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Poor People Will Be Heard
Sarah van Gelder: What do you see as the most promising opportunities for change in the 2008 election season?
Honkala: As a formerly homeless mother, I never thought that I would see things as bad as they are. People are quadrupling up in homes, people living on the streets are hidden out of view because of the criminalization of homelessness, and our jails are basically the new housing plan for this country. Battered women's shelters used to be just a stop along the way, and now it's almost a miracle to get into battered women's shelters across the country.
We intend to have marches both at the Democratic and the Republican National Convention, talking about issues of housing, health care, and living wage jobs.
We're going to be going door to door, asking folks to get out and vote, but we're also going to be documenting their real-life pains around these issues. We're going to have a national Truth Commission in Minnesota, in which we will have jurists who will listen to what's taking place in this country, and they will come up with findings in terms of what they see as the solutions. We will be asking all of the presidential candidates what they intend to do with this human rights documentation that we collect.
Sarah van Gelder: What do you think it's going to take to bring together our different efforts in a substantial enough way that we can have a political impact?
Honkala: We need a political party that represents the majority of people that live in this country, and we don't have that now.
I think that the key to a winning strategy is that those people who are most impacted by the issues need to be at the forefront of coming forward with solutions. Whether we're talking about farmers, immigrant workers, people who live in public housing projects—when you talk about any of their issues, the people who are suffering from those issues aren't involved in crafting solutions.
We're putting all these people together in a room, and they don't have time to play politics as usual because they're talking about their very real lives and their families.
Sarah van Gelder: Do you think there are opportunities for those groups to make common cause with some of the other efforts out there, like the peace movement and the environmental movement?
Honkala: Absolutely. You know, we say “poor people” and we mean “poor people” in the broadest terms possible. If you're not rich, you're poor. There's this idea that the rest of the population is safe from these issues, and they're not. Most of the people in this country are a healthcare crisis away from homelessness or some kind of financial devastation.
Read Sarah's full interview with Cheri Honkala in original, transcript form.