Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Going To A Demonstration

Well, my new friends, I am going to a demonstration tomorrow. I am sorry this might be a "downer" but the good news is I am getting a whole lot of therapy out of standing up and publicly saying the truth as I see it. As I said in my first posting, I had decided I would become more active and try to have a voice in what I believe. So, tomorrow marks the second time I will do this and I am a little scared. See, I belong to a group called WROC (Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition) and the issues they fight are sometimes not the most popular as they involve the single mother and as you may know, single mothers are often a political football. Which is why the Welfare Reform bill was enacted 6 years ago and become the one-way ticket to poverty for women who have no support base. At 50, becoming an outspoken activist, was just NOT in my job description as a woman from what I understood. It is not very lady-like, it means being VERY assertive and it means knowing your stuff enough to carry on a debate. I am not sure I have any of these qualities, except that I can no longer be silent about what is happening to my sisters. It is not pretty.

I work with some interesting women and hearing tier stories up close and personal is an insight. One woman who is on my mind a lot, is from Russia and was a successful lawyer there for the government there. She immigrated here with her husband and daughter in hopes of taking up a practice after passing the American Bar. Well, there were more barriers than what she could ever have imagined. Since the rules on welfare have changed to prevent legal immigrants from getting any benefits, she and her husband struggled, working two McJobs (if they could get them) and trying to balance their lives through this. Even so, rent alone took half their salaries, and since they could not even obtain food stamps, they literally had to work for food. In spite of the hard work, the bills piled up and, after a 15 year marriage, the strain proved to be too much. They separated and then divorced, leaving her with no family here, and a little girl to raise alone. Not speaking the language very well, she says what she needs more than anything else, is to learn English enough to pass the Bar. But she is not eligible for any school assistance and she is working two jobs - when in the heck could she do this even if she could go to English school? She is right now working at a daycare and also at a convenience store. What a waste and what an opportunity this country is passing up to have a knowledgeable, honest woman who knows her stuff, and to add to it, not only is she quite intelligent, she is startlingly beautiful. She cannot even raise enough money to go back home.

One of the biggest myth about the so-called "success" of welfare "reform (we call it, 'welfare DEformed' ) is why so many women left the rolls. Over 75% of those women were in school. But they were told that they had to quit school and get a McJob, or they and their children would be sanctioned - meaning cut off from any help. This is not a very politically hot issue for Americans at this time, though the patriarchal way the government treats women is SO obvious, yet hidden. Traditionally women have used welfare to pick up pieces, go to school and move on. Before welfare 'reform", the average time a woman was on the rolls before finding employment was two years, but who knows this stuff and who cares? I wish I knew because no one wants to listen in the government or on the news much except to use some of these women for poster child status so they can tout how well it "works". Even Hillary Clinton, the most powerful woman perhaps in politics is supporting even more sanctions against poor women. I was compelled to write an open letter to her because she and her friend Joe Lieberman were going around the country and making speeches about how wonderful this new system is and how well it is working. I asked her, "Sooo, you mean condemning families to permanent poverty and making it hopeless to escape dead end jobs or get an education is being successful?" No answer of course.....

Another woman I know is a survivor of domestic abuse. This woman, with five children who were also beaten, was isolated from her family and friends for over 17 years and suffered almost daily beatings. Then one day he beat he so badly, she almost died and spent almost a year in the hospital. Her husband was tried for attempted murder and went to prison, but she was left bereft without any way to provide for herself and her children. Welfare's answer, after she left the hospital, was to immediately tell her she was to get a McJob and, of course the mantra that if she did not cooperate, she and her children would also be sanctioned. They would not allow her to go to school (she dreams of becoming educated and fighting for other women in her situation) and they do not think that having five damaged children, reeling from the legal and emotional implications of her situation, or even having a two year old is "work". No, nope, the only worthwhile work she and any other woman does or has ever done is PAID work - meaning as Barbara Ehrenreich puts it, that a $7.00 an hour job is more important than a child.

The president and his party's new tactic that will supposedly fix everything is to put 1/3 of a billion into marrying low-income women off. This is supposed to be the whole solution to the problem. I had to laugh at a low income woman from Arkansas who told a member of the Heritage Foundation and one of the authors of Welfare Reform as she was struggling to put coats and hats on her two little ones when she asked, "Why do you think a man is going to get me out of this, when it is a man who out me into it?????" Good question..... To give Hillary credit, she does not support this - but she does support putting women to work for 40 hours of year around work (only about 60% of American women work full time) AND cutting the childcare budget, and cracking down on the 5 year limit in place with little or no regard for the myriad of roadblocks such as mental illness, childcare problems, etc. She thinks that creating workfare projects are great - where in her own city of NY these folks who make about $1.00 an hour, not only work for peanuts but are edging out city workers paid much more and getting the fallout for being "scabs" is "successful.

Is this a losing battle? I know it will not be an easy one. But I also know I am right when I question my government's participation in a war declared by the wealthiest people who have few qualms about collecting whatever tax deductions, evasions, accounting tricks and off shore benefits they can get while pointing fingers at the very poorest of our citizens. They may pretend they are not collecting welfare while pointing the fingers at the women I mention above, but it is time to call them for what they are - welfare queens and also to tell them I, for one will not take it anymore. I have worked McJobs for 35 years and paid into a corrupt system and I am not going to do it any longer! . It is time to tell them that, sorry, 2$ of the budget for social welfare comes nowhere near the welfare being handed out to people who could need it less while right before their eyes, their own people are suffering because of it.

My two cents worth - which is all I have....
Cat Sullivan

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