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Tell the Truth John Stewart!

Submitted by Reporter on Wed, 08/08/2007 - 10:00pm
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According to Webster's dictionary journalism is defined as "The collecting, writing, editing and publishing of news in periodicals." At Poor Magazine, we practice Webster's kind of journalism, but we take it a step further. Actually we just flip corporate media right on its head. At POOR, we practice "I" journalism. The "I" is the life experience that the individual brings to each article. The words of our unique experiences with poverty, gentrification, racism, sexism, classism, and displacement breathe life and hope onto blank pages.

Recently the John Stewart Company, a developer of public housing in San Francisco, demanded a retraction of statements that appeared in the May 17, 2007 San Francisco Bay View article "Selling of the City." In the article, several current and former tenants of John Stewart properties tell their stories about the slumlord style conditions they have had to endure. They recite a litany of violations of human rights experienced first hand. Their words come directly from experience, not from spin-doctors or well-groomed and rehearsed "experts." By demanding the retraction of the statements made in the article, John Stewart is saying these people's experiences don't matter. John Stewart is saying the experiences of these people are false. John Stewart is calling them liars.

On July 26th at high noon, scholars from POOR Magazine arrived at John Stewart's door. We were there to rebut what John Stewart Company had claimed in their "slap" suit against us and the Bay View Newspaper. Several of the people quoted in the article were also present. We stood there with our own ammunition - our experience of struggle against the bad practices at John Stewart.

Poverty scholar Laure McElroy defiantly reaffirmed the truth of her quotes regarding John Stewart. She said, "Yes, I was quoted and yes those were my experiences I applied for housing 4 times at 3 different locations and I was told conflicting stories about income verification."

Some curious San Franciscans approached us. We handed out informational leaflets recounting John Stewart's unethical practices. McEloy continued, "John Stewart you are making housing inaccessible to people like me with a family."

John Stewart Company did not ask for retractions of statements such as, "The elevators were often out of order they were extremely dangerous. Once a small child's finger was chopped off when it got stuck in the door." Or statements such as, "After a major fire in one of the towers where a Black firefighter was killed authorities discovered emergency exits chained shut preventing residents escape." No one questioned the statement, "Police moonlighted as security guards harassed and molested the residents." These uncontested quotes speak more loudly as to what type of housing developer John Stewart.

The types of statements being contested are statements of fact and squabbles over mailing dates. POOR Magazine editor and poverty scholar Lisa Gray-Garcia sums up the retraction demand. She said, "How can they say these statements are not true when we have actually experienced these things. We are the low income housing residents."

Marie Harrison proudly confronted John Stewart's demands for retraction. Harrison said, "I don't have no reason to lie." She went on to say, "Every property John Stewart works on, I'm called in with complaints."

As more and more speakers approached to tell their stories I could see the Security Guard nervously eyeing us. We were confined to a small space on the public sidewalk.

Lisa Gray-Garcia slammed John Stewart on their false claims. She said, "They make a claim that there is a one for one replacement. Meaning when one family is displaced one family gets housing. This is just one of many ways they lie to the community. Another way is to claim they are providing affordable housing for poor people." Gray-Garcia continued on, her voice demanding attention of all, "They displaced people out of their homes. We don't need mixed income housing. We need real housing.

As the short but powerful demonstration came to a close we all gathered up our signs and any left over items. The ground was cleaner than when we found it. What a novel idea, coming clean and being a good citizen our corporate counterparts. I think they need to be taking notes from us.