A new and unsettling force: Poverty Scholars from across the globe come together to re-ignite the revolution of Dr. Martin Luth


POOR correspondent - Posted on 22 June 2010

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, PoorNewsNetwork poverty scholar
Thursday, August 13, 2009

"There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose, if they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life" Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"In Durban, South Africa, it is not racism, it's poverty that's affecting us now." I was blessed to meet Mazwi Nzimande, youth and poverty scholar leader with Abahlai base Mjondolo (The Shack Dwellers Union) in South Africa, a revolutionary group of landless folks in Capetown and Durban, South Africa, who were one of the organizations sharing scholarship at the Poverty Scholars Program Leadership School held in West Virginia in August of 2009.

Myself and Laure McElroy, poverty scholars, co-madres and staff writers with the welfareQUEENS project of POOR Magazine, and our sons, POOR Magazine youth scholars Evander McElroy and Tiburcio Garcia-Gray traveled for over 9 hours and three consistently late plane connections to be here, leaving unpaid water bills, unfunded programs, unsent unemployment checks, racial profiling, po'lice abuse and almost unpaid rent to make sure our voices and scholarship could join with over 120 other scholars from across the globe to re-ignite Dr. Kings dream.

With scholars from Scotland to New York, from Africa to Detroit, we were educated on multiple models of resistance and struggle throughout herstory, organizing through art and faith, multi-lingual inclusion and systemic change in the face of the often talked about but rarely understood economic downturn.

There is money to build housing but the money is being spent to build stadiums, Mazwi went on to explain how the homes of the shack dwellers in Durban and other cities in South Africa are being systematically demolished so the poor people remain at least 50 kilometers away from the upcoming World Cup stadium. In an act that will permanently criminalize landless South Africans, the current government is trying to pass the Slums Act which allows the eviction of families by saying that certain areas of South Africa must be slum free.

When the people of South Africa challenged this unconstitutional act, they faced a judge who fell asleep while on the bench supposedly adjudicating their case, similar to the cases of many of the judges and lawyers in Amerikkkan Criminal Un-Justice System that have convicted poor black men and sent them to death row in Texas while sleeping throughout the trials.

"We have a very nice constitution in South Africa that states no-one can be evicted once they have lived in a place for over 24 hours without due process, but its dust now, no-one follows it", Mazwi concluded. Mazwi told us how poor children who are found living on the streets are put in jail for weeks at a time if tourists are expected to come to Durban. Mazwi's stories of removal and criminalization reminded me of the ways that encampments of landless folks in the Bay Area are arrested and washed away with high pressure power washers when they are found in settlements under the freeways, under the bridges, in doorways, and other outside residences.

As of 2007, 37 million people are living in poverty in the US, that's up from 5.7 million in 2003, the powerful week of knowledge sharing and coalition building began with youth leaders from Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Media Mobilizing Project, breaking down the numbers of people struggling to stay fed, housed and employed in every city in the US today.

Yo soy Angelica Hernandez, y yo soy trabadora domestica, (I am Angelica Hernandez and I am a domestic worker) Angelica explained that she worked with an organization called Domestic Workers United in New York, an organization that many of PoorNewsNetwork's migrant and poverty scholars have worked with to achieve worker rights for migrant scholars.

Christine Lewis, also with Domestic Workers United explained how many amazing women have spearheaded the fight to create a domestic workers bill of rights which makes sure that domestic workers are paid decent wages and given proper protection and recognition for the crucial work they do.

We must root our struggle in the history of all peoples struggle, and that includes all of our struggles across organizations and regions, religion and race. In a training on multi-lingualism sponsored by Voluta Interpreters collective based in Philadelphia, Willie Baptist, long-time organizer and one of the poverty scholar leaders involved in the Leadership School, articulated the current goals of the campaign.

After all of these powerful women and men shared their resistance struggles my eyes traveled outside the window of our plenary session. I watched drops of thick warm rain as it rolled down deep green leaves onto fertile West Virginia earth. Land once tilled and harvested by Shawnee, Iroquis and Seneca peoples before guns and treaties and more guns stole it away. Earth stained with the blood of coal miners, former slaves and migrant peoples struggling for workers' rights, civil rights and human rights and now land rights.

"Mountain-top removal is causing weekly flooding round these parts, we are losing our land, our homes, and our jobs", Gerry Randal, a life-long resident of Matewan, West Virginia, said, explaining how corporations like Massey Energy, one of the largest coal producers in West Virginia which is part of the "clean coal" movement and has been destroying the land his family has lived on for hundreds of years. "We are poor people we have nowhere to go", Gerry concluded and then in a deep West Virginia drawl, told me to have a nice day miss..

The corporate-fueled, flagrantly illegal land destruction in the name of development reminded Laure and myself of the poisoning of communities by private housing developers like Lennar Corporation who is attempting to gentrify and destroy the Bayview/Hunters Point district of San Francisco, even if it means poisoning our children and families.

I ran into Gerry while I was on a tour provided by the institute through Matewan, the town known for a shoot-out between the town's sheriff and the thugs hired to kill, evict and harass any coal miners who were suspected of union organizing. On this tour we learned the bloody and deadly herstory and histories of repression by coal companies of their workers. We also learned the inspiring stories of resistance like the true meaning of "red-necks" and the "red-neck army:--a group of over 1700 coal miners who were known for wearing red scarves around their necks and dared to take up arms against the brutality of corporations like Massey Coal, who paid their workers in script worth cents on the dollar and only redeemable in Massey company stores.

We left Matewan, the heat and humidity dripping slowly down the backs of the chewed on mountains. Carpet green hills, forests dense with deep brown and red. Spirits of poverty scholars and amerikkkan survivors seemed to sway with songs of lost ancestors.

When John Henry was hammering on the mountain
And his hammer was striking fire
He drove so hard til he broke his poor heart
And he laid down his hammer and he died
He laid down his hammer and he died
He laid down his hammer and he died John Henry was a black railroad worker who the legend has it died working on the rails in West Virginia

Rivers large and small, wide and narrow.. winded through the land that we passed, carrying life, time, dreams, and resistance. In these rivers and forests of immense beauty and devastating struggle, my Mama Dee came forth, her tears that I cry often for--her struggle as an unwanted, abused and tortured mixed race child living in poverty and later as a poor single mother of color who became disabled and houseless with me her daughter, and later my struggle to care for her when she was unable to work followed, then, by my ongoing struggle to raise a child while struggling with houselessness, her struggle is my struggle, the struggle of all of our mamaz and children, entwined, threaded, with the struggles for land.

It is for my mama and all our mamaz and daughters, daddys and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers that POOR Magazine has launched the Homefulness Project, a sweat-equity co-housing project that distributes equity to landless families not tied to how much money they have access to. HOMEFFULNESS includes a small farm and intergenerational, multi-lingual school and several micro-business projects to support economic self sufficiency for poor folk moving off the grid of budget cuts, corporate gentrification, Slavemart (Walmart) and (Safeway) Slaveway food poisoning, english language domination, the non-profit industrial complex and poverty pimpology.

And then our magical tour bus of change arrived at the West Virginia Historical Society, which contained a powerful exhibition about the New Deal and the towns of Allendale, Preston and Daily, three resettlement communities for unemployed workers created by Eleanor Roosevelt in the time of the severe depression and the New Deal when millions of US residents were living without food, housing or jobs. Each resettlement community included a farm, carpet factory, furniture factory and a school. Omigod, I dreamed, what a truly revolutionary way for that much talked about stimulus money to be used in the 21st Century for our current poor and landless families.

This is Chemical Valley, said pastor Amanda Gayle Reed a fifth generation native of West Virgina, about the land around the Camp. At a community bbq sponsored by the Leadership School I met Pastor Gayle only to be terrified by more corporate poisoning. She continued,"the levels of MIC (Methyl Isocyanate, the chemical released in Bhopal, India in 1984 that killed more than 3,800 People) from the Dow chemical plant buried in this valley are higher than they were in Bhopal, India when they had the explosion, we have shelter in place warnings all the time because the chemical levels here are so high."

"I have been to the mountaintop," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

On our final day at the institute my son and I talked about the power of resistance of our elders and ancestors that came and fought before us like Dr. King and John Henry, Uncle Al Robles and Mama Dee, as we gazed upon the land. We meditated on the words of Dr. King, our teachings this week and our own lives as a poor, landless family in resistance in the US. And finally we reflected on one of the messages that were proven this week at the Institute which we teach on often at POOR Magazine--the connections between all of our shared struggles for land, food, freedom and voice in South Africa, New Orleans, Mexico, West Virginia, Oakland, Guatemala and beyond,now, we thought, lets work to keep the revolution of truth-telling and cross-movement mobilization flowing so we can continue Dr. King's walk up all of Pacha Mama's ailing mountain-tops.

We are the keepers of the mountain
Love them or leave them
Just don't destroy them
If you dare to be one to.. Larry Gibson, fighting the removal of his families mountain by Massy Coal

To support the families in struggle to keep their land contact Larry.gibson@mountainkeepers.org or call 304-542-1134
For more information on the Poverty Initiative program go on-line to www.povertyintiative.org

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