By Greg Kaufmann
This Week in Poverty (May 11, 2012)
An Equal Voice: With House Republicans having no intention to listen to the voices of people living in poverty, and even Senate Democrats in the Agriculture Committee voting to cut SNAP by $4.5 billion over ten years, thousands of low-income people are determined to organize and be heard on May 20 in their own communities.
That’s the day of the Equal Voice Online National Convention. Tens of thousands of low-income families from across the country are expected to turn out to create a national platform that reflects their views. In 2008, a similar effort was undertaken and 15,000 families participated in Los Angeles, Chicago and Birmingham. In the run-up to that event, sixty-five town hall–style meetings were held in twelve states and eleven languages. Not only did the 2008 convention successfully create the first Equal Voice National Family Platform but afterwards participating groups formed networks in their own communities.
“In south Texas, for example, these community-based organizations found that when they joined forces legislators listened to them,” says Kathleen Baca, communications director at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which sponsors the convention. “They took the original platform that was developed at the convention and created their own for their region, and used it to organize. As a result, they were able to beat back nearly 100 anti-immigration bills.”
Baca says similar networks are now established in Chicago, Los Angeles and Alabama.
With the recession, and poor families once again being largely ignored by both parties, families felt an urgency to hold another convention now—this time online in order to make it easier for people to participate. But they still want to gather in-person, too, and Baca says that there are thirty confirmed events with anywhere from ten to 500 people expected at a venue. Sites include churches, community and convention centers, homes, restaurants and coffee houses.
Equal Voice 2012 will use a Livestream application that allows anyone to view the convention live; chat; and vote on platform issues online or by SMS text, Twitter or smartphone. The event will be live-streamed from Birmingham; McAllen, Texas; and Seattle. No candidates, no keynotes, no celebrities—just families speaking up and organizing.
“So many families again will be speaking out. The question is: Will people listen to them?” says Baca.