The Power of WE

The days of "Please sir, may I have some more?" are over. As of April 1, 2012, the message has changed to "We are ENTITLED to exist in our communities, whether you like it or not."

When we are able to pull together 17 communities and unite behind one banner of justice for all, when we are able to express ourselves with art, music, song, dance, spoken word, direct action, documented experiences and of course hundreds and hundreds of people -- then we are able to use words such as COMMUNITY, OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, and WE, use them with integrity and accountability. We are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.

The banner of justice for all people is so powerful because it is broad enough to include us all. It is not just about homeless people nor is it just about cops in New Orleans shooting young black kids. It is not just about poor families losing access to homeless services and public housing nor is it just about immigrants being indefinitely detained while their families are torn apart. No. Social justice for all means just that... all of us!!

On April 1, speaker after speaker in Springfield, Mass., spoke passionately about losing their homes and ending up out in the street, while in Portland, Ore., people already living in the street spoke out about Business Improvement Districts controlling what was once public space with their own private security force. In Los Angeles, a parade marched through Skid Row exposing the faces of the people whose corruption and greed is gentrifying the neighborhood, and in Fresno, Calif., one theme of the day was the right for people to live safely and together in encampments, free of police harassment and Public Works bulldozers.

You might think these are all separate issues, but they are not. In a truly just society, public space is a "common space," created for all people to enjoy; public safety means officers ensure we are all safe and protected from harm; public housing means that people are assured "decent, safe and sanitary dwellings," as was written in the Housing Act of 1937; and public health means that LA County Jail will no longer be this nation's largest residential mental health facility and nobody (regardless of where they may have been born) will be denied treatment.

But we do not currently live in a just society. We live in a society where obscene greed is confused with good business, where our governments -- Democrat/Republican/federal/state/county or local -- have fallen into the profit mantra: that in order for a public benefit or service to be of any value, there must be a profit being made by somebody in the process of providing it. The profit incentive as the sole incentive that can quantify excellence or validate that something is worthwhile has erased any sense of inherent benefits for all people. There is a beauty in our national parks that cannot be measured by a calculator alone.

It is (or ought to be) freaking scary to realize we are living in a period of American history when so many of our supposed public servants in government are not only NOT striving to ensure all of us have access to quality education, medical care, housing, parks and jobs. Too many of our public servants seem to believe these things are not even the responsibility of government!

Here's a good example: In 1998, the 1937 Housing Act mentioned above was rewritten to say "the Federal Government cannot through its direct action alone provide housing of every American, or even a majority of its citizens." Quite a difference!!

More and more people from all walks of life are starting to ask "What the fuck? What happened?"

Why wouldn't our government want the people being governed to be educated, healthy, well-housed and able to freely be in nature? Is it wrong to think that government should want these things for all people? Why is it that in order for a system to be considered valuable there has to be a for-profit system built into it? In the past, we have had public schools and universities, public housing, public parks, public spaces, even when no private company was making a profit off the provision of these vital services.

Is it wrong to assume that a home can only be a home if a banker is getting a cut? That only doctors who have to answer to an HMO care if they cut off the wrong limb? Does everything we need to survive have to be a commodity? And if it does have to be a commodity, what do we do when so much of the finite amount of money available is gobbled up into the bank accounts of so few?

That's where we are now. Neighborhoods are fast becoming Business Improvement Districts, public housing is fast becoming a thing of the past, treatment is what you get in jail and too many of our schools and parks are public/private partnerships.

It has been said that a person's true strength shows when they have been pushed to the brink and still refuse to roll over and submit. That's us. That's all of us. Seventeen communities dancing, chanting, taking direct action and working together is how the "I" becomes the "WE," and social justice for us all becomes more than a slogan.