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The phrase “living in poverty” is one of those shorthand terms that rolls easily off the tongues of news anchors and politicians before they turn to the next topic. We all tend to glaze over the full meaning of the phrase, the grinding day-to-day misery of hunger, worry, discomfort, exhaustion and despair.
In the City of San Diego, the proportion and number of people living in poverty edged up in 2013. It should have gone down. Instead, 7,000 more people in the city live in poverty now, in addition to the 202,000 who remain in that dire situation from the previous year.
Statistically, it was a small increase, nothing drastic. When CPI reported it last month in an analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the main response from local media and others was a yawn.
But consider what that statistic means. We are supposedly four years into a recovery from the national recession. Local industry has indeed recovered; the San Diego region’s economic output has rebounded above pre-recession levels. People are working hard and companies are making money. But wages, here as elsewhere, have not kept up. The recovery in profits is not being shared with the people doing much of the work.
Local strikers among thousands walking off their jobs in 150 cities as movement intensifies
Nine San Diego fast-food workers and two community supporters were arrested Thursday morning as part of a national strike calling for wages of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
Dozens of striking workers from 19 restaurants gathered in City Heights, along with about 300 supporters, for a peaceful demonstration in front of a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and a Jack in the Box. They rallied at the intersection over Interstate 15, briefly blocking traffic. The workers were arrested for civil disobedience after they sat in the middle of the intersection, linking arms and chanting “We believe that we will win.”
Before he was arrested, McDonald’s worker Jay Ames said he was willing to make that sacrifice for a better future for himself and his coworkers. “I’m tired of making $9 an hour. I can’t live off it. None of us can. I’m tired of being afraid I might be homeless because I can’t afford the rent here.”
Marie Kaio, a Burger King employee for 35 years, also was arrested. She said by the end of each month she has to survive on bologna sandwiches and food from churches and her family. “I love my job and I always welcome people with a smile, but $9 an hour isn’t enough,” Kaio said at a 6 a.m. rally. “I’m going out on strike because I deserve $15 and a union.”
All 11 arrested were released within a few hours. Here is a short CPI video showing the action and arrests:
The action was part of a national day of strikes and civil disobedience in 150 cities from coast to coast. Two years after the fast-food “Fight for $15” movement began in New York City, President Obama on Monday praised “fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.”
On August 18, a super-majority of the San Diego City Council overrode a mayoral veto restoring the new Earned Sick Leave-Minimum Wage Ordinance. Now, paid petitioners are trying to repeal the measure. Their deceptive tactics have been documented.
The passing of the ordinance makes San Diego the largest city in the country to give its workers a raise and require employers to allow workers to earn up to five sick days a year. The measure is set to take effect January 1, 2015, unless the paid petitioners win. Area businesses funded by out-of-town corporate interests are trying to overturn this widely supported Ordinance by sending OUT-OF-TOWN paid signature-gathers into the streets with a petition to overturn it.
It is hard writing my feelings on this blog. It is hard to look back and write. But in order to write history, I have to look back. Every detail, every action, every smile and every tear counts in history. I am here to write history. There is a history of a family of nine young female and male students that started their journey on June the 30th of 2014 in San Diego, California, a city with a many struggles, muchas luchas, and a city with an open wound that has not yet recovered. There is a journey that needs to be told, it needs to be written, it needs to be present in our hearts, I am here to write a piece of this journey.
Week Seven. A week has passed. I didn’t know how much I have learned until I realized that I was not sitting in CPI’s conference room with my SEJ Family. I am pretty sure that my sisters and brothers feel the same way. We walked together for six weeks, we connected our hearts during that time, we were getting prepared to reach the point where we were going to start walking by ourselves. In order for us to take our knowledge and our leadership skills, we need to separate, not forever, but until our mission gets accomplished. During week seven, everything seemed to calm down, it was the end of the SEJ program, but it was the beginning of greater changes in our community; we were ready to walk by ourselves spreading the knowledge we got at SEJ and to stand in solidarity with different luchas.
Jesus and I, the two undocumented folks of the SEJ program became brothers. We were involved in the Chicana/o community, but we were with different organizations. After SEJ we knew that our destiny was to work together. He invited me to join the San Diego Immigration Youth Collective (SDIYC), I joined them. Our first activity together was to help organize the trial for humanity from MAAC project to the US/Mexican border. Since we both write poetry connecting our tongue, our heart, our lines and our word to the border, we decide to write a piece together. We named the poem “El Camino,” the Road. Through the vivid lines of our words, we connected the camino of the women who took the initiative to walk from San Francisco the US/ Mexican Border, to our lucha and to our consciousness with the struggle of our sisters and brothers in Palestine. We create a Camino from this corner of the US/Mexican Border to the border of Gaza because we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. This brotherhood of Jesus and I will last forever just like the light of grandpa sun and grandma moon.
I miss the rest of my family, though. In the left side of my heart there are 7 other individuals who keep my revolutionary system alive with the hope of a better world. I know they all are doing something for our communities. Bernadette is getting ready to begin another successful semester in Sonoma State, she is a fighter. She is fighting for education; she will make great changes in the education of our communities. Val and Eunice did an amazing job during this six week program. They both are amazing, super passionate in the work they do. I really liked they way they talked about issues with gender and human trafficking. I got another perspective on these issues because of them. They will do an amazing job at UCSD. Biviana and Jenny, man, I have no letters to create a line writing my feelings towards both of them. All I want to say is that I am impressed with the work they do. Biviana, chale, she grew a lot! She has this heart-breaking story that makes her who she is today. She decided to walk against the typical stereotype of this society and prove every single person that didn’t believe in her wrong! I know one day we will meet up to share our food. Jenny, she has this amazing view of machismo! There are many things that connect all cultures of the world, but there is one specifically that I saw during the SEJ internship; machismo. And Jenny brought it up. She, as well as the rest of my sisters and brothers, has an amazing story. Our culturas have a connection; we all have something in common. Jenny is amazing. She will also do an amazing job at SDSU along with Jesus and Biviana. I am looking forward to meeting with them on their campus. Joshua and Laura, man, I am speechless! Where do I start now? Bueno, Laura has this essential knowledge of unions, I remember when one of the panelists of Alliance San Diego said, “You always have to know your shit”, Laura knows her shit. Her knowledge and experience will make her go far with Unions. Joshua, my brother! He was always quiet, I will miss sitting at the same table with him. He would say things whenever he knew it was time to say them. Always analyzing, always humble, brother, if you read this I just want you to know that I admire you.
Now its time to walk in corporate America, its time for another change in our communities, it is time to organize the movimiento. Jesus and I will be writing poetry in the shadows of the border, look for us, our mission is to write poetry for the liberation of our pueblos.
I still remember my first day of my internship; I could not wait to be out there waving around my sign fighting for justice. However, by my second week I noticed that I had the wrong idea of what an organizer does. My main job was phone banking and following up with folks. I am not going to lie it was draining and a bit boring at times, but I love it because I was doing one of the most important tasks of organizing. Now I can call myself an Organizer. My mind and heart went way beyond phone banking. I never thought the Students for Economic Justice program would empower me. I never thought I had a voice until I spoke out. I never thought this program would change my life so much.
My work site was the perfect fit for me. I worked in the Raise Up San Diego Campaign. As a product of the injustices of getting paid poverty wages and no sick days, I had the internal motivation to fight for my family and my community. Therefore, the first week I was on a radio talk show where I spoke about raising the minimum wage. I also testified in front of the San Diego City Council. I told my story to the media. I even told my story in meetings with council member Marti Emerald and the Mayor. Their response to my struggle was clear on July 14 when the measure passed 6 to 3. I gave a public speech at a vigil advocating for the mayor to do the right thing and sign the ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 and provide 5 paid sick days. I also gave a presentation to students at UCSD about the minimum wage. I did blitzing for the fast food worker campaign. Blitzing consisted of talking to workers in the workplace with the purpose of getting workers to join a campaign.
The hands-on experience and the trainings have made me a leader. A leader who will go back to the community and lead by pushing, as Cesar Chavez said. I never had friends, and I had never opened up about my personal life, but I developed a close relationship with CPI staff and the rest of the SEJers because even though we have different stories we have a common ground that keeps us united. We share our passion for justice, a passion to make a difference. Our journey together has been full of laughter, tears, anger, and tiredness. SEJ also changed my personal life. I never liked social media, but I made myself a Facebook page so I can share our amazing work. I won San Diego Zoo tickets. I visited Balboa Park for the first time. This once in a lifetime experience will be with me forever and ever as I plan to continue fighting for social and economic justice. I will continue to make my voice heard. The end of our internship has come, but our relationship and our passion remains so I will continue to see my fellow intern friends. I feel honored to be nominated as the Spirit of SEJ intern, but in my eyes you guys made me the Star. I am proud that on the day of our graduation I will get speak out about our wonderful journey. Thank you CPI for granting me this opportunity. I love CPI and the rest of the SEJers, you folks have made me a true warrior!