In This Together

May 5, 2017 12:37 PM

Joyce Mills, the Rev. Monica Cross, Steve Miller, and Trent Hanible (left to right) discuss the effects of capitalism on human rights at the April 27 Laney Teach-In. Hanible spoke about housing insecurity in the Bay Area.

By Jumoke Evans
Tower Staff Writer

Joyce Mills, former Laney student and public health nurse, had a simple question:
“Do you think healthcare is a basic human right, or a commodity for sale and profit?”

In response, the audience at the Laney College Teach-In on April 27 were in complete agreement: Healthcare is a right.

This right was one of many explored at the event, the latest in Laney’s series of teach-ins designed to forge solidarity throughout the East Bay by creating opportunities for students, professors, staff, activists and community members to educate one another.

April’s teach-in was entitled “Defending Democracy: The Attack on Our Rights and Theft of Our Necessities,” and explored the human rights that its organizers believed were being threatened under a present-day “corporate dictatorship.”

“We cannot parcel ourselves out to win,” Mills said later in her speech on healthcare. She emphasized the idea that each individual was “in this together,” one of the themes of the teach-in.

Mills argued that the government was encouraging Americans to believe that they must get themselves together financially before committing to others outside of their immediate families, and that this had weakened their power as a collective force in politics.

“It negates our individual health and our health as a community,” she said.

In addition to Mills’s speech, the teach-in included a panel presentation on housing insecurity, healthcare, public education, and human rights.

The panel featured four guest speakers, and tied together everything from the Dakota Access Pipeline, the murder of Eric Garner, and the recent national and international Women’s Marches.

But before the panel even began, the collective message of the speakers was clear.

“I would like this point in our mission to resonate with you,” Laney English Department Co-Chair Chris Weidenbach said before introducing the panel. “An equitable, abundant, sustainable society is possible.”

The panel speakers each laid out a path to that society.

Ethel Long-Scott of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project discusses the effects of capitalism at the Laney Teach-In on April 27. She explained that automation, such as drones that can replace truckers, threatens the livelihoods of today’s working-class Americans.

“I like progress,” panelist Rev. Monica Cross said, “but liberation is better!”

Cross, a transgender woman, spoke on the journey to human rights for people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and immigrants.

“The biggest issue we experience collectively is fear,” she said, “fear to be your true authentic self!”

Her speech honed in on self-love and authenticity, and the challenges one faces in finding them.

“Think about who frames your desires,” she said. ”Make yourselves aware of this force that surrounds your daily life.”

Cross also spoke about the merging of corporations and the state and its impact on the welfare of American citizens. She argued that this form of merging promotes austerity in cutting safety programs for the unemployed, disabled, and others.

“These are the ingredients they need to create an even larger gap between the haves and the have-nots,” she said.

Other speakers also focused on the effect of capitalism and the economy on other human rights, like employment and public education.

“This system will not educate people that it will not profit them [to educate],” Steve Miller said during his portion of the keynote panel.

Miller, a retired Oakland public school teacher, gave a brief history of Oakland’s public education system.

“Skyline High School was built as a segregated school in 1962. Downtown Oakland was segregated until 1966,” he said. “If you were a minority in high school, teachers would encourage you to drop out and work with your hands.”

Miller described the workforce of the industrial era, but said that “what has changed now is that this is the era of technology, where these companies no longer need physical labor.”

He reiterated the effects of this change on the path from education to employment.

“Corporations are not going to invest in people they can not make profit [off of],” he said. “We know there is plenty of work to do.

“Just healing the planet would create enough jobs for 10 lifetimes.”

‘Corporations won’t invest in people they can’t profit off of.’

Steve Miller, retired teacher

Ethel Long-Scott, president of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) also drew connections between our history and the present, particularly the history of capitalism from the Industrial Revolution to its current aggressive manifestation.

“We have reached a point where working two to three jobs barely helps make ends meet,” she said, “and further automation is threatening these meager positions we struggle to hold on to.”

Drawing politics into her analysis, she deemed the Trump administration as “a distraction from our responsibilities to each other as human beings with consciousness.”

Long-Scott explained fascism as corporations manipulating the government for their benefit by privatizing all sectors of the government such as education and healthcare, assisting only the “fortunate few.”

This “fortunate few” in the Bay Area is becoming increasingly smaller, as Laney student and Associated Students of Laney College Senator Trent Hanible explained.

“A recent study showed that in Alameda $60,000/year is considered low income, while in San Francisco $108,000/year is considered low income,” he said, referencing the extreme high standards of income necessary to stay in the Bay Area.

Hanible humanized this housing insecurity crisis by using his own personal experiences.

He explained that his grandmother and other relatives have lived in Oakland for over three generations, but are now facing pressure to leave.

“They have cornered my grandmother into taking out a reverse mortgage,” he said. A reverse mortgage is defined by the Federal Housing Association as “a loan for senior homeowners that uses the home’s equity as collateral.”

These kinds of economic practices can force homeowners like Hanible’s grandmother into an unfavorable economic situation that might not be preferable to simply leaving.

“I would just like others to be aware of their homeowner or renting rights before they make decisions based out of fear,” he said.
Ultimately, this was the goal of the teach-in: to keep the community informed, educated, and cohesive in tumultuous times.

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