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‘Equal Voice’ Unveils Family Platform in Washington

New America Media, News Report, Text: Khalil Abdullah// Photos: Joseph Rodriguez Posted: Feb 17, 2009

Editor’s Note: For 18 months families all over the country have been meeting in town halls to talk about rebuilding the American safety net for low-income Americans. On Feb. 11, they came together in Washington, D.C., to present their “blueprint for change,” the culmination of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice for America’s Families campaign. NAM editor Khalil Abdullah provides the first in a series of reports from the press conference. NAM's coverage of this issue is underwritten by the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On an unseasonably balmy day for midwinter, 150 men and women from low-income families swept in from across the country to celebrate and trumpet “A National Family Platform.” The platform, a more than 40-page document outlining specific approaches to public policy issues, is a product of the Equal Voice for America’s Families campaign. The initiative has been underwritten by the Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF).

Corey CamphorCorey CamphorAt a Feb. 11 morning press conference at the National Press Club, MCF president and CEO Luz Vega-Marquis termed the platform “a blueprint for change for America’s families” and said the ultimate goal is “rebuilding that totally disintegrated safety net” for low-income Americans. She said the impetus for Equal Voice came from organizations comprising MCF’s 300 grantees. They were ready to try a new approach to affecting public policy, Vegas-Marquis explained, and were determined to send a message to the country that “enough is enough.”

She said Equal Voice drew from the recommendations of families who gathered over an 18-month process that included 65 town hall meetings in 12 states. Last September, more than 14,000 people simultaneously convened in Birmingham, Chicago and Los Angeles to ratify the platform.

"I am so excited to be here,” said Corey Camphor, one of three community organization speakers. He tempered his enthusiasm, however, with a blunt assessment of his community’s current state of affairs. Camphor said he has become even more keenly aware of America’s economic crisis in his work as a counselor in a re-entry program for ex-offenders in Chicago. “As I serve them, I realize how great the need is,” he said, adding that financial uncertainty is also an additional stressor for him, a married father of four children. “I don’t know if I’m going to have a job next week.”

AnaAna TacanAna Tacan, a mother of three, works as a resource specialist in Stockton, CA, identifying services for families. She spoke of the growing need for assistance, citing, as but one example, the dearth of adequate childcare facilities which sometimes results in working parents, out of desperation, leaving their children in unsafe conditions. Sometimes care is available, she said, but the cost is so prohibitive there are “those who are working and can’t afford childcare.” Tacan told the delegates, “We need to think and support these stories when we come here to Washington.”

Star Paschal, a mother of three and a public housing property manager from Auburn, AL, said that low-income families are suffering. “We have gotten thrown under the bus,” she said. In answer to a press inquiry about which aspects of the economic stimulus package she supported and how they related to the Equal Voice agenda, Paschal said the key is to get legislators to address issues in a holistic manner rather than on a piecemeal basis. She said the delegates came to speak about their “comprehensive platform,” drawn from their collective experiences.PStar PasqualStar Paschal

In addition to the formal unveiling of the platform, the other critical objective was to have the 150-person delegation subdivide into teams in order to visit their congresspersons. After the press conference, the teams boarded buses to be dropped off at Garfield Circle at the foot of the Capital’s west side where Pres. Barack Obama had been inaugurated only a few weeks earlier. From there, they fanned out, marching up a steep grade, some to the Hart, Russell and Senate office buildings on one side of the expansive Capitol grounds while others ventured to the Rayburn, Cannon, or Longworth on the House side.

“It’s a shame we have to have events like this to demand the necessities that should already be in place for the American people,” said Davelle Adams, a 37-year-old musician from Chicago. He cited the need to increase the supply of affordable housing, healthcare, and job opportunities among the reasons for his presence in Washington and recent involvement in Equal Voice.

Success at seeing members of Congress was mixed and the geography of the Capitol was not the only challenge. The Equal Voice delegates competed for attention with standing-room only hearings on salmonella poisoning, bank restructuring, and hallways bustling with visiting youth groups. House and Senate leaders were immersed in the final stages of approving the $787 billion stimulus bill to be sent to the president’s desk for signing. All the activity contributed to a zany swirl of congressional activity. After several hours of passing through security check points and metal detectors, slight directional miscues, brief meetings with congressional staff, and a renewed appreciation for the benefit of comfortable shoes when on hard stone floors, the delegates reassembled for their return bus ride to the airport.

In scattered conversations, delegates took stock of inroads made and follow-up actions to be considered once they returned home. As the Chicago team regrouped for departure, for instance, Angelique Gordon, of the Target Area Development Corporation, decided that it was warm enough to kick off her shoes for a moment. The marble floors had taken their toll but she said her team had been fortunate to meet with Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), one of the Hill leaders and a champion of legislation to fund ex-offender re-entry programs. She said Davis was gracious, “he took a few minutes of his time,” was genuinely supportive of the platform’s goals and looked forward to learning more about Equal Voice.

Gordon said her delegation is also relying on Obama to be an ally. “We love Obama,” she said. “He’s really been a great advocate for some of the issues.” She noted that the platform contained proposals that the president has supported in the past as a community organizer and as Illinois state senator.

Regardless of verbal professions of support from elected officials, Will Jennings said it was important to show up. An ex-offender who is now actively involved in his children’s lives, he talked about his trips to Springfield, the Illinois capital, to confront state legislators. “I love politics,” Jennings said, but his take on politicians was simple: your agenda will languish “if you don’t stay in their face.” He saw members of Congress as no different. It was a sentiment heard throughout the day, one that reflected a comment by Star Paschal earlier that morning. “This is a lifelong fight I have taken on for myself,” she said, conceding that one trip to Capitol Hill would not leverage immediate results for the national family platform, but it was an important start. “If we have to come to Washington every year,” she said, “it will be done.”

Related Articles:

Even in ‘Obamaland,’ Change Starts at Home

From Hustler to Family Man: Ex-Con Goes Home

Unleashing the Transformative Power of Star Paschal

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