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Cheri Honkala.                             PHOTO/HARVEY FINKLE

By Sandy Reid

People’s Tribune: Cheri, tell us about America’s new poverty   

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 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.

My broken back...

I hold the world…
or try to…
on my broken back ..

I have carried worlds and toasters –
the guts of a hundred evictions, couches and king-sized beds
and everything else —
…on my broken back

I have carried the love of some people and the disdain of others
the hate of a thousand landlords,
welfare workers, 
and a few hundred angry creditors..
and my broken family….
….on my broken back

I have carried pain and fear –
time and stress –
confusion and
moments when my face could no longer smile and my eyes could only leak blood colored tears

I have seen too much and felt even more
on my broken back —

But it was never supposed to be broken
I was always supposed to carry these people
and these things
these landlords and these toasters
those creditors and that underwear
my family and even those tears 
I was always supposed to be there…
I was always supposed to be ok

Because if my back is broken — and if I have to stop
then I surely will perish
because backs aren’t fixed
and time doesn’t heal
and I can’t just rest
and I won’t be able to slow down –

I can’t and won’t like other poor women before me with no health care,
no comfort and no time 
who carry their children, their poverty, their houses and their families
through  the  jungles of peru, the streets of brooklyn, India, frisco and Mexico,
who sing and cry and love and heal and can’t ever stop.. to be broken.. no matter how broken...
their backs... 
really are.
— By Tiny Gray-Garcia,  founder of

Poor Magazine

• Seven out of 10 of the world’s hungry are women and girls.

• More than two-thirds of the world’s unpaid work is done by women.

• Two-thirds of children denied primary education are girls.

• 75% of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women.

• Of 37 million people living below the poverty line in the US, 21 million are women.

• Almost half of single, Black mothers live below the poverty line. Immigrant women
   are almost wholly concentrated in the lowest paying jobs.

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PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551,
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