Fw: the Freedom From Unemployment, Hunger and Homelessness Bus Tour!

H. C. Covington (ach1@sprynet.com)
Sat, 20 Jun 1998 13:24:45 -0500


-----Original Message-----
From: Patrick Grugan <pgrugan@sprynet.com>
To:   hccovington@usa.net>
Date: Saturday, June 20, 1998 1:11 PM
Subject: kwru-announce Days10-11 the Freedom From Unemployment, Hunger and
Homelessness Bus Tour!


Economic Human Rights Freedom Bus Update
June 10-11, 1998

Days10-11 the Freedom From Unemployment, Hunger and Homelessness Bus Tour!

Day 10, Waycross Georgia

The Freedom Bus left Atlanta for a day traveling through rural Georgia. At
Waycross, Georgia, local organizations had come together for a hearing on
the effects of welfare reform. These forums had been held in other areas
across the state, organized by the Georgia Up and Out of Poverty coalition.

Before the forum, we heard the words of a local minister, and sang gospel
songs; the freedom bus choir shared some of the songs that we have been
taking around the country.

Sandra Robertson from the Up and Out of Poverty coalition introduced the
forum. We must be "no longer willing to accept this impoverishment," and
"prepared to do whatever it takes to turn things around."

We heard stories of welfare recipients who were struggling with the welfare
system. All of them had been misinformed and denied services by their
caseworker. One woman who had moved off welfare noted that she had been
able to go to college, but with welfare reform that path has been removed
as a real option for welfare recipients in Georgia. Others had health
crises, and without access to medical care found themselves struggling to
survive.

Cheri Honkala delivered our message to the forum: "Too long we've been told
we're responsible for our own misery. We're not responsible for the
factories in our neighborhoods closing. But we are responsible to do
something about it." We're in a moral crisis, where the deepening poverty
we are living in exists in a land of plenty. We need the right to jobs at a
living wages!


Day 11  Columbia and Jackson, Mississippi


"No change is gonna happen until people get together and realize that it
ain't no black issue, and that it ain't no white issue ... that it's a
human issue." said Charlotte L. Keys, the president and executive director
of Jesus People Against Pollution (JPAP). We were received by JPAP in
Columbia, Mississippi, in the early morning. The Freedom Riders stepped off
the bus into the steamy Mississippi air after driving overnight from
Waycross, Georgia.

Columbia, a poor rural community of about 8,000, has suffered tremendous
environmental tragedy in addition to poverty. We heard the history of
Columbia's toxic disaster from a documentary video and directly from
members of JPAP. A flyer explained briefly:

"In 1977, the Reichhold Chemical plant, located in the midst of our
low-income African American and white community, exploded and burned.
Residents were evacuated for less than a day. There was never any testing
or attempt to determine if anyone needed medical treatment.

The fire destroyed the Reichhold plant that was located in the center of
Columbia, a town with a resident and surrounding population of more than
26,000 people, but left behind more than 4,500 drums of chemicals that were
soon buried in an 81 acre field at the plant site or abandoned on flats at
ground level. The drums leaked, allowing chemicals to seep into the soil
(most drums were not removed until the Superfund [cleanup] efforts began,
years later, and others have been recently discovered). Subsequent floods
spread the toxins into surrounding farmlands, rivers, swimming holes and
streets."

Ms. Keys took us on a tour of the neighborhood bordering on the Superfund
site, and we saw a community as devastated by poverty as any we'd seen. We
saw -- and smelled -- sites where chemical barrels had been dumped but
never uncovered. As we passed by houses and trailers, Ms. Keys listed the
health problems suffered by the residents: Alzheimer's and emphysema in
this house, cancer in the neighboring house, and kidney problems in the
next.

The neighborhoods around the site were composed mostly of visibly
substandard housing. Much of it is public housing from the Farmer's Housing
Authority. In addition, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) built an
apartment complex for disabled people on a lot directly bordering the
Superfund site, after it was known to be contaminated. We also learned that
new families are moving in to Columbia, not being told by the government of
the still-toxic sites around the city.

Members of Jesus People Against Pollution explained how elected officials
on all levels and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed them,
taking years to acknowledge the problems and then providing only a partial
cleanup. Community members in JPAP have had to look for support outside
their local governments and the EPA for support. As Ms. Keys told us,
politics seems to have been more about making money and covering-up the
problems than about the lives of poor people.

Poverty makes the situation even more devastating. Few of the poor
residents can afford to move to a safer area. Forced to stay, they often
don't have access to quality medical care -- even as they drink the
contaminated tap water because they can't afford bottled water. Both
Freedom Riders and JPAP members recognized that the system that has
abandoned Columbia in poverty is the same system that disregarded their
health in this disaster.

After the tour of the community and lunch provided by JPAP, the Freedom Bus
left for Jackson, Mississippi. We arrived at the Voice of Calvary
Ministries guest house at six o'clock in the evening, for dinner and a
discussion with civil rights leader Dr. John Perkins.


For more information, visit our webpage at:
http://www.libertynet.org/kwru

Or contact us at:

Kensington Welfare Rights Union
NUHHCE, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
PO Box 50678
Philadelphia, PA 19132-9720
215/203-1945
215/203-1950 FAX
email: kwru@libertynet.org

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