Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cheri Honkala for Sheriff of Philly and Politicizing Homelessness

In case you didn't already know, politics are about power. Politicians are always looking forward to the next election unless serving their last allowable term. (Lame ducks seem to be those most likely to follow their conscience[?], as they can't run again anyway.) politicians are most likely to address the concerns of those who help them to remain in power. They kowtow first and foremost to those who contribute the most to their campaigns -- corporations. Next in line are wealthy individuals. Eventually and at long last, there are the voters. If you don't fit into any of these categories, your discontentment becomes an issue of "mind over matter". As you voice your opinions, the politicians don't mind; because, you don't matter. (Being a taxpayer doesn't impress them all that much; because, the government will MAKE you do that anyway.)

Then there is the issue of "political will". Once a politician has taken the oath of office, they become accountable [?] to all of their constituents -- even the ones who didn't vote for them or contribute to their campaigns, ostensibly. But they don't always have the political will to address certain issues which are brought to them by their constituents. Such has been the case with homelessness. When it is addressed at all, politicians tend to throw a few crumbs at the poor, homeless, dispossessed and non-profits who advocate with them -- just enough to shut them up. More times than not, governments will create programs of limited size and scope which help a small segment of the poor and homeless community, as opposed to creating policies that mandate the continual creation of affordable housing and that institute a real "living wage" -- or better yet, a "housing wage". Truth be told, the poor and homeless contribute very little to the overall economy and often depend on social programs to sustain them, for which reasons they are not held in high esteem by most politicians.

The fact that the opinions and concerns of people with money dwarf those of the poor and dispossessed is a direct result of the capitalist system which permeates much of the global economy. Capitalism is also the reason that we have more empty houses and apartments in the country than we have homeless people insomuch as Americans can't seem to get over the hegemonic concept of a person only being entitled to what they have actually paid for. That's not to speak of the fact that potentially life-saving medical treatments have been denied to people without money or insurance. When the essentials of life are priced out of reach of those who need them most, that should send up the red flags in people's minds that maybe our system of greed isn't working. But, for the class of poor, homeless and dispossessed, it becomes a catch-22. They have neither sufficient finances to matter to politicians nor the means to acquire it.

Further complicating the political plight of the poor and dispossessed are the facts that both major parties serve the interests of the Capitalist class and that, as former senator Bob Dole put it, "Our nation lacks a 'Poor People's PAC' (Political Action Committee)". To date, there is not a party which has taken up the cause of the dispossessed as its primary platform, though the Green Party has succeeded at disrupting the seemingly monolithic two-party system on the local front and still holds promise of eventually becoming a viable party on the national front. All of this raises the question: "How, then, will the poor, homeless and dispossessed build political power and become relevant voices in the political arena?"

As it turns out, the answer to the question about the future of the "disenfranchised dispossessed" lies, to some degree, in the past. During the Civil Rights Movement, many Blacks ran for the office of sheriff under the notion that they might be able to effect a greater measure of justice from a position of political power. more recently, sheriffs have refused to evict people who had fallen on hard times during the economic downturn that began [officially] in October 2008 and continues to cast a pall over the world economy. Now, long-time homeless advocate Cheri Honkala is running for "cheriff" of Philadelphia on the promise that she will refuse evict anyone from their home. The plot thickens.

Cheri has advocated for the homeless for over 25 years. She founded the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign as well as the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. She is running on the Green Party ticket. And she has her hands full. She's running a "no evictions" campaign for sheriff as a member of a political party whose primary platform is the need for election reform in a city where some politicians and political wannabes are trying to eliminate the office of sheriff and have its duties folded into what the mayor does. But her platform and that of the Green Party are not mutually exclusive as a sufficient measure of election reform might cause the voices of the dispossessed to be heard at long last.

In addition to running as a member of a much-needed third party on a platform that recognizes the human right to housing, Cheri also brings a strong sense of direction and principle to what she does. She is not a pragmatist who will spend her time in office just "putting out fires" but is grounded in a strong social theory and will proactively fight for what she believes in. We need her and many more like her across the nation. I would hope and pray that she wins the upcoming election.

As it turns out, running for public office is a major undertaking that requires a lot of time, skill and dedication. Cheri has worked hard to gather the 1,845 petition signatures that she needs to get on the ballot. Due to the technicalities involved and the fact that many of the signatures will be rejected by the board of elections for things as simple as a person's handwriting being illegible or them signing as "Bob" instead of "Robert", she has made it her aim to get 4,000 signatures. Her hope is that, out of 4,000 signatures, there will be a sufficient number of good ones. But she only has until July 31st (which is a Sunday) to turn in all petitions. Provided she meets the deadline and the minimum required number of acceptable petition signatures, she then needs to mount a rigorous campaign to win the general election in November.

That is why I will do my best to organize a "Green Party Social Justice Bus" to go to Philadelphia and assist Cheri in her run for sheriff. It is crunch time right now and she really needs all the help she can get RIGHT NOW, and I mean like YESTERDAY! I have been so busy since returning to DC after my 3-day Philly trip (July 8th to 11th) that i am just getting around to writing this blog post 9 days later. That's a lot of time lost toward helping her, for which I apologize. Even so, I hope that all people of conscience from across the nation who care about the issue of affordable housing will throw their support behind Cheri Honkala and help to usher in the change we need in America.

Earlier I referred to former senator Bob Dole's statement of the need for a Poor People's PAC. Well, that notion hasn't been lost on unambitious, disgruntled Americans who seek only to complain while failing to take any decisive action. In fact, the idea is being floated by homeless advocates here in Washington, DC. I don't know who's keeping track of all of the ways in which the homeless issue is beginning to be politicized. however, I can name 3 ways right off the top of my head: the establishment of SHARC, the bid for sheriff by Cheri Honkala and the idea of a Poor People's PAC. We must politicize for power or we'll be forever complaining and never accomplishing anything. Let's politicize the homeless issue already!

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