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Labor Leader Eliseo Medina on Fasting for Immigration Reform, Organizing with Cesar Chavez

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Labor Leader Eliseo Medina on Fasting for Immigration Reform, Organizing with Cesar Chavez

Democracy Now: December 13, 2013

Guest
Eliseo Medina, former SEIU international secretary-treasurer. He resigned, saying he wanted to work full-time on winning comprehensive immigration legislation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has finished its work for the year without passing comprehensive immigration reform. On Thursday, leaders from both parties promised to revisit the issue early in the new year. Meanwhile, outside the White House, more than a thousand immigration activists descended on the offices of House lawmakers on Thursday to protest the House’s inaction on the issue. They held vigils and shared their personal stories at the offices of more than 190 House Republicans and four House Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: The demonstrations came as the immigration reform organization Fast for Families concluded 31 days of fasting. During a press conference on the National Mall, activists broke their fast with bread and water, vowed to continue pushing for an immigration reform bill that includes a cessation to deportations and a pathway to citizenship. The fasters had set up a tent on the National Mall and received visits from high-profile guests, like, oh, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Last month, President Obama praised the fasters’ resolve.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, I’m seeing brave advocates who have been fasting for two weeks in the shadow of the Capitol, sacrificing themselves in an effort to get Congress to act. And I want to say to Eliseo Medina, my friend from SEIU, and the other fasters who are there as we speak, I want them to know we hear you. We’re with you. The whole country hears you.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Eliseo Medina. He served as international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union until October 1st. He resigned saying he wanted to work full-time on winning comprehensive immigration legislation. Medina recently spent 22 days on a water-only fast as part of the action by “A Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship.” He worked alongside labor leader Cesar Chavez for 13 years. His career as a labor activist began in 1965, when, as a 19-year-old grape picker, he participated in the historic United Farm Workers strike in Delano, California.

Eliseo Medina, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about why you fasted and what you feel you have accomplished, now that the House has ended without passing immigration reform?

ELISEO MEDINA: Well, thank you, Amy. First of all, you know, we were haunted by the fact that last year 463 people died in the desert trying to come to the United States in search of a better life. Over two million people have been deported from the United States. And, you know, these are numbers, but beyond those numbers, there’s real people, real human beings, with families who love them and who they love. And they will never be back with their families because they died in the desert. Or children are left behind when their mom or dad are deported, and they cry themselves to sleep wondering when they will see their parents again. And we just couldn’t stand to continue to see this human suffering that’s going on in our community, so we decided that we would go on a fast to dramatize, to put a human face on this moral crisis facing our country.

And I feel very fortunate that we touched the heart of America. We had thousands and thousands of people joining our fast, not only the United States, but around the world. I think that we managed to unify all sectors of our community in support of immigration reform. And even though the Congress left town without doing anything about immigration reform, I think that there’s no doubt that they have to do something now. And we are going to keep pushing. We are taking our fast out into every congressional district, so that when they come back to Washington in January, they will have to act and finish the work of creating a just and humane immigration system.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Eliseo, we’ve heard this, though—that we’re near or possibly close to some kind of a solution on immigration reform now for several years. Back in 2007, there was a possibility of a deal then. Yesterday, I think in Los Angeles, a city councilman, Gil Cedillo, and some other California politicians began calling for President Obama to act himself, if nothing is done by Congress within the next few months. They’re calling for him to use his own executive authority, as he did with the DREAMers, to basically halt massive deportations that have been occurring under his administration. What’s your sense of whether that should be the next step if nothing happens, let’s say, in January and February from the new Congress?

ELISEO MEDINA: Well, I think that this is a shared responsibility and that both the president and the Congress have authority within the Constitution to do certain things. The president, for example, has the power, through executive authority, like he did with the DREAMers, to provide some relief to all of this deportations that are going on that are tearing families apart. But the president is also right that the only permanent solution is for the Congress to reform the immigration laws. And we will be pushing really hard to make sure that the Congress in fact does act. But in the meantime, I think the president needs to really take a look and prioritize the enforcement of the laws through the Department of Homeland Security to focus on criminals, not on everyday workers.

AMY GOODMAN: You were sitting next to him as you were fasting and he came to visit. What did you talk to him about? And did you ask him about that?

ELISEO MEDINA: We did. We shared with him the stories of families who have been torn apart by deportation. And he heard us. I think that he was moved, as was the first lady, by story after story about the impact of this system. And the president told us he was going to continue looking at this and would work with us to figure out how we could work this out. And we’re hopeful that as the days goes on, that hopefully we’ll be able to figure out a way of stopping this pain and suffering that still continues today in our communities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Eliseo, in late November, a young Korean immigrant rights activist, Ju Hong, interrupted a speech President Obama was giving about immigration reform.

JU HONG: Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 undocumented immigrants in this country right now. We agree that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the same time. You have a power to stop deportations for all undocumented families in this country.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Actually, I don’t. And that’s why we’re here. … The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal that you want to achieve. But it won’t be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama responding to a young immigrant rights activist. But, Eliseo, we have this situation that every day of delay is another thousand to 1,200 people that are being deported from the United States, and families continue to be torn apart now, for the next several weeks through the holidays and into January and February. This—do you see a ramping up in January and February of the pressure, or will the—both the Democrats and Republicans, as we get closer to next year’s midterm elections, begin to try to get away from having to take a firm stand on immigration reform?

ELISEO MEDINA: Well, you know, we are already planning to take our fast from Washington out into every congressional district in the country, where we are going to be going to the congress person’s district and have conversations with their constituents about why this immigration reform needs to be done as fast as possible. There is no option for us. We cannot continue to allow deportations and deaths in the desert. And so we will be pressing Congress to act, and we will also be asking the president to also take a look and act within his authority.

But, you know, at the end of the day, they will have to make a decision. Congress will have to make a decision whether they want to take a vote or not. If they decide not to, we know there’s an election coming in November of 2014 in which we get to vote—we, the people who care about this issue, and there’s millions and millions and millions of us. And we will be holding the Congress accountable for their actions or inactions as it pertains to immigration reform. If they won’t vote for us today, why should we vote for them tomorrow? And we want them to hear that loud and clear, that we also have a choice to make, and that choice is that we will remember who stood with us and who stood against us, when it comes time to vote in November of 2014. So, to make it simpler on everybody, just vote today. We can put this pain and suffering behind us, and then we can focus on the other issues that matter to this country during November of 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: Eliseo Medina, last month, a pair of immigrant teenagers confronted Speaker John Boehner at a Capitol Hill diner. Thirteen-year-old Carmen Lima shared her story and asked the speaker to commit to immigration reform.

CARMEN LIMA: I’m Carmen Lima.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Hi, Carmen.

CARMEN LIMA: I’m 13. And you’re a father, right?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Yeah.

CARMEN LIMA: So, how would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of 10 that you were never coming home?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: That wouldn’t be good.

CARMEN LIMA: I know. So, that’s what’s happening—that’s what happened to me. That happened to me. I thought I was never going to see my dad again, because of ] these laws. And I cried so hard when my mom told me that at the age of 10.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I’m trying to find somebody to get this thing done. It’s, you know, not easy. It’s not going to be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election it’s time to get it done.

CARMEN LIMA: So we can count on your vote for immigration reform?

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: I’m trying to find a way to move the bill forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigrants’ rights activists confronting John Boehner at a Washington, D.C., diner. I want to go back in time, comparing this movement to the movement of Cesar Chavez, the legendary labor activist, civil rights leader, founder of the first successful farm workers union, speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in November of 1984, a few months after he had launched the third and longest grape boycott.

CESAR CHAVEZ: All my life, I have been driven by one dream, one goal, one vision: to overthrow a farm labor system in this nation that treats farm workers as if they were not important human beings. Farm workers are not agricultural implements. They are not beasts of burden to be used and discarded.

AMY GOODMAN: Eliseo Medina, you worked alongside Cesar Chavez. Can you talk about, well, a comparison of movements?

ELISEO MEDINA: Well, let me just say, you know, that Cesar was an organizational genius, an inspiration, a life-changing force for all of us—myself, who used to be a farm worker in California, with an eighth-grade education, no hope for the future, until I met Cesar. And I see that movement that he began as continuing today, because we’re talking about the same things. We’re talking about respect. We’re talking about dignity, about people being appreciated for the work they do and for their contributions.

And what’s different today, perhaps, is that we now have a much broader coalition of conscience that wants to see things done right for working people and for immigrants, and it includes business and labor and the faith community—Mormons, Baptists, Catholics, evangelicals. It includes community groups, environmental groups, Republicans and Democrats. There is a unique consensus on immigration reform that is broader than we ever had in the farm workers movement.

And I think that we are the descendents of Cesar’s vision for this country and for our community. And I think that we’re going to win immigration reform, just like Cesar won many victories in the fields of California. This is the right cause. This is the right time. I think the American people demands it. The Republicans need it for their own political needs. And I think, at the end, it will be good for America, it will be good for immigrants. and we will get it done. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Eliseo, even within the labor movement, there was a long walk on this issue of immigration reform, wasn’t there? The early labor movement, the AFL-CIO, to a certain extent, even the farm workers for a while, saw the immigrant labor as a threat to domestic U.S. labor. Could you talk about that process of first waging the battle within the labor movement to change its position, before now this broader fight among the American people?

ELISEO MEDINA: Well, unfortunately, the early labor movement saw immigrants as competition rather than allies. And for many years they were taking a position to try and restrict immigration, because they saw immigrants as taking the jobs of American workers. Obviously, business didn’t see it that way, because what the business wanted to do is make as much of a profit as they could. And if hiring undocumented workers would help them in doing that, that’s what they did. And it’s ironic because the labor movement was founded by immigrants. For example, our own union in SEIU, we were founded by janitors in Chicago who were immigrants from places like Poland, from Ireland, from the Czech Republic. And we are now, as a labor movement, going back to our roots, to advocating for people who come to this country in search of the American dream.

And it was difficult at first, beginning to shift from what had been basically an isolationist position to one that it says, you know, our job as the labor movement is to unite all workers so that we can all fight together for improving the wages and the benefits of everybody, for our mutual benefit. And so, while it took some time, I’m happy to say that for the last 15 years we’ve all been united. We had the building trades, we have construction unions, we had the industrial unions, all fasting in the tent and all uniting to fight for immigrants’ rights, working together with business. I mean, who would have thunk it? You know, the labor—the Chamber of Commerce and the Change to Win Federation and the AFL-CIO together on anything? But this one issue overcomes all those barriers and divisions, and brings us together, because at the end of the day it will be good for the economy, it will be good for working people, and it will be good for us as a nation of immigrants.

AMY GOODMAN: Eliseo Medina, we want to thank you for being with us. Among those who fasted for a day this week in solidarity with all of the immigrant rights fasters, New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. Eliseo Medina served as the international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, until October 1st, resigning saying he wanted to work full-time on winning comprehensive immigration legislation. He helped lead the month-long water-only fast as part of the action, “A Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to New Orleans to a Polaroid chemist who helped lead the movement against apartheid when she, together with her husband, realized the company they were working for was making pass books for black South Africans. Stay with us.

Wanda Coleman, Watts native, dies at age 67, L.A.’s poet laureate

Wanda Coleman dies at 67; Watts native, L.A.’s unofficial poet laureate

During four decades as a force on the L.A. poetry scene, Coleman produced works that compelled attention to racism and hatred. Among Coleman’s best-known works was “Bathwater Wine” (1998), which brought her the Lenore Marshall National Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1999. 1/6

Los Angeles Times:By Elaine Woo November 24, 2013,

With her dark skin and “unconkable kinky hair,” Wanda Coleman found growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s often felt like torture. “The stultifying intellectual loneliness of my 1950s and ’60s upbringing was dictated by my looks,” she wrote years later. “Boys gawked at me, and girls tittered behind my back. Black teachers shook their heads in pity, and White teachers stared in amusement or in wonder.” Books became her precious refuge but were hard to come by because the libraries, she noted, “discouraged Negro readers.”

Such trials could grind any person down, but for Coleman they became a vital source for poetry that compelled attention to racism and hatred — the themes that most drove her to transcend the barriers of her birth and take her place as one of the city’s most perceptive writers.

A native of Watts who long was regarded as L.A.’s unofficial poet laureate, Coleman died Friday at after a long illness, said her husband, poet Austin Straus. She was 67. During four decades as a force on the Los Angeles poetry scene, Coleman wrote more than 20 books, including novels and collections of short stories and essays. She was most eloquent in poems, illuminating the ironies and despair in a poor black woman’s daily struggle for dignity but also writing tenderly and with humor about identity, tangled love, California winters and her working-class parents.

“She wrote not just about the black experience in Los Angeles but the whole configuration of Los Angeles in terms of its politics, its social life,” said Richard Modiano, executive director of Beyond Baroque, the Venice literary center where Coleman gave powerful readings. “I would call her a world-class poet. The range of her poetry and the voice she writes in is accessible to all sorts of people.”

Among Coleman’s best-known works was “Bathwater Wine” (1998), which brought her the from the Academy of American Poets in 1999. Her next volume, “Mercurochrome” (2001), was a finalist for the National Book Award, whose judges said, “Coleman’s poetry stings, stains and ultimately helps heal wounds” of racial injustice and gender inequality. Opinionated and fiercely individualistic, Coleman was also a critic and former columnist for The Times, whose of celebrated author ‘s “A Song Flung Up to Heaven” — one in a series of follow-ups to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — caused a tempest in the world of letters. Coleman panned the memoir as “a sloppily written fake” conceived to satisfy commercial rather than aesthetic tastes.

Her harsh attack on the iconic black writer drew national media coverage and led the African American owner of the specialty bookshop Esowon to ban Coleman from his store. But she remained unbowed. “Others often use the word ‘uncompromising’ to describe my work,” she told Contemporary Poets in 2001. “I find that quite pleasing.” Born in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 1946, Coleman was the daughter of George and Lewana Evans. Her father was an ex-boxer who ran a Central Avenue sign shop by day and mopped floors as a janitor by night. Her mother was a seamstress and housekeeper who sometimes worked for Hollywood stars such as . Both parents nurtured a love for books and music, which helped soothe the pain of prejudice, uncaring teachers and the cruelties of peers.

Many of her poems burned with remembered insults and injustices, as in “Chapter 2 of the Story” from which describes her experiences with a librarian whose bifocals “magnified the bigotry in her eyes.” her gray eyes policed me thru the stacks like Dobermans she watched me come and go, take books and bring books she monitored the titles and after a while decided she’d misjudged her little colored girl and for a time she tried to apologize in her way. to engage in small talk. i never answered back. once, she set special books aside to gain my trust respect smile i left them untouched hating her more for that. Coleman attended Los Angeles Valley College and Cal State Los Angeles but did not earn a degree. By 20 she was married and the mother of two children, whom she supported after divorcing her first husband in 1969.

To get by, she held a series of low-paying jobs, including typist, waitress and recruiter. In the early 1970s she embarked on a journalism career with an assignment from the Los Angeles Free Press to write about a fundraiser for Black Panther supporter Angela Davis. But her sarcastic coverage caused consternation in the Davis camp, and she was blackballed by the underground paper for a decade. In 1975 she landed a job writing for the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” and the next year won a daytime Emmy for her work. The strains of working and raising a family left her little time for other writing, which led her to focus on poetry. She took writing workshops around Los Angeles, including novelist Budd Schulberg’s Watts Writers Workshop, Studio Watts and the program at . Her evolution as a writer was painful.

“After peaking at 3,000 rejection slips by 1969,” she wrote in ” a 2005 collection of poetry and prose, “I had concluded that I was doing something very wrong no matter how closely I followed Writer’s Digest.” Things began to go right after she connected with the prestigious Black Press, which in 1977 published her first book of poetry, “Art in the Court of the Blue Fag.” Later collections include “Mad Dog, Black Lady” (1979) and “Imagoes” (1983), which won Coleman a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry; “Heavy Daughter Blues” (1987), which included fiction; “American Sonnets” (1994); and “Ostinato Vamps” (2005).

“Bathwater Wine,” the volume that brought Coleman national recognition, was highly autobiographical, with raw, eloquent paeans to her hardworking parents and a sister who died in infancy as well as wry commentaries on social phenomena like white flight. The poems are set in an urban landscape often recognizable as Los Angeles, as in “Closing Time,” about a bone-tired waitress heading for her car “at Trinity & Santa Barbara/the last clunker on the black top is mine,” and in “Toti’s Bowl,” a nostalgic tour of past and present haunts, including MacArthur Park, a Szechuan restaurant called Fu Ling’s and Harold & Belle’s on Jefferson Boulevard “for some bread pudding with whiskey sauce/and a patch of peach cobbler.” Other poems are steeped in her personal struggles for survival, as in “Gone Exits” from “Ostinato Vamps,” in which she spoke of “living on nothing but tea leaves and jeremiads/an unsteady diet for the inky mind.”

Her struggle for recognition may have fueled the jeremiad on the commercially successful Angelou, whose work Coleman slammed in the 2002 review as “one more traipse to the trough.” Coleman described herself in “The Riot Inside Me” as “just one more poet and writer struggling on the cultural margins of The West.” Los Angeles , who knew Coleman since the late 1960s, recalled that she once said at a reading she “had three strikes against her: She was a woman, black and from L.A. She mined that outlook a lot, but the truth is that she has done extremely well.”

She gave electrifying readings, sharing the stage over the years with luminaries such as Alice Coltrane, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Los Lobos and Bonnie Raitt. “Her poems had a hot, jazzy, quality — and she delivered them like improvisational riffs,” poet and teacher Suzanne Lummis said Saturday. “There was no one quite like her, and no one can replace her.” In 2012 Coleman received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, which called her “one of the major writers of her generation.”

Married for more than 30 years to Straus, with whom she wrote a book of love poems coming out next year, she also is survived by two children, Tunisia Ordoñez and Ian Grant; brothers George Evans and Marvin Evans; sister Sharon Evans; and three grandchildren. Northup said age and accolades made Coleman “more serene and kind,” a mind-set reflected in a later poem, “Southerly Equinox.”

who am i? what am i? are no longer important questions. knowing that i am is finally enough like discovering dessert is delicious following a disastrous meal, a sweetness that reawakens the palate, or finding that one’s chalice is unexpectedly filled with elixir of euphoria and i stumble happily into the cornucopia, arms outstretched, upturned, drunk my heart athrum, bones full samba. the night blesses me with his constellations baptizes me with his deathless autumnal chill and i invade the moody indigo full-throated and singing

Help save the ‘Chain Reaction’ peace Sculpture

HELP SAVE THE CHAIN REACTION PEACE SCULPTURE!

Help save Chain Reaction, Paul Conrad’s iconic peace sculpture in Santa Monica! $400,000 needs to be raised by February 1, 2014 to save it; as the City of Santa Monica threatens to scrap this landmarked piece of public art and memorial by Pulitzer Prize winning L.A. Times cartoonist and sculptor Paul Conrad, for budgetary reasons.

If Chain Reaction disappears, we lose: –An irreplaceable work of public art –A monument to peace and nuclear disarmament –A Santa Monica landmark

See the recent article by Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-critics-notebook-paul-conrad-chain-reaction-20130919,0,1932722.story

You can make a difference! Please join the Chain Gang and BECOME A LINK in saving Chain Reaction by donating money, signing the petition and letting your friends know about this effort. DONATE: http://conradprojects.com/donate-now/ SIGN THE PETITION: http://conradprojects.com/how-you-can-help/ SPREAD THE WORD TO YOUR FRIENDS: www.savechainreaction.com