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Protest outside DTE Energy in Detroit. See the
video of the DTE Demonstration at
Photo Credit/Kenny Snodgrass, Activist and
Author of From Victimization to Empowerment

By Cathleen Williams and Sandy Perry

It has been just a year since that frigid January day the nation celebrated the inauguration of President Barak Obama and embraced its multicultural identity and history. But that year has passed without any major Federal initiative to relieve the hardship of the millions facing unemployment, foreclosures, and homelessness – and now it appears about to get a whole lot worse.
On January 20, thousands of protesters gathered in San Francisco from all across the West Coast, representing homeless rights’ organizations like L.A.’s Community Action Network, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, and many others, along with supporters from students, unions, and public employees. Organized by WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project), they called for housing and civil rights for all Americans, saying they have had enough of temporary shelters, police harassment, empty promises, and makeshift charitable solutions to the crisis. They demanded that government restore the $54 billion a year in today’s dollars that have been cut from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs since 1978. Beginning in the early eighties, these cuts triggered the mass homelessness that today is flooding our streets, with families living in cars and people struggling to survive as they unroll their blankets in doorways and encampments.
The WRAP rally came only days after the January 8 release of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s brutal new California budget proposal. This document proved beyond a shadow of doubt that homeless people are not alone in facing a devastating attack on the “social safety net”, which historically has been provided to protect and support the basic needs of the American people.
If the State does not receive additional Federal funds, Schwarzenegger calls for elimination of CalWORKS income for 1.4 million people, elimination of In-Home Supportive Services (home care for seniors and the disabled), slashing of Supplemental Social Security grants for elderly and disabled individuals, and elimination of the Healthy Family Program for over 800,000 children. At the same time, he proposes to reduce spending for public schools by $1.5 billion per year, further cut spending for colleges and universities, and enact a 5% pay cut for most state workers as well as reducing their health and pension benefits.
These proposals are the living proof of a failed economic and political system. This is not just about the poor and unemployed – the budget targets children, women, public employees, school teachers, immigrants, college students, the newly unemployed and many, many others who thought they would never experience this level of hardship and insecurity.
The breathtaking scope of these attacks clearly indicates the need to bring together the broadest possible social movement to protect our people. A government that exists in a sea of affluence and deliberately starves women and children and forces people to live in tents and shacks has lost all moral authority. Clearly it has been taken over by corporations with no conscience or human values. At the very moment the State government proposed these cuts, it enacted changes in corporate income taxes to benefit the largest companies in California – a loss of revenue of more than $8 billion in 2008-2009 and 2015-16. In a year that saw bailouts of banks and increased military and war expenditures amounting to trillions of dollars, it is time to fund people as the new priority.
This is just what the thousands who massed on the streets of San Francisco demanded. In these dark times, the year begins with a strong and unified call to organize and unite beyond old identities and across traditional barriers. The lives of all of us depend on it.

for the ‘Where’s Our Change?: Housing is a
Human Right’ march and gathering,
January 20, 2010 San Francisco

shoulder to shoulder
face by beautiful face
marching thru the rain

oh my people
oh my sisters and brothers
come from everywhere
and from every struggle
each with a singular heart
to add to the work of justice

my revolutionary sister
speaks of the newborn who died
in the homeless cold
and the millions of hungry children
in this land of abundance:
how can we not be marching
for the overturning
of any system that murders
its new life this way?
this illegitimate order
that builds prisons for us
instead of housing

do you see us coming?
with our little brass band
with our visionaries
with our radiant faces
thru the cold rain
thru the storm demanding
‘house keys not handcuffs’
humanity not death
cooperation not despair
a revolution: a turning-around
into an order of love and justice

it starts here: it continues here
every small stream
coming together from everywhere
a mighty living river of us
into the human future
—Sarah Menefee

Our people are writing this poem
an unusual people
in their borrowed clothes
in their paper clothes and cardboard slippers
together leaning forward and going on.

We are coming from the jail
coming from the cold of the penitentiary
coming from the iron rain of the doorway
from the camp in the thicket where
the trash glitters under an American flag.

We are coming from a house of earth
the one with a little yard out back
the one where we were born.
Maybe you think
you can scatter us along the river

maybe you think we are lost and gone and
cannot make it back to
the house where we were born.
But we are coming, coming
and we are writing the poem

with our fingers in the dust
like a song made of names
each name indestructible
even if it disappears like a star
as the wave of night withdraws.

—Cathleen Williams

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This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551,
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