Reprinted from Consortium News
Cheri Honkala, National Coordinator of the Poor Peoples' Economic Human Rights Campaign and the founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union
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True concern about the plight of America's poor and disenfranchised has been low on the priority lists of both the Republican and Democratic parties for many years, a challenge that Cheri Honkala, a long-time warrior for the poor and disenfranchised, has taken to the two conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
As National Coordinator of the Poor Peoples' Economic Human Rights Campaign and the founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Honkala participated a Poor People's March through the streets of Cleveland at the Republican National Convention and, from her home base in Philadelphia, sought to bring the same issues to the Democratic National Convention.
I caught up with her in Cleveland on July 22 as she was poised to march through heavily guarded streets at the Republican convention "to send a strong message that we are against the racists and inhumane policies of the Republican National Committee, and are outraged at the idea of having Trump or Hillary for president in this country."
Dennis Bernstein: What kind of a president do you think Trump would make? How do you think he would impact on the poor?
Cheri Honkala: Well, ["] in all seriousness, if Trump becomes our president, we have to begin to get serious about organizing soldiers across this country to organize the New American Spring. Because we are currently not surviving in this country. And if either Trump or Hillary are elected, we're in big trouble.
And, so, we are out here on the streets. We are not going to be afraid of the police. We're not going to be afraid of, you know, people telling us that we have to choose one person of the lesser evil. We're going to go forward and lift our voices, and envision a different kind of world. We're going to make that new world.
DB: You're about to lead this march...in Cleveland. Could you talk about what are some of the multiple struggles that poor people face, that you represent? What are the kinds of everyday struggles we're talking about now?
CH: Well, a big thing that we're dealing with now is the nonprofit industrial complex, where many mega-organizations are getting multi-million dollar budgets and still can't find ways to house poor people in this country. And it's a question of greed.
And we need so many things. Healthcare -- we need single payer healthcare in this country. Most everybody I know, they are missing all of their back teeth because they had them pulled because they can't afford the dentist. Our children can't afford glasses. Adults are also going without glasses. I know somebody who had potential bladder cancer and the public health clinic didn't pay for that.
Most everybody I know in Kensington [neighborhood in Philadelphia], especially single males, are living on less than two dollars a day, but sometimes go weeks without a dollar. So, there's just no way to give justice, to describe what people are having to live with.
Not to mention that both of these major parties have allocated millions of dollars to add to the police state. And we continue to see young black lives shot down around this country, and we cannot sit by just as spectators and watch these things.
I'm very hopeful because I know that, as a mom, mothers out there, they love their kids. And they're not going to settle for a lower standard of living. It's inhumane and non-Christian. We're going to rise from the ashes and we're going to change this thing around.
DB: Could you talk a little bit about the way in which things seem to be progressing against the poor? Many people who have been dealing with the authorities, in recent years, around poor and homelessness find there's a move to really criminalize the poor, in a formal way. Could you tell us about that?
CH: In the 80's, you know, there was actually like a little bit of consciousness, [it was] kinda trendy. But now, if you're a poor person and you're homeless and you're on the corner and you put up a sign, you're pretty much going to get a brick thrown at your head. They institutionalized the institution under the other Clinton, Bill Clinton, they ended welfare as you know it. And like in my neighborhood, the number one source of income used to be welfare, and now the number one source of income is drugs. And so if peoples' lives are not exploitable, they're expendable.