US Courts of Women on Poverty, Western Region – The Contours of a New Political Imaginary
For those who participated and attended, WELL DONE!
For those who did not make it out to the US Courts of Women on Poverty, Western Region held in May, you missed a special gathering of minds and a discourse on viable grassroots solutions to alleviate the affects of poverty in our communities.
The Court held in Oakland, a city of extreme contrasts, from hills of green abundance and million dollar homes to a parking lot at Eastmont Mall, where a homeless sister sleeps in her car with three small children; from the lights and music of downtown Oakland to the graffiti saturated and litter filled streets of West Oakland – Oakland was mother to people revolutions way before Occupy tents set up in her town square. It is righteous that the Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) chose Oakland, specifically Laney College as the site for the first World Courts of Women in the US.
” The courts of women are expressions of a new imaginary refusing that human rights be defined and confined only to that which has been hegemonic (the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group). These articulations are finding new ways of speaking truth to power, challenging the different notions of power, recognizing that the concepts and categories enshrined in the ideas and institutions of human rights are insufficient to grasp the violence (of poverty). The courts are creating another civic authority.” Excerpt from the opening day speech by Corrine Kumar, founder of the World Courts of Women. Corrine, along with The Asian Women’s Human Rights Council, El Taller International, and a large collaboration of networks in many different countries previously organized and held over 30 Women’s Courts globally.
Organizations from across the United States: Philadelphia’s Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Portland’s Sisters of the Road sent representatives. Lead Organization the Women’s Economic Agenda Project, with the Alameda County Community Food Bank, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Hip Hop Congress, Lifetime, SEIU Local 1021, UFCW Local 5, and St. Mary’s Center were a few of over 60 organizations that helped plan this ‘history making’ four day event. In her speech, Ethel Long Scott, WEAP’s Executive Director, shared these words, “There has never been a time in this country of such tremendous opportunities and tremendous disparities. There is nothing quite like this globalization of capitalism. We at WEAP have a focus on making economic security and justice available to large numbers of people across this globe and most particularly in this country. We have this idea that POVERTY IS VIOLENCE! We are dedicated to not only elevating the national discourse, but also advancing the vision of the need for economic human rights dedicated to achieving a few small things – accessible comprehensive health care for all, from birth to death and a living wage so that we might thrive and not simply survive!”
The Court brought together experts from the different perspectives in the Economic Equity movement. Keynote speakers included, Kay McMay, former president of the California Nurses Association and Chair of the CNA’s Political Action Committee; Richard Monje, International Vice President of Workers United; and Inspirational Community Activist Emma Denice Milligan, a teacher and writer for WEAP, just to name a few. The truth sayers and heart of the event were the personal and video testimonies of those affected by poverty, unemployment, homelessness and suffering from an inadequate health care system. One of the consensuses reached is “The system is broken. The people are not.”
Throughout Roundtable Events, attendees heard from panelists spotlighting the scope of the problem and solutions to these core issues: Poverty, Jobs and Immigration; Foreclosures, Homelessness and Poverty Rights; Environment and the Justice System; Healthcare for the 99%; and Organizing for a Quality Public Education. The Court was facilitated by power house activist and Hip Hop Congress President, Shamako Noble.
Ashley Proctor, a panelist on “Healthcare for the 99%,” shared her story. Ashley has a Festus tubular which has deteriorated her throat system. Beginning at age 10, she went undiagnosed for 12 years, she saw 34 doctors who told her, without looking down her throat, that there was nothing wrong with her. She remembers at 22 sharing baby food with her son, because that was all she could eat. “One day a lady at my church told me I was too skinny and that I was going to die.” Ashley told her why she could not eat. The lady, who was also a nurse, took one look and recommended an upper GI exam. After the procedure the doctor was amazed that Ashley was still talking. “I weighed 97 pounds. My glands were permanently swollen and the inside of my throat no longer existed.” From the same panel, Vanessa Nguyen, BOSS Community Organizer and Suitcase Clinic Volunteer talked about her experience, “Folks in poverty are living in neighborhoods with tons of violence, walking home is stressful, scary, dangerous. Stress causes a slew of health issues, like stress eating, smoking, drugs… health and poverty are intertwined.”
The event’s entertainment consisting of song, dance and poetry textured the days with color, great music and rich culture. Many times, the audience was brought to their feet in applause from performances from Antique Naked Soul, Las Bomberas de la Bahia, DeLabrie, Mamaz, Rahman Jamaal, Shamako Nobel, The Revolutionary Poets Brigade and Youth Speaks. On day two BOSS Executive Director boona cheema MC’d a California Partnership press conference which included Oakland Mayor Jean Quan speaking out in support. And on day three, Congresswoman Barbara Lee shared that there is a serious push to cut billions of dollars from food stamp programs and from the Preventive Health Care Fund, a fund that helps women. Encouraging all who were in attendance, Congresswoman Lee said, “Women of the world unite! Women’s leadership really defines whether the world will move forward or go backwards.”
The court culminated in a presentation by the jurors who were charged to witness the proceedings and draft a resolution that will be shared during planning stages of three other Courts of Women in other parts of the United States. Ultimately, a US contingent will present a US Courts of Women on Poverty Resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland. The Oakland Courts panel of jurors included lifelong Detroit activist Marian Cramer, Professor of African American and Women’s Studies at University of Minnesota Rose Brewer, activist and leader in Philadelphia’s Poor People’s Economic Human Rights campaign Cheri Honkala, Oakland based Criminal Defense Lawyer Tom Meyer, Archbishop Aurea Lewis of UROJAS Community Services Ministries, Board member for Portland’s Sisters of the Road Two Bears, Professor of English at UC Riverside Marguerite Walker, and BOSS Community Organizer Janny Castillo. This excerpt from the Juror Resolution touches on the depth of testimonies and the resulting roundtable resolutions:
…The hurt heart, the damaged spirit must have a place to heal. The US Courts of Women on Poverty has created the space for this unstoppable healing to begin. …We, the Jurors of the US Courts of Women on Poverty, on this day which is Mother’s Day, bear witness to the suffering of our mothers and the pain of our sons and daughters. We bear witness to the violence of battery, criminal injustice, homelessness, mental illness and physical violence, food insecurity and economical genocide indeed, the extreme violence perpetrated by poverty and the capitalist system.
…The resolutions created in this World Court will take root in the people and organizations of the Western Region and will be carried by all manner of communications to regions all over the US, to other World Courts, and to the Geneva Switzerland UN Human Rights Council.
…We, the Jurors of the US Courts of Women on Poverty, Western Region hold the United States Government and corporations responsible and accountable for the multitude of gross human rights violations that have barred the way to basic human rights such as affordable housing, health and mental health care, quality education, right to justice and dignity, and the right to exist and thrive in a free and true democracy.”
Special thanks are due to WEAP and its Executive Director Ethel Long-Scott for taking the lead on organizing the first World Courts of Women ever held in the US. The BOSS contingent included Community Organizers Marlene Hurd, Jon-Mychal Cox and Marshall Hackett who were thanked for their contribution to the Court’s success. As for me, it was an honor to serve as juror.
This article does not allow space to adequately describe the spirit, the depth of the stories, and the value of the information that represented the World Courts of Women on Poverty in the US. Pictures and video from the event are available now and over the next three months more will be posted at the Youtube Channel “Casboss,” and Facebook page “Create Peace at Home,” and Flickr site “bossweb1.”
“We ask the powerful of the world, the giant multinationals, the rich in the richest country of the world, we ask you to look into the eyes of your children. What stories will you tell them? Will you tell them that once upon a time, not so long ago, when millions of people in America were living on the streets, when millions did not have health care, or food, housing or work, when millions of poor people have fallen through the holes in the safety net, that they -The Powerful only looked away – will you tell them you had no answers and accepted only violent ones…what will you tell your children?” – Corinne Kumar