By Sandy Reid
Cheri Honkala: I’ve been working with low income families across the U.S. for about twenty years. The volume of poverty is out of control. We used to get families here and there. Now families are doubling and quadrupling up in homes together. In any of our major cities every other property is vacant because of foreclosures. In rural America, farmers that have had their farms handed down from one generation to another now work two or three jobs. Most farms have been taken over by huge multinational corporations. The situation is devastating all over the place. The band-aid solutions of social service programs don’t work. So for the large numbers of new poor that are being created as a result of the jobs that are not coming back, there is devastation. In the large urban areas we’re seeing a direct correlation with the absolute proliferation of drugs that are cheap and accessible and the large numbers of families that are going to jail as a result of the the criminalization of poverty. As a diversion, immigrants are being made into the new enemy and being held responsible for all of the problems of a failing system. So, we’re trying to figure out how to link all these different sections of the population. The good news is that the reality of something bigger needing to happen in this country is beginning to awaken more people. That is the hopeful aspect. It’s not hard to explain that this thing is coming in everybody’s direction, so a bigger and better social welfare system is not the answer. And it’s clear that it won’t be the Democratic Party that will save them.
PT: Tell us about your upcoming activities at the Republican convention protests
Cheri: Once again the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign intends to organize the largest poor peoples march ever during the Republican Convention in Minneapolis. In August, 2008, we’ll have a month-long bus tour throughout Minnesota, collecting human rights documentation, and then a reality tour. A Minnesota Truth Commission will say what people see as a solution and who is responsible for what is happening in the country. There will be a national arts and culture event, an anti-war event, and a National Truth Commission. On September 2 we’ll have our third National March for Our Lives. There will also be traveling caravans from North, South, East and West with a special focus on art and culture to the growing movement against poverty. People can connect up through our new web site at http://www.economichumanrights.org in a couple of weeks.
PT:What new ideas do you teach?
Cheri:We teach that our country has an abundance, that we are human beings, and our government has a responsibility to provide all of these things for residents of this country as a basic human right. We find it’s a lot easier to deal with stereotypes now — about poor people being lazy and irresponsible and not having work ethics —because there is a much broader section of people not knowing where they are going to live. People are also seeing that elected officials haven’t been able to stop the foreclosures or help them when their family needs health insurance. People are understanding that something else has to be done. Some are excited about a Black man or a women potentially being president. I know that soon after whoever is elected, people will come to see that it has much more to do with a system based around greed and not human need. The problems will continue to exist, whoever becomes president. The main thing is to link up and form the kinds of organizations that are going to be able to withstand this horrible storm and come up with a plan for a better world. The other important thing is to go beyond the misleaders that have great rhetoric but who are doing nothing. People need to look at who is saying what and what they actually do with their time and money.