By Sheridan Talbott
An Interview with Cheri Honkala
People’s Tribune recently interviewed Cheri Honkala, national organizer of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC). PPEHRC has led battles for housing and health care all across America, including foreclosure resistance in Minnesota. PPEHRC and the Social Welfare Action Alliance are convening a national conference to abolish poverty from July 17-19. The conference will be called “Building the Unsettling Force” and will be held at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.
People’s Tribune: What is the situation around foreclosures now in Minnesota, and what lessons are you learning?
Cheri Honkala: Right now the situation is at a critical point. In Minneapolis we have pulled together a powerful unity of families in danger of foreclosure, and neighbors fighting to defend their community. The neighbors defend the families facing eviction because they are friends, and all the abandoned, foreclosed homes are destroying the social fabric of the neighborhood.
On June 23 we are holding a large civil disobedience training around the foreclosure case of Rosemary Williams. We want to be prepared to resist in case the court-ordered negotiations with GMAC break down and they try to evict her.
We have learned several lessons. First, it is possible to organize a strong, effective community-based movement against foreclosures. Second, the Democratic and Republican politicians are of no use whatsoever. While people are foreclosed and evicted every day in Minnesota, they say they “can’t do anything because the legislature isn’t in session”. Finally, we learned that it is not just the banks we are fighting. Since the bailouts and nationalizations, the government itself is directly involved. We are fighting for the government to take care of its people and stop defending the profits of predatory corporations.
People’s Tribune: Talk about your recent trip to Mississippi.
Cheri Honkala: I attended a poor people’s hearing in Quitman County, Mississippi. It was organized by Gathering of Hearts, and attended by some of the original participants in Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, along with the Nation of Islam and other groups, including whites and Blacks. This is the poorest area in America. Many people still live without running water and their roofs do not keep out the rain. Seniors are going without medical care and transportation, and kids without education.
The hearing drew over 300 people to Quitman County Elementary School. The kids themselves testified about the lack of parks, swimming pools, libraries, and school materials. People there have lost all faith in politicians and traditional religious leaders who take no action. They want to link up with national groups and begin to organize. The conditions are explosive.
People’s Tribune: Talk about the upcoming conference in Louisville.
Cheri Honkala: We are trying to accomplish two things. The first is to bring people together to get serious about exchanging experiences, skills, and ideas. We have to learn how to survive right now, while we organize ourselves into a non-violent army, to build a new country and a new world. Our movement is about the future, but also about saving lives today. We have to stop losing our people.
The second thing is to organize for power. We will never have economic human rights in America without power. The orientation of our movement is to build power, not to beg for policy changes from politicians who do not have our best interests at heart. We intend to raise up new leaders and broaden our movement.
Part of building a movement is building our independent media. We welcome the People’s Tribune to this conference as an important part of that independent media.
For more information about the conference and about PPEHRC, go to www.economichumanrights.org
People’s Tribune ‘crucial’ says contributor:
Never has it been more crucial to strengthen and expand the circulation of the People’s Tribune. Leadership is emerging among the people who are “poor in things and rich in spirit”— and they need the news and analysis from the nation, from all the communities which are on the front lines struggling against harsh and brutal economic conditions. We can do this. $5 a month from 200 people, $10 a month from a hundred people, $20 dollars a month from fifty people, $50 a month from twenty people — and we would have a thousand more dollars per month. The PT points the direction — it orients our leaders with a class perspective we just can’t find anywhere else.
—Cathleen Williams Sacramento
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