Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer
Essays





 

Equal Voice for America’s Families

“Determined people working together can do anything.”
--Jim Casey, UPS founder

The good news is that activism is alive on behalf of America’s families. The hard news is that the issues effecting America’s families are so broad and intense that it will take a miracle to bring about transformation. Enter Equal Voices for America’s Families, a national campaign to lay the social change groundwork for a family led movement.

I am at the Los Angeles Convention Center as a volunteer facilitator for the Equal Voices for America’s Families campaign. Over 5,000 people are here to discuss issues relating to these statistics:

• 37 million people live in poverty, including 7.7 million families
• 47 million Americans are without health insurance
• Banks foreclosed 1.4 million homes this year
• Over one-third of African American, Native American, and Latino children live in poverty
• Of the 13 million children growing up in poverty, about half will graduate from high school

The Equal Voice campaign is funded by the Marguerite Casey Foundation – Marguerite is the sister of Jim Casey, the founder of United Parcel Service or UPS. The national convention is a celebration to ratify a platform as a result of 65 town hall meetings held between January and June 2008 across America. The convention was held on the same day in three separate locations: Los Angeles, Chicago and Birmingham. Through the magic of technology, it was simulcast so we could all participate in the process together.

One-by-one, speakers at the podium address life-altering personal issues that threaten to destroy the very fabric of our families and society: home foreclosures, gang violence, domestic abuse, healthcare and racial tension. Calgon, take me away. How do we find our way out of this downward spiral of decay?

Keynote speaker, Joe Garcia, President of the National Congress of American Indians, summed it up in a way that inspired me. “Change, who will drive it? It must come from us. No one will look out for us except ourselves. We must stay strong, unite and fight for what we believe.” In other words, be the change you want to see in the world.

At my table of ten, I had the honor of facilitating a group of professional women that work for the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE). This group came to the convention on a bus from Modesto, California. Their project’s focus is a nine-week program dedicated to educating parents on: how America’s school system functions; establishing a supportive home environment as it relates to learning; the importance of reading at home; and maintaining communication structure with the school system. The result of this program is to offer both the student and parent an understanding of the mechanics of how an educational society operates, thereby creating a context in which to evaluate a quality education.Equal Voice

One of the points of dialogue at our table included the definition of family. What is it? We all agreed that in the past, your family were your blood relatives: aunts, uncles and cousins. In 2008, that definition is too limiting. Sandra Kovacs, a substitute teacher and PIQE facilitator said that since her children are grown her characterization of family is much different. “I consider my friends, neighbors and colleagues to be part of my extended family. I care for them all in the same way.” Since my own blood family is very small, there was a level of comfort with this new definition. If a family is more than whom I am related to, then there is a broader scope of connection.

Our call to action from the national platform included issues relating to: employment/job training; healthcare; housing; immigration reform; safe and thriving communities. At our table we made the followingcommitments:

• Work more within our communities to support families
• Form parent groups to encourage a vibrant site council
• Send a summary of the convention to everyone we know
• Contact the media and inform them of our pro-family position

The closing act for the convention was the musical group Los Tigres Del Norte. The crowd went wild for the Stetson-wearing, accordion-playing, Spanish-singing band. I listened to a few songs and then the day started wearing on me like a party guest that stays too long. I headed for daylight and the waiting Super Shuttle bus to take me to the L.A. airport. In line for the transport were all manner of people from various walks of life with one thing in common: we were all hot, tired and ready to make our way home.

On my mini-van were four Muslim women and their children wearing traditional clothing including their Khimar or head scarves. We waited patiently for the bus to finish loading. At the last moment two very young women from our same convention on families came in and one was swearing expletives like a binge drinker hurls toxic vomit. “What are these (xxxx expletive) Africans doing on our bus?” All of our eyes grew wide and our spirits shrank as she continued. “This is our (xxxx expletive) bus and they are taking it over, again. (xxxx expletive) it. I’m getting the hell off this bus. (xxxx expletive) all of you.” And with all that anger and all that rage, she left. We all breathed a collective sigh. One of the women said aloud, “weren’t we all just at a convention on families? I don’t share her family values at all.” We all shook our heads in disbelief.

I reflected on the day. I was deeply saddened that one bad apple could spoil the whole spirit of the day. There were many powerful, inspiring speakers at the convention. Greg Hodge, an emcee in Birmingham said, “This work will require the best of who we are.” I thought to myself, if we are indeed to shift our attitudes to include a more comprehensive world view of who we consider family, and the change must come from within, we have a long way to go. The Super Shuttle driver got into the bus, started the engine and off we went in silence, each of us making our journeys back home to our families.