Cleveland rocks!” is the theme song of the long-running Drew Carey TV show. But not all neighborhoods rock equally, at least when it comes to jobs and economic opportunity.
Cleveland—once put down as “the mistake on the lake”—has undergone a dramatic revival in its downtown business district over the past 15 years with popular attractions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the East 4th Street food and entertainment section, and new stadiums and arena for professional sports teams. University Circle—the city’s cultural center—has a vibrant core of health, cultural, and educational institutions, as well as some major international businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in good-paying jobs.
Fall 2012 marked 20 years since the signing ceremony of the North American Free Trade Agreemhent (NAFTA) in San Antonio, Texas. The city held a two-day conference in November to commemorate the signing. It’s also 22 years since San Antonio’s Levi’s factory closed—throwing 1,150 women out of work. A 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that almost 700,000 U.S. workers were displaced by NAFTA.1 In San Antonio, the workers fought back. –Ed.
On November 17, one day after the big NAFTA conference in San Antonio’s Northside, we at Fuerza Unida (Strength Together) were in the Southside, celebrating our first line of denim clothing, including “Jeans with Justice.” These aren’t just important because they represent our newest cooperative enterprise, but because our organization started when we lost our jobs making blue jeans for Levi Strauss.
We are two of the 1,150 women workers who lost our jobs when the Levi’s factory closed on January 15, 1990. We were laid off without notice and without fair compensation. When we worked in the factory, our eyes were closed. We knew nothing of politics. We didn’t know we had rights as workers, nor did we know how to organize. But when the plant closed, we began to organize together with other workers and allies to demand fair compensation from Levi’s and better conditions for workers in other plants.
On August 8, 2012, Minneapolis became the first city in the nation to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment. Coauthored by Councilmembers Cam Gordon and Don Samuels and passed unanimously, it declares institutional racism “a primary reason for unemployment disparities” and requires the city to take action to ensure that people of color have a fair shot at government jobs, promotions, and contracts.
“We heard from the community that the city better have its own house in order,” said Gordon. “If we can develop tools that make a difference within the city, that’s going to be more powerful than [trying] to tell others what they should be doing.”
Teachers, students, and parents across the United States are experiencing wrenching changes in our system of education—from the way schools are run, to who gets to teach, and what may be taught. As students are robbed of meaningful learning and time for play or creativity—in short, anything that’s not tested—hostile politicians blame teachers for an astounding list of social and economic ills ranging from unemployment to moral decline.
In all but the wealthiest school systems in the United States, academic accomplishment has been reduced to scores on standardized tests developed and evaluated by for-profit companies. Parents, teachers, and students—education’s most important stakeholders—have little say in what is taught, while corporate chiefs, politicians in their thrall, and foundations that receive funding from billionaires who profit from pro-business education policies determine the substance of education. While almost every country in the world has experienced this chilling form of social engineering, in the U.S. it is sold to the public as essential to raising educational standards—making individuals and the nation economically competitive.
When it comes to organizing for health care as a human right, nurses far more often than doctors, are taking the lead in advocating for their patients. Nurses organizing gave us legislation to protect women who were able to stay longer in the hospital after giving birth; mandated registered nurse-to-patient ratios; improved protections for women survivors of domestic violence; and are at the forefront of many battles for better access to health care.
Every day, at the medical facilities where they work, nurses are first hand witnesses to health care practices that put profit above quality of care. Increasingly, hospital stays are cut short and essential medical procedures denied for cost reasons. Patients are removed for nonpayment of bills and services considered necessary are cut, even as the patient-to-staff ratios rise to dangerous levels.
So, it’s not surprising that nurses are at the frontlines of the battle for a more equitable and fair health care system, speaking out for the people’s right to access quality care and the rights of healthcare workers to do their jobs effectively.
About five years ago, more than anything, I wanted to be a journalist who truly represented the voice of the people. A job at a corporate, mainstream publication never appealed to me. Today, I’m honored to have worked as the web and design editor for Race, Poverty & the Environment, a journal that has mirrored my passion for a myriad of issues in the realm of social and environmental justice. And it’s also great being able to say, I worked for Urban Habitat, “an organization that builds power in low-income communities and communities of color.“
But for 2013, I want to do more. It was Grace Lee Boggs that said, ”How we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change.”
Editor & Art Director
B. Jesse Clarke
Layout & Design Editor
Christine Joy Ferrer
Urban Habitat Board of Directors
Allen Fernandez Smith
President & CEO, Urban Habitat
Joe Brooks (Chair)
Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles