Restoring The Moral Narrative: Poor People’s Campaign, Week 6 of 40-day Campaign for Moral Revival

Interfaith prayer and a band enlivened the 6th Monday of the Poor People´s Campaign for Moral Revival this week –in Chicago, not Springfield.

Cub fans were lining up outside Wrigley field, but my husband and daughter joined me for Poor People´s Choir practice in the Poeple´s Church on the North Side.

Rehearsal for the evening’s finale: “Ain´t gonna let nobody turn me around.¨ Most of the choir had come from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

After choir rehearsal, we walked a few blocks to Lake Shore drive, to catch the end of the last Illinois rally of the 40-day campaign and join the march to the People’s Church for speakers and music.

For the purposed of this blog, “interfaith” includes atheists with faith in humanity, as well as people from various religions.

Once back in the People’s Church, my daughter, husband, and I stood on stage with the choir and sang Somebody’s hurting my people and it been going on far too long.

Reverend Saeed Richardson asked who was in the house. “Tent City,” someone shouted. The percussionist rolled the drums and the keyboardist hit a chord. The crowed cheered. “Who else is in the house tonight?” Asked Rev. Richardson.

Fight for 15

Indivisible

National Nurses United

Soul

Senior Caucus

35th Ward

Progressive Labor Party

Inner Voice

United Methodist Church

Coalition for the Homeless

Unitarian Universalists

March for our Lives, Chicago

Organized Communities against Deportation

After each of these groups announced themselves, we celebrated with drum role and keyboard chords.

Rev. Saeed called on us to rectify the country’s distorted moral narrative. By moral, he means the values that sacred texts, and even government documents, call us to hold dear.

One of the rabbis encouraged us to follow the paths of the prophets, which is what the PPC does–it calls us to develop systems of love and support the most vulnerable of our society, including immigrants and the environment.

A cantor from a congregation in Deerfield sang, We must love each other. We will fill this world with love. Singing gently with folks from different religions, race, and genders, made me believe the words. I recalled singing such songs at church camp, but with people who looked and talked like me. To sing it with the homeless, the queer, the sex worker, the former gang member, the sick, the rabbis, the pastors, and the musicians made my eyes begin to tear-up. The lessons of my childhood as a preacher’s daughter in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a tradition that, for decades, I had left behind, returned.

The Poor People’s Campaign unites the most socially-committed of Christianity, as well as of Islam, Judaism, atheism, Unitarian Universalism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hindus and infinite moral or religious traditions. Even readers of the United States constitution will find a moral call for domestic tranquility and, for each person, a right to the pursuit of happiness. The preamble to the Illinois constitution specifically mentions the moral responsibility of the state to alleviate poverty.

A Rabbi speaking to the Poor People’s Campaign said that broken systems break people.

Jade Mazon, whom I met at the first Monday of the PPC, and who will stand and speak with Rev. Barber on the national mall this Saturday, June 23, said poverty is generational for her. Jade said that her daughter’s school says she’s not a good enough mom and threatens her with community service (though Jade already generously donates her time to the PPC and the Rebel Bells) but The crowed broke out in applause when Jade announced that Kiki won the class honor of most improved and highest standardized test score. From the second row, Kiki beamed with hard-earned pride for herself and her mom.

Pilar Rodriguez, member of a Unitarian Universalism social justice group, said that he is a queer person who presents (not identifies) as a woman. He feels unsafe walking at night in his neighborhood. In his apartment, they repair things with duck tape because they can’t even afford milk. Pilar told the crowd that if anyone needed a place to stay, they were welcome to stay with him. The crowd cheered in support of his generosity.

Rami Nashashiri, director of Inner-city Muslim Action Network, said we have a moral responsibility to address the systems that are broken–that charity is insufficient. He recalled the Salvadoran bishop who said that “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint, but when I asked why they were hungry, they called me a communist.”

Mentioning slavery and ICE’s kidnapping of immigrant children, Nashashiri said that the brokenness, even the U.S. government’s cold and cruel streak and the immorality running through the country, is not new. WHAT IS NEW, he said, is our coming together in the Poor People’s Campaign.

We are restoring the moral narrative.

Tents in front of the Governor’s Mansion: Symbolic creativity for Week 5 of Poor People’s Campaign

On the fifth Monday of the Illinois Poor Peoples Campaign on the capitol, the media came to record activists speaking next to tents in front of the Governor’s mansion.

Erica Nanten, Joyce Brody and Reverend Saeed Richardson directed the action, which began with a march  from the the Capitol strip to the Governor’s Mansion.

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Just Seeds, a cooperative of socially engaged artists, printed signs and banners for the Poor People’s Campaign.

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Week 5 was the most creative action of the campaign so far.  My favorite banner:IMG_3121

In a creative and symbolic move, the campaign set up tents at the entrance to the governor’s mansion (below).  When you set up tents on crumbling concrete next to a mansion, the contrast of  hyper-wealth for the minority, next to extreme poverty for majority, is shocking. It’s the American nightmare.

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The governor’s mansion sits behind tents and campaign activists.  The woman with the red headband is Takesha Williams.  Takesha said that a 15$ minimum wage is only a step.  She has big dreams, but our politicians make it hard for her to realize them.

We’re always ready for a chant:

(The people, united, will never be defeated.)

Reverend Saeed Richardson (below, center) said people are going through hell, and when you’re going through hell, (quoting Martin Luther King), don’t Stop.  Keep going.IMG_3116

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Rev. Saeed always has his hands full, so he pins a sign to his back. Left, Mabel Willams, with her speaking notes.

Aiesha Meadows, a fast-food worker and member of Fight for $15, said that when Rauner vetoed the 15 dollar minimum wage, “he stole from us.”  The crowd hear her and said, “That ain’t right.”  Importantly, Aiesha repeated that she and her co-workers want a union.  Every time she said “union,” she smiled.  

The crowd chanted, 

“Rauner vetoed 15. 

Veto Rauner ’18.”

Mabel Williams (In black and white striped top, above, next to Reverend Saeed) works 40 hours a week, and is still poor.  “I clean hospital rooms,” she said.  The new patient’s health depends on my diligence in eliminating viruses and bacteria, so my work is very important, but I can’t pay all my bills.

Erica faced Rauner’s mansion and spoke to him about how it feels to lose your home and job:

 

Erica initiated the musicology.  “We sing,” said Erica, “to make sure folks know we are human beings.”

In front of the governor’s mansion, Erica taught us a song:

I went down to the rich man’s house (substitute governor’s mansion, immigration, etc. at end of each each verse)

I took back what he stole from me,

took back my dignity,

took my humanity:

Erica introduced Rosie, the featured musicologist (video below).

Hay cadenas que romper (There are chains to break)

Hay victorias que obtener (There are victories to make):

I was the only one who spoke about education and jobs in rural Illinois.   I am laid off and my students don’t have a teacher to teach Hispanic Women and Women and Creativity.  In McDonough County, both the poverty and depopulation rate are climbing.  Also, like Chicago, Macomb schools face sexual assault charges that might have been prevented if we had had adequate funding for sexual assault prevention programs.

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A concluding photo with Fight for 15 holding the banner.

When most campaigners hopped on the buses to Chicago, Maya and returned to the sleepy Capitol building and took the Grand Stair Case to the third floor for an “us-y::

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After an eating salads and chili at Obed and Isaak’s, we began the hour-and-a-half drive, through the long rows of industrial corn, back to Macomb.

 

 

 

The Poor People’s Campaign, Week 4: The Right to Health and a Healthy Planet

When we get arrested, we do it to arrest the consciousness of the state and to guarantee that what we are doing will not be done in the dark.   Rev. William Barber II, quoted in Jaffe, p. 164.

I arrived too late to train for the day’s nonviolent direct action with the Poor People’s action in the Springfield yesterday.  Instead, I was privileged to serve as a moral witness.

After rallying on the capitol, we img_1986.jpg delivered a letter to the chief of Healthcare and Family Services.  In the letter, we demanded healthcare for all.  We sang, chanted and perplexed the offices worker. When the police said they weren’t going to arrest our designated agents of nonviolent direct action, our agents sat down and linked arms, blocking the entrance.

Finally, an officer said our agents were creating a fire hazard.  Tactfully, a police officer warned our agents that they were committing a crime and would be arrested.  Our agents for moral reform did not move.

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When the time came for arrests, our agents rose for their handcuffs.  Pastor Betty , wearing a stole, stood first.  As Pastor Betty was arrested, a police officer said there were better ways to accomplish our goals than arrest.  What are we to make of the fact that a police officer lectures the clergy (a woman trained to preach from sacred texts) in front of moral witnesses?  How can he lecture so confidently in his disregard for civil disobedience? Does his lecture indicate cynicism towards  the more perfect union the drafters of the constitutional wrote about?

On the drive home, my daughter Maya, who recently read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for 11th grade English,  said,

“If he doesn’t think civil disobedience is effective in creating a more perfect union, what does he think is? War?”

“It would be civil war, and our own government is already stocking local national guard and law enforcement with war weapons.”   I said this because of what I have seen at Standing Rock and because of the machine weapons I’ve seen police hold at entrances to stadium concerts.

“So, as an alternative to the violence of civil war, I’d say civil disobedience is a preferred solution.”

Maya said, “Does he  consider the fact that poor people can’t afford to hire lobbyists or donate to PACS?”

“What disturbed the historian in me,” I said, “is that he disregarded the fact that our constitution guaranteed women’s right to vote only after 500 women were arrested for engaging in nonviolent direct action in front of the White House in 1919.  Lobbying and campaigning weren’t enough.”

IFascism relies on ignorance. Fascism relies on most people not knowing that Alice Paul and Martin Luther King took arrest so that this country could be a more perfect union.

“And Jim Crow.  The officer doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that civil disobedience overturned laws that prevented black people from voting or learning in adequate schools.”

The PPC is reclaiming the moral language of the constitution and of  sacred texts.  The PPC draws attention to a decaying economy that is not by the people nor for the people. During the arrests, the police officer said he had better things to do with his time.  I wonder what is better use of anyone’s time than placing oneself on the line to draw attention to the moral decay of our union. How do we establish a more perfect union if, by one measure, 40 percent of our families can’t pay basic bills?  If  we don’t have clean water to drink? Clean air to breathe?

If not for civil disobedience, the votes of the vast majority of the people in this country–women of color, men of color, white women, the poor and immigrants– would be even more suppressed than they are today.

For a moral account of poverty, violence, and ecological devastation, supported with facts and data, please read the the PPC’s  MORAL AGENDA BASED ON FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS.

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Speaking truth to power

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Photo of Pastor Betty taken around 4 pm. All 14 agents of nonviolent direct action were released by 9:30 pm.

 

Risking Arrest for #UniteThePoor #ILPoorPeoplesCampaign #PoorPeoplesCampaign

You asked me how I decided to risk arrest for the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC).  I have asked myself how I could not risk arrest for the PPC.

Before I was tall enough to see over the pews in worship service, the theological tradition I grew up in, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), planted in me a seed of activism .  Dr. William Barber, who, along with Pastor Liz Theoharris, reinvigorated MLK’s PPC, also grew up in the Disciples tradition. The church taught us:  “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his site.”  I learned to appreciate all religious traditions, even atheism.

I learned about peace, justice and love in church.  The poor are blessed, but the idea of rich people going to heaven is as absurd as a hairy beast passing through the eye of a needle.  When we look to wealth and power over others for satisfaction, we are never satisfied.  Sell your stuff and follow me, said Jesus, who lived as a migrant in strappy sandals and got pissed when rich men used the temple as a bank.

When I read a profile of Barber on Mother’s Day, I wanted to re-connect with the radical Christian tradition I grew up in.  As a (laid-off) professor of Women’s Studies, I have taught intersectionality  for a decade.  I immediately recognized the powerful intersectionality of the PPC. I don’t think any of my students are surprised to see me putting myself on the line–they are probably wondering what took me so long (now that I’m laid off, I have less to lose).  I know how powerful education is–how important it is to study and learn together, but I also know that words are not enough.

And if words are not enough, then the only method I know of to topple regimes and change the world is nonviolent direct action.  In the United States nonviolent direct action has entailed civil disobedience.  So, with the support of the PPC, I put myself at risk of arrest because that is the work of peace and justice.

But it is the PPC, with Barber and Theoharris’s solid moral commitment and leadership, that makes me confident in risking arrest.  I am not alone.  I read Dr. Barber’s memoir, The Third Reconstruction.  When we get together, something powerful can happen.  Even when there is no reasonable expectation of political success, moral dissent is necessary.  When building a movement, we think long-term.

The theological and social motivation for risking arrest are clear, but I have also looked inward.  Am I trying to “get attention?”  (Well, yes– that’s the point.)  Am I trying to prove something about myself?  That I’m worthy of love and acceptance?  Maybe, but getting arrested carries a stigma and it’s humiliating, so if I’m looking for acceptance, I’d be better off engaging in  more socially acceptable activism, like taking on more volunteer work at the food pantry that has been unable to keep up with need.  I’ll keep stocking shelves at the food pantry, but I also want to work towards an economy that does not rely on food pantries!  The PPC envisions an economy by the people and for the people.

I’m hoping to inspire you, my readers.  I would love you to join me in putting yourself on the line for the world we believe in.  Our moral power rests in our willingness to suffer.  When I meditate, I practice tolerating discomfort-because if my hands are locked behind me, I won’t to able to scratch an itch or wipe my nose.  I’m middle-aged, so my shoulders and wrists will probably get stiff and sore.  I imagine having to sit on a hard bench when I’d rather be curled up on the couch with a book.

I have not seen examples of police mistreating activists in the PPC (in fact, Illinois police have stood by as we break the law:  arrests would generate bad publicity for Governor Rauner), but I have seen law enforcement unleash violence on protesters at Standing Rock.  The risks of engaging in nonviolent direct action are real.

When I trained in nonviolent direct action, the leader asked us how we were feeling.  I said nervous, because of the stigma.  The leader responded that she’s been arrested just for being black, just for showing up.  If your skin is black or brown, you can get arrested even when you aren’t committing a crime.  Yesterday, police didn’t arrest our line of light-skinned folks that were very clearly violating traffic laws for over an hour.  As we say in the PPC rallies, “That ain’t right.”

If you risk arrest, you need to be educated first.  If it does’t feel right, support the PPC by  joining the movement or donating.

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Blocking intersection of Monroe and 2nd, at Illinois Capitol

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Did you know light-skinned folks can break the law as the police sit by and watch? The Prisoner transport bus remained empty.

 

 

 

Poor People’s Campaign, Second Action on IL Capitol in Springfield, #UniteThePoor #ILPoorPeoplesCampaign #PoorPeoplesCampaign

I finally found the big green bus from Evanston, where Campaign leaders said it would be, in front of the Lincoln Statue on the Capitol.  When I stepped in, a man in a priest collar and colorful stole greeted me.  His name was Pastor Dan.  I introduced myself and said,

“Pastor Marilyn said I could get on your bus for the lobby info session.”

“Have a  seat.” He smiled.  (He had no idea who I was, but welcomed me without skipping a beat.) I sat next to David, who was in charge of distributing granola bars and muffins.   Pastor Dan looked down the center aisle of the bus.  “Everybody, this is Holly Stovall from Macomb.”

A man named Alex from the Service Employees International Union climbed onto the parked bus to educate us on how to lobby for two pieces of legislation that would alleviate poverty:  one, Fight for $15, which sets the minimum wage at $15, and two, a living wage for home health-care workers.IMG_2930

Above, I’m with Raham Bolaji Potter, another activist.

Pastor Dan introduced me to Cicely Flemming (second to right in photo below), an Evanston City Council Member and activist for equality and social justice.    Cicely gave me some fact sheets on the bills we were lobbying for.img_2866-e1527185327131.jpg Photo insert: my excellent lobby group. Danielle and Brenda (second and third from left) had taken off from work to support the Poor People’s Campaign.

Inside, I found my representative, Norine Hammond, in her office and asked her to vote for the bill to help home healthcare workers.  She wore a boldly-printed blouse and a statement necklace that looked great.  She made a few copies of my fact sheet and asked me if I knew when the bill would come up for a vote.

“I’ll find out,” I said.

“I will, too,” she said.  I have written about her critically in the past, but at that moment, we were two women finding meaning and satisfaction in our work.

Back outside on the steps, Pastor Becky held a wad of yellow mesh vests and looked at me.

“Do you want to be a marshal?”

“Sure.”  I took a vest.  I knew from the previous week’s Poor People’s Campaign action  that marshals guide the procession and support the action.

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Above, Pastor Becky, wearing her marshal vest, with Erica Nanton, one of the Tri-chairs of the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign.  Erica told us to make sure that only folks who had trained specifically for the day’s action sit down and block entrances to the governor’s office and senate chambers.  Everyone else had to remain standing.

In the rotunda, Pastor Dan (wearing black shirt and rainbow stole) warmed up the crowd with a master mix of chants and song.

Members of the Poor People’s Campaign approached the podium to articulate the links between Systemic Racism and Poverty — the suppression of Voting Rights, Unjust Immigration policies and the Fight for a Living Wage.

One of my favorite speakers was this 11 year old girl from Chicago:

The police stopped her father at a traffic stop and deported him. She misses him.  Her mother struggles to support her and her sister.

After an hour of speaking truth to power, we geared up for action.  Moral action requires resolve and solidarity.  In his memoir, The Third Reconstruction, Dr. William Barber says one way to fortify moral action is through song:

Erica, by the way, has a great voice.

Activists prepared for arrest by wearing red armbands.

img_2954.jpgI saw red armbands on these two brave young women, Bequina and Ashley (above) and asked them if they were nervous about engaging in civil disobedience and being arrested.  “No.”  They smiled for a photo as they prepared to ascend the grand staircase to Rauner’s office.

Ashley said, “Let me see the picture.”

I showed it to them and they approved.  (I love their smiles because they remind me of my Women’s Studies students at Western Illinois University.)

img_2974.jpgUpstairs, struggling McDonald’s workers sat down in front of the entrance to Governor Rauner’s office. Note the arms raised with red armbands, indicating they have trained in civil disobedience. They chanted and sang for  living wage.  Last year, the Illinois legislature passed the $15 minimum wage, but Governor Rauner vetoed it.

A featured singer dried her tears, then finished:  “We shall not be moved”–morally that is, because we did move, to the entrance to the senate gallery (below) for an hour of sit-in and chants.

img_2987.jpg    A person named Blue, standing in a black t-shirt in front of the law enforcement, led chants for an hour.  Protesters found the sit-in challenging.  The floor was hard, they were crowded, the noise level was high, and many had suffered from aching knees and butts.  Even in the blast of air conditioning, folks were sweating.

Meanwhile, I checked my little slider phone and saw that my son had called from home.  Had Grandma forgot to pick him up from school? I called the house, but no one answered.  Wondering how long before the arrests would start, I began pacing.  What if someone at home needed me for something?  I was descending the grand staircase when I saw a row of police move from Rauner’s entrance to the elevator.  I returned to the action.

That’s when I saw what democracy looks like:

Hey, Fight for Fifteen and Illinois Poor People Campaign, congratulations on your successful action and hard work!

 

Nothin to Lose but my Chains: Poor People’s Campaign in Springfield

On Mother’s Day I went to bed early and read a magazine article that felt life changing. The Reverend William Barber, along with Liz Theoharris, has reignited Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.  Barber is a minister trained in the tradition I grew up in, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (The Disciples church in Macomb sits across from the Police Station.)

Barber’s theology fuels his tireless efforts to address poverty, and he has inspired folks all over the country—rural, urban, north, south, black, white, male, female—to join the Poor People’s Campaign.

Since I was laid off from my tenured professor position in Women’s Studies last year, I’ve struggled with insecurity and self-doubt, but after learning about Barber, I felt certain that I would walk with the Poor People’s Campaign. OPPC

I woke up early Monday morning, searched the web, and found that the first event of a 40-day campaign for moral revival was set to begin that afternoon in dozens of state capitols across the country. The theme of the week is one I’d taught in my Women Studies classes for more than a decade:  “Somebody’s Hurting Our People: Children, Women and People with Disabilities Living in Poverty.”

Even with the two-lane roads and the occasional monster tractor ahead, I could get to Springfield in an hour and a half. New-Banner Outside of Beardstown, IL, I passed a billboard: “Elect John Curtis.” John has walked my congressional district door to door and he’s seen for himself the extensive poverty (nearly one third of the people) that plagues McDonough County.  Though Curtis is a politician, not an activist, his walk through the poverty of our district reminds me that King did the same—choosing to begin his Poor People’s Campaign by marching out of Marks, Alabama, the most destitute town in the country.

IMG_2765                               In Springfield, the Lincoln Statue was hot and sleepy.

img_2744.jpgThe steps around the statue were empty, but I began to hear voices singing and tambourines ringing—and then a procession of marchers emerged from behind the capitol.

img_2746.jpgSinging in a minor key: “We are a new unsettling force for liberation and we’ve got nothing to lose but our chains.”

IMG_2785We gathered around the Lincoln statue, and Jade Mazon (purple shirt) told the crowd that poverty and PTSD from domestic assault have erected obstacles to her role as mother of Kiki, an honors student who stood by her side. Jade works two jobs and two “hustles,” (informal work). From Mazon’s perspective, Kiki’s school tends to punish Mazon for being poor and disabled with PTSD.  Our society has made parenting while poor a crime.

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A close-up with Jade Mazon and her daughter Kiki. Jade is a mother struggling to raise her daughter, and the the speech she delivered was as clear and compelling as anything I’ve ever assigned in a Women’s Studies textbook. Jade and Kiki wore purple t-shirts that read “Rebel Bells,” a mother-daughter group the fights the storage and emissions of neuro- and lung toxins on Chicago’s Southeast side.

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Poverty and toxic air and water are rural problems, as well as urban.  The Illinois Poverty Report ranks McDonough County as approaching a 30 percent poverty rate—one of the worst in the state.  One report ranked air quality around Macomb’s Elementary school very low. In addition, neuro toxins from agricultural fertilizers and other sources may poison drinking water in rural areas, such as McDonough County, IL.

Poverty and environmental destruction are UNIFYING factors because they affect every racial/ethnic category:  for example, most poor people are white and many LGBTQ folks are poor. And everyone needs clean air and water.

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The War against the poor is immoral.

After speaking truth to power, we moved . . .

img_2794.jpgEvent leaders told us to march in twos, which we didn’t quite pull off.

 

 

Keeping the mood positive.  All but the red arm-banded will move to the sidewalk corners.

IMG_2835At the intersection of Monroe and 2nd St, three white women, three white men, and one woman of color, all wearing red armbands they had earned in civil disobedience training, stopped in the box and linked hands.

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Most of us kept to the sidewalk corners. To encourage and support those who were risking arrest, Rev. Saeed Richardson led chants:  “We love you.”

A 93-degree sun beat down on the red-arm-banded protesters in the middle of the intersection.  Nearly a dozen police vehicles surrounded us.

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“Prisoner Transport,” arrived last.

 

 

Police trained to address civil disobedience talked to protesters, escorted each one to the sidewalk, and ticketed them. The two women above graciously took selfies with me after coming off the protest line to wait for their tickets.  (Ticketing the poor??? Doesn’t solve much, but raises public funds, at least).

Afterwards, one of the ticketed protesters sat on the curb in the shade.  She was a woman who didn’t look that different from the white women who’ve recently made the news for calling police on black folks for engaging in completely appropriate activities.

She smiled, her face sweaty.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Hot, but I’m from Southern Illinois, near St. Louis, where white people hardly ever get arrested for petty crimes.  I wanted to take my turn, take a stand.”

“Thank you for putting yourself out there,” I said.

“I’ll be glad to see my kids tonight,” she said.

I went home and signed up for a civil disobedience training webinar.

I’ll return to Springfield each Monday in May to campaign with the poor people.

 

 

Note:  even the police officer, left, can’t resist jamming a little, smiling, and taking video.

 

 

 

Thank You for Re-carding your UPI membership

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank you, my colleagues, who have re-carded your membership with the University Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100. In light of attacks from the SCOTUS, the Koch brothers, Governor Bruce Rauner, and our own administration, I feel an urgency to articulate my gratitude to UPI leaders and members.

The best explanation for re-carding I’ve seen comes from the Chicago Teachers Unions:

To proactively fight this expected decision . .  . reaffirm your membership and support for the union. We need to demonstrate our solidarity and our determination to stand united as a union.  We owe it to our students and ourselves to make this happen. Without a union, educators are relegated to lower pay, longer hours, and worse conditions for students.

Like in the Chicago Public Schools, the best way for public universities to provide high quality education to students is to keep education resources in actual education, meaning in the classroom (not management), meaning adminsitrators must pay faculty and professionals fairly and provide us with working conditions that are both psychologically and physically healthy.

Dear colleagues, I once had a heated debate with one of you, a sturdy southerner.  We were eating tortilla chips with cheese dip. When you said that scientists are always objective, I told you not to deceive yourself.  Your eyes narrowed—it was clear that we would not reach an agreement on the common belief that scientists are more objective than literary scholars.  But last week, when we crossed paths at a recent UPI event, we greeted each other happily.  One thing we agree on—we value our union and the importance of re-carding.

What I like most about my fellow union members is that you care about Western Illinois University and the region.  Many of you, I know, wrestle with the way you will vote on UPI questions, and you consider many factors beyond yourself.  After careful consideration last month, one of you decided to vote to authorize a strike, went to bed, woke up, and changed your mind, but you made your voice heard, you accepted that most of your colleagues voted for strike authorization, and you re-carded. Your willingness to cast a vote of dissent, and then support the union when things don’t go your way, impresses me. What we agree on is this: if the UPI doesn’t stand up for professors and professionals, no one will. I hope the next WIU administration understands that to support faculty, they will have to support the UPI.

I value my union because I love teaching and learning.  The UPI fights to keep resources in the classroom.  Paying professors fairly is the best way to value education.  When the UPI gives up pay, the administration directs those funds to expensive attorneys who don’t know our students and are not invested in our classrooms. Or they give a generous “promotion” (raise) to someone in Sherman Hall, where there are no classrooms.

If you believe, as I do, that education is a social good, that we are preparing students to be engaged citizens, that we will help them get jobs and avoid poverty (and please remember that a woman needs a college degree to earn the same as a man with only a high school education), then we have to fight to keep university resources in the classroom. That means we must all re-card now, before the Supreme Court announces the Janus decision.

For me, the UPI’s most important impact, after education, is social justice.  My union fights for a broad vision of justice.  Some folks assume that the UPI is just a group of middle-class professionals bargaining for a raise, but that is not an accurate picture.  (For one, we’re not even bargaining for a raise.)  Because wages do not keep up with inflation, while our health insurance premiums and bills are increasing, some WIU professors cannot pay basic bills each month.  In our house, we struggle to pay bills on one full-professor income.  We don’t have Netflix, cable, or cell phone plans.  Our cars are old and in need of repair.  We don’t eat out.  I get angry, ashamed, and depressed when a check bounces.  The women at the check-out are always kind when my debit card is rejected. Many of my colleagues struggle much more than we do.  Social Justice requires that professors and professionals have a salary that can support a family.  The UPI is the only organization fighting for our families.

The UPI takes a stand for free speech, which is necessary for social justice, as well as teaching and learning. When I angered the administration by speaking with the Chronicle twice, and then blogging about how sexist WIU’s administration is, the UPI could have told me that it would be easier to defend me if I weren’t so publicly critical. They didn’t–instead, they supported my academic freedoms and rights to free speech.

We know from historical and economic research that unions stabilize economies and prevent the widening of the gap between rich and poor.  This means that when you re-card, you are supporting the local economy.

I know from my experience of studying with Polly Radosh, a feminist activist academic, that the union has worked hard to close the gender wage gap, which is an important social justice issue. When you re-card, you are supporting fair pay for women.

Union activism and bargaining may be the most effective way to prevent neo-liberals million- and billionaires from draining resources from the public classroom and sanitizing curriculum. Wealthy conservative extremists are leading a national movement to reduce our public universities into training and instructional institutions (See Starving the Beast).  They attack the humanities, which are, historically, the very core of university degrees.  The union is a check on the senseless wealth of neo-liberal billionaires like the Koch brothers and their fellow ideologues, such as Governor Bruce Rauner and Mike Pence.

The UPI functions at its best when listening to members and engaging in difficult conversations. If I have a concern, I let UPI president Bill Thompson know and we talk through it.  After two grievances, two arbitrations, and two-plus years being laid off, I wish the UPI had won back my reinstatement already. Things have not gone exactly my way, but I support the union, as does my husband, who has already re-carded.  Though the UPI leadership always listens, they cannot please everyone at once.  When you re-card, you have a voice.

Union members know that we must balance individual concerns with the good of the whole.  A WIU administrator recently called this concern for the whole group a form of “Kool-aid drinking.”  What he calls “Kool-aid,” I call a broad vision of justice that looks beyond one’s individual wants and needs.  The UPI should be proud of our willingness to defend what is true and good beyond the individual.  President Goldfarb and other previous administrations understood the value of unions.  They didn’t accuse us of drinking “the Kool-aid.”

Thank you for recarding.  Thank you for supporting our union. Thank you for taking a stand for your own ability to pay bills and, if you choose, support a family.  Thank you for setting up yourself, and your position, for a solid defense should you find yourself laid off this month.  Thank you for contributing to the organization that fights for the classroom, our students, our families and the community.

Warmest Regards,

Holly

 

In Defense of the Minima My Professors Fought for

At Western Illinois University, what values do we hold dear?  What is worth fighting for?  What do we take risks for?  I think about my WIU professors, and I know I would support a strike for a fair contract that includes a defense of the minima, the policy that closed the wage gap at WIU.  As WIU administration attempts to compromise the minima–render it toothless–I will speak out.

I learned about the minima when I took Dr. Polly Radosh’s Women and Crime class at WIU 30 years ago.  Some of us walked to class with Discmans playing the Joshua Tree CD.  We met in one of those cave-like lecture halls in Morgan.  We sat in arched rows of seats with fold-away writing tablets.  The chairs were welded into the floor.

After 30 years, I’m remembering her classroom dialogue the best I can.

“Poverty drives women’s petty crimes,” said Dr. Radosh. “And women are poorer because of the wage gap.”  Polly really did use the phrase “petty crimes.”  It’s funny the things I remember decades later.

Polly attracted politically engaged students who cared about the world.

“Wage gap?”  said one of my classmates, “Aren’t women paid less because they work less? Or their work is less valuable?”  A student usually poses some form of this question.

“Consider WIU.  Even here, women with the same rank and seniority, in the same department, doing the same work, earn less than their male colleagues.” Polly said something like that.

“You mean this is practically the 1990s, and they pay men more for the same work?” Maybe I posed this question, but  I was probably too shocked to speak.  I still believed the United States was a fair place for women.  It would not have occurred to me sex discrimination was still blatant and would hit so close to home.

“Yes, WIU does, in fact, pay men more for the same work, but a group of us in the faculty union is working to close the pay gap,” Polly said.

Something was terribly wrong:  Polly Radosh was getting paid less than her male colleagues at the same rank. I’ve never seen any faculty member or administrator who worked as intensely, for long hours, as Polly Radosh.  She was not chummy.  She did not schmooze.  You would never, NEVER, find her with social media or Ebay or Nordstromrack.com on her computer screen.  Or a chess game or personal check book on her desk.  As focused as she was, she always dropped what she was doing if I needed her help, even if she was working on a deadline. I was so lucky.

Dr. Polly Radosh and her colleagues instituted the minima and it closed the wage gap. Polly and other professors, like Dr. Karen Mann, were making a better world for women like me.  Or that’s what we believed.  That’s what we wanted, what we still want—to level the playing field for our students and our daughters.  To win for every woman, all women, a fair start, an equal opportunity.  And when we defend women’s rights and freedoms, men and children benefit.

Polly and Karen taught me how to be a feminist activist academic.  They have retired.  I have picked up their torch.  So has the UPI leadership.

My WIU professors formed the professional union and created the Western Organization for Women. I’ve admired them for their political commitment:  they fought for and achieved fair wages and good working conditions.  The stakes are high.

But gains won for fairness–for women, for people of color, for state employees– are easily lost.

Will we be the generation of faculty that sits by as the hard-won gains our predecessors fought for are attacked and destroyed?

UPDATE:  WIU’s professional union, the UPI, overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. So no. No we will not be the generation the sits by.

 

 

 

Fact Checking

I wrote a letter of fact-checks with regard to some of Western Illinois University’s administrative rebuttal to the faculty senate petition for a vote of confidence.  Judging by the higher-than-average voter turnout for the referendum, it looks like a generous majority of faculty who participated (the 64% who voted no confidence) understand the facts clearly.

Dear Editor,
I read last week´s article in which the WIU administration rebuts a faculty petition for an administration confidence vote. Since two of the president’s rebuttals concern me directly, I decided to “fact check” some of the rebuttal.
The administration attempted to rebut the faculty statement that the administration has laid off tenured faculty. I am a tenured professor. I am laid off. The administration is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees in an attempt to keep me laid off, and the AAUP of Illinois has publicly defended me and the violation of my tenure. My layoff is expensive as well as damaging to WIU’s reputation. The faculty petition is correct.
The faculty petition states the administration has marginalized women in the curriculum. In rebuttal, the president claims he values Women´s Studies. If he valued Women’s Studies, he’d honor his commitment of tenure with WIU´s only faculty who has earned a graduate degree in Women´s Studies. That’s me. WIU now has no faculty member with a completed graduate degree in Women’s Studies.
The WIU administration practices sexist tokenism. I found the web page of WIU’s top administrators (http://www.wiu.edu/table_of_contents/administration.php and took a screen shot) and only 1 of the 6 administrators on the list is a woman, and she’s an interim—not permanent like the men on the list. A 1 in 6 representation in the official top administration is called tokenism. Tokenism is a form of sex discrimination because those in power can say, “We’re not sexist. We’ve got a woman on board.” Women are 51 percent of the population, so why should we be only 16.7 percent of the top administration’s webpage?
The administration’s rebuttals concerning me and women at WIU don’t withstand the checking of facts. We should be skeptical of the rest of the rebuttal, as well.

Holly A. Stovall
Macomb

 

In Appreciation of Select Individuals

In appreciation of the select individuals who:

lead the UPI and continue to defend my position at Western Illinois University

signed their names to a petition that would finally, after 27 months, hold the WIU administration accountable for endangering the entire university,

passed a referendum (read clarification at end of TSPR report) of no confidence in WIU’s current administration,

refuse to make excuses for a failed administration,

defend a diverse curriculum that attempts to fully integrate the diverse perspectives of feminists, people of color, LGBTQA folks, people with disabilities, and many others who tend to get pushed to the margins

have taken a stand for faculty at Western Illinois University,

believe that faculty are the university,

and in taking the above actions, have moved in the direction necessary to save the university,

THANK YOU!

And I’ve changed the title of my blog to LAID OF, BUT NOT LEFT BEHIND.