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“Voluntary Hunger in Protest of Involuntary Hunger”

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Policy Advocacy

By: Brian Stone

Today, it seems as though there is normalized acceptance of a segment of our population not having enough food or shelter. The proof is last week’s budget cuts which will push those without food, homes and medical care into deeper despair. It is important that we remember what hangs in the balance. In the past, the anti-hunger and poverty movement has responded in a multitude of ways. One of those is known as a hunger fast (or strike) to draw public awareness to the issues the poor face and create policy change.

In the 1980’s Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at NCH, and Mitch Snyder, a life-time advocate for the homeless, fasted on the steps of the Capitol Building to pressure President Reagan into signing the first legislative protection for homeless people, which eventually became the McKinney-Vento Act. This act provided blanket protection and assistance to the homeless. Mitch and other advocates also fasted to get the federal government to transform an abandoned federal building in D.C. into a shelter for the homeless. Out of this fast the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) emerged, and remains D.C.’s largest shelter.

Former Ambassador Tony Hall has an unwavering commitment to poor people and poverty issues. While in Congress, Hall frequently authored legislation with expansive protections for the poor and vulnerable. In 1993, Hall, who was an Ohio Congressman at the time, was dismayed by Congress’s decision to end the bi-partisan House Select Committee on Hunger. This resulted in his going on a 22-day hunger fast. He felt that Congress had lost sight of the issues that our most vulnerable face. The outcome of this fast was substantial. Congress agreed to fund the Congressional Hunger Center, of which I am honored to be a 17th Class fellow; and the World Bank pledged to support efforts to end world hunger.

Eighteen years later Hall feels that Congress has once again lost sight of the plight of the poor, those who stand to bare the brunt of the budget cuts. On March 28, 2011, Hall embarked on another fast to protest the current budget cuts. If you would like to join Tony Hall or get more information on the fast, check out: http://hungerfast.org/.

We must remember that people’s lives hang in the balance. What is more important than cuts made in the name of lowering the deficit is the impact that those cuts will have on a large group of people. Balancing the budget at the expense of the poor and vulnerable is not the answer. This will only prove to further complicate the lives of those who currently don’t have enough, with the likely end result being eventual increases in social support programs.

Hunger fasts, like Michael’s, Mitch’s, Tony’s and many others, have provided protections for the vulnerable and changed policy in the U.S. The time is now. Will you join the circle of protection around the most vulnerable members of our society?

Brian is a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Civil Rights division at the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Meet NCH’s Spring Interns – 2011

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy

Each semester NCH welcomes some of the brightest up and coming homeless advocates to join our team as interns.  Our interns are critical contributors to NCH’s research, reporting and advocacy.  We’re extremely proud of our interns who continue to do great work in the homeless and anti-poverty community, like Shaun Donovan, who today heads up the US Department of Housing and Urban Development! Help us welcome our Spring 2011 crew:

Elan

Elan is a junior at George Mason University majoring in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She is also pursing  minors in legal studies and sociology. After graduation, Elan hopes to attend law school and fight for the rights of underrepresented people. She became interested in NCH when she did research on the criminalization of homelessness and learned about NCH’s advocacy work. When she has free time, Elan likes to volunteer at assistant living centers, explore DC cultural and dining centers, and watch romantic comedies. Currently, Elan is updating the fact sheets on homeless youth and homelessness in the LGBTQ community.

Samantha is a senior at George Washington University majoring in government studies and International Studies. She is also pursing a minor in French. After graduation, Samantha hopes to join the Peace Corps and serve others in West Africa. Samantha is an Alternative Spring Break Leader and is currently working on pulling together details for the homelessness Memorial Day project.

 

Allison is a junior at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas studying Urban Studies with a religion minor. She is studying at American University for as semester as part of the Transforming Communities program. Looking forward, Allison hopes to earn a Master’s of Divinity degree after college and advocate for the homeless. In her spare time Allison enjoys volunteering at community centers as well as modern and jazz dancing. Currently Allison is working on updating NCH manuals and researching the processes surrounding the enumeration of the homeless.

Gaberiel

Gaberiel is a senior at Hope College in Holland, MI studying Psychology and Political Science. She is in DC as part of her college’s DC Honors Semester Program. After graduation, Gaberiel hopes to participate in the Teach for America Program before she attends graduate school.  As a person who experienced a brief run in with homelessness with her mother growing up, advocating on behalf of the homeless is a very important part of her life. Gaberiel hopes that homeless children and teens know that they are not alone and that there are people out there that care about them and their families. She also hopes that everyone has access to opportunities to better themselves through education.  In her free time, Gaberiel likes to read books, spend time with friends, listen to music, and keep up on fashion trends. Currently she is working on the 2010 Criminalization of Homelessness Report.

Brendan

Brendan is the new Policy Fellow for NCH and we are very happy to have him! He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in History and a J.D. He currently serves as the Presidential Management Fellow for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He looks forward to working on behalf of vulnerable populations through research, analysis, and advocacy that helps to reduce (and ultimately eliminate) homelessness in our society. When he is not in the office, Brendan enjoys exploring D.C.’s many restaurants and museums, reading at DuPont Circle, and obsessively following his beloved Los Angeles Lakers.

Brian

We also welcome, Brian, our new Bill Emerson Congressional Hunger Fellow. He graduated from Morehouse College in 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology with a minor in Criminal Justice. Brian became interested in NCH through his previous work with homelessness advocacy organizations.  In college, he spent a year and a half volunteering at the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, where he witnesses first hand the discrepancies between the resources needed and those allocated to them by the government.  In his free time, Brian likes reading and taking his dog to the park.

Did you spend some time with us as an intern or volunteer?  If so, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know about your experience!

Lessons from a Candidate Who Sought to End Poverty (Part I)

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Blog, Civil Rights, History, Poverty

 

By Michael Stoops

Over forty years ago, in 1968 this country lost a great American, Upton Sinclair, who had a profound impact forwarding social justice in the United States. He first came to national attention with the book, The Jungle, published in 1906 which exposed unsafe practices of the meatpacking industry in Chicago. Not as well known was Upton Sinclair’s effort to be elected as a U.S. Senator and Governor of California. 

As a socialist, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat in California in 1922 and got 50,323 votes.  He ran for Governor in 1930 and got 50,480.  He described that as progress.

In 1934, he switched parties and became a Democrat.  He carried the Democratic primary with 436,000 votes, and winning by a margin of some 25,000 votes.

In the general election, Sinclair received twice the number of votes of any previous Democratic candidate for governor of California up to that point. Final vote:  Frank Merriam—1,138,620 Sinclair—879,537.  

He died in 1968.

Unlike most modern day candidates, he ran on a platform of ending poverty in California.

Similar to today’s visible homelessness, poverty and unemployment were at their peak during the early years of the Great Depression. Sinclair sought political office to stop the growth of poverty in one of the most difficult times in American history.

In his own words, Sinclair said,

“But I cannot enjoy the comforts of home, and the freedom of work and recreation which I have earned, while I know there are millions of others around me suffering for lack of common necessities.

Here are thousands of people wandering homeless, and thousands of homes which no one is allowed to occupy.  Here are a million people who want to work and are not allowed to work.
            
I say, positively and without qualification, we can end poverty in California.  I know exactly how to do it, and if you elect me Governor, with a Legislature to support me, I will put the job through—and I won’t take more than one or two or four years.

I say that there is no excuse for poverty in a civilized and wealthy State like ours.  I say that we can and should see to it that all men and women of our State who are willing to work should have work suited to their capacities, and should be paid a wage that will enable them to maintain a decent home and an American standard of living.

I say that every old person should be provided for in comfort, and likewise every orphaned child and every person who is sick or incapacitated.  I repeat that this can be done, and that I know how to do it.  If I take up the job, I will stick until it is finished, and there will be no delay and no shilly-shallying.  There will be action, and continuous action, until the last man, woman, and child has these fundamental economic rights.  Again, I say:  End Poverty in California.”

Later on Sinclair said that the slogan, “End Poverty in California”, really meant to him, “End Poverty in Civilization.”

His “End Poverty in California” (EPIC) had twelve basic principles.  Some of the more interesting/unique/prophetic ones included:

  • God created the natural wealth of the earth for the use of all men, not a few.
  • When some men live without working, other men are working without living.
  • The existence of luxury in the presence of poverty and destitution is contrary to good morals and sound public policy.
  • The cause of the trouble is that a small class has the wealth, while the rest have debts.

The first plank of his political platform was to give the unemployed productive work and make them self-supporting.

He also proposed exempting the poor from having to pay taxes.

“I proposed that all homes assessed at less than $3000 shall be exempt from taxation.  Anybody who lives in that poor a home in these times needs help and not taxing.  Homes from $3000 to $5000 pay a normal rate, and for each additional $5000 we add one-half of one per cent.  That means that if you live in a $100,000 home you will pay a tax of about 11%, and if you don’t care to pay that, the State will take over your mansion and turn it into a public institution for orphaned children, or for the aged, or for those who have acquired tuberculosis by slaving twelve hours a day in a department store or a restaurant kitchen,” said the candidate.

The Nexus of the Campaign

Sinclair offered a real choice to Californians.  He said, “In California of 1934 there could only be two parties, those who wished to abolish poverty, and those who wished to maintain it.”

“We say to the voters.  There are half a million persons in our state out of work.  They cannot be permitted to starve.  These persons can never again find work while the present system endures…..  There is no solution to this problem except to put these unemployed at productive labor….

Our opponents have told you that we cannot put this plan through.  Let me answer just this:  If you should give me a chance to end poverty in California, and I should fail to do it, life would mean nothing to me thereafter.

I say ‘abolish poverty.’ This is plain language that everybody can stand.”

A special effort was made to reach the churches.  Sinclair said:  “It is impossible for me to understand how any group of people organized in the name of Jesus can support the continuation of poverty, with all the degradation and misery it causes to the human race.”

Dirty Campaign Attacks on Sinclair

While his campaign resonated with poor Californians, he was opposed by influential enemies from major newspaper publishers to Hollywood studio owners.

Some of this was Sinclair’s own doing.

Recounting a visit to Washington, DC, Sinclair said, “I told Harry Hopkins in Washington that if I am elected half the unemployed of the United States will come to California, and he will have to make plans to take care of them.”

On another occasion he said, “If I am elected Governor, I expect one-half the unemployed in the United States will hop aboard the first freights to California”

This turned out to be the worst gaffe of his campaign.

His enemies did a “Bums Rush” news reel video showing hordes of transients jumping off freight trains in California.   This footage ran in movie theaters statewide.

Other billboards pictured an army of transients marching, marching, marching beneath the quote “I expect half the unemployed in the U.S. to flock to California if I am elected.”  DO YOU WANT THIS TO HAPPEN?

The Los Angeles Times ran editorials against Sinclair with headlines like, “Hordes of Jobless Swooping on State.”  The editorial calculated that ten million Americans were out of work, meaning that five million indigents would swamp the state once Sinclair took office.

“In other words,” the editorial observed, “Sinclair expects to end poverty in California by bringing in fifteen times as many poverty-stricken, jobless indigents as we already have!”

The former national Commander of the American Legion branded Sinclair’s plan a “grotesque fantasy.”

In a pre-election  satirical opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, a writer using a pseudonym wrote that Sinclair had won and spelled out the consequences of his winning.

He wrote of how all the “paupers and ne’er-do-wells” in  Florida were informed that Mr. Sinclair would keep his promises—work for all who wished to work—incomes for those who didn’t..” 

Post-election there was a “great Florida-to-California migration of dead-brokes and dead-beats.”

Florida then emptied its prisons and asylums.

Other governors joined in.  Forty-six other states copied the Florida measure, and in a short-time all the 12,000,000 unemployed and their families, together with all the convicts and all the insane of forty-seven states, had been hustled over the border into California.

These states then amended the Constitution making it illegal for poor people to travel from state to state therefore keeping all the poor contained inside of California.

Others poked fun at Sinclair by referring to EPIC as:  “Every Pauper Is Coming,”  “Easy Pickings in California,” “Everybody’s Poorhouse, Including Californians,” and “California, Here I Bum.”

One editorial cartoon showed two tramps reading about EPIC in an eastern newspaper and deciding to winter in California instead of Florida this year.

Even a song parody was written.

California, here we come!  Every beggar, every bum
From New York—and Jersey—down to Purdue—
By millions—we’re coming—so that we can live on you.
We hear that Sinclair’s got your State
That’s why we can hardly wait
Open up your Golden Gate
California, here we come!

Sinclair’s Legacy for the Upcoming 2008 Presidential Campaign

The campaign practices and public policy of Upton Sinclair should be inspirational to today’s candidates and lawmakers. Poverty in the US has reached devastatingly high levels and without decisive action from public officials, will continue with catastrophic results. Hopefully, the ideas and dreams of Mr. Sinclair can educate our politicians and allow them to use his own campaign to end poverty as a model in the ’08 presidential election.

*Read Part 2 of the article*


Sources: 

Sinclair, Upton.I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty. A True Story of the Future. Los Angeles. Upton Sinclair 1934
Sinclair, Upton. I, Candidate for Governor:  And How I Got Licked.Upton Sinclair. 1934
Mitchell, Greg.The Campaign of the Century:  Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics. New York.     Random House, 1992 
Mattson, Kevin. Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century. Hoboken, New Jersey. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2006


Michael Stoops is the Acting Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

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