Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Iraq forever?

Battle expected in Congress over Bush’s long-term Iraq stay
By Sue Webb
People's Weekly World

The online activism group has launched an “Iraq/Recession” campaign, aiming to “make sure that politicians and pundits understand what voters already know: As long as we keep pouring that money down the drain in Iraq, we won’t have the money we need to solve our economic woes.”

With the war costing Americans more than $338 million a day, MoveOn says, “The tradeoffs are stark: Bombs or unemployment insurance for people laid off as the economy slows? Billions for Halliburton and Blackwater, or help for people on the verge of losing their homes because of the subprime meltdown?”

Urging people to raise the issue in letters to their local newspapers, MoveOn says, “More and more Americans are making the connection between the billions we’ve spent over there and the crumbling economy here at home.”

But, even as the Iraq price tag approaches $500 billion so far, the Bush administration is pushing a plan for long-term involvement in Iraq that could squeeze American taxpayers and federal, state and local budgets for years to come.

Negotiations are set to start Feb. 27 between the White House and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over an open-ended military, political and economic agreement that would secure a heavy U.S. military/corporate presence in Iraq for decades. To date neither the U.S Congress nor Iraq’s Parliament has been consulted about the proposed deal.

The U.S. occupation is currently operating under a United Nations Security Council mandate that that will expire at the end of this year, as insisted on by Iraq. Negotiations on the new U.S.-Iraq agreement are supposed to be completed by July 31.

Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) told a congressional hearing Feb. 8 that the “Declaration of Principles” announced last November for the agreement “suggests an indefinite U.S. military presence in Iraq.” The proposed agreement is “not just about military commitments,” he noted, but also includes “a political and economic agenda that involves serious and possibly open-ended obligations.”

Delahunt chairs a House foreign affairs subcommittee that has held three hearings so far to try open up public debate on the agreement.

After months of administration stonewalling, Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to pacify congressional opposition, telling the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 6 that the U.S.-Iraq agreement would not include any commitment to defend Iraq militarily and would not specify permanent U.S. bases.

That did not impress Joseph Gerson, director of programs at the American Friends Service Committee in New England, which is working on an anti-military-bases campaign. Gates assures us the U.S. military presence in Iraq is “not permanent,” said Gerson, “but neither is the Great Wall of China or the pyramids in Egypt, and they’re still there.”

It is important to remember that Bush’s original goals in Iraq were not only to gain control over Iraq’s oil but also consolidate long-term control over the entire region’s oil and geopolitics, Gerson told the World. The Bush administration is planning for 14 long-term military bases in Iraq, he said. The aim is to “turn Iraq into a virtual unsinkable aircraft carrier for the U.S.”

Salam Ali, a spokesperson for Iraq’s influential Communist Party, said the issue has not been adequately discussed by Iraq’s cabinet or lawmakers. He warned that the U.S. could steamroller ill-prepared Iraqi negotiators into a deal that would not only allow an enduring U.S. military presence, but also entrench U.S. corporate interests in Iraq.

Any agreement Ali emphasized, “should provide a timetable for withdrawal.” In addition, he said, Iraq has to regain full control over its oil revenues, which are still being administered by a UN-mandated fund dominated by the U.S., International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Echoing the concerns raised by U.S. lawmakers, Ali said that in Iraq, “you cannot at all just sign an agreement without referring to Parliament. All stages of negotiations have to be transparent, not behind closed doors without the Iraqi people knowing what’s going on.”

In the U.S., the battle over the proposed agreement could become “the principal focus of Democratic opposition to the war this year,” Gerson said.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both called for requiring the administration to obtain congressional approval for any long-term agreement with Iraq.

Noting that “the financial cost of this war is well on its way to a trillion dollars — with no end in sight,” Delahunt assailed the administration for trying to block Congress from weighing in.

On Feb. 11, 50 House members sent a letter to President Bush saying the administration” must engage with Congress on long-term agreements on Iraq.”

Republican presidential contender John McCain emphasizes his support for a long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq. However, staking his campaign on the claimed success of Bush’s troop surge could be a problem for McCain, says Foreign Policy magazine commentator Blake Hounshell. In a blog at the journal’s web site, Hounshell writes, “Most voters have made up their minds about Iraq: They want to leave, recent success be damned. That sentiment will only increase as the economy sours and calls grow to spend that $10 billion a month at home.”

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Harold Washington wore a union label

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World

CHICAGO — There are a million things people remember about Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, who was elected in 1983. But the thing I remember the most about him was his great big hands. I remember as a child shaking or holding his hands, and now, thinking back, his hands seemed to symbolize the greatness of ordinary working-class people. And Washington, who unexpectedly died in office, will be someone Chicagoans will never forget.

Washington’s election was the outcome of a multi-racial citywide coalition beginning within the African American community. Then immediately he included the involvement of Latino and white working-class communities representing a progressive and independent reform movement that eventually carried him to victory.

Unsung heroes, she-roes

One thing that has been unsung was how the Chicago labor movement, especially Black trade unionists, led the way in registering tens of thousands of new voters, including a recruitment drive of petition signers, door knockers, phone bankers and an army of volunteer foot-soldiers on Election Day.

It was precisely labor’s role in Chicago that helped shape Washington’s campaign turning it into a broad people’s movement that revolutionized the city’s Democratic machine politics under former Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Washington was a progressive leader who stood up for working people’s causes including the peace movement, civil and immigrant rights and especially the rights of workers. In the late 1970s and early 80s when Chicago lost over 120,000 jobs, mostly in the manufacturing sector, especially in steel, Washington advocated saving jobs and providing relief to working families.

Racism won’t ‘turn us around’

By 1983 when Washington decided to run for mayor, he was a respected member of Congress and became an important ally in progressive political circles throughout Chicago. Still, many people in the city’s political machine just didn’t believe an African American could win. And some – deeply influenced by racism — were extremely hostile to the idea of a Black mayor.

Many white working class people, including union members not to mention many long-standing Democrats and officials like Alderman “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak, switched political parties and endorsed the Republican candidate against Washington, after he won the Democratic primary in 1983.

Despite the racism, a labor coalition for Washington was formed and led by Black unionists. It became one of the most organized forces in his campaign.

Teachers, African American unionists play leading role

Before the 1983 mayoral primary, the Chicago Teachers Union held a delegates’ meeting where pro-Washington campaign literature including “Washington for Mayor” buttons were passed out before a motion was made to have the union endorse his run.

During the meeting teachers were chanting Washington’s name, and the white and Black union leadership had no choice but to endorse him with overwhelming support. After that, support for Washington started steam rolling within some of the city’s unions.

Leaders of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), including service workers and Teamsters, endorsed Washington. It was CBTU that pressed the Chicago Federation of Labor — made up of integrated unions with white, Black, Latino and Asian memberships — to endorse Washington in the 1983 general election.

“We saw Washington as a viable candidate and we endorsed him wholeheartedly, and we felt he was more qualified than those before him,” said Elwood Flowers who just retired as vice president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and was a close friend of Washington. “But we as labor were just one arm of the Washington movement.”

Flowers was incoming president of Local 308 with the Amalgamated Transit Union during Washington’s campaign. He is now the assistant to the president of that local.

There were a number of African American labor leaders who were important allies for Washington and played influential roles in his administration, Flowers said. For example, he cited Charles Hayes, vice president of the then United Packinghouse Workers Union (now known as the United Food and Commercial Workers union), who won Washington’s seat in the 1st District, a powerhouse African American community on the city’s south side, after Washington was elected mayor.

Other notable allies of Washington at that time included Addie Wyatt, who was the first African American woman vice president of the Packinghouse Workers, and Jim Wright, who was the first Black director of United Auto Workers Region 4. Jackie Vaughn, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union and first African American to hold that post, was also instrumental in Washington’s administration. All were leading members of CBTU.

“They were all leaders in that labor connection and very close to Washington,” said Flowers. “They were his eyes and ears” for working people’s concerns.

Flowers said many of Washington’s political rallies, meetings and campaign events took place at the United Packinghouse Workers union hall at 49th and Wabash.

¡Labor presente!

In the predominantly Latino communities of Pilsen and Little Village, my father, the late Rudy Lozano was also a key ally in Washington’s labor-based coalition. Lozano was a Mexican American labor organizer with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (now known as Unite-Here).

He was also a community activist and decided to run for alderman in the 22nd Ward, a predominantly Mexican and Mexican American neighborhood. Although he narrowly lost, Lozano was a rising political star and leader that advocated for multi-racial coalitions and worker unity. He rallied and mobilized the Latino constituent base to vote for Washington.

Lozano understood the need for Black, Latino and white working class unity, especially the importance of union solidarity among all workers including undocumented immigrant workers. Lozano’s independent and grassroots-based organizing, along with Washington’s mayoral victory, sparked a movement throughout Chicago’s Latino communities, which hardly had any representation in City Council. Washington’s victory galvanized the majority of the Latino electorate and soon new Latino leaders emerged as viable elected officials under his administration.

All boats rise

Better contracts and a fair share to women, African Americans and Latinos were all a part of Washington’s agenda. “These were people who traditionally have been cut out, and Harold’s accomplishments helped all communities,” Flowers recalled.

“Harold stood for fairness and that is the definition of the labor movement,” he said. “He was an individual inspiration for all workers.”

And in 1987, when Washington ran again, he won a bigger vote from the predominantly white communities that had opposed him in 1983.

Twenty-five years later

Twenty-five years later the struggle for workers rights and the fight for multi-racial unity continues — perhaps not on the same level that Washington was able to achieve — but it continues. Witness the 2007 aldermanic elections where labor-backed candidates won and helped to strengthen the City Council.

The movement to elect Barack Obama today is almost identical to Washington’s, but nationwide, said Flowers. “Our members wanted to be involved in the political process, similar to people today for Obama,” said Flowers.

“What Obama can do for the country will help all communities including providing jobs and health care. And the number one issue is stopping the Iraq war, which is draining our economic resources. If those things bear fruit, then they will benefit all working-class communities,” he added.

It was Washington’s example and the power of working people that will always remind us about what is possible. The greatness is in our hands.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Joyous magnificence, African American experience through words and deeds

by Dee Myles

There is a consistent, if not conscious, effort to make it appear as if the African American people have become a sea of dehumanized barrenness in the desolate ghettoes of inner cities.

This result can be understood, if not excused, given the context of oppression, exploitation, inequality and injustice. All that is left is the glamorized pimp culture of a Snoop Doggy Dog, the sterile cool swagger of a 50 Cent, and the empty buffoonery of the drug-enhanced athlete or entertainer who does not know what to do with money or life.

If anything can be said of the masses, within this line of argument, it is that their lives are in shambles, and they are caught up in desperation which revolves around despair. No expense is spared to make these ideas, or worse, part of the core belief system in the United States.

If one harvests this poisonous crop, one’s thought patterns will become enveloped in pathology.

Poisonous, why?

The above conceptualization of the African American people is poisonous because it is false in its construction of a helpless and hopeless people.

It is poisonous because it fails to capture the full dynamics of a people in an oppressive and exploitative society.

It is poisonous because it implies impotence.

It is poisonous because it speaks of sorrow, pain, suffering and the absence of consciousness without recognition of the resolve to overcome, the will to hold on, the determination to keep hope alive, and the unbelievable achievement of hard-fought motion forward forged out of the hard won united collective struggle of a people themselves, albeit never alone.

Finding magnificence

Even though it is very difficult to find joy in the hollowness of capitalist America, the astonishing brilliance of oppressed people and classes is that they create joyous magnificence sometimes out of the mere simpleness of their ordinary lives, and in many instances in the shadows of nothingness.

Historically, from the depths of the desperate conditions of the African American people, manifestations of resistance have emerged in various forms.

It is consciousness of the specific expressions, which have evolved into a particular culture of struggle of the African American people, for relief from oppression and exploitation that forces one to be humbled by the magnificence of the fruit of the African American experience.

A book, a movie, a man

There are three contemporary manifestations that make this point extraordinarily well: a book, a movie, and a man. The book is “The Wake of the Wind,” the movie is “The Great Debaters,” and the man is Barack Obama.

Released in 1998, “The Wake of the Wind” is a historical novel written by J. California Cooper. Its magnificence is in telling a story of the down-to-earth origins of African Americans as a people and the daily life struggles just to be.

Cooper’s writings speak to the uncomplicated lessons of the day-to-day lives of ordinary folk. She glorifies working-class morality and values in its Black expression: Be willing to work for what you want, fight for only what you deserve, be honest and compassionate with the meek of the earth, and be whole enough to love truthfully.

Her works are fascinating, but especially this one.

“The Great Debaters” is a recently released Hollywood movie directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey. You, your family, church, community and union members need to rush to see this movie. Joyfully go to the theater and pay your hard-earned money to help encourage an even bigger investment in movies of this caliber.

You will not believe the backdrop of the story line. It is rooted in the efforts to organize Black and white sharecroppers in the South. Because of its content as well as its form, the highest accolades are merited. This movie is fabulously magnificent.

Lastly, there is the current phenomenon of Barack Obama. Even if his presidential campaign fizzles, the magnificence of it all is in the fact that he is trying to do something the heights of which have never been achieved within the electoral arena before. He is trying to create a movement within the national electoral arena which has at its core an embrace of the most democratic trend within the historical struggle of the African American people in a presentation designed to appeal to the masses, particularly the multitudes of working people. Obama may not be fully aware of all of what that means, but he is trying to do it nonetheless. He has gotten farther than all prior efforts, as great as they were, and it seems he has a real chance at it.

Political evolution

As shown by the example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one does not start off fully evolved. King became in life the personification of the fight for democracy in this country. His analysis developed to the point where he could stand with full honor, courage and conviction against the power of the state and for that which would advance the cause of real social progress.

Demystified, King became a conscious opponent of corporate greed and imperialist aggression, and he was shot down while trying to help to organize working masses in the struggle for a quality standard of living.

But, that is not where he began.

History has a way of molding a person, of helping a person to become fully actualized, if that is their pursuit, in response to its needs.

If you can place yourself in history’s path, you might be able to perform a duty beyond even your wildest dreams.

Language of hope

Psychologists will admit that the language of hope coming from the downtrodden is not simply empty rhetoric but a cognitive stepping stone out of the demobilizing mire of oppression.

It is King’s concept of hope that the Rev. Jesse Jackson embraces in his refrain “Keep Hope Alive.” It is King’s hope that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. spoke of in his sermon discussing the “audaciousness” of the very concept. It is that concept of hope which has enabled Black people to make a way out of no way.

Obama’s language picks up that baton of hope and uses it as the clarion call to carry him into the White House. Yet, he can only achieve that goal through the engagement and participation of the masses of the people. He is calling for the emergence of a movement to take back the executive branch. Therein resides the pivotal kernel. The realization of that massive movement will be a crucial factor.

Words come out of experience

Some argue Obama is just empty words with no substance. Fundamentally, those words come directly out of the culture of struggle for freedom and equality of the African American people. Those words have a meaning some will never make the effort to deeply understand because of their own voluntary or involuntary embrace of the barriers and prejudices of status and station, not to mention race.

Those words can be used demagogically, but that is not Obama’s crime, I don’t think. Obama is fully aware of the yearning eyes of the masses staring him in the face, reflecting their real needs. All of what he will do if he is victorious, I am not sure. But I have decided to walk this journey with him and help build the movement he’s issuing the call to come into being. It will be interesting to see what the end will bring. If you don’t have much else to do, you may as well join us.

Dee Myles is a contributing editor of Political Affairs magazine. This essay was first published at Political Affairs Online

A people's upsurge that could reshape our country

By Sam Webb
Communist Party, USA
national chair

A people’s surge is heaving its way across the country with unexpected force. And in doing so, it is confounding pundits, challenging conventional wisdom and reconfiguring our nation’s politics. Only one thing is for certain: it could well prefigure a triumphant victory for peace, economic security and equality in November.

This surge has no counterpart that I can recall. Its breadth and depth are remarkable. Its politics are progressive. It is driving the nation’s political conversation. It rejects the old racist and sexist stereotypes that have stained our history, divided our people and compromised our moral sensibilities. It is a mass rebellion against the policies of the Bush administration and the whole era of right-wing domination and division. And it is seeking a political leader — one who gives priority to “lunch pail” issues, appeals to our better angels and envisions a country that is decent, just, united and at peace with the rest of the world — a country that measures up to the full meaning of its creed, to borrow a phrase from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

This upheaval is unfolding in, of all places, the Democratic presidential primaries — that is, inside the framework of the electoral arena. So far, the turnout has been far beyond anybody’s expectations: records are being broken. The enthusiasm and energy are palpable. The most pressing concerns of the American people, ranging from Iraq to jobs to immigration to health care to home foreclosures, are structuring the “give and take” of candidates as well as voters. The primaries, in short, have turned into the main arena in which tens of millions (no exaggeration) are leaving their imprint on our nation’s political conversation and direction.

This upheaval constitutes nothing short of a collective decision by millions to utilize the Democratic primaries, and later this year, the general elections as a political lever to set the country on a new course. No matter which candidate (Obama or Clinton) voters support, its political intent is clear: people want change and change in a particular direction — a direction that puts people’s needs before war-making, division and corporate profits.

Thanks to this surge, a woman or an African American is on track to become the presidential nominee and lead the Democratic Party ticket in the November elections. Moreover, this isn’t a fluke of politics. Rather, it reflects the growing political maturity of the American people. It should be celebrated as a great democratic achievement.

While the working class and every other section of the people’s movement are engaged in this upheaval, it reaches well beyond the organized structures and constituencies of this movement. It is as much unorganized as it is organized. This actually is not startling, as we have seen throughout our history that any upheaval of this magnitude spontaneously brings into action people who were passive in earlier periods.

In fact, one of the most encouraging aspects of this people’s surge is the entry of young people who either were not of voting age in the last election or were old enough to vote but chose not to do so. In injecting themselves en masse into the Democratic primary process, today’s younger generation is becoming an agent of change.

Independents are also a part of this upheaval. For them the Democratic presidential primaries are where the action and fresh ideas are. The politics of yesteryear no longer resonate for them; they are looking for answers to stubborn problems, for example, the impossible costs of health care, the crushing student loan burden, and the toxic effects of racism and sexism, that weigh heavily on the quality of their lives.

This surge inside the electoral arena might seem surprising, especially to some on the left who see little, if any, progressive potential in electoral politics or the Democratic Party. But on second thought, isn’t it altogether predictable if we recall that, just two years ago, millions of voters turned the midterm elections into a referendum on the Bush administration, particularly the Iraq war? Shouldn’t we have anticipated that the political insurgency that was gathering momentum then would crest in this year’s election, where so much more is at stake?

The clearest expression of this movement pivots around the candidacy of Barack Obama, whose inspirational message and politics have captured the imagination of new as well as older voters and constituencies. So much so that many commentators and politicians use the word “transformational” to describe his candidacy — that is, a candidacy that so far seems capable of assembling a broad people’s majority to reconfigure the terms and terrain of politics in this country in a democratic direction.

But the Obama campaign is not the only manifestation of this upheaval. It also has found enthusiastic expression in the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and, until they dropped out, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. What a contrast between any of them and the probable Republican nominee, the anti-democratic, anti-labor war hawk John McCain.

By Labor Day, it is easy to imagine the formation of an electoral movement that in its scope and depth had no equal in the 20th century.

Whether or not that will happen isn’t a foregone conclusion. In the end, it will depend on the readiness of the various strands of this movement — particularly the working class and its organized sector, the nationally and racially oppressed, women and young people — who are now gravitating around the candidacies of Obama or Clinton to unite around the eventual nominee.

No one should underestimate the dangers of disunity, to be sure. The shameful role of former President Bill Clinton in New Hampshire and South Carolina, for example, reminds us of that. Nor should anyone think that McCain will be an easy pushover. Nevertheless, politics is trending, unmistakably, in the direction of a united struggle of tens of millions to defeat the right in a landslide in November and, in doing so, to once again resume our collective journey to make our country live up to its loftiest ideals.

Sam Webb ( is chairperson of the Communist Party USA.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who got the most votes in Illinois on February 5th?

Press release from the Coalition of Veterans Organizations
Feb. 8, 2008

Chicago—Mandatory Full Funding for VA Healthcare for all veterans, that’s who! Over 1 million voters within 23 Counties in Illinois voted for the referendum that appeared on their ballots to produce an overwhelming victory! The current unofficial totals show that 1,137,735, or 93.6 percent of voters said, “Yes, we want our government to properly fund healthcare for all veterans!”

The referendum tells the United States Congress that the voters of Illinois want and expect the U.S. to properly fund healthcare for all veterans—particularly ensuring benefits for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is time to carry this powerful message to Congress and for our Congressional representatives to hear this powerful voice.

The Coalition of Veterans Organizations will support legislation that calls for opening the VA to all veterans regardless of their branch of service or their family income levels. We will support legislation that eliminates the categorization of veterans which is currently being used to exclude veterans from enrolling in the VA healthcare system. We will not support legislation that forces veterans to pay for VA health care.

Veterans seek legislation that will decisively take VA healthcare funding out of the annual legislative debate over discretionary funding and make it mandatory and unequivocal. We seek VA funding based on a formula that includes treating all veterans, includes the real costs of treating veterans, and the annual changes in those costs. We are aware of legislation that moves in this direction; we need legislation that presents the full package of Mandatory Full Funding of VA Healthcare.

Veterans have already paid for their healthcare. They paid with their service to the country and they deserve to be cared for without limitations and restrictions.

Most people are not aware that veterans are excluded from the VA health care system based on the type of medical services that they need and their income, not only of themselves but of their spouses (many of whom did not serve).

The VA has “categorized” veterans into eight categories and since 2003 has barred veterans in “Category 8” from enrolling in the VA healthcare system. Those veterans served their Country and they were promised VA healthcare. For decades that promise was upheld but has been robbed from those who earned it. Veterans served without conditions on their service and they—and the voters of Illinois—expect our country to provide promised services without conditions imposed after the fact and regardless of whether they were in the active components, Reserves or National Guard.

· Today’s new veterans—having served in Iraq and Afghanistan—are similarly being limited to VA healthcare access. With more than 30 years of health studies on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and having allowed veterans to go untreated after Vietnam, the current administration is still in denial about the residuals of war. In 2001 VA healthcare was limited to only 2 years of “free” healthcare for those serving in this conflict, and although recent legislation has increased that to 5 years, it is still a travesty. Those of us from other wars were promised VA healthcare and it took 10, 20 or even 30 years to seek treatment from the VA.

Why? Because the symptoms of our disorders take years to come to a head. Because we were warriors; we were young and defiant. And because emotionally we did not know how to ask for help. Many of those who did ask for help early on were turned away. We want to ensure that when Johnnie and Jane come marching home in 2008 that they will not be turned away in 2013, in 2018 or in 2028 because they did not enroll in time. Are we telling these veterans—who have born the burden of the current war—that we cannot or will not care for them? We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars without allocating the relatively small amounts necessary to care for our servicemen and women when they return form combat.

It is a shame that veterans are forced to pay for VA healthcare and have co-pays imposed both for visits to the VA and for medication. In many cases veterans are prescribed multiple medications; each prescription has a co-pay, so the co-pays become onerous: so onerous that many veterans cannot afford to use the VA.

We are asking—and the more than one million citizens that voted want—VA healthcare taken out of the annual debate in Congress and debates between Congress and the Administration as to how much money is allocated. The dollar amount allocated in these debates depends on the political atmosphere, the demands of the budget, and the ideologies of those concerned. Mandatory Full Funding means basing the annual budget on the needs of our nation’s veterans. We know how many veterans will be served in any given year. The VA knows how much it costs to treat veterans and the annual inflation in those costs. With proper oversight in place, we need to make VA Healthcare an entitlement; and remove it from the annual budget debates.

Finally, we must pass Mandatory Full Funding to end the disgrace and travesty of homeless and jobless veterans. A Harvard University study recently found that 1.8 million veterans are without healthcare. They found that most of these veterans are in “Category 8.” They have too high an income to “qualify” for VA healthcare and have insufficient income or other circumstances that keep them from accessing of healthcare elsewhere.

The lack of healthcare is a leading cause of homelessness and joblessness. Healthcare problems are the number one reason for bankruptcy. Illness and disability are major reasons that many people cannot work, and that ultimately cannot even get a roof over their heads.

The VA is the largest, and one of the most effective healthcare systems in the country. It has been noted for its computerized system-wide ability to follow and treat veterans and to promote preventative healthcare measures that save lives and money in the long run. It is the most cost effective healthcare system in the country: it is more economical to care for and ensure every veteran has free comprehensive healthcare now, than to wait for veterans to return to the private healthcare system later.

Voters in 23 Illinois counties where the Advisory Referendum was on the ballot for voting “yes.” Over 90 percent of the voters voted to tell Congress that the people of Illinois want Mandatory Full Funding of VA Healthcare for all eligible veterans. We would like to recognize that this victory is the leading edge of a nationwide movement, coordinated by Operation Firing For Effect, to have voters all over the country express their support for Mandatory Full Funding of VA Healthcare. People in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, California, Florida, New Mexico and elsewhere are also sending this message to Congress.

Friday, February 8, 2008

In sanctuary, Mexican mother fights for dignity

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World
Feb. 9, 2008

CHICAGO — JosuĂ©, 14, Juan, 11 and Paloma, 9, live with their grandmother in a small rural town in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. They have not seen their mother, Flor Crisostomo, 28, since she crossed the Arizona desert in June 2000, to find work in the U.S. so she could support them.

Crisostomo was arrested during a 2006 immigration raid at a pallet-making company here. After two years of exhaustive legal appeals, Homeland Security ordered her to return to Mexico by Jan. 28. But she decided to take sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church on the city’s northwest side.

“I came here seven years ago because NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) made it impossible to feed my children in my hometown and that situation has only gotten worse,” Crisostomo told the World, speaking in Spanish.

She said the Mexican government predicts that with the final reduction of tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk under NAFTA policies, as many as a million more out-of-work Mexican farmers will try crossing the deadly U.S.-Mexican border to find work.

“I am not leaving. I am taking a stand of civil disobedience,” Crisostomo said. “I believe with all my heart that the U.S. and Mexico must end the system of exploiting undocumented labor.

“The raids and deportations make undocumented workers live in fear,” she added. “The no-match letters force us into worse jobs. But even a poor job here is better than no job.”

(The Social Security Administration mails no-match letters to employers, stating that an employee’s social security number does not match SSA’s records. Many result from clerical error; they are not cause for firings.)

Crisostomo’s experience illustrates a root problem of the current immigration system. At the same time Homeland Security and anti-immigrant and anti-worker laws make it harder for undocumented workers to survive here, NAFTA’s policies have devastated the rural economies of Mexico, putting family farmers out of work. (see related story on page 4)

Elvira Arellano also stood up for immigrant rights and for her U.S. citizen son. She was in sanctuary at the same church for a year before she was deported back to Mexico last summer. She and Crisostomo are good friends.

“It’s a very important time to fight for immigration reform during election time,” Arellano said, in a phone interview, speaking in spanish from Mexico. She added that people need to go out and vote for change so Congress and the next president can act on immigration reform.

“Flor is a part of my family and is a very important person who was there for me while I was in sanctuary,” said Arellano. “She is a mother who has sacrificed a lot for her children despite all the difficulties. We in Mexico are in solidarity with her, we wish her courage and we are praying for her and all the undocumented workers in the U.S.”

Crisostomo hopes that the U.S. and Mexico will realize one way to fix the broken immigration laws and make the borders safe and secure is to renegotiate NAFTA and other financial agreements that have destroyed local economies.

She said she is fighting for all immigrant families in the U.S. “I will not be a symbol of fear to spread among my people. I hope that adding my grain of sand to the struggle will help to get the U.S. Congress to act now,” she said.

Crisostomo knows that by taking this action there is little chance that she will ever achieve legal status to stay in the U.S.

“I may face time in prison. But when I do return to my children, I will not return, as so many have, empty-handed and unable to provide for them. I will be able to give them the only thing I can pass on to them: My dignity.”

Supporters of Flor Crisostomo can make a donation by sending a check to

Adalberto United Methodist Church

2716 W. Division St.

Chicago, IL 60622.