By Kim Hill and Don Bryant
“We may have all come on different ships but we’re all in the same boat now,” said Ted Guerry about the State of the People Forum on Friday night. Guerry represents the community group, Black on Black Crime, and he was quoting Martin Luther King.
The Forum was held at Spaces Gallery coinciding with it exhibition, “Bi-Lingual,” http://www.spacesgallery.org/bilingual/bilingual.htm combining the works of African American and Latino American artists.
African American speakers described the lack of employment, failed schools, gang and police violence, and unfairness in the judicial process which results in tragedy for so many young people. The Wall of Sorrow in East Cleveland contained the names of 2000 young people lost to urban killings.
Ruth Standingford, of Peace in the Hood, reported on the recent national gang summit in Kansas seeking to reduce urban violence.
Priscilla Cooper of the Family Connection Center explained that welfare reform has forced many mothers into “voluntary” community service, which she called virtual “slavery,” rather than providing real job training in NE Ohio’s depressed economy.
The Lucasville Five Committee representative, Sharon Danann, spoke of the wrongful convictions of Lucasville, Ohio prisoners, now on "death row."
Local Arab Americans and Muslims were represented as well. A Muslim American prison chaplin noted the disproportionate US rate of incarceration of Black Americans.
Julia Shearson, Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations,
Cleveland office, described how US authorities violate the constitutional
rights of Americans of Muslim faith, including the totally unsubstantiated
designation of Ms. Shearson as a "suspected terrorist." Ms. Shearson
was detained and handcuffed as she attempted to return to the US with
her four year-old daughter,in 2006, as they returned from a vacation to Canada. http://blog.cleveland.com/pdextra/2009/05/court_backs_quest_for_records.html
Psychologist Evelyn Rivera described the abuses suffered by immigrants and their families in Ohio. She deplored the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by children, due to racial-profiling against their Latino parents, often U.S. citizens, as parents are imprisoned in workplace raids and deported.
Alejandro Rivera (not related) noted America’s cynicism in bringing in Hispanic laborers to do many of our most grueling and necessary jobs and then discarding them as “throw-aways.”
Sarah Sommers of the InterReligious Task Force on Central America spoke about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), passed by Congress under the Clinton administration, which drives family farmers off their land in Central America and Mexico, resulting in their migration into the US seeking jobs to help their families simply survive.
A Palestinian American, Nader Mustafa, and others, reported on human rights violations in the so-called “War on Terror.” As the US and Israel collaborate on this “war,” there are massive human rights abuses not just in Iraq but also in Gaza and the West Bank supported by billions of US tax dollars. Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan portend more trouble ahead.
Jewish-American peace activist, David Berenson, discussed the toll war takes on our own soldiers, Iraqi people, Afghan people, and on needed social programs, which are starved of tax dollars diverted into the military. He also criticized "environmental racism."
Maria Smith and her husband, Presbyterian minister, Charlie Hurst, described non-violence and tax resistance against our militarized culture.
Kim Hill, who taught school, in the 1960s in the Hough area, and in Lebanon, focused on the combination of racism, poverty, and violence resulting from our policies toward the “Third World.” This third world exists not only in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin American but also here at home, internal to the US. The cost for the Bush administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though predicted to cost just $50 billion, are now estimated at between $3 trillion and $7 trillion dollars!
Several members of the audience made closing statements. Norma Freeman warned against catching the “disease”of the dominant culture. American ethnic groups must not fall into the divide and conquer trap of oppressing each other as sometimes happens in their competition for limited opportunities in the American economy.
Evelyn Rivera urged unity in the future, that the groups assembled must seek mutual understanding, cooperation and projects for unified action.
Yoshiko Ikuta, who lived through World War II as a child in Japan, drew loud applause when she said the issue is "human rights."
Alicia Kirkman, whose 17-year-old son was shot in the back and killed by Cleveland police in 2007, called for equal justice as promised in the US Constitution.
Sam Phillips, a video journalist of grassroots groups and community action events in NE Ohio, reminded everyone of the $700 billion “cash for trash” bail-out under consideration in Congress at the very moment we were meeting at Spaces. Politicians should not be allowed to abandon Americans living along West 25th Street, Lorain, Cedar or Warrensville as they desperately try to save Wall Street.
Don Bryant, of the Immigrant Support Network, which organized the Forum, thanked all participants and the volunteers who worked to make the event possible.
Special thanks go out to Angelica Pozo, the Curator of the Spaces exhibit, to Nicole Edwards, the communications manager of Spaces, and to Liberation Brew Cable TV programmers. Panelists: Nava Ibrahim, social worker, Saudi-American Muslim; David Berenson, the Green Party and Cleveland Peace Action; Priscila Cooper, Family Connection Center; Don Freeman, co-editor of Vibration magazine; Ted Guerry, Black on Black Crime; Kim Hill, Middle East Peace Forum; Nader Mustafa, Palestinian American and Iraq war vet; Alejandro Rivera, Mexican-American community activist; Julia Shearson, Council on American Islamic Relations; Evelyn Rivera, psychologist; Charles Hurst, Presbyterian minister, war tax resistor; Maria Smith, nonviolence activist, war tax resistor, Sarah Sommer, InterReligious Task Force on Central America; Ruth Standingford, Peace in the Hood on youth violence; David McCarthy, Muslim chaplan; Sharon Danann, Lucasville Defense Committee; Lady Dove, domestic violence survivor. Thanks go out to those who helped plan and put on the event for Immigrant Support Network: Vera Hall, Liz Lavelle, Yoshiko Ikuta, Linda Park, Nava Ibrahim, Don Bryant, Janet Loehr, Stewart and Valerie Robinson, Kim Hill and Anna Ruiz.