Testimonies: The Four Evils of Society

Photo: Joe Paperone

At the Poor People’s Campaign Mass Meeting on October 17 in Binghamton, NY, four speakers addressed aspects of what the campaign has named as the “four evils”: systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation.

Elizabeth James

I am a 28-year-old mother of three from Schenectady. Me and my fiancé both work fast food. I am a shift leader making $11 an hour, and he is a crew member making $10.75 an hour.

It is very hard to support our children and take care of bills. When I was four or five months pregnant, the doctor took me out of work. My fiancé was having trouble finding a job, so we were both out of work.

We went to the Department of Social Services. They told me they couldn’t help us because he’s able to work. He was able to get a job at Taco Bell and they paid part of our rent. But then they cut our food stamps way down. I live in a three- bedroom apartment. But nowadays,I can’t afford it. I have to have a room to rent, so I have to make my living room into a nursery and bedroom. Their playroom is my dining room.

All I do is work. We shouldn’t have to worry about food making it to the end of the month. I can’t afford daycare,so me and my fiancé have to work separate shifts so we can have at least have a little time with our kids.

We need to keep fighting and telling our story to make our society livable without worrying if our children will be ok.

Matt Howard

I served in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006. I’m here to talk about the war economy.

Politicians have been sending young men and women off to wars. Their children aren’t the ones who have to fight. They don’t dread a uniformed soldier walking up their driveway with devastating news. They have no stake. They sign off on budgets that distribute over 50 percent of our tax dollars– more than $680 billion — to war making. When they tell you we don’t have any money, you can them they are lying to your face.

They have incredible amounts of money, but they use it for the wrong reasons. Why do we spend such a vast amount of money on the military?

The word I often hear is security.

These wars have made our world devastatingly more insecure. Our government has sold us a false bill of goods.

Who benefits? Corporations whose stocks rise every time we launch a new missile strike. Politicians who vie for defense contractor money to fuel their campaigns.

The Pentagon itself, which has top brass rotating through a revolving door to the board of directors of defense companies.

A long line of presidents. We have the power to reclaim these resources. If we can act in unison, this war economy can shift into an economy that heals and regenerates our communities and the planet.

Jackie Bogart

I have always lived in poverty.

My youngest memory is of when I was two years old, and my mother had to place me in foster care.

I remember the doll she gave me as she was leaving, it was a little baby doll with blonde hair and a blue dress. I have four children now, two of them are grown-ups. But they too, have had a hard life and know the realities of being poor.

Several years ago, we had no income and ate food from a dumpster for several weeks. I have had to skip meals to make sure there was enough for my kids to eat. I attended college in my early 20’s.

That soon ended when I was forced by Social Services to make a choice between full-time college or a full-time minimum wage job.

I reluctantly got that job, and dropped out of college. About a year and a half ago, I was asked to join a Speaker’s Bureau. I went. I learned a lot at these classes, and was encouraged to tell my life’s story. Not only was this like therapy for me, but people actually wanted to hear it. I am now a part of the conversations.

It turns out that there are people who are working to help people like me. And now I have the opportunity to sit at the table and contribute my expertise as a person with lived experience in poverty. It is my responsibility, and my right.

Bobby Black

Here in Broome County, citizens who are predominately black and brown are incarcerated on the basis that they are poor. Often failing to come up with bail, men and women remain behind bars.

While incarcerated for only a few days, people risk losing their housing, employment, and their children. Faced with this potential, many people will sign plea agreements to lessen trumped up charges subjecting them to permanent legal discrimination.

I myself gave into the pressure of a plea deal. The Broome County Sheriff’s Correctional Facility, our local jail, has noted that over 80 percent of its inmates cannot afford bail.

On any given day, our friends are being stripped of their dignity, of their fundamental rights. Our counties would rather spend millions of dollars to expand jails instead of releasing more low-level offenders. Just in the past several years, seven people have died in the custody of Broome County.

It is important to note that the primary cause of death for these people is incarceration. These men and women would still be with us today if not incarcerated. The best way to keep people from dying while incarcerated is to keep them out of jail in the first place. We must do everything in our power to protect the most marginalized peoples of our communities. That means abolishing cash bail all together.

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