Admiration List: Jennifer Brea

Jennifer Brea has been suffering from an un-treatable and not-yet-properly-identified neurological disease. She has been given diagnosis (e.g.: chronic fatigue syndrome) that basically mean nothing and was told it was ‘all in her head.’ This woman has been through the proverbial fire.

Yet, despite extremely difficult physical and social barriers, she has persevered, created a film about her experiences and pursued a life of activism, acting as a voice for all people suffering from invisible and un-diagnosed illnesses.

From her TED talk, you can see her strength, attitude and remarkable good will, as she expresses her hope that one day the medical community will learn how to face a disease like her own and speak the honest truth: I don’t know what is wrong with you.

I have to agree with her statement that this ability to be able to admit to not having an answer is a key step in eventually finding an answer.

Admiration List: Alaa Murabit

Alaa Murabit has achieved some pretty amazing things. She’s championed the cause of women in countries where that sort of activism could get a person killed. She has lived through death threats and all sorts of challenges. She has also successfully improved the status of women, within Muslim countries, by leveraging the same tactics used  by her opposition – quotes from the Koran.

Her resilient personality, positive attitude and ability to take all of the challenges in stride are evident in her TED talk. There are many things to admire.

Having said that, I must admit that none of those accomplishments are the reason why she is included here. The primary reason for my own, personal, admiration is the fact that I watched this video and kept thinking: How do I expand my social circle to include more women like her? I need more friends like that.

 

Can Technology Solve Poverty?

Technology can address the symptoms of poverty

Apps are basically high tech communication devices. They are really useful for gathering and distributing information. In that respect, they can help address the symptoms of poverty by providing poverty survivors access to:

  • Information about potential resources.
  • Free educational resources, tutoring services and MOOCs.
  • Crisis lines addressing everything a person without health care or the cash to pay for professional help, including: medical questions, parenting questions, suicide hotlines, 12-step program hotlines, etc.
  • Legal advice
  • Job listings, resume advice, job advice, etc.
  • Establishing funding platforms to meet the needs of schools and similar resources in poverty stricken neighborhoods.
  • Applying for assistance through online forms (it is important to note that this has both positive and negative affects on access to those resources)

These apps can also affect public perception by answering the questions and addressing the prejudices surrounding poverty. They can attempt to educate the masses about the realities of poverty and the truth about who poverty survivors really are, including those of us who have experienced homelessness.

The voices of poverty survivors

All of these things currently exist and all of them require access to the internet and the specific technology required to connect to the applications. While there are plenty of poverty survivors (homeless included) who have some form of smart phone (Tracfone offers several android phones for less than $100 and a SUPER cheap pay-as-you-go plan…it’s really easy to get one), for many people that is where the technology ends.

Being able to leverage these opportunities often requires access to more than a low grade android cell phone. Determined poverty survivors with access to a reasonably well funded public library will use the computer lab to access all of these things. Others just shrug their shoulders and assume they don’t apply to them.

The thing that is missing from all of these resources and opportunities is the voice of poverty survivors themselves. Please watch the following TED talk by Mia Birdsong. She says it far better than I ever could:

Can technology solve poverty?

No. Poverty is not caused by technology, so technology is not close enough to the source of the problem to have a profound effect on the problem.

Technology does not pay the bills or end human rights violations. It does not block human trafficking, slavery, violence, exploitation or stalking (cyber or face-to-face). It does not end racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, slander or classicism. It does not prevent police brutality or government corruption. It does not put food on the table, a roof over your head or clothes on your back. It does not force your employer to pay a living wage – or provide the paycheck that is owed to you.

It doesn’t even get you a job. Access to long lists of jobs posted to websites like LinkedIn is helpful, but it is NOT a job. If one of those job postings happen to materialize into a job, there’s no guarantee it will pay a living wage.

Poverty can be positively affected by technology. I encourage those with this particular skill set to look for ways to use those skills to positively change the world in every possible way, including addressing the symptoms of poverty. But never forget that these are symptoms and not root cause. Until the root cause is addressed, poverty will remain epidemic in this country and around the world.

-Originally posted to Quora in response to the (frequently asked) question Can apps be used to tackle societal problems like hunger or homelessness or income insecurity?

Mass Blindness: Why don’t American’s see the poverty in their own backyards?

The most common reasons for mass blindness are as follows:

  1. Prosperity theology – Wikipedia This highly flawed religious belief took root in this country before it became the USA. It never left. People still think that poverty survivors (rape victims, abuse victims, people struck by illness, etc.) are cursed by God because they are ‘bad people.’ It’s religion-sanctioned victim-blaming, and it’s long-term effects have been extremely destructive.
  2. Welfare queen – Wikipedia: A highly effective political marketing/propaganda campaign utilized by President Reagan which vilified all poverty survivors based on a fictitious character developed, loosely, out of one female African American criminal who was convicted of fraud. It is a well-established fact that this campaign was an attempted to garner the support of white voters by demonizing black people – and it worked.
    1. The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen’
    2. The Real Story of Linda Taylor, America’s Original Welfare Queen
    3. Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” myth: How the Gipper kickstarted the war on the working poor
    4. The myth of the modern welfare queen
    5. Return of the ‘Welfare Queen’
  3. Deserving or undeserving poor: A European belief that was imported to the United States by European immigrants and became a permanent fixture within our culture and politics. It is a well-established fact that the hyper-examination of the relative morality of people surviving a life-threatening crisis is counterproductive to the efforts to reduce poverty, homelessness, and everything that goes with them. But the social belief remains and grant money, political favor, and individual donations are often tied to proof that poverty survivors deserve assistance.
    1. Deserving vs. undeserving poor — for the love of God, here we go again
    2. deserving-vs-undeserving-poor
  4. Performance Poverty: Thanks to the combined efforts of politicians, Hollywood and authors like Charles Dickens, people in the USA have come to expect a very specific ‘show’ when they look for proof of poverty. Some expect to be entertained, others want proof that their investment of money and/or empathetic emotion is ‘worth it’ and, therefore, want a proper performance.
    1. Comparison arguments: This is frequently accompanied by non-logical comparison arguments like:
      1. “Look at these photos of poor people in Africa! Poor people in the USA are FAT, so they CAN’T be poor…not really.” The photos shown are invariably images of people surviving war, plague and/or drought, thereby leaving them so devoid of resources that their ribs are showing through their chest. All reasonable discussions about the realities of poverty in the USA are then dismissed because those people don’t ‘look poor.’
      2. Example: What is the biggest slum in the U.S.? There are American’s who answered this question with ‘they don’t exist here,’ and then proceeded to post photos of ‘real slums’ in other countries. These answers are then debunked by other Americans who proceed to post photos of slums here in the USA.
    2. Slum tourism – Wikipedia: Upper-class Americans are known to make entertainment out of poverty by traveling to other countries and gawking at the poverty survivors in those areas. It’s…unethical…to say the least. It’s also NOT restricted to international travel. It happens here in the USA.
    3. Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol) – Wikipedia Every Christmas season local theater’s put on yet another performance of a Christmas Carol. There are old movies shown on TV and sometimes a new version is released. ONCE AGAIN the world watches as the poor are stomped on by Scrooge and yet, one particularly saintly and sickly child keeps his faith in both God and man, showing great generosity in his ability to extend forgiveness even to Scrooge – a fact which proves to be the tipping point for massive spiritual transformation within the old wicked miser. HURRAY! The Noble savage, in the form of a handicapped child without access to health care, has given proper service to the power-holding upper class by successfully transforming the man’s soul just in time for his death of old age! Americans of all ages leave the theaters filled with Holiday Cheer and a destructively erroneous image of the ‘deserving poor’ in the form of Tiny Tim, as well as an even more destructive storyline concerning the proper interaction between rich and poor. (No, I am not a fan of this story.)
  5. Service Trips: church groups, schools, and community organizations have a frustratingly common habit of taking groups of people (children, in particular) on service trips. Instead of examining and addressing poverty in their own city/town/neighborhood, they pile into a bus or a caravan of cars and go to some magical ‘poverty land,’ like the Appalachian mountains, where they help the ‘real poor.’ Now, just to be clear, poverty survivors exist in large numbers in the Appalachian mountains – the poverty in this region is VERY real (America’s poorest white town and Why Poverty Persists In Appalachia). I object the service trip culture because it presents and solidifies through action the idea that poverty ONLY exists in the Appalachian mountains or other well-known poverty-stricken regions. This directly and significantly contributes to the collective blindness the general public has towards poverty in the USA. It even has this weird way of convincing poverty survivors themselves that their own poverty is, at least partially, a figment of their own imagination because they don’t live in one of the recognized ‘poor areas.’ For example:  I may be homeless, but at least I don’t live in the Appalachian mountains – really???

-Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Do Americans care about their poor people?

ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP)

Quote

Quotes From: ASEAN Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children

C. Law Enforcement and Prosecution of Crimes of Trafficking in Persons
b. Develop pro-active investigation methods and where appropriate, to conduct surveillance and other pro-active measures to gather evidence to establish a case to prosecute trafficking in persons cases even without the testimony of victims;
c. Enhance efforts to investigate alleged cases of trafficking in persons, strengthen the means to combat trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators, including through more systematic use of freezing assets for the purpose of eventual confiscation in accordance with the provisions of Article 17 of the ACTIP, and ensure that penalties are proportionate to the gravity of the crime;
e. Prosecute crimes of trafficking in persons that encompass all forms of exploitation and enact, enforce and strengthen legislation that criminalises all forms of trafficking in persons, especially women and children;
f. Combat and prosecute organised criminal groups engaged in trafficking in persons, in accordance with domestic laws;
g. Investigate, prosecute and punish corrupt public officials who engage in or facilitate trafficking in persons and promote a zero-tolerance policy against those corrupt officials consistent with the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime;

ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, (ACTIP) of 2015, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Service Project Ideas: Helping the Homeless

If you really want to use your service project to help the homeless, then consider doing the following:

  1. Make a List About YOU: Make a list of all of the key characteristics that describe you, right now, as a person. Try to make it as exhaustive as possible.
    1. What categories do you fit into? For example: race, gender, religion, sexual identity, family situation (e.g.: kids, no kids, married, single), education level, health status (e.g.: healthy, diabetes, food allergies, disabled, etc.)
    2. Identify those categories that you think are most important during homelessness. For example: Diabetes is potentially deadly without proper diet and/or medical care, adult shelters will not take anyone under age 21, and caring for children while homeless is extremely difficult.
  2. Imagine Yourself Homeless: Picture yourself facing some catastrophic financial or physical emergency that leaves you instantly homeless right now. What would you do? Where would you go?
  3. Research: Do a little research and identify those resources that you would attempt to utilize in that situation.
  4. Make Contact: Contact those organizations and tell them you are looking for:
    1. Volunteer work to complete a service project.
    2. Opportunities to meet and work with people who are currently homeless and similar to yourself in a few key ways. Example short lists:
      1. 21 years old, female, no children.
      2. Over 50 with diabetes
      3. 35 years old, male, single parent, 3 kids
      4. 26 years old, lesbian, 2 dogs
  5. Listen: Let the organization tell you what they need help with and then do your best to provide assistance.
  6. Reflect: After a few weeks of volunteer work, sit down and re-imagine yourself homeless. Based on what you now know, what would you do? What are the dangers and challenges other people, just like you, are facing? Are any of those things particularly surprising? What is your biggest fear?

All of this will provide some real insight into what it feels like to be homeless AND the many unique and often maddeningly difficult challenges people surviving homelessness are forced to face.

Follow up that experience by pursuing some tools to help you make a positive impact on poverty and homelessness in the future:

  1. Social Justice: Take a social justice workshop (if you can) and pay particular attention to the justice issues faced by poverty survivors (homeless included).
  2. Mentoring/Internship: If you complete the first part of this plan and decide that you really want to do more – contact the non-profit and ask for a mentor or an internship. Getting to know people who’ve built a career out of fighting poverty and homelessness is far more important and useful than any number of textbooks, news articles, books, workshops, etc.
  3. Emergency Plan: If you were facing a serious emergency that would place you into a homeless situation, what would you do. Take some time with this, really identify the financial and physical needs that would have to be addressed. How can you plan for the worst right now? How can you face a catastrophic financial emergency and get through it? What is your plan? Keeping yourself out of homelessness is important! It’s extremely difficult to survive homelessness, much less combat it while trying to survive. It’s also important to remember…ALWAYS remember!…that anyone can experience homelessness at any time. Poverty is an equal opportunity employer.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question: What can I do as a service project to help out the homeless?

Admiration List: Kandice Sumner

This woman has some really good, and hard, things to say about education in the United States. A few quotes:

If you neglect a child long enough, you no longer have the right to be surprised when things don’t turn out well.”

“If we’re going to call public education ‘public education’ then it should be just that. Otherwise, we should call it what it really is: Poverty Insurance”

“Public education, keeping poor kids poor since 1954.”

Kandice Sumner:

 

 

Admiration List: Jesse Bach

Jesse Bach is a self-described freedom activist. He is the founder of the Imagine Foundation, which works to fight human trafficking and modern slavery worldwide. He is on my admiration list because of all of these things.

He is also on my admiration list because his speech uses both superhero analogies and the assurance that everyday people can make big changes in small ways…while wearing spandex (if they so choose). Of course, that spandex must be ethically made and traded but, otherwise, spandex is OK.

His TED talk is about the ways that everyday people can make a real difference in ending human trafficking. I encourage everyone to watch it.

Admiration List: Catalleya Storm

I have great respect for people who escape a horrible situation and then choose to fight the criminals that created that situation. It takes a lot of courage to stand and face people who have perpetrated unspeakably vile crimes. Simply facing these people in a court of law, under the protection of armed police officers, is extremely difficult. Continuing to fight after gaining freedom and establishing a life – that takes both courage and dedication.

Catalleya Storm survived human trafficking in Ohio, was freed through the help of law enforcement, and continues to speak out against human trafficking and sexual slavery. Her TED talk is focused on her own experience, the prevalence of these crimes in the United States and the very simple fact that combatting modern slavery and human trafficking of all kinds is everyone’s responsibility.

Catalleya is someone I would love to meet and/or hear speak. She is one of many people who I would add to my list of speakers at a slave-free city conference…if I were planning such a thing.

Admiration List: Kris Wade

Kris Wade is the founder and executive director of the Justice Project in Kansas City, which has the following description posted to their website:

The mission of the Justice Project, a peer-based nonprofit human rights organization, is to provide criminal justice and social systems advocacy and navigation for women in poverty who may be suffering from a multitude of challenges, including homelessness, discrimination, addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. Since 2007 the dedicated volunteers at the Justice Project have helped positively change the lives of more than one hundred women from the streets of Kansas City.

This is an amazingly difficult job anywhere in the world. In Kansas City, the challenges are exacerbated by the mistaken belief (all over the United States) that these kinds of things don’t happen in Kansas – or anywhere else in the Midwest or similarly agricultural-heavy regions of the United States).

Ms. Wade’s Ted talk clearly explains why and how these things happen all over the United States, even within the heartland.

I would welcome the opportunity to meet Ms. Wade and learn more about the work her non-profit performs. I also would like to hear her thoughts on the slave-free city project.