Women's Economic Agenda Project -- Blowing the Lid on an Ugly U.S. Truth: Why so Much Poverty in the Midst of Plenty?

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New public hearings focus on violence caused by growing U.S. poverty. Widening gap between rich and poor is a violation of human rights.

We link our struggles here in the United States to the struggles of poor people throughout the World. We are committed to uniting the poor as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish poverty everywhere and forever.

Because poverty is rapidly growing in the U.S., and how to end poverty gets hardly any serious public discussion, the Women’s Economic Agenda Project and its allies are mounting a series of public hearings to shed more light on this shameful, mostly hidden issue.

The serious damage poverty causes in the lives of working people, employed and unemployed, and how to end the scourge of poverty in the richest country the world has ever known, will be spotlighted in the very first World Courts of Women on Poverty in the U.S. These Courts of Women will be held at Laney College in Oakland, CA., May 10-13, 2012.

Ethel Long-Scott, executive director of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP), the lead organization sponsoring the Courts, said: “When companies take the jobs away to increase their profits, a just and humane society builds a supportive society that ensure economic security for all . We are going to break the silence on the horror stories happening to women by the thousands every day in this country because our people are falling right through a safety net shredded by budget cuts and corporate dominance of our government.

“And we will talk about something else that gets almost no public discussion, the fact that capitalism has entered a new stage that won’t allow a return of good jobs to all the workers who want one. Every month more and more of our goods and services are produced by computer-controlled machines, not workers. Our productivity gains now depend on robots, not workers. The good industrial jobs with decent benefits are not coming back – we need a smarter vision of the future that’s good for everyone, not just the 1 percent.”

The Courts of Women are public hearings held to share voices of survival and resistance from the margins. In addition to heartbreaking stories of struggle, there will be roundtable discussions of issues raised by the stories. A panel of jurors will draw conclusions and recommendations from testimony people will give about the impact of poverty on their lives. There will also be art, music, and other entertainment that looks toward the future.

The Oakland hearings are an outgrowth of 37 Courts of Women held in various countries around the world, but never before in the United States. For 19 years The Courts have focused on the damage cultural and systemic violence does to women and their families. The U.S. Courts will focus on violence caused by poverty in the midst of plenty.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in November that 49.1 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, lived in poverty in 2010, 2.6 million more than the previous year. It was the highest number in the 52 years the Bureau has been publishing poverty figures.

Different social groups are affected in different ways. In 2008, 59 percent of adults in poverty were women, and more than 14 percent of all women lived below the poverty line. In 2010 the bureau reported 14.3 percent of whites were living in poverty, compared to 25.4 percent of African Americans and 28.2 percent of Hispanics.

“Poverty is hell for the people living in it,” said Long-Scott. “Poverty keeps families from giving their kids good nutrition, finding good schools, providing them with safe neighborhoods to live in, getting decent medical care. It breeds so many forms of violence against people and families that result in desperation and despair.”

A major focus of the Courts of Women is to “find new visions for our times,” according to the 2010 U.S. Social Forum resolution calling for an end to poverty. The resolution looked at how, “The effects of globalization, the increase in wealth disparity, and dismantling of the social safety net have pushed our communities into destitution while corporate powers and banking institutions have profited tremendously at our expense.” It continued:
“We link our struggles here in the United States to the struggles of poor people throughout the World. We are committed to uniting the poor as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish poverty everywhere and forever.”

“Remember,” Long-Scott said, “there was a time when people thought you couldn’t abolish slavery, when people thought women would never be able to vote, when people thought they couldn’t force an end to an unpopular war, when people thought there was nothing they could do to end the Arab dictatorships. It was a people’s movement with a wiser vision of a better future that forced the changes conventional wisdom said would never come. We need to build a transformational movement to end poverty!”

The myth that everyone who lives in America can create a decent livelihood if they work hard, hides the reality that the tremendous wealth of this country is held in the hands of a very small number of individuals.

The Women’s Economic Agenda Project, based in Oakland, has a 30-year history of working to attain economic human rights for all people. WEAP believes that in a land of abundance, there is no reason anyone’s basic human needs should not be met. WEAP is diligently working to organize low-income workers and the unemployed into a movement to achieve a vision of a world without poverty and despair, a world that Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of in his Poor People’s Campaign of 1968.

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Ashley Proctor

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