Poverty Protests at RNC/DNC Conventions

For decades, Democrats like Republicans have shied away from talking much about poverty, but America’s severe income inequality has made the plight of the poor a national crisis, notes Dennis J Bernstein. 

By Dennis J Bernstein

True concern about the plight of America’s poor and disenfranchised has been low on the priority lists of both the Republican and Democratic parties for many years, a challenge that Cheri Honkala, a long-time warrior for the poor and disenfranchised, has taken to the two conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

As National Coordinator of the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign and the founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Honkala participated a Poor People’s March through the streets of Cleveland at the Republican National Convention and, from her home base in Philadelphia, sought to bring the same issues to the Democratic National Convention.

I caught up with her in Cleveland on July 22 as she was poised to march through heavily guarded streets at the Republican convention “to send a strong message that we are against the racists and inhumane policies of the Republican National Committee, and are outraged at the idea of having Trump or Hillary for president in this country.”

Cheri Honkala, National Coordinator of the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign and the founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (Photo from Wikipedia)

Cheri Honkala, National Coordinator of the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign and the founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (Photo from Wikipedia)

Dennis Bernstein:  What kind of a president do you think Trump would make? How do you think he would impact on the poor?

Cheri Honkala:  Well, […] in all seriousness, if Trump becomes our president, we have to begin to get serious about organizing soldiers across this country to organize the New American Spring. Because we are currently not surviving in this country. And if either Trump or Hillary are elected, we’re in big trouble.

And, so, we are out here on the streets. We are not going to be afraid of the police. We’re not going to be afraid of, you know, people telling us that we have to choose one person of the lesser evil. We’re going to go forward and lift our voices, and envision a different kind of world. We’re going to make that new world.

DB:  You’re about to lead this march…in Cleveland. Could you talk about what are some of the multiple struggles that poor people face, that you represent? What are the kinds of everyday struggles we’re talking about now?

CH:  Well, a big thing that we’re dealing with now is the nonprofit industrial complex, where many mega-organizations are getting multi-million dollar budgets and still can’t find ways to house poor people in this country. And it’s a question of greed.

And we need so many things. Healthcare– we need single payer healthcare in this country. Most everybody I know, they are missing all of their back teeth because they had them pulled because they can’t afford the dentist. Our children can’t afford glasses. Adults are also going without glasses. I know somebody who had potential bladder cancer and the public health clinic didn’t pay for that.

Most everybody I know in Kensington [neighborhood in Philadelphia], especially single males, are living on less than two dollars a day, but sometimes go weeks without a dollar. So, there’s just no way to give justice, to describe what people are having to live with.

Not to mention that both of these major parties have allocated millions of dollars to add to the police state. And we continue to see young black lives shot down around this country, and we cannot sit by just as spectators and watch these things.

I’m very hopeful because I know that, as a mom, mothers out there, they love their kids. And they’re not going to settle for a lower standard of living. It’s inhumane and non-Christian. We’re going to rise from the ashes and we’re going to change this thing around.

DB:  Could you talk a little bit about the way in which things seem to be progressing against the poor? Many people who have been dealing with the authorities, in recent years, around poor and homelessness find there’s a move to really criminalize the poor, in a formal way. Could you tell us about that?

CH:  In the 80’s, you know, there was actually like a little bit of consciousness, [it was] kinda trendy. But now, if you’re a poor person and you’re homeless and you’re on the corner and you put up a sign, you’re pretty much going to get a brick thrown at your head. They institutionalized the institution under the other Clinton, Bill Clinton, they ended welfare as you know it. And like in my neighborhood, the number one source of income used to be welfare, and now the number one source of income is drugs. And so if peoples’ lives are not exploitable, they’re expendable.

And this is not the kind of world that I want for my children. And I say world, because I also care what’s happening to the poor around the entire world. It’s not okay for us to just focus and think about and focus on the poor here in this country. Whoever becomes president in our country is going to have impact on poor folks throughout the world. And, I’m tired, I’m tired of having a Democrat or a Republican continue to bomb and kill people around the world. I think it’s time that we nurture and we give birth to an independent political party in this country.

It’s no secret that I was Jill Stein’s running mate in 2012. She’s being totally blacked out by the media. But I’m happy to see all the Bernie supporters that are flocking to Dr. Jill Stein, because people understand that we’re never going to change the position of the poor in this country if we continue to support Pepsi or Coke. And so we need to give our children more than corporate controlled political parties.

DB:  Do you see the situation for the poor getting noticeably worse? Are there more families on the street? Are there more children who are hungry? Do you see this getting worse?

CH:  Yeah, just the other day in Philadelphia there was a ten year old little boy that died from a bowel obstruction. And he died because the Department of Human Services Child Protection had its certificate taken away, because of the horrible conditions that foster kids are living in, in Philadelphia. And so there’s people taking kids away from moms and then not monitoring the conditions that they’re living in. And it was a ten year old little boy’s life. He didn’t have to die.

And that’s pretty much the story for low-income families across this entire country. It’s our families that are feeling the bruises, it’s our families that are suffering from malnutrition. It’s our families that don’t have the health care. And I’ve been in this anti-poverty movement for over 30 years now. And whenever I think it can’t get any worse, it takes another dive.

And so, in my community, you’re seeing whole segments of people that are permanently unemployed. And, I guess, it’s really true what’s happening with electronics and technology, that people, labor is totally being replaced. You know, I respect the fight for 15 across the entire country, but the corporations have been busy having different automations so that they can replace even fast food workers. So we’ve got our work cut out for us. Either we take charge of our country or the corporations are going to take charge. And that’s as simple as it gets.

DB:  And, you’re about the lead this march in Cleveland…

CH:  In about 5 minutes; People are signaling for me to get off the phone.

DB:  We appreciate your time. Before we say goodbye, tell us about your response to the massive show of force by law enforcement. Do you feel intimidated by the level of police, and various military forces that are there?  Will you go ahead in spite of all kinds of threats that we hear about now?

CH:  Yes, we should not be ruled by fear. It’s time to determine what we do in our lives and, as they say, we have to rage against the machine and go forward and take our country back. And that’s what people in front-line communities are planning to do.

DB:  And you’re serious, you find no difference between a Hillary Clinton and in a Donald Trump when it comes right down to the issues that affect the poor and disinherited in this country and around the world?

CH: Yeah. It’s going to be a painful process, but it’s time. All what we have to do is think about the poor that are dying in other parts of the world, and it’s very clear to us that our solidarity goes beyond the borders of this country. But that we actually care about what happens to families across the entire world. And so that means to not have somebody that supports war as our next president. And so I’m not with her.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

7 comments for “Poverty Protests at RNC/DNC Conventions

  1. Zachary Smith
    July 28, 2016 at 00:02

    And if either Trump or Hillary are elected, we’re in big trouble.

    Healthcare– we need single payer healthcare in this country.

    Not to mention that both of these major parties have allocated millions of dollars to add to the police state.

    I like this woman.

    She would make a better president than any candidate – winner or loser – in my memory.

    • Bart Gruzalski
      July 28, 2016 at 01:45

      Zach, you might like her, I’d certainly appreciate her joining a nonviolent circle to keep the timber fallers out of an old growth forest, or join in blocking a military train or highway convoy, but she’s NOT viable as a person who would attract voters partly because she lacks dynamism and lacks charisma. These are not important qualities in a person who’s organizing a blockade of a military base or running a soup kitchen, but they are if you want the person to win a Congressional seat. When she somehow was picked to be the VP candidate for Gill Stein, I knew they picked her for her activist record but as a co-candidate she’d be an albatross. THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM OF HER AS AN ACTIVIST, ORGANIZER, MANAGER OF AN ELECTION TEAM, BUT SHE’S JUST NOT A VIABLE CANDIDATE. A PERSON WHO WEIGHED 400 POUNDS, WAS MISSING THREE FRONT TEETH, AND HAD A SCAR SLASHED ACROSS A CHEEK AND UP THROUGH THE CHEEK BONE WITH THE SCAR TAKING OUT PART OF THE EYE BROW/

      If, say, Donal were president and he could appoint her to a Congressional seat, that’d be great. But she’s not a viable candidate here in the USA for reasons that are as true as the fact that Dennis Kucinich had a squeaky voice and was very short so that doomed him despite whatever he had to say (his wife, actually, was very beautiful. very articulate, very knowledgeable and mingled well and would be a viable candidate for a Congressional seat). Michael Dukakis, three-term governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who served longer in that post than any other person in history, had a deep and “manly” voice. That, plus his term as governor, allowed him to be a viable candidate for president despite being, from my perspective, short (he was a short 5 feet eight inches). If Dukakis had a squeaky voice, he wouldn’t have been governor and would never have been a viable candidate for POTUS. After Dukakis flopped I was at an honorary dinner for I don’t remember who but he told the first and only joke I ever heard him tell: “A funny thing happened to me on the way to the White House.” I also often left my office sometime after 5PM and would be walking out of the building, not together, but near each other… he was often whistling, which I didn’t do, but that’s a positive memory of him.

    • Brad Owen
      July 28, 2016 at 05:16

      She was Jill Stein’s running mate in the 2012 Green Party campaign. She, Stein, and the Greens are head & shoulders above the quadrennial D vs. R “clown slap-fight”.

  2. Maria
    July 27, 2016 at 15:46

    Thank you for this great interview! I also think that “the non-profit industrial complex” is a con. They are for profit. It’s yet another subsidy to the very wealthy.

  3. Bart Gruzalski
    July 27, 2016 at 14:50

    And you’re serious, you find no difference between a Hillary Clinton and in a Donald Trump when it comes right down to the issues that affect the poor and disinherited in this country and around the world? Yes, she is serious.

    Cheri Honkala ran as Gill Stein’s VP and she’s SERIOUS???? It doesn’t matter, for the poor and the unemployed and for those who are covered in tattoos and the “class” we see arrested in their traitor park homes and who are getting arrested at night with the TV cameras recording men coming out of the trailers, hands behind their heads, dirty and knotted hair, not “that kind” of person whom Hillary would even talk to… but she might refer to such “trash” heads except to say to a secrete sevice man near her ( Hillary, if she was tired and a little confused s she often is, would probably say something as derogatory as “get that piece of shit away from me”)and a moment later charm the reporter next to her, telling her that, no, she doesn’t bother to talk to the unwashed, unshaven, tattooed, smelly from living with five people with no air-conditioning in the tiny trailer global heating zone. No, Hillary continued telling the eager young reporter, No, before the criminal was pulled out of the trailer with a police canine only a few feet away and jerking his handler’s arm as he ties to lunge at the smelly “criminal” leash….Cheri, YOU REALLY BELIEVE IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE TO THE SAME SCENE IN SIX MONTHS WHO ISN’T PRESIDENT? DO YOU SEE ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL BETWEEN THE ECONOMIC PLAN OF CLINTON TO GET PEOPLE BACK TO WORK?


    ANOTHER LET’S PRETEND QUESTION. DO YOU THINK GILL STEIN, a green candidate who, if SHE were to become president, would be completely free to implement policies or do you think she’d be restrained and contained and made to suffer by REPUBLICATIONS and DEMOCRATS and so-called “Independents” of VIABLE independents.

    Right, I get it, so that means Gill and you would do better by staying home and get on with the knitting instead of being bashed and even more confused at every chance people have to confront her.

    TWO YEARS AGO I wrote over ten articles in supporting Gil Stein, offered to be an out-of-volunteer co-ordinater enhancing the jib then by posting real readers, following up with my creating a Gil Stein department in your confession for men who revived happen. Never had ANY OF these taken up by the Green campaign. At one point someone must have thought I was submitting my resume for one of the posted jobs and I emailed back that, no, I didn’t want any money but I thought the solo position I was volunteered for was the best since I lived in LImerick City. I did keep voluteers bashing Obama, showing how he wasn’t finding his feet and, after “we” lost by more than anyone excepted–I even lost a $77 bet in the EU currency that she would get at least 5% of the votes cast.

    I sent an email to whomever was in charge of the Green federal “team.” I suggested that we have a meeting, even if online, and that we assess what we did well and where we needed to understand how we could improve for the next election. Whoever the PUSH person was, he or she emailed back that “we” weren’t gid bill.

    I knew any halfass competent primary staff person would say “Yes, bro, let ‘s do it.” I paused–one of the things the “team” should have been done right away was get movie star to jump start the email adddress. I could tell that such persons existed and that they would be pleased to have their names associated with a deep green organization, e.g.: Greenpeace, Save the Turtles, Don’t fry-in-oil-the-baby Flopping Fish…. Save the Redwoods (a California org out of San Francisco), and Keep the Old Growth Trees Waving in the Wood, and, if I remember correctly, Julia Butterfly’s video called LUNA… https://www.amazon.com/Legacy-Luna-Story-Struggle-Redwoods/dp/0062516590… anyway, no replies at all after that. I decided that the most plausible explanation of all the tomfoolery was that there was a Clinton Mole in the organization, much in the same way that a Clinton Mole took down the campaign of Ross Perot who was leading both Clinton and Bush and would have won the nomination for the Democrats and would have overwhelming the Clinton and Bush primary activities of both campaigns. So I t thought, that must be what happened since there were a good number of activist volunteers on Hillary’s book today.

    Hillary, the crown princess, now about to be elevated to the throne today. The title of the book could be: “The Folly of the DNC as Trump Squishes Hillary into the Slime of the Great Swamp of People who Are Not Paying Attention.”

    Check out my first title under our new imprint—GRIEF ALCHEMY: a Story of Hospice. Frankly I’m quite proud of it. Everyone know who has purchased it in paper back ($14.95) or Spindle ($9.95) l-o-v-e-s the book. Everyone: nurse, physician, Ph.D. psychologist, professional writer, professional defender of Marine mammals who visit either of our coasts, colleague professional Ph.D. philosophers, “professional poets” who are in the UK and Ireland, a UK poet who said the first chapter (free on the Internet just for a look) was like a poem, the two local bank tellers why anyone would say something like that about such a sad story, me telling the clerks okay then think of it as a SAD poem that the first chapter was (beginning with a vision and ending with a spine tingling “real life” confirmation…. I think the Wild Pelican Press team is thinking of a title more like: The Ununderstandable Folly of the DNC in standing behind the Clinton Dynasty when that would cost Congressional Seats, Senate Seats, Governors, Mayors, and the Chance to choose the next three or four Supreme. The next title will be a collection of poems never published in the USA out of Ireland and the UK, poems that will knock your socks off.

    Why is all of this part of this comment? Because I am annoyed (well, maybe worse) that Bernie Sanders, Karen Warren, Amy Goodman, Dr. Noam Chomsky, and many others worth naming but not here— that these people, including Obama and Michelle sold out THE PEOPLE’S INTERESTS to throw their weight behind a “candidate” who is almost universally known to be a pathological liar, known to still suffer from bouts of confusion, known to be a Neocon Warmonger, known to want to contain, restrain, cause suffering for Putin; predicted to be at war with Russia within weeks of her Inauguration, while the same team of falsehood bearers–Sanders (dumb?), Warren, Goodman, Chomsky–would produce the January Nuclear War by Clinton INSTEAD of Putin who would bring US troops home from anywhere in the world our interests are not existentially at stake–and that’s everywhere outside of the USA; would not give or spend moneys for the defense of any nation or gulf where the interests of the USA come FIRST–and that means ceasing giving $3Billion to Israel on the first business day of each year for NOTHING but a headache and danger to Americans since Arabs, Muslims, and others associate the USA with Israel’s apartheid toward Palestinians, as do most of the best respected journalists on the planet including Chris Hedges, Paul Craig Roberts, and the guy at the Guardian whose name slips me–two years ago he published a HUGE book of original material based on his pieces from the front to the world via the Guardian…. when I remember, I’ll post a reply with just his name it it. I do have other things to do, most of which you can guess will involve writing, publishing the first of two political books on the current situation in this campaign (from the perspective of a neutral observer, which I am on almost everything except the sell-out or the ignorance of Clinton, Sanders, Warren, the Bushes, Chomsky, Cheney, Amy Goodman my own guru from a “liberal” East Coast professor group to a solitary in Humboldt County listening to her show every day, Monday through Friday, from twelve to one.

    My CFO just arrived. I’d love comments that took issue with anything I said above. If you agree, organize. IF YOU DISAGREE, CRITICIZE, DESTROY MY ARGUMENTS

    Blessings to you and yours and all the species on the planet from turtles, blue herons, Egyptian geese, Muscovys, big bass, huge catfish, big eyed frogs, swallows, and, for those who know what this means (it’s a translation into English by one of the shortest yet most holy of Native American Prayers)……….ALL MY RELATIONS

    • Bart Gruzalski
      July 27, 2016 at 14:55


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