September 11, 2007

the big picture

I have been having one of those weeks where I think hard about the big picture, about what's going on in my community, and about what I have energy for.

I was hoping we could have one of those big picture conversations together. I would love to hear what's going on in everyone's neck of the woods as I know different things are going on for different folks.

Here are three questions I hope everyone has time to answer:

  1. What are three major issues you see facing people in your communities? (however you define "your communities") I was going to ask what are the top three issues but I realized I couldn't even begin to address that myself, so just tell me three major issues.
  2. What are effective ways you have seen community leaders address each of these issues.
  3. What ways are you or could you be involved in working on these issues?
  4. Are there any obstacles you have faced to getting involved? What were they? Do you have plans to continue your involvement?
Answer some or all of these if you can and have time.

I will start by answering these myself in the comments but I hope this can start an ongoing conversation.


wannatakethisoutside said...

a) Housing. Lack of access to housing, or lack of access to decent housing. This is related to long waiting lists for subsidies, CORI problems, lack of affordable options, racism, trasphobia, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice.

b) Health care access. Even folks who do have access to health care lack access to or funding for health care for trans related health care.

c) Prejudice. This includes people being unwilling to share or accept information about themselves do to internalized prejudice. (I know this one is very general.)

a) I've seen a few programs set up as service organizations but I really haven't seen much that was run by the people who actually needed the housing and am not sure how effective folks find these programs to be. I know that some people find housing through the programs.

b) People keep trying to do advocacy for trans-related health care. There seems to be some progress but so far, I haven't seen anyone end up with exactly what they were looking for. In addition, a lot seems focussed on costly health plans, and I don't know what is targeted at low-income folks. I know that relatively low-priced hormones are available online with a prescription (but of course that requires access to a therapist first, and should be done with expensive bloodwork). Still, it is hard to access surgery.

c) Lots of small-scale stuff although I would like to see more multi-issue organizing.

3. I am honestly not as involved in any of these things as I would like to be. I have spent some time working on each of these things.
a) through volunteering for a large non-profit
b) through several community-based activist groups
c) I've been involved at several different levels, a couple of times as a leader but mostly as a supporter.

garçon-fille said...

People in my community have a lot of problems with lack of reliable sources of income. Whether that means not being able to find or keep a job, or just trying to get enough wages/salary from their jobs to be able to make ends meet. We have no worker's unions where I live, so there are people who have worked for many years for the same companies, still making minimum wage. Many immigrant workers in the area work overtime with no breaks, and don't even make minimum wage. To top it off, it would be almost impossible to start or join a union because there are only a few major employers in the area and so many people looking for jobs that the companies could fire their entire work forces and hire completely new people if the workers went on strike, etc.

Another major problem my community faces is an extremely poor education system (and I don't mean financially). This is really too involved to explain, but the bottom line is, if you can think of something that could be wrong with an education system, it probably is wrong with ours.

Last, but certainly not least, pollution is quickly becoming a huge problem. I live near a rather large national park, and it (as well as our unfortunately abundant outlet malls) attracts a lot of tourists every year. The people in charge of planning on the city/county level have and continue to support commercial expansion as their primary goal (and thereby expansion of non-public transportation infrastructure), without taking environmental issues into consideration. This, despite increasing smog levels that are causing dangerous conditions for people's health, and despite blatant evidence that acid rain is causing the deforestation of nearby mountain ranges (including those in the national park). Now, I simply fail to understand how an area that relies upon its natural beauty as its primary source of income can support development that poses an imminent danger to its very livelihood, but I digress...

I actually have no idea what is being done about the first two issues, but I know many environmental groups have been and are taking action against the area's uncontrolled expansion, but they seem to have made little (if any) headway. I believe the real problem is that the people in charge have their hands in all the coffers, i.e. the local planning commissions, corporations, law enforcement, etc. are all headed by the same people (or people from the same immediate families). So everything that gets done in the area is purely out of personal interest for those few in control...

I don't really know what I could do about the first two problems short of running for a public office, but I do wish that I could spend more time working on the environmental problem (attending city council meetings, etc. and seeing what's really being done and perhaps providing a voice of reason).

icarus said...


i think these are really interesting questions, and both of you have really thoughtful answers. because i'm unoriginal, i also think that my answers are somewhat similar to WTTO's (also because WTTO is hot, and i'm just try to associate myself closely with hotness)...

a) classism and class issues. more about this below.
b) healthcare. low-income people, immigrants and many GLBT people (especially trans folks) are among those who i know struggle to access safe and affordable health care.
c) institutionalized or systematized prejudice. this can be same-sex couples being treated as second-class citizens to or a friend being afraid to tell their family they're not straight. it's seen in hurtful representations of women that objectify them, or try to make them feel bad about their bodies. it's seen in racial discrimination in housing and loans.

a) effective ways of addressing classism:

i think that there are two parts to approach in dealing with the system of classim in America.
one part revolves around concrete, policy-related issues, like the minimum wage, affordable housing and social service programs (like food stamps or TAFDC). the people i have seen be particularly effective in helping clients with these issues are, interestingly, lawyers and doctors like those at MLPC. the credibility of a medical expert saying, "poor housing conditions are causing asthma in 50% of the children in this building," is a very powerful tool. likewise, a letter from an attorney to a negligent landlord can be a useful catalyst.

however, i think the other part of classism in America is what we most often ignore. these are the cultural aspects of class (some of which WTTO touches on in this post). we rarely talk about money and class in our personal lives, in the way it permeates every aspect of our judgments, experiences and expectations. there are a number of authors and artists whose work on this issue i especially admire, such as: Lauralee Summer's book Learning Joy From Dogs Without Collars", bell hook's Class Matters and the recent anthology Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class. their writing profoundly changed the way i think about class.

b) health care. i'm not as informed about health care advocacy as i should be. i do think that politicians are in a position to make a difference if they can be dedicated and persistant. i'm also super impressed by San Francisco's decision to unilaterally start insuring their entire city. seriously, they should just secede and become a territory of Sweden. the rest of us are just holding them back.

c) organizations like MTPC, GLAD and MassEquality help push for GLBT equality, but i've also seen individuals make a big difference just by speaking out against systemic racism/classism/sexism/homophobia and sharing their experiences. i also think blogs (such as Afropologe) are great tools to publicize fierce new voices.

3. i'm still trying to figure out the best way to be involved, where and how. now taking suggestions.

ok, i'm gonna stop typing (and making links - i can't believe how many times i just typed "a href"), so now it's your turn to comment. GO!


ps. sorry for trying to post more than once (i mis-typed "secede" the first time). tragedy.

emily2 said...

for "generation debt"? or, in general... the shrinking middle class.

1) unaffordable housing (see mortgage crisis and obscene rental market - it's so obscene that nyc has begun "affordable housing" programs for people in the $75k to $100k range. i mean, really... that's how bad it is. and this is why i live in jersey...)

2) tuitions rising at 3 times the level of inflation and crushing student loan debt. translation: even the middle class will soon be foreclosed from higher education.

3) no (or substandard) health insurance due to companies scaling back on benefits... and the fact that 50% of the people i know are independent contractors

4) offshoring of middle class jobs - they're starting to offshore work usually reserved for junior attorneys. what is that quote again? first they came for the factory workers, but i did not speak up because i'm not a factory worker. and then they came for the customer care technicians, but i did not speak up because i'm not a customer care technician. and then they came for the engineers, but i did not speak up, because i'm not an engineer. and then they came for us.

emily2 said...

lest anything thinks i'm joking about the offshoring of attorney jobs:

here's the story on bloomberg

50,000 jobs in the legal field to be shipped overseas by 2015.

the middle class needs to get off its high horse and realize that, unless you own your means of production, you're just as fungible as a blue collar worker. middle class snobbery needs to end.

emily2 said...

haha, i never got past the first question. i had to jump on a bus.

2. What are effective ways you have seen community leaders address each of these issues.

um, right.

3. What ways are you or could you be involved in working on these issues?

i've written my congressman several times.

4. Are there any obstacles you have faced to getting involved?

working 60 hour weeks and general apathy. it is amazing how much kool-aid the middle class drinks. (if you're a while collar wage worker, you're still a wage worker. why are you shilling for the banks collecting your interest and the business owners who are squeezing your benefits? oh, it's pride. i see. oh well.)