Affordable housing,living wages, and universal healthcare!

root - Posted on 22 March 2009

A March for Change

by Adrienne Aguerrre/Race, Poverty, Media Justice Intern

It was the first cold Sunday the Mission had seen in weeks. The bilingual
language of resistance, unrest, and revolution drifted down the escalator
shaft at the 16th and Mission BART station, causing me to quicken my

How little things have changed.

Emerging from the station, I see a few familiar faces amongst the modest crowd of people gathered in the small square, all listening attentively to the woman speaking at the microphone. Signs screaming "Affordable housing,living wages, and universal healthcare!" in black ink titter above the
heads in the crowd, jittery before beginning the short march to 24th and
Mission. The white paper of the signs is just barely discernable against
the dirty white of the San Francisco sky.

The weather reads my mood, chilled, tense. I don't know these people, I
have never shared their experiences, and yet here I am, picket sign in
tow, in solidarity with the exploited masses. I, who have had healthcare,
housing, and enough to eat all of my life, joined this fight for justice
at the baby fat age of 12.
As a 12 year old, knowing absolutely nothing about modern art, I really
had no business wandering around SF MOMA that day.

What I saw, however,
and the immeasurable pain it caused me, has been etched into my psyche
ever since. I remember the exhibit, the words of suffering and anguish
scrawled across blood red walls next to the photos of their authors. People forced from their homes into desperate poverty, prostitution, and drug use, sleeping next to dumpsters on makeshift cardboard mattresses. They all watched me with hollow eyes as I read their apologies, their pleas for help, and their disappointed dreams.

We're marching now, past doorways where indigenous voices unite with our own, where chants of "Si se puede!" ring proud from all sides. These eyes are not hollow but tired: tired of being unappreciated, of working for slave wages, of being cast aside as a subhuman source of cheap labor. I
can feel the restlessness, the desire to march with us overpowered because
these workers are simply too strapped for cash.

It's Sunday but for these people, there is no such thing as a day of rest. Some marchers pause to say hello to the friends and family they protest for, giving them quick handshakes and warm embraces. Though few, we are loud, a single united voice marching along on centipede legs. Approaching
our destination, more familiar faces greet us, more tired eyes meet our
own. As the speaker from United Healthcare for Workers takes the mic, I
remember the messages of hopelessness and despair on the walls of SF MOMA.

Not here.

This kind of despair demands to be addressed. Here, the power lies in the
hands of the victims, where those who can't afford to be housed, to have healthcare, or even to take a day off from work to march on a Sunday can educate the public about what's really been going down. Karl Kramer, a
member of the SF Living Wage Coalition, described the rally as a "beginning," a "movement to overturn the current conditions." Bob
Offer-Westort, from the Coalition of Homelessness, put emphasis on unity,
pointing out that those without access to jobs and low-wage laborers are
affected by a lot of the same conditions and need to join forces in order
to effect change.

Ten years later, the depression has lifted. I no longer see those in
poverty as weak or powerless. I realize now, the artist's depiction of
the poor and homeless did them no justice; the artist responsible for the
exhibition in SF MOMA ten years past neglected to reveal the strength and
will to survive so necessary to those in poverty. It is precisely this reason why my presence is necessary at this rally, precisely why I choose to help the resistance. I am a person of privilege, yes, but this
immeasurable strength, this consequence of injustice, cannot be ignored.


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