Day 4 of #‎LiveTheWageVA: This has been an entirely humbling experience for me

 

This is “Live the Wage” week, an effort to highlight what it’s like for working women and men making the minimum wage of $7.25/hour. (Find out more at www.livethewageva.org. or, on Twitter, at #‎LiveTheWageVA.) If the question is whether or not people CAN live on minimum wage, many folks would probably say yes. In fact, 1.2 million American workers live on minimum wage. But it takes a lot of planning, sacrifice, and hard choices to make it work. Sometimes that choice boils down to which bills you will pay this month, how much food you can put on the table, or whether or not you can visit a doctor.

The question is whether or not people SHOULD HAVE TO get by on $7.25/hr. If you are working hard and playing by the rules, you should be making enough to support yourself and your family. No one is guaranteed success in America, but everyone deserves a fair shot to succeed and make enough to pay their bills.

Truth be told, I’ve been there. My family has been there. I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from my early childhood, but one that sticks out for me is from a time that my dad took me to visit my mom at the end of her work shift, cleaning tables at a local McDonalds. She gave me some French fries, and oh my god, they were so tasty! Seeing me happy made her smile, but underneath that smile, was a woman who knew that this wasn’t the American dream. My parents both worked low-wage jobs. My dad also worked in the food industry as a line cook at Skillagalee in Richmond.

My dad ended up taking out a bunch of loans so that he could get a bachelor’s degree, since none of his academic or military background in Vietnam translated to a meaningful job in America. For years, my dad lived and studied in Connecticut, while my mom continued to make things work in Virginia. He graduated and still couldn’t find a job. So they borrowed more money and opened up a restaurant. A successful restaurant. By my fourth grade year, they were able to buy a house in the West End of Alexandria, Virginia. The American dream!

But success came with sacrifice. They worked around the clock, and closed the restaurant between 2 and 4 every day so that they could race home and spend at least some time with my sisters and me as we came home school. Often, they were so tired, they would nap during this break. Who could blame them?

I share this more as a reminder to myself. Because I have forgotten what it’s like to have to be consciously aware of my spending habits. As challenging as this week has been for me, I know that it is nothing compared to the reality for people who are actually living on minimum wage. I get to end my challenge at the end of this week. But my fight for economic and social justice will never end.

 

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Ralph Northam)

In the UK, disbelief haunts the asylum process for women

Two hundred years ago, poetic faith was described as “that willing suspension of disbelief.” At that point, a culture of disbelief meant folk cultures and fantasy were relegated to the dustbin of history by `the lettered classes.’ Today, disbelief sends women asylum seekers to prison. Progress?

In the United Kingdom, women asylum seekers encounter a “culture of disbelief.” When Asylum Aid looked into the situation of initial decision-making in women asylum seekers cases, they found that 87 percent were turned down at the first hearing. Why? The UK Border Agency agents didn’t believe the claims. 87 percent is high, but that’s actually not the higher math. 42 percent of the rejected claims were overturned on appeal. In fact, 50% were ultimately overturned. The over-all average for overturning rejected appeals is 28%. That means that women’s stories are discounted as lies, at least by the border agents who make the preliminary decisions.

And it gets worse. Women wait longer than men to hear a final decision. How do they live while waiting?

In Scotland, all asylum seekers receive free healthcare. This includes those whose claims have been rejected. This means women. First, women make up a proportionately large part of those appealing, post rejection. Second, addressing women’s health concerns and, even more, women asylum seekers’ health concerns by engaging with the women as autonomous persons helps bring them into the larger and everyday social world. It is part of a larger Scottish project of refugee integration. But Scotland is the exception. For the rest of the United Kingdom, for Westminster, the situation is toxic, lethal.

Asylum seekers do not need to labor under the additional burdens, or are they punishments, of isolation and desperation. And depression. The vast majority of women asylum seekers are fleeing sexual and physical violence. Add to that isolation and a dehumanizing process, and you have a perfect recipe for self-harm and worse.

What is the architecture of the culture of disbelief? Prison. Private prison, at that, such as Yarl’s Wood, run by Serco. The typical scenario for a woman asylum seeker is travel long distance, end up in an overcrowded room with tons of strangers, approach a person sitting, austerely, behind a glass, and then, in a loud enough voice to be heard by a bunch of people, tell him or her the story of how you were violated. And then suffer rejection, being called a liar. And then go to Yarl’s Wood … or some other prison.

Welcome to the so-called “culture of disbelief.” Welcome to `democracy’.

It’s not disbelief. It’s efficiency. If 87 percent of the storytellers are rejected, that’s because the judge isn’t listening. Anyway, it’s more efficient to reject 87 percent, even if half will be overturned. Think of the savings from those who don’t appeal and from those who appeal and don’t succeed. And then think of the profits generated through the incarceration of innocent women courageous enough to tell their stories to strangers, courageous enough to seek a better world, despite all odds. That’s extraction of value, of profit, from time, from flesh, from pain and suffering, from degradation, from women.

This system, this version of `democracy’, was established during the bubbly times, during the economically ascendant times … for some. What is coming, as the UK charges from efficiency to austerity, is predictable. More cuts. Cuts to legal aid. Cuts to health services. Cuts upon cuts.

What is needed is a national campaign of willing a suspension of the culture of disbelief. Call it …  democracy. Call it, as well, feminism.

 

(Photo Credit: Liverpool Antifascists)

When the State cares enough to kill and maim the very best

Members of Mr. Ward’s family

In Ireland, today, the court heard about a 15-year-old boy who was “institutionalized” in the Ballydowd Special Care Unit. Special Care. A Special Care Unit is a place in which the State can imprison children who are “troubled.” For their own welfare and safety. Ireland has three such units: Ballydowd, Coovagh House, and Gleann Alainn.

The court today heard that the boy has been diagnosed as living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He has trouble with `regular’ classrooms. He spent much of his time at Ballydowd “detained for long periods of time by himself.” How the State care for `troubled’ children? Isolation. And now, according to the boy’s parents, attorneys and psychologists, he is “unfit for mainstream education”.

Two years ago, on August 31, 2009, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, issued a report stating unequivocally that Ballydowd must be closed. That report was a follow-up to a November 2008 report in which Ballydowd was deemed “no longer fit for purposes.” From practices to material conditions, the place was a disaster, and a danger to children.

The government pledged to close Ballydowd, and move the children to a nearby facility. In 2010, Ballydowd had twelve beds. In the most recent HIQA inspection, on October 27, 2010, Ballydowd housed seven children, four boys, three girls, all between 13 and 16 years old. And now, the Republic of Ireland claims it cannot find decent and adequate places for seven children who may or may not require “special care”.

In Australia, the State’s special care often proves fatal, especially for Black residents.

Consider the story of Mr. Ward, an Aboriginal elder. In January 2008, Mr. Ward, 46 years old, was taken on a 220 mile ride across the blistering Central Desert to face a drunk driving charge. Mr. Ward was a respected Aboriginal. He  had represented the Ngaanyatjarra lands across Australia as well as at international fora. The two people who drove Mr. Ward worked for a subsidiary of G4S. They did not see an Aboriginal elder nor a statesman. They saw “a man in his 40’s, 50’s, Aboriginal with a dark skin. He was dirty.”

They threw Mr. Ward into the back of a Mazda van, into the security “pod” with metal seating and no air conditioning. All male remand prisoners are considered dangerous, or “high risk”. The fact that Mr. Ward was known to be cooperative and congenial was irrelevant. For his own safety and welfare, he had to go in the back. The trip took almost four hours. The temperatures that day were 40 degrees Celsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. Ward died of heatstroke. He died with third degrees, presumably from where he touched the metal floor of the van. Mr. Ward cooked to death, slowly and in excruciating pain.

There was no possibility for Mr. Ward to survive that trip. There was no working panic button. There was no means of communication between the security section and the drivers in the cabin. He had one small bottle of water. He was destined to the death he suffered. It is Australia’s form of special care. It must be, because Australia pays a hefty price, literally, for the G4S services.

Again, every aspect of this story had been publicly described in earlier studies. In a 2001 government study, identical Mazda `pods’ were described as  “not fit for humans to be transported in.” They were seen as “a death waiting to happen.”

In the intervening decade, there have been other major reports, two in 2005, in 2006. To no avail. In 2008, Mr. Ward was dumped into the oven of the back of that Mazda. In 2009, G4S was awarded the contract for prisoner transport.

When asked about the implications of Mr. Ward’s story, Keith Hamburger, the principal author of the 2005 report, responded, “That’s a matter of great concern because this is not rocket science, we’re dealing here with duty of care.”

Duty of care.

Duty of care is a legal concept that ensures that people should not cause one another unreasonable harm or loss. But what is “unreasonable”?  Ballydowd is still open and consuming  children. G4S continues to ferry prisoners across the desert. Why? Because they have been deemed not “unreasonable”. Where is justice in that measure of reasonable and unreasonable suffering?

 

(Photo Credit: PerthNow.com.au)