Monday, August 23, 2010

The Other America

A couple months ago, I read Valerie Polakow's Lives on the Edge: Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America. It was eye opening to see the stigmatization of the mothers that carries into the classroom, and the way that many of the children are treated by their teachers. Polakow refers to one of the students she follows as "scarred before he has a chance to be otherwise.” She chronicles the overwhelming problems faced by these single mothers--obstacle after obstacle.

Recognizing the construction of disabilities is one way in which we can empathize with students. When we fail to consider the web of societal and environmental factors that contribute to the many interactions within the classroom walls, we risk labeling students as in need of fixing. Instead, we must continually consider the societal and environmental factors that are in great need of an enormous fix. Polakow argues, “confronting the silence, naming the classroom world with different forms of talk, shifting our ways of seeing, opening up spaces for possibility can shift the tenuous ground on which young children of poverty stand. It is the question of existential value that confronts the silence.”

When we fail to examine the bigger picture and confront the silence, we blindly accept the status quo and oppressive reality of our school system and society at large—a system that further marginalizes the marginalized, humiliates the most vulnerable, and segregates those who are poor or different from those in power. To place full responsibility and blame on a five-, seven-, or sixteen-year-old child and label him or her as deviant or deficient is to give up hope that the larger world can change. It will short-change students for many years and many classrooms to come.

Housing is a human right. I'm hoping to find out how to get involved with Picture the Homeless in NYC which is led by within the homeless community. They're beginning to take action to claim vacant city spaces.
Our Housing Not Warehousing campaign sees homelessness against the backdrop of this massive warehousing of otherwise habitable vacant spaces. We have been pushing city legislation that would require the city to conduct an annual census of all vacant buildings and lots, so that this information is always readily available to the public.

The Housing campaign is working to transform the use of vacant spaces through a range of tactics -- including direct action occupations and renovations, public education, and participatory research. Our goal is to facilitate the creation of safe, secure and TRULY AFFORDABLE housing for the lowest income residents of the city, through innovative community and housing development models.

The Housing campaign is concerned with the warehousing of all vacant property, regardless of ownership. The campaign is organizing to move owners of vacant property, public or private, to turn those properties over to a Land Trust, and permanently-affordable Mutual Housing Associations created out of them. The publicly-subsidized, privately-owned financial services firm JPMorgan Chase is one of our targets. We are also one of the founding participants of the national Take Back the Land initiative, because we are clear that challenging property rights is not a fight that we can win without civil disobedience and other forms of direct action.

You can share vacant buildings in NYC's five boroughs that you know of by texting the address to 917.412.3064 or send it via Twitter using #housingnotwarehousing or @pthny.

They post a weekly reading on their site that is discussed at their Homeless Organizing Academy. Here's one:

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
Finish the poem here.

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