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$2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Uniting and Mobilizing Black, Latino and Arab Communities

At noon on Friday, April 15th, we went to the City Club of Cleveland for a program titled "$2 a Day: IMG_0129Living on Almost Nothing in America" wherein the speaker was Dr. Kathryn J. Edin who, among other accomplishments, taught at Harvard University as a Professor of Public Policy and Management for the Harvard Kennedy School and chair of their Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy.

Dr. Edin wrote a book whose title was the same as that of the program and Dr. Alice Walker, Professor of Human Services at Lakeland College, shared her copy with us. We talked for a moment with Ms. Deb Yandala, Board Chairperson of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, who told us that her daughter-in-law was a student of Dr. H. Luke Shaefer, who co-wrote the book with Dr. Edin, at the University of Michigan. She said that her daughter-in-law really admired Dr. Shaefer.

Other people who we talked/to visited with before lunch were Ms. Cassie Stewart and Ms. Amy Vavra with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; Ms. Erica Pandrea with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank; and Ms. Pam Rosado with the United Labor Agency.IMG_0132At lunch we shared a table with Mr. Matt Fedak of the United Way of Greater Cleveland and Ms. Kate Monter Durban of the Cleveland Housing Network who were familiar with the work of Dr. Edin and told us that she had conducted a lot of her research in Cleveland.

During her presentation, Dr. Edin talked about how she had spent a large part of her career researching public assistance which, contrary to what some believed, never gave that much to the impoverished to begin with but the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, aka "welfare reform," signed into law by President Clinton ultimately formed "a new poverty" according to Dr. Edin.

She made use of statistics and personal encounters to show that the seriousness of our current situation. Most telling was the slide that was projected that contrasted the numbers of people served by AFDC in 1994 to those served by TANF (which replaced AFDC) today. Most people believe that "welfare is dead" and one person who applied in Cleveland was told, "...there are just so many needy people, we just don't have enough to go around."  It has led to people taking "unstable jobs" which has, in turn, contributed to "unstable" life styles.

In short, people are doing whatever they have to in order to survive. She said that part of the problem was that a large portion of the grants given to the states were being used for other purposes instead of IMG_0134 poverty assistance.

(After the program, we asked her if she had researched poverty and undocumented workers and she replied that her focus was public assistance programs that the undocumented were not eligible to take part in but, from what she did know, the undocumented appear to be a very vulnerable group)

On a more optimistic note, she talked about certain things that have proved to be successful. She concluded by presenting us with the "ultimate litmus test" that she would endorse which would be "for any reform whether it will serve to integrate the poor-particularly the $2-a-day poor-into society, rather than isolate them from it." Such a reform should be based on the principles that "all deserve the opportunity to work, parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own" (i.e. it has been shown that consolidation can create bad situations), "sometimes work won't work, we need a functioning cash safety net."IMG_0128We were glad when Mr. Ben Miladin, Director of Health Community Impact at United Way, asked about dispelling the notion that the poor do not deserve help because they are lazy. Dr. Edin contended that the data (which we believe too) showed that this was not so. Most people would love to be independent but economic factors were not on their side. Along these lines, she believed that the tax cuts instigated by President Clinton in the early 1990's helped low-income families a great deal.

Moreover, Dr. Edin said that more than anything people want their dignity, they want to belong, and many were even proud to be taxpayers!

That evening we went to the Main Classroom Auditorium at CSU for a panel presentation concerning "Uniting and Mobilizing Black, Latino and Arab Communities" put on by the Muslim Student IMG_0162 Association, Student Government Association/CSU, and Students for Justice in Palestine.

The panelists were our good friend Ms. Julia Shearson, Executive Director of the Cleveland Chapter of CAIR; Mr. Edward Little, longtime community activist and heavily involved in the Collaborative for a Safe, Fair, and Just Cleveland; and Ms. Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. The moderator was Ms. Sarah Mohammad, a junior at CSU majoring in Biology with a minor in Arabic.

All of the panelists made an excellent case for people of all ethnicities to work together because unjust acts against any one group is a violation of the whole. Setting the tone for evening was the quote by Ms. Lilla Watson, Australian/Murri artist, recited twice by Ms. Farsour which reads, If you have come here IMG_0150to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

Mr. Little said that "we must use the  heart, life and breath that we were given to do what we know is right." Ms. Sarsour urged Muslims to stop taking what she termed an "apologetic" attitude about being a Muslim in the United States at this time and instead encouraged them to take pride in their heritage, their history and their contributions to society and say a bold "no" to efforts of hate groups and other such entities that seek to intimidate and deprive them of their rights as Americans and as human beings. And, as allies, non-Muslims such as ourselves should be backing them 100%.

Both Ms. Sarsour and Mr. Little praised Ms. Shearson for her tireless commitment to social justice. Mr. Little said that "I have worked with Julia and we are one community and we are all brothers and sisters." And Ms. Sarsour praised her for her hard work and the risks that she has taken over the years.

Ms. Shearson, herself, was very concerned (as we all should be) over the introduction of House Bill 339 in the Ohio State Legislature which is a yet another version of the anti-Sharia law that died in the House Judiciary Committee last year. We signed a letter against HB 339 which read in part, "although HB 339 IMG_0163is drafted ostensibly to ban foreign law, its true intended target is to prevent the consideration of Sharia and thus stigmatizes American Muslims and our religious practices. The bill originates with groups such as the American Public Policy Alliance and the Center for Security Policy and others, which openly espouse hostility to Sharia, which is a set of religious and legal traditions followed by Muslims. Whereas some violent extremists have wrongly distorted Sharia to serve their misguided and ignoble purposes, ordinary peace-loving mainstream Muslims, including Muslim Americans, rely, to varying degrees, on Sharia to help them live a rightly guided and pious life. Sharia, which is similar to Jewish Halacha and Catholic Canon law, is the set of principles that informs how Muslims pray, what we eat, how we deal with life's important issues such as marriage, inheritance, burial rites, etc. Sharia also defines Muslims' obligation to be productive members of society. The willful demonization and obfuscation of Sharia is a well-documented tactic of the Islamophobia movement in America. Such anti-Muslim fear-mongering tactics should be rejected along with bills such as HB 339, which have unfortunately been proliferating around the country."

The evening concluded with Ms. Fatima Shendy giving a very heartfelt, emotional recitation of a poem that she wrote titled "Double Consciousness" that concluded with "the least we can do is absolutely everything," a very hopeful note.


Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.