Catching Up with Myself and my Friends

Dear friends and receivers of my blog post, I have not posted here for too long. Some of you may not really know me, because it seems I keep adding to the list of recipients who become only passive “contacts” due to my lack of technical savvy. Sorry. I have mainly been in a state of retreat from new internet communication for several specific reasons: 1)a crisis of confidence in my internet skills which kept blocking out my accounts due to lost passwords, or worse, sent out mistaken messages. That scared me; 2)a probably age-related rise in my own sense of being “out of it”, or that everything I could say is already being said better by someone younger, wiser or more connected; and 3)an honest lack clarity about how to respond to today’s realities. The fact that Trump and the Hard Right behind him have not started a war somewhere, or done things worse than were expected/feared since his ascendency left me holding my breath, not wanting to add more foolish predictions to the daily blogosphere. Now I realize that I miss communicating with a wider circle of old and new comrades. BUT the latest set of media pictures/words from white, mainly Southern men have reminded me of the deepest root of my radicalism — my deep knowledge of, and hatred for, the (Southern) white racism that defined my earliest family and community life for the 21 years until I escaped in 1968. I have written most recently on my website (“What’s in a Name?”) about how I graduated from the Jacksonville, Florida Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in 1964 which had been so named as a statement of continued reaction during the 1950s integration struggles and how its final un-naming caused controversy in 2014, the year of my 50th reunion. At the time I enjoyed five minutes of local media fame by trying to get my fellow alumni to publicly honor the name change, and to recognize at our event the students and community activists who led the effort to achieve it . (The alumni reunion committee wouldn’t let me do so publicly, but I’m hoping that the small publicity surrounding my failed attempt shamed them at bit.) Since then I have continued to be proud of their successful effort, and glad that it connected me to local Black and white activists in Jacksonville, whose continued struggle in an area still so stuck in deep racism inspires me today. I have tried to keep in touch and am mainly just glad that they are there — and, honestly that I am not. I can’t go “home” to that. Yet now, I notice when the same words and deeds I grew up with are recalled from even younger public figures, whose responses are still so confused. Today I am moved when Reverend Barber, and writer-activist Bill Fletcher call us to respond not with demands fro resignation in disgrace, but for current, more focused, anti-racist action as repayment for their horrendous past words and deeds. Of course we should remove statues of dead white racists, and take their names off public places. But more important is that we insist on public reparations — defined within efforts informed by a deep awareness of local history and a serious accounting of the continuing cost of past racist deeds and words. How do pay back the long denied effects of racism? We spend money on projects aimed at uncovering the damage. We involve young inheritors of racism’s effects in documenting the full story, and in devising meaningful responses. We create a real “never again” mentality, with money and demands attached. And we keep monitoring the responses, and keep coming back for more accountability. I want to help do this, yet I don’t how to begin. I welcome your reactions. And I promise to respond. I’m also committing to reach out personally to people who are part of my network. If you don’t really know me, I ask you to check out my website, and my past posts, and start a communication. If you knew me in the past, through CPCS, please contact me because I am now rededicated to writing the book I was researching for several years about our College, still to be titled “Who Did we Think we Were? Radical Higher Education and the Neoliberal Imperative: The Experience and Meanings of the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts/Boston.” I’m still seeking a publisher, but a current CPCS faculty member, Raul Ybarra, is offering to join the project. Hooray Otherwise all I can say is that I have a 9 month-old grandbaby, named Sage, who offers a real reason for hope and hard work for justice. And I am still involved in anti-poverty activism through the MA Poor People’s Campaign, and though less so, through the national Basic Income movement. (I promise to post more updates from both movements on my website, again I have been avoidant.) BUT most important I want to hear more from any of you about what else we should be doing, or talking about, together. Thanks Ann . .

Consider the Apostrophes

The Poor People’s Campaign for Moral Reconstruction is a Poor People’s Moral Movement.  It is motivated and led, not by experts or politicians, but rather by people who themselves KNOW poverty, up close and personal…Folks who KNOW that something is wrong, that poverty is an evil which hurts, and that the only way to make the immediate and deeply rooted pain stop for all of us is to face it, to know it, to study it. And, most importantly, they are people who are prepared together to push back against poverty and against the rich people who personally condone it, and whose laws, systems and structures perpetrate it.

HOW do we know? We study poverty through stories.  Her stories, His stories, Our stories. Our lives tell stories — stories that are our truths, our “data,” our evidence.  I mean the stories we hear from our families, our friends, our “people”, and from our own selves when we talk to ourselves about what we KNOW happened, not LIES other people told us to confuse us, or because they so much wished their world had been different, or because the pain of their stories was just too hard to face.

My own stories first emerged at night when as a child I lay in bed telling myself what I KNEW was really true… In the dark, I needed to warn myself, to explain to myself, at least, about what I thought was happening in my world, and why what Mother and others around me were saying wasn’t true, couldn’t be right.  Somehow those corrective stories helped keep me going. And still do. (Even though I’ve had to learn that they too may not be the only truth, that I need to keep revising them so I don’t fool myself either).

So what does it mean that this Poor People’s Campaign is a Movement built on the TRUE stories Poor People tell? And, indeed, what do we think makes a good story? It is one that is true, and yet still bravely open to constant evolution based on others’ different ways of explaining things, as we share more stories. It is one that sounds true because it is clear, with understandable words,  explained clearly AND checked out against other stories, and other kinds of data..  It may begin with “once upon a time:”  in a particular place, far away or familiar. Or it may start with an example, a story about something or some things that happened to me…”Let me tell you about a time when this happened, then that happened, and then something else happened next.”

When somebody tells us a Good Story we go back with them,  We feel something of what they were feeling that thereby helps us to connect, to learn, to want to know more, to ask questions.  We want to tell our stories;  about what we learned, or about what it might mean. We ask, why did a particular story happen the way it did? What other stories does it prompt us to recall? To want to share? To want to understand more deeply?

By hearing ourselves tell our stories we, in turn, help ourselves not feel so alone, Not be so alone, to figure out a next step, or two, or a next question to ask. A next person to talk with…To discover that Hope which us allows to keep on keeping on.

SOON, in Massachusetts and across the US, we will be to creating Poor People’s Campaign Storyteller Teams who will gather stories from the people most impacted by poverty in ways that explain and justify our Movement.  Check it out.





Who will Call the Question?

This Man who is President is breaking all imaginable standards of basic decency, respect and responsibility.
Many of us have known this, been obsessing about it, and been trying to figure out what to do since his ascendence into power. But the Republicans have enabled him at every turn.
Where was the intervention when he spoke so cruelly about immigrants, women, people of color? When he passed rules and regulations that destroy honorable diplomacy? When he bullied and lied every day?
Trump has been dragging the entire country down the proverbial “slippery slope” since his illegitimate electoral “victory” 20 months ago, enabled by cowardly(at best), and collusive (at worst) Republican enablers.
STOP. Enough.
The Republicans in Congress have all the power. The Courts have other judicial restraints. The opposition cannot be “loyal”, even a little bit, for even a minute more.
Congress can meet and censure him. Congress can demand that he resign. A group of Bipartisan leaders can visit him unofficially, and/or with police escort, and demand his resignation. They can declare him unfit for office. Pence can denounce him and call for him resign, or threaten in own resignation.  But this has to stop.
If Republicans at every level don’t demand this now, shame on them.  Same on us all if we allow it to continue as if it is normal.  The world is waiting, and watching. Our children and grandchildren are waiting.
Enough. No excuses.
If we don’t do all we can to stop him now we are ALL guilty.

Ann Withorn, Citizen, Outraged inhabitant of this state, this nation this world. July 2018.

A Movement is Building, The Poor People’s Campaign is Moving, and Learning as We Go.

It is much too soon to publish any kind of full assessment of our efforts, and too much work is still in-progress to write something that would even presume to be any kind of “evaluation,” much less to suggest a plan.  But as of mid-July I just want to post some of my own thoughts, for my memory’s sake at least, and maybe to stimulate discussion:

  1.  The Campaign has done well, nationally and in this State to get attention to the cause without weakening the message.  No small feat in the midst for creating a national presence and action.  .  Good for everybody.  We have to keep it up.
  2.  For me, the most important parts of our practice thus far have been that we have kept to our commitments to bring the faces and voices of the people most directly impacted by poverty in the forefront — on camera and in our words and actions.  We can still do better, but this Movement is already much stronger  than the white anti-War New Left that defined me since 1968 because of this.  It is deeper than the Black Civil Rights Movement that inspired and so challenged me since I was a wanna-be Southern white girl supporter in the mid-1950’s because of this.  And it much wider than the Women’s Movement that I have been part of, despite and because of my Mean Mother, since the early 1970’s .  And it even may be the long-hoped for Movement of “The People, United Who Can Never Be Defeated” that I have been chanting for and demanding , at hundreds of demonstrations and meetings, in so many places  since it turned 21 in 1968.  I hope so.
  3. As a long-time activist and radical teacher, I truly do believe in the leadership and mission of the Poor People’s Campaign.  And increasingly, here in Boston, I can see ways to bring my experience directly into our popular education work, starting this summer.  Now we are past the past 40 Days of NonViolent Resistance and moving into a careful, yet intense, community and organizational development phase that will push the misleaders of both parties back, and motivate new folks,– younger people, tired older people, students and union members into greater solidarity and activism.  I can feel it, and I see real possibility for me personally to be a part, building from my experience, even if the body, but not the spirit, is weaker than it used to be.   I must find a way, and know I can alongside my amazing new comrades, especially the group of SEIU 1199 PCA’s who so motivate me, just as Welfare Rights Mothers did 40+ years ago.
  4. More later, except to say that as we move forward, my priorities are to help Massachusetts PPC to go to public colleges and universities and work with students to organize around the danger coming from the student loan debt that is diminishing the ability of our younger generation to take the personal, political and social risks they must take together.  We must teach ourselves the history of the Right in this country and elsewhere, in order to identify what’s happening to us, to name who is leading it, and to organize to fight back in little and big ways.  We must remember always to link the problems associated with poverty with the intentional and inevitable danger stemming from immoral Wealth and irresponsible rich people. We must also learn from our own movement’s’ histories about how to speak out clearly in large and small groups, in writing on all the old and new”platforms” and, through it all, as we keep our love for each other alive AND our Eyes on the Prize.  I look forward to working together with everybody as we accomplish this.  We have no choice.

So let’s get going, bringing new comrades along, and strengthening Ourselves every day.   Starting Now.  ……Please respond however works best for you.

Paying Attention…Catching UP…

“ I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good employees and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”     Trump’s State of the Union Address 1/30/18

When I originally heard this I realized that, in the midst of all our righteous uproar regarding racism and other systemic abuses within new immigration, social, criminal “justice” and educational policy assaults, we also must heed this brief, chilling threat to today’s public sector workers, their unions, and therefore to all us.   Most of citizens and residents of this nation have rights to expect government to be effective, accountable, and responsive. Yet our criminal “justice” system is still, and has always been essentially racist. We must document and highlight and never forget this, even as we keep demanding more and getter service.

Since January, under the guise of tax reform, Republicans have already undermined healthcare promises, protections for immigrants, and the environment.  By not hiring new workers to meet the government’s obligations we only create more dissatisfaction.  With Tax Day just past, it’s time to remind ourselves of what it meant historically when governments failed in these ways.  We know get what we pay for.  And in terms of public services, we must be prepared to pay (fairly and proportionately) for it all.

Please, let’s demand the revenue we need to operate as a responsible society.  otherwise we undermine our ability to trust ourselves, and to demand what we need from ourselves


Honoring Paulo Friere

I’ve been working here in Massachusetts to build the Poor People Campaign’s Popular Political Education Committee.  In doing so I have been looking back at my favorite  Paulo Friere quotes: Here are my top five, at least for this purpose.

  1. “education is freedom.”  2) “The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”    3) “The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a ‘circle of certainty’ within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” 4)“Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.” and 5)“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption”Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Updates from the Poor People’s Campaign

Over the past several months I have become very involved with the Massachusetts Poor Peoples’ Campaign.  As I have said before the whole national Campaign is very exciting, and now we are beginning more state and local activism, leading to Forty Days of Civil Disobedience in May.   For now it just want to post the principles of the national Campaign and a link to be connected to the Massachusetts Campaign.

More later, but for now check out Poor Peoples Campaign principles +

Supporting the Poor People’s Campaign — No distractions, please

If you don’t know more of the story behind who Cheri Honkala is and how she has been part of the welfare rights/Poor People’s scene for years,
As long time welfare rights activist,Cheri’s statement seems powerful BUT why is she issuing it now? If she has problems with the current PPC, why isn’t she being direct about it?
Why announce her own march without respect for all the amazing, legitimate work motivated by William Barber, Liz Theoharris and Willie Baptist, and lots of us NOW, around the nation, which being led by more poor people, and more people with real personal poverty experience than any major social movement in history. Indeed, why introduce innuendo suggesting that the only current movement that is actually coming forward with real success is suspect?
Don’t get confused. Ask questions. Check out who has been doing the the most work of fighting poverty for the longest time. It is William Barber, Liz Theoharris, and Willie Baptist, along with others prominent in the PPC.
I respect Cheri’s history, and lifelong energy and I recognize her powerful voice.
But Cheri’s way now is not the right way. It is confusing and divisive. She could be joining, but then she might not be leading in the way she expects to lead — I could say “mislead.”
Today’s poor people ARE single mothers like Cheri using what’s left of welfare to survive, AND they are also immigrants, and low waged workers who are often single mothers or the children of single mothers. Today’s poor people are still disproportionately African Americans, who join with college students of all ethnic backgrounds in invisible poverty as they try to get an education, even as they know that the debt they are accruing to get it will keep them poor or near poverty for a very long time. Today’s poor people are sick and getting older living in fear that there will be no simply available health care for them. They reside in all parts of the USA — in large part because real estate developers are taking their cities away.
Finally, we now have a new national anti poverty movement growing organically again, out of the history of civil rights, labor rights and women’s rights and human rights movements. It is built upon the best parts of global environmental and LBGT movements. It is led by “people of faith” but still is welcoming to all who have been damaged by faith or who never sought it. AND the new Poor People’s Campaign has adopted 12 fundamental principles for a moral revival that preclude righteous Neoliberal tricks.
Let’s embrace it. Cheri Honkala should too. But I, for one, will not widely circulate her statement directly, nor waste time engaging with her self-serving plans fro her own march to distract us.
Let’s move on and build the one big movement that is proving its credibility every day. Please. The time is NOW.    Cheri’s original statement can be found here.

Mass. Poor People’s Campaign

This is really important effort, Stay tuned

Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Media Advisory for February 5, 2018
Contact: Savina Martin, 339 216 7181

Massachusetts Poor, Disenfranchised To Join The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

Poor People, Clergy and Activists to go to the State House, Demanding Moral, Just Political Agenda; Vow Historic Wave of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience, Direct Action This Spring

Local News Conference Decrying Systemic Racism, Poverty, the War Economy, Ecological Devastation Part of Nationwide Day of Action in over 30 States, District of Columbia

Boston, February 1, 2018 — Poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders from across Massachusetts will join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Monday.

Poor people, clergy and activists will hold a news conference at the state capitol to serve notice on state legislative leaders that their failure to address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality will be met this spring with six weeks of direct action – including one of the largest waves of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history.

The Massachusetts delegation of impacted people and moral leaders will deliver a letter to politicians highlighting dozens of racist voter suppression laws passed nationwide in recent years and a stark jump in the percentage of people living in poverty. They will vow to risk arrest beginning Mother’s Day if politicians fail to adopt a moral and just agenda.

The news conference in Massachusetts will be one of over 30 at state capitols and the U.S. Capitol Monday, marking the first nationwide action by the campaign since it launched on Dec. 4, 50 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign.

WHO: Poor, disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders joined by many local supporters

WHAT: News conference and letter delivery at the Massachusetts State House and in over 30 state capitols and the U.S. Capitol as part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

WHEN: Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, 10:00 am

WHERE: State House steps on Beacon Street


The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is the product of a decade of organizing by grassroots groups, religious leaders and others to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. Expected to be a multi-year effort, the campaign will unite the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized, combining direct action with grassroots organizing, voter registration, power building and nonviolent civil disobedience.

Once again, what IS to Be Done?

September ordinarily offers me hope for better days, for making “plans for the Fall”.  Summer is ending,  school is starting, new people are coming around. But hope seems a bit foolish now.  It’s hard to feel better — except that much of the worst has not happened (yet) to most of us–maybe. The extreme weather even reflects my mood.  The world seems, and is, unsettled, out of sorts.  Charlottesville highlighted the reasonableness of my ever-present fears. I’m not paranoid. And I’m still angry — but not looking for “wellness training”.

Surely I can’t avoid seeing what’s happening to people and the values that matter most.  But what to do?

Obviously we regroup. We document. We prepare for the worst. We try to figure out what it means to resist.  We listen to each other, keep exposing all the grand and petty threats. Folks have done pretty well at blocking Him (and the Republicans) from doing the cruelest deeds. They look pathetic.  And the worst (declaring war? a white supremacist pogrom?) hasn’t happened.  But….still, it’s hard to imagine a better, intentional near-future. Hard to get it together, hard to find a focus and keep it. Hard not to sound hopelessly naive in continuing to call for “a movement”. But what else is there?

I can’t help being afraid of what is happening across the US and the globe.  The escalating crudeness and tolerance of violent words and deeds in so many places is unnerving. Now, too many suffer from Trump fatigue, and are even more likely to miss possibilities.

I keep coming back to the wisdom of Guy Standing’s warnings of increasing precarity. The insecurity that puts so many people in such danger is not only economic, it’s social disruption and moral enervation at the deepest levels. And it cycles in on itself. It breeds distrust. Maybe this is the essence of today’s populist nihilism. Everything feels off kilter.

For the next three weeks I’m in Europe, in Berlin, Prague, Bordeaux, and Lisbon. Seeing old friends, giving a few presentations about Basic Income. Looking for better ways to figure out what’s happening. What can happen. What we can do to find a new balance, to join with others, to find support for keeping going, for fighting back, for having hope.

Any ideas?

PS I do know that Reverend Barber, and the New Poor People’s Campaign are there, as are those at Political Research Associates and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But it still seems very hard.