our assignment was to look for new shapes and textures as subjects.

IMG_2275With a fondness for restoration, I couldn’t believe my luck stumbling onto the Philadelphia Salvage Company. Suitcases and trunks piled on what looked like an old railroad cart, and metal cans spilled into the sidewalk. But I didn’t linger too long in cold. Upon entering the building, I noticed  a cast iron stove, pumping warm air through the building, as a tea kettle spewed steam from its spout. I warmed my hands and looked around, mesmerized by the array of architectural salvage, from stained glass, plumbing and electrical fixtures, antique doors and windows. In a second life, I could be a picker, as I love all the old stuff in need of a fix-up.

The Salvage Company celebrates a doggie visitor as their “mascot of the day,”  and I understand that a sleepy cat sometimes occupies the front bench.

Tea Pot Frame

I found lots of subjects for my photography assignment.

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One subject seemed to deserve special attention: a shelf of different sized gears.  The photograph of those gears inspired this blog post, and three months later the photo won first place at the Community Arts Center!

Across the street from the Salvage Company, dogs waited patiently for their owners grabbing a bite to eat at the High Point Cafe. Chilled by the damp air, I stopped in for a cup of coffee. I was not disappointed as the coffee was excellent, in addition to their selection of pastries. The Cafe refers to their corner as a village and “are proud to be part of one.”

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One store down from the Cafe, the Nesting House specializes in selling new and used baby items “with an aim to uphold a mission of social and environmental stewardship.” They sell cloth diapers and used clothing. I found a little pair of shiny dress shoes for my great-niece.

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Crossing over to the corner, I opened the door to the Weavers Way Co-Op, and met with crowds waiting in line to make their purchases. Deli aroma filled the air, and signs advertised hot soup for sale by the cup. According to co-ops website, they sell products that are “local, sustainable, organic, fairly traded and healthful.” It’s a small, two-story compact space, and yet they had annual sales up to $14 million.

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A Huge Assortment of Bulk Items

I picked up some fresh vegetables and loaf of bread and headed to my destination, Big Blue Marble Bookstore. This store reminded me of the book shop restoration I had been part of years ago at Bindlestiff Books in West Philly. An independent book seller, the shop displayed a fantastic collection of children’s books and places for kids to sit and consider what they might buy. Toys and stuffed animals filled every corner. A cozy space, I lingered in the travel section before heading upstairs to my writing course. The store sponsors events including book clubs that can use their community space.

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The progressive leanings of this corner village come from a long history of neighborhood harmony. According to Wikipedia,

The area is recognized by many civil rights groups as one of the first successfully integrated neighborhoods in America. Mount Airy residents organized to resist blockbustingpanic selling, and redlining, especially during the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when those practices were prevalent. It continues to be a well-blended neighborhood and was recently cited in Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine for its racial diversity and neighborhood appeal. The community has also been recognized by US News & World Report for racial harmony and balance.

The harmony in their neighborhood stands in contrast to what the big-box stores offer. In this post, Mystique of the Ole Fashioned General Store I compare the general store of years gone by, which served as a community anchor, with the big-box store of today, which, in contrast, offers little neighborhood involvement or esthetic appeal.  According to a study conducted by faculty at Penn State, big-box stores coincide with hate groups. Mount Airy demonstrates that progressive values provide the small-town American atmosphere we long for in this country. It’s as simple as having a welcoming street corner in your neighborhood.

Meeting Teresa Forcades, Revolutionary Nun, Barcelona, June 13

As a supporter of anarcho-syndicalist movements, which advocate for democracy for the working classes in politics as well as the workplace, I’ve been following the news about the strikes against the Spanish government’s spending cuts, which create severe consequences for workers and their families. Following these events, I came across one of their leaders, Sister Teresa Forcades.

Teresa ForcadesSister Teresa, who confirms that her Church is misogynistic and patriarchal, has a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Forcades?hc_location=stream if you don’t mind using Google translator for Catalonia into English.

For folks who have their doubts about capitalism, Teresa has launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations.

On my first evening in Barcelona, I’m going to an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, a dialogue between Teresa and Lekshe Karma Tsomo, a California Tibetan nun, who share the same commitment: to promote social change based on inner transformation.

Travel Log to Northern Provinces of Spain

If you might travel to Spain or if you have been there and would like to compare notes, please check out my page here where I have pictures and video of Sister Teresa at the event I attended.  I also chronicle a trip to the Northern provinces, which will include commentary on politics, cuisine, language and art.

I will occasionally do a post, but for the most part I’ll be updating the web page. Thanks for checking it out!

Social Justice Dilemma: The Unsettling Nature of Activism

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”          Dante

As social justice activists, we often identify with Dante in his frustration with those who either criticize the most nobel of justice campaigns or refuse to become involved.

What I’ve learned from doing activist work is that some folks just don’t like being bothered by our latest efforts to bring light on various social justice issues, and it almost doesn’t matter what the cause is: environment, poverty, corporate power, or gun control. The issue is not just about people’s indifference but also that some people actually become irritated by activists who generate discomfort with the status quo. It’s a universal problem that faces organizers but infrequently identified as a problem in solving the issue of understanding reactions to our most reasonable requests for social change in response to oppression. I would like to offer some thoughts on how we might consider what making change means to those who stand on the sidelines.

Protest Picture

1. I’m frazzled. Facts, figures, charts, graphs are logical approaches to making our case, but what we sometimes don’t address are the emotional responses to change, which makes some folks get out of sorts when they feel change is thrust upon them. Often first responses are instinctively negative.  

It’s important for activists to be aware of this problem before beginning to strategize solutions. Figuring out what emotional responses might surface assists in anticipating reactions from the community. In this way the organizers will have fewer surprises or objections when their campaign begins.

2. Don’t bother me in my bubble. People get comfortable with familiar routines, while thinking differently takes a great deal of energy. Folks may not want to hear that their water is dirty, their neighbor doesn’t have health care or that the schools are short on funding. If we examine even superficial social changes, like in the 1960s when guys began to grow their hair long or when mini skirts came into the fashion scene, there was a huge backlash against even these relatively minor cultural changes. 

Don’t be surprised that your cause, no matter how compelling, has brought on criticism and resistance. Expect it and prepare for it. Look for possible scapegoats, either persons or ideas. It is important to help the community think rationally and critically. Hold educational events on neutral subjects such as researching and critical thinking. Later, you may become involved in panel discussions and open forums; be ready to clarify  your reasonings, demystify assumptions, consider points of view, and support your data by evidence.

3. I’ll follow the pack. Since we are social creatures, we are part of a pack of similarly thinking people, which encourages a group think mentality.

Sometimes people have difficulty making decisions because they lack the information to make an informed decision. This is where the reports and data that are easily understood are important. Answer specific questions that arise. In some cases, experts can offer clarity to the community.

4. Don’t Tell Me What to Do. When change is imposed by others, people naturally resist, which seems especially true when this happens with peer groups. People sometimes accept authority from those with status, wealth or power. People feel they have to acquiesce to these authority figures, who get a pass because they are seen in status positions. Authorities also command the comfortable status quo and can use the comfort of the old familiar routines to sway opinion to their side when controversy strikes. When peers bring change, there is a vulnerability, as they may have little power or position, from which many view as legitimacy to make change.

Identify groups, people and organizations that may command attention because of the hierarchical position, and break down the power structures by giving people a voice to their concerns. Create venues in which people can participate.

5. I’ve got my own problems. And who’s paying attention to those, they may ask. People see the world from their own view and cannot face another distraction about other people’s’ problems. Facing up to social justice issues brings the next logical step: solving the problem and that puts folks on the spot. Then they may feel compelled to do something about it.  But they don’t really want to solve the problem so they often find a convenient scapegoat.

Identify ways in which your cause may create difficulties for others, whether real or imagined. Listen carefully to those who express concerns and address those concerns. Invite them to be part of the process of change. You may have to alter your focus to include larger groups. 

6. I’m  above the fray. Some folks have privileges that allows them the luxury to ignore the problem. For example, they have enough money to get by or they are wealthy and can afford to fix problems for themselves.

Most people experience some form of discrimination because others have privileges. Find ways in which people experience oppression. One common form of almost universal oppression is lack of voice in the work place. Most employers do not operate in a democratic fashion, and workers resent injustices they have experienced in their place of employment. Point out the advantages of everyone contributing and how that helps the organization and democratic practice. Don’t make people feel guilty about their privilege. Talk about how liberation benefits everyone.

7. I’m scared. Perhaps they are a gun owner and fear that the privilege they have had with unfettered regulation will in some way be restricted. Others fear that what little they have will be taken away. If you advocate to pay a living wage to lowest paid workers, the middle-rung workers may feel neglected. They might wonder, where’s my pay increase?  Institutions perpetuate this way of thinking. I was at a meeting recently where activists were pressing the administration to provide a day care center. An administration minion said, “What will employees be willing to give up for a day care center?”

Activists and social justice organizations must look at the bigger picture and listen to as many different constituencies as possible. It may be difficult, but try to involve them in the process or at least invite them. Create specific steps and supporting documentation for each step. Try to dispel rumors and myths. Look for ways in which your message might be undermined by fear messages from the opposition.

Organizations and activists will not be able to bring everyone on the side of their cause. However, it is possible to bring along folks who stand at the fringe or even the center who might consider what you have to say. Don’t be discouraged as staying strong in the face unrelenting criticism is part of our responsibility and not to be taken personally. Changing a culture is a long process and takes careful attention to detail while remaining compassionate to all involved. Integrity should always be the cornerstone of your campaign. People respect that even if they disagree with your mission. You might just might cancel a few of those reservations to the inferno.

 

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

A Moment in Democracy’s History: Bob Edgar Elected to Congress 1974

B Edgar Button

When grew up in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in the 195os and 60s, I was very much aware that the Republican machine ran the politics of the town, as well as the county, going back to the Civil War. My parents were Democrats, and I remember my father remarking how a Democrat didn’t have a chance of being elected to any office in the county. As a teenager I became interested in supporting the Democratic underdogs, and I attended several events for John J. Logue of Swarthmore, who tried to unseat the entrenched Republican congressman in the 7th district. Young and idealistic, I felt betrayed by the democratic process and wondered how the voices of the people could be drowned out by the powerful Delaware County Board of Republican Supervisors, nicknamed the “War Board.”

In 1974 the Republican machine still controlled Delaware County, and the War Board monopolized local politics. The break came when the public became outraged over the Watergate scandal. What fired me up was when President Nixon demanded the resignations of Attorney General Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus. Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister, decided to run for the 7th Congressional seat, and I signed up to join his campaign.

I canvassed with Bob and stood train stations and malls, handing out flyers. His parents lived a few blocks away, and his Dad and I would walk through the neighborhoods of Springfield talking up the cause. I attended strategy meetings with his dedicated campaign staff and spoke to union representatives. Bob had a platform we could believe in:

Bob Edgar Platform

Bob Edgar Platform 2

I wrote several letters to the local newspapers. The first letter was published in The Evening Bulletin, June 15, 1974, Saturday Forum: Bulletin Readers Speak Out. The subject was Church and State: Clergy in politics, in favor and against.

Church and State Letter

The second letter appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times, Friday, July 5, 1974.

Select Man, Not Party

As election night approached, we were still very much uncertain of the outcome. We faced a voter registration of 3:1 in favor of Republicans. The Republican party ran a new candidate, county district attorney Stephen J. McEwen. The G.O.P. had plenty of monitory resources while Bob’s campaign spent only $3,000 on his primary. Even the Associate Director of the Democratic National Committee stated that “the national party does not rate the chances of winning the 7th district seat as high as other districts.”

Edgar Campaign Literature

Undaunted, the campaign soldiers solicited friends, neighbors and family members to help Bob’s campaign. We were determined to keep the momentum going. I signed up to distribute campaign literature outside the polls at the old Central School in Springfield on Election Day. After the polls closed, my job was to call in the voting tallies to the Edgar headquarters.

Bob Edgar Post Card

That evening after the voting was complete, I held my breath as they opened the voting machine and read the numbers. Bob had won with a clear majority. I called in the tallies, and headed over to the headquarters. We were still waiting for final results to come in from the other precincts when Stephen McEwen entered the room with his entourage. I could hardly believe Steve was conceding as we expected a long night of vote counting. The joy of the victory spread through the crowd as we shared that moment of celebration with each other.

Bob passed away on April 23, and his contributions to Common Cause, as well as his accomplishments when serving six terms as a progressive congressman, are being remembered in The New York Times, the Nation and Huffington Post. For me, Bob’s greatest legacy is when he stood with the people of the 7th Congressional District to restore democracy from control of one-party rule.

B Edgar Thank You

Thank you, Bob.

Chinese Workers Resist Exploitation in Production of our Electronics

For many years now, a social justice movement has been underway to create awareness the working conditions and wages of  farm and migrant workers who pick the fruits and vegetables that we eat. According to the report, “Toward Social Justice and Economic Equity in the Food System,” the public is increasingly attracted to goods produced under socially just conditions.” Fair trade and sweatshop-free products have become popular with consumers.

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But what are the conditions that workers face in the manufacture of our electronic devices, and what is our responsibility as conscientious consumers to support fair workplace practices for these workers?  Do we think the skill levels required to work in this field would offer fair pay and good working conditions? I believed that the stunning success of the iPad, which Apple sold over three million in three days back in November 2012, would benefit their employees, as well as their stockholders. What I learned was that Apple uses an intermediary company, Foxconn, to manufacture their products. While Apple has a positive image as an employer, Foxconn employment practices have come into question.

Ironically, Apple reported that, “we’re working hard to build more quickly to meet the incredible demand,” but the question raised here is exactly who is working hard and are these workers pushed to the extreme to meet the marketing demand?

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Foxconn Factories in China

iPad_mini_PF_PB_PS_Wht_iOS6_121021_THUMBNAILSUnfortunately, conditions in many of these plants operated by Foxconn in China, as well as in other countries, reveal that many workers are subject to exploitive practices.  In April 2011 the story broke that seven Chinese workers had committed suicide. The Guardian reported that Chinese sociologists condemned workplace practices that served as a “model where fundamental human dignity is sacrificed for development.” The article continued . . .

In Shenzhen and Chengdu a joint Foxconn workforce of 500,000 is providing the labour that, in the first quarter of 2011, contributed to Apple Inc net profit of $6 billion (£3.6bn). Interviews with mainly migrant employees and managers have laid bare the dark side of those profits: a Dickensian world of work that would be considered shocking in the west.

intern-worker-at-foxconnTo bring attention to the problem of worker exploitation in these factories,  on April 21, 2013, The Wooden Shoe,  IWW and Solidarity sponsored an activist from Germany, Ralf, to speak in Philadelphia.

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Ralf’s talk was based on gongchao.org’s collective research and activity around the struggles of migrant workers, and he presented photos and films to explain the situation at Foxconn. Ralf focused the discussion on ways to support the iSlaves, relating their struggles to our own labor issues. Formed in September 2008, gongchao researches and documents labor unrest and social movements in China from the perspective of class struggle, migration, and gender. The website offers both analytical texts and workers’ stories.

While the web has a number of resources and webpages on working conditions in China, hearing the stories first hand from Ralf brought the reality closer to home. In the coming weeks, Ralf will be in Washington, Detroit, Chicago, Madison, Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Seattle, Bay Area and Los Angeles. You can click on this link for the details of his schedule.

foxconn-workers-on-strike-wuhan-2012

Foxconn Workers on Strike

rb-star The Wooden Shoe: A Philadelphia collectively-run, anarchist book store and educational space supported by volunteers.

Anarchism: Political philosophy advocating that people are better served if they make decisions for themselves and communities rather than from any form of centralized power structure.

IWW: Industrial Workers of the World, member-run union for all workers.

Links:

iSlave: Work Struggle at Foxconn in China.

Gongchao

Gethin Chamberlain, “Apple Factories Accused of Exploiting Chinese Workers,” The Guardian, April 30, 2011.

Jemima Kiss, “The Real Prices of an iPhone 5: Life in the Foxconn Factory,” September 13, 2012. Apple and Foxcoon: Work Conditions, Problems and Changes.

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