OAKLAND, Calif. – Latanya Wolf, a slim 64 year-old, didn’t tiptoe around the issue of cuts to services for women and families during a protest rally in Oakland last week.
“I am living on $160 a month,” Wolf asserted during the rally, held Friday. “But for the food bank, I would be starving. I am living the budget cuts, my family is living the budget cuts. My 2-year-old niece died of hunger.”
In recent years, California’s budget woes have been decimating school and health care programs, and other public safety nets. The cuts have affected children, adults and seniors.
“What is happening is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” Wolf declared. “It is a human rights issue.”
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday announced more painful cuts to cope with a gaping $16 billion budget deficit – nearly double the $9.2 billion originally projected -- the state is going to be facing.
“We will have to go much further and make cuts far greater than I asked for at the beginning of the year,” Brown said in a video posted Saturday on YouTube.
Even as it is, one-third of Oakland’s children are currently living in poverty, noted Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, one of the speakers at the rally in the central quad of Laney College. The rally was held in conjunction with the World Court of Women on Poverty, the first of its kind event in the United States.
Qaun noted that last year alone, nearly 21,000 more children in Oakland joined the ranks of the poor. “A lot of adults in Oakland are in critical condition,” she said.
The four-day World Court event -- held from May 10 through 13 -- drew an estimated 150 women. Participants hailed from as far as India and Mexico, each taking turns standing before a jury of concerned advocates, academics, poets, musicians, and housewives. Testimonies revolved around how speakers’ families have been impacted by poverty.
“The devastation of poverty has hit us,” observed Ethel Long-Scott, executive director of the Oakland-based non-profit, Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP), a part of the network that organized the event. And, she noted, “There is a lot of pain in our city. We need to change that.”
Aside from hearing testimony from women, the event also featured roundtable discussions on how women can fight poverty-related violence and seek the justice they are often denied in regular courts.
“We want to identify solutions, building on some of the things that have come out of the ‘Occupy Oakland’ movement,” noted Shamako Noble, co-founder and national coordinator of the Hip-Hop Congress. Noble is among a growing number of men who, in recent years, have joined forces with those fighting for women’s rights through the world courts.
Since the first World Court of Women was held in 1992 in Lahore, Pakistan, under the banner Asia Court on Violence Against Women, some 40 such courts have been held worldwide to give women a voice and space to talk about issues that adversely impact their lives, said Tunisia-based Corrine Kumar. Founder of the courts, Kumar participated in the Oakland event, and spends several months each year in her native India, advocating for women’s rights.
A couple of decades ago, the human rights movement “never factored” violence against women in its conversations, giving her the impetus to launch the World Courts of Women project, she said.
“I started the work with $500 and a dream,” she said.
Each court focuses on a topic specific to its region. In 2008, for instance, the court held in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, focused on dowry, which even though banned by the Indian government in 1961, still continues to thrive, leaving women vulnerable to abuse, sometimes even murder. Kumar said there has not been a single conviction of a dowry-related death.
Through our court, “we wanted to bring it to the center of public consciousness,” Kumar said, noting proudly: “There is no legal sanction for these courts of women; we give them sanction.”
Advocates unanimously agreed that Brown’s proposed tax plan was an important first step to turn the lives of families in California around.
Under it, the state would temporarily raise its sales tax by a quarter cent and increase the income tax on people who make $250,000 or more.
The additional revenue would help maintain current funding levels for public schools and colleges and pay for programs that benefit low-income families and seniors.
Boona Cheema, executive director of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, stood among a sea of protestors holding signs that said “Wall Street Can Wait, Students Can’t” and “Wall Street Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.” She noted that as far as she was concerned, “every day is Mother’s Day.
“We are waiting for the day when we will be the 51 percent,” she said, referring to the occupy movements that are protesting control of the nation’s wealth by an affluent 1 percent of the population.
“We are disproportionately poor, disproportionately abused,” Long-Scott said at the rally. “We need a new social contract for the 21st century.”
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