Thursday, May 27, 2010

a little bit of soul

I came across this wonderful article in the Huffington Post this morning. I highly recommend checking it out. It's an excerpt from Paul Loeb's new book "Soul of a Citizen". I'm buying it on Amazon right now. Activism, El Salvador, oppression, homelessness, immigration, and globalization; what more could you ever need in a good summer read?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

what is it good for?

This morning the New York Times lead story was about the toll of war and fatalities in Afghanistan surpassing 1,000. Now that lead story has been replaced with this erroneous coverage of the CT attorney general and whether or not he served in Vitenam or misspoke. Everytime I've walked by the tv in our office today cnn has been replaying the same clip of him apologizing for his 'word choice' with two Vietnam vets standing on either side of him. Anyone else find this ironic? Where are our priorities? What about the real story, the families that are suffering? The young soldiers losing their lives? The innocent civilians dying in the crossfire? What type of backwards values do we use to bind politics and military service together? I’m tired of war. And the media. We need a paradigm shift.

Monday, May 10, 2010

activism: quick & easy

Finals are winding down and I know just what you're thinking "hey, I have 5 minutes free... I wonder what I could do right now to have a positive impact on the world..."

Well friends I have just the solution to your musings =) I've fallen in love with this organization/website called Avaaz. Avaaz means "voice" in many different languages around the world. The idea behind this website is to provide constructive ways for you to lend your voice to different issues you care about. The organization proudly touts that via their website 19,329,252 actions have been taken since its launch in January '07.

You can sign petitions, email law makers, or even take a more aggressive action. So what will your issue of the day be? GM foods? offshore drilling? relief in Haiti?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

use your pizza-purchasing-power

Today two of my roommates and I headed to Shaw's on a mission for a frozen pizza. As we approached the Porter Square Shaw's we saw a group of union workers picketing and a detail of Cambridge Police officers keeping a watchful eye. I had heard a little bit about the strike via facebook but none of the details, something about workers on the production end holding out for living wages. We weren't sure how to react at first, we made a lame joke about how it's a good thing I'm not a politician yet because then I wouldn't be able to cross a union line (no intentions of ever being a politician here by the way) even for a pizza. We hesitated in the parking lot and then one of my roommates made an honest decision "I'm hungry" and walked into the store. I followed with my other roommate. Her dad's part of a union and she started tell us about visiting him while he and his co-workers were striking, bringing them coffee in the middle of the night. Now I should be perfectly honest. We had some useful resources on our side here. We had a car with us, we were college students with a free Saturday afternoon ahead of us, and I was willing to bribe my roommates by offering to buy their pizza for them if we went somewhere else. With that on our side we walked out of the store, stopping by the workers quickly to say "We couldn't do it! We're with you guys. We're going somewhere else" Which was met by a round of applause from the determined group standing there in the pouring rain. My Global Social Change class likes to go on tangents about how it's up to us to be informed consumers and show support by spending our money accordingly. I agree, but I think that's a lot easier said than done. Driving to Market Basket and navigating our way through the jam-packed aisles wasn't the best. It was totally worth it and I'm glad we took a small stand via our pizza-purchasing-power, but as a college student with limited resources it would have been so much easier to go for the convenient option. That being said, I feel obligated to share what I can with you about the strike and help these workers garnish support. I did a little research when I got home and I feel that their demands are completely reasonable. All they're asking for is access to decent, affordable health insurance through their employer. In response it looks like Shaw's is going to simply fire those who have been striking and bring in 300 new workers. That's 300 families left without healthcare or a steady source of income. In this economic climate, this seems entirely unjust and uncalled for. United for Justice with Peace posted a great article with more information about the negotiations and Shaw's reaction. I hope you'll take a minute to read it over and at the very least find someplace else to buy your groceries right now.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"3.3 billion ways to change the world"

You may have heard about the G20 Summit that is going to take place in Toronto this summer. While G20 Summits are always ripe for protest and various types of activist efforts, this event has a really unique gathering prefacing the dialogue between world leaders. It's called the G(IRLS)20 Summit. The tagline proclaims "3.3 Billion Ways to Change the World", representative of the 3.3 Billion women in the world. It's a really neat idea in my opinion. This initiative is going to bring together 20 girls, 1 from each G20 nation for 3 days of intense dialogs and youth-driven planning sessions focusing on how to empower girls and women, economically, politically and socially. Unfortunately, those of us in the twilight of our college years are a bit too old! They're soliciting applications from girls ages 18-20 because these are the "transition years" between girl and woman. If you know a girl in that age range with strong convictions about the future of the world and uniting women and girls to advocate for equality tell her to apply ASAP, the deadline is midnight tonight. Even if you're not eligible, check out the organization and their website, it's a pretty neat activism-based idea =)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

think globally, act globally

This January I spent two weeks in El Salvador with a group of Lesley students. The whole experience was inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. This semester I decided I would focus my capstone paper on this small country that I've grown so attached too. Let me warn you, if you are attached to a developing nation, the worst thing you can do for yourself emotionally is set a google alert. The media is driven by what sells, violence, sex, action, etc. A thread of violence and oppression has been woven throughout El Salvador's rich history. From the time of independence there was a strong established ruling class and frequent rebellion from the oppressed. A 12-year civil war tore the country apart and today gang violence is rampid and the nation has the highest murder rate in the world. You can gain a sense of all these issues through those news stories that pop up. The thing is, this isn't the El Salvador I know. Yes, we had a little background on the history, the war, and we knew that there were places we should and shouldn't go. None of those news stories capture the lives of the amazing, kindhearted, giving, accepting people we met. Google news didn't tell the story of what it's like to step into another world, where family and faith is everything and you work hard to serve others and contribute what you can. I want to avoid idealizing the developing world or romanticizing poverty but I wish you could all spend a day with our group in El Salvador. I wish you could see the dedicated teachers in the rural school we visited, the masons at the Habitat worksite who wrote a song about how volunteers inspire them, sat with the kids who came to visit us every day and talked about riding bikes and eating ice cream, or had a young mom hand you her 6 week old baby like you were an old friend. In reality, the contributions we made there during those 2 weeks don't add up to much. I probably learned more about how to live a meaningful life and put your family first than I could ever reciprocate. So the frustration floods in as a read about how the US is financially and morally responsible for so much of the institutionalized oppression and poverty in El Salvador. We continue to exploit this country, though today it's not about funding violent militarize government death squads, it's about restructuring their economy, forcing them into debt and exploiting young female workers through the maquiladora industry. Solidarity is an interesting concept. A rare loyalty in today's fast-paced globalized world. Amid the frustrating news articles and the academic research I delved into regarding El Salvador, I came across a unique organization, a small beacon of hope. Today I encourage you to visit their website:

The Latin American Solidarity Committee, a small organization with one full time staffer based in Eugene Oregon has fought for the oppressed workers in El Salvador and other Latin American countries. They recognize that we have shared common interests and that we must take action to reverse the negative impact the US has had in this region. Sometimes we feel limited by geographic boundaries when it comes to advocacy and activism. This organization proves that boarders are a fluid thing and when it comes down to it, our commonalities often outweigh our differences.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Boston friends, let's take a stand against institutionalized racism

I'm sure by now you've all heard about the growing human rights atrocity in Arizona. Last week, the state legislature passed legislation (SB1070) granting local law enforcement officials the authority to patrol illegal immigration in a way that lends itself to blatant racial profiling. Individuals can be investigated and prompted to show appropriate documentation if they break any law or ordinance (this included putting your trash cans too close to the curb or j-walking). This new legislation opens the doors to endless harassment and profiling of legal hispanic immigrants.

Today and tomorrow Boston residents have an opportunity to take a stand. Tonight in my Activism & Change class we had a special guest; Boston City Councilman Felix Arroyo. Councilman Arroyo has an amazing message and an innovative approach to making politics more collaborative and bringing citizens of all ages into the process. He comes from a background of union organizing, coaching youth sports, and advocating for equality. He has proposed a bill that calls for Boston's divestment from Arizona. By passing this bill, Boston can join other cities including Oakland, Washington D.C. and Milwaukee in boycotting Arizona and Arizon-based businesses, sending a strong message that our city does not support blatant oppression and racial profiling.

This bill will not pass in Boston tomorrow without your support! Take 3 minutes right now and email a Boston City Councilor. Time is of the essence, the council will vote tomorrow at 12:30. If you can stop by city hall on your lunch break tomorrow and show your solidarity that would be great too.

Yes, security is important, but this approach in Arizona is not going to make our nation safer. This country is suppose to uphold values of equal opportunity, fairness, and acceptance regardless of race. I understand that immigration is not a clear cut issue but undoubtedly punishing migrant workers and minority groups is not the solution.

I feel a strong personal responsibility to do what I can on this issue. Sending a few emails is a great first step. I hope you feel the same.

Michael P. Ross 617.635.4225
Felix Arroyo 617.635.4205
John Connolly
Stephen Murphy
Ayanna Pressley
Salvatore LaMattina
Bill Linehan
Maureen Feeney
Charles Yancey
Robert Cansalvo
John Tobin
Chuck Turner
Mark Ciommo

Monday, May 3, 2010

let's abolish the oppressive FPL

Do you know that the Federal Poverty Line was never intended to be used to qualify families in need?

The researcher who created the formula for the FPL, Mollie Orshansky, created it to calculate a basic, low-cost food plan for the elderly. Every year on the anniversary of the FPL, up until her death in 2007, she would publish a fiery article about how flawed this measure is and how detrimental government reliance on this cutoff point has been.

Without a doubt, action is long overdue. The FPL for a family of 4 is defined as $22,050. Can you imagine raising 3 kids on that total income? That's less than $1,900 a month. We're talking severe poverty by U.S. standards.

According to a recent article in the Hartford Courant, the Obama administration intends to take some small steps to correct this measure. Personally, I would rather abolish the measure all together and create a standard that represents a decent quality of life but I suspose that makes me one of those "anti-poverty advocates who have an appetite for changing the inaccurate status quo" that the Courant refers to...

Check out the article here

what it's all about/maybe I'm a huge hypocrite

Last Tuesday I was on my way back to campus from my internship, somewhere on the redline and lost in my own thoughts. We stopped and a rush of people flooded onto the train. One woman stood in the middle of the car and began to address the passengers. She began with an apology “It took a lot to stand here and do this. I never thought I’d be this person. I never thought I’d find myself doing this… but I lost my job three months ago and I’m still waiting for my unemployment checks… I have three kids at home and we’re out of everything… I’m on my way to the grocery store but I don’t have any money to buy food with. We’re even running out of toilet paper… I’m so sorry to ask but, I am, I’m begging because we need groceries, can anyone help me out? Please?” Since I’ve started living in Boston I’ve never carried cash but by chance I had tossed $2 in my pocket that morning in case my Charlie Card was running low. I jumped up and walked over to the woman. I could tell how difficult this was for her. I just wanted her to feel a little bit of hope, to make her feel cared about and to know that she wasn’t alone. I knew handing her $2 wasn’t going to accomplish all that. “I’m so sorry this happened to you” I said. “How old are your kids?” “Thanks. 14, 11 and 9.” she mumbled fighting to keep eye contact. “Wow all boys?” “No the youngest is a girl. Thanks for your help I’m so sorry to bother you” she said as I handed her my $2. “I wish I could help more,” I said, “Have you tried applying for food stamps? I’ve heard they’re making it a lot easier to get because so many people need a little help right now” (‘Thank you internship research!’ I thought, maybe I can really help this woman). “You know she said, “This sounds crazy but I tried and they said I can’t get them because my car is too new.” I knew from our research that was also true, and frustrating. Despite the huge increases in funding the to program there was still the catch of disqualifying people with a car valued at a certain amount. Other passengers started to jump in, offering cash and also other suggestions. “Have you tried the food bank?” “I know a church on Washington Street that can help you.” “There’s a place in Central that gives away canned goods”. The woman had tried a lot of social services, some she didn’t qualify for, some had been able to help a little. She thanked everyone for their offerings and suggestions. “Good luck with everything” I said. “I hope things work out for you.” I stepped off the train, frustrated beyond belief. Here I was, spending 20 hours a week doing all this research and I couldn’t think of a way to help this woman. She’s what the anti-poverty campaign I'm working on is all about and I had let her down. At the same time I was so touched by the fact that other passengers on the train had offered their ideas and small donations. Maybe it just took one person to take a small stand and then others would follow. I ran through every single scenario in my head, everything I should have done to help this woman more. Once I was able to get a little bit of perspective I realized that this experience validates just how important the work of my internship is. There are so many great service organizations out there trying to help people in need, but they can’t do it all. There’s a dire need for new policy. Yes, we need to show simple signs of humanity, there’s no shame in offering someone a donation of food or clothing when they’re in need, more importantly there should be no shame in asking for it. Yet without policy to support people in need, change will not come. Working on this campaign, my perceptions about poverty in the US have changed so dramatically. There are so many people right now struggling to make ends meet, people who never thought they would find themselves in that position. And we're letting them down. Society is failing them. They've worked for the American dream and now it's been pulled out from under them. I know I'm generalizing. I know there are good and bad and lazy and hardworking people in every socio-economic class. Regardless, this just isn't right. What would you do if you were in that woman's shoes? How would you feel? Until we can answer that with sincerity we're in no position to make judgements.