Thursday, August 29, 2013

Our Libraries... More Than Just Books and Meeting Spaces

Today, I tried to imagine a Miami without libraries. In my mind's eye, I saw a young girl, seeking infinite possibilities with increasingly limited resources. I saw a young man hoping to expand his opportunities by reading something inspirational, motivational or informative but there was no place for him to do so.  I saw community leaders looking for a free meeting space to engage their neighbors in a discussion about how to collaboratively meet their communities' challenges.

I decided that this is not the kind of Miami I want to imagine.  So, I write these few words to say that even in this economy where we all have had to make some tough choices about how to spend a dollar, Miami-Dade County needs to find a way to compromise someplace else.  Some of our leaders may need help in reconsidering decisions that limit access to these resources, that eliminate opportunities for our children and hurt our desire to seek knowledge, understanding the wisdom of our residents.

On September 10, 2013, please join the many voices that will be united in a chorus to say... We need our libraries. Mayor and Commissioners, we urge you to make wiser decisions about how our tax dollars are being used.
Denise Velazquez-Marrero is the Advocacy Director at Catalyst Miami. 

For more information on how you can support the cause, please visit the following sites:
Catalyst Miami's August Newsletter 
"Save the Miami Dade Libraries" FB Page
or sign this petition

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Paul Schmitz: The March Was More Than a Speech

It has been heartening to see the real history of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom emerge in the run up to the 50th anniversary today. It is important that social change agents heed that history, and understand the difference mobilizing people support a cause and organizing people to lead a cause.

Growing up, I understood August 28th, 1963 mainly as the day Dr. Martin Luther King inspired our nation with his transformative "I Have a Dream" speech. For most of my life, I thought it was like a concert: they announced Dr. King would be giving a big speech and two hundred thousand people showed up to hear it. History is often taught as a series of events, and many of us do not learn the true stories of how change happened behind and beyond those events. Unfortunately too many actions today seem more like concerts or events people go to rather than the mass organizing and collective leadership that led to the March on Washington.

The true story of the movement is not just a story of heroes but of countless ordinary people of al ages and stations of life who courageously stepped up, often at great danger to their lives, families, jobs, and property. Many were brutally beaten and killed along the way. And those beaten and jailed like the Freedom Riders came back and marched again and again.

In May of 1963, the media had started writing Dr. King off. He was considered a relic of the '50s and his recent marches in Alabama and Georgia had failed to bring about change. With the movement's future on the line, Dr. King took a radical risk and supported a children's march in Birmingham
organized by his deputy James Bevel. On the first day alone, 600 kids were arrested and despite the threat of police dogs, fire hoses, and prison, thousands more marched throughout the next week filling the jails. The courage and leadership of the children aroused the nation's conscience and lifted the movement.

A. Phillip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and dean of the civil rights leaders, had threatened a March on Washington in 1941 until President Roosevelt desegregated the war industries. He and his chief strategist Bayard Rustin had planned a March for Jobs when Dr. King and other civil rights leaders came together on July 2nd to expand the vision of the march to include freedom. Rustin was a controversial choice to lead the march as a gay black man in 1963 America, but he did the seemingly impossible in only seven weeks.

People raised money in their communities to attend and send their family and friends to the march. Many marchers lost jobs or faced other hostilities for their participation. The New York Times marveled at Rustin's operation, and one can see why in the March manual he created. Volunteers organized transportation, housing, sandwiches, water, sanitation, signs, and more for the marchers hoping for an ambitious goal of 100,000 people. 250,000 showed up.

Official Washington was terrified at this large assembly of African American marchers and their allies in spite of their demonstrated non-violent resolve throughout the South's brutal resistance. President Kennedy had tried to block the march, had 19,000 troops on call to intervene if there were riots, and had a staff person able to cut off the sound system if speeches became too incendiary. Hospitals had canceled surgeries to prepare for all the injured. The Washington Senators major league baseball game was canceled for fear of safety. This was the fear prevalent behind the march and "the dream."

There were ten sponsoring organizations including the major civil rights groups, the United Auto Workers, and Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant groups. Dr. King was one of over a dozen speakers that day to reach the podium. No women of prominence spoke, but several were honored including the great student activist and strategist Diane Nash Bevel and Rosa Parks. It is sad that the movement has such a sad blind spot for sexism in its language about full equality. Student leader John Lewis's speech was remarkable as the one most critical of President Kennedy. Dr. King's speech was broadcast to a national audience and truly was a transformative moment for the nation.

It is right today to remember Dr. King's dream, but social change did not happen because leaders like him spoke and people came to listen. Change happened because of the thousands of common people who stepped up, spoke out, marched, and kept at it day after day for weeks, months, even years.

It was not about mobilizing people to hear a leader. It was about organizing people to be leaders. This fact does not diminish the genius, vision, or eloquence of Dr. King. It recognizes instead that his vision would have been empty without the courageous leadership of thousands in communities across the country who stepped up to engage their family, friends, neighbors, and congregants in collective action.

Today many people follow causes. Many causes hold events and invite people to take passive roles in support of change. What we actually need is more leadership - more people stepping up in their neighborhoods, in communities, and on larger causes. The March on Washington was not about a speech. It was about the marchers. It was a celebration of collective action that had been happening in communities across the South and even in the North.

About the Author:
Paul Schmitz
Paul Schmitz is the CEO of Public Allies, a national nonprofit organization that advances new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation across the country and the author of Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up (Jossey-Bass).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Decade of Flat Wages

A Decade of Flat Wages
 By: Shannon Charles

            Despite being one of the most affluent nations in the world, the United States still remains one of the countries with the most uneven distribution of wealth. Since President Barack Obama acquired his seat in office, the nation has shifted its focus towards the struggling middle class, which is comprised of white-collar and blue-collar workers. The overall goal of this approach is to create an economy in which we provide shared prosperity. This eliminates the idea of the “rich getting richer while the poor become poorer.” In a recently published paper titled “A Decade of Flat Wages,” the authors Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Sherholz examine this very issue and provide solutions for the failing middle class. According to this article, the central problem facing the United States is that, the wage and benefit growth of the vast majority, including white-collar and blue-collar workers, has become stagnant over the past decade. Wage growth has significantly underperformed productivity growth regardless of occupation, gender, race/ethnicity, or education level.
According to the article, between 2000 and 2007, the median worker saw wage growth of just 2.6 percent, despite productivity growth of 16.0 percent, while the 20th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 1.0 percent and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 4.6 percent. These numbers provide evidence that our economy is underperforming. The authors of this article make a very important argument, that an economy that does not provide shared prosperity is, by definition, a poorly performing one. Evidence suggests that corporate profits are at historic highs. Income growth has been captured by those in the top 1 percent, driven by high profitability and by the tremendous wage growth among executives and in the finance sector.
Last month the Bureau of Labor Statistics released figures indicating that the United States’ unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in almost four years, dropping to 7.4%, however, the addition of 162,000 new jobs to the world's biggest economy was lower than expected. Overall, the job count may have increased, however, for most working families and recent college graduates the situation is still grim. Recent graduates are now struggling to find well-paying occupations, even those who chose to pursue higher education and obtain graduate-level degrees. If you take into account the discouraged adults and part-timers that are actively seeking full-time employment, the unemployment rate reaches a staggering 14%. According to Joseph Brusuelas of Bloomberg LP, “the average duration of unemployment is 35.6 weeks, or roughly 8 months and has rendered some of these individuals unemployable in their former lines of work. These figures are alarming, and speaking from my own personal experiences I understand how discouraging this can be. 
We must continue to make strides to lower unemployment and strengthen the middle class. Furthermore, as the article suggests, we need to pay closer attention to job quality and wage growth, as the key priorities in economic policy-making and as mechanisms for economic growth and economic security for the vast majority. Additionally, we also need to address the issues of education and tax reform. The new health insurance marketplace will provide some solutions to the rising cost of healthcare but this process will not make a drastic shift overnight.  Hopefully in the coming years we can see some significant improvement made to our economy.
About the Author:

Shannon Charles is a graduate of Florida International University, where he obtained a masters degree in Public Health with a specialization in health policy & management. Since graduating from FIU, he has worked in the health field as a product service specialist for the University of Miami Tissue Bank, and as an area manager for Community Blood Centers of Florida. He enjoys all aspects of public health including: health disease and prevention, epidemiology, and health policy. He has aspirations of one day working for a health agency geared towards improving the quality of healthcare in the United States.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ongoing Battle with Obesity

By: Shannon Charles

In today’s society we are confronted with many complex health issues, such as: access to adequate health coverage, the global burden of non-communicable diseases, and the growing need for more community health workers, to name a few. However, there is still a major issue that we cannot overlook: obesity. Obesity remains one of the most important health issues today, affecting individuals in the United States for decades. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a high risk to one’s health and wellbeing. A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese. A person with a BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight.
Recent reports suggest that there has been minimal improvement as it pertains to obesity rates in the United States in 2013. However, for the first time in decades there has been no increase from one year to the next amongst Americans, which demonstrates progress. Stable rates of adult obesity indicate that efforts made towards prevention are having effects on the population nationwide. In recent years, there have been several public health campaigns launched, which have proven effective. There was great emphasis made on encouraging adolescents to keep active and maintain a balanced nutritional diet. The school board has even played a role in reducing childhood obesity by designing healthier school menus and changing the types of food served in their vending machines.  
Although evidence clearly shows that there has been improvement made in the United States, it is my belief that we are still far away from our goal as a nation. The United States still remains second amongst all nations worldwide in regards to obesity. More emphasis has to be focused on making healthier choices and encouraging physical activity amongst adults and adolescents. Evidence has proven that those individuals who maintain healthier lifestyles by eating a balanced nutritional diet and exercising daily are less likely to develop chronic diseases. Although I am encouraged by the progress that has been made, I still believe that as a nation we must make significant steps in the coming years to improve the quality of health in the United States.  

About the Author:

Shannon Charles is a graduate of Florida International University, where he obtained a masters degree in Public Health with a specialization in health policy & management. Since graduating from FIU, he has worked in the health field as a product service specialist for the University of Miami Tissue Bank, and as an area manager for Community Blood Centers of Florida. He enjoys all aspects of public health including: health disease and prevention, epidemiology, and health policy. He has aspirations of one day working for a health agency geared towards improving the quality of healthcare in the United States.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Under a False Sense of Normalcy, part three: Reentry and Cyclical Disenfranchisement

With this series we’ve shed some light on the multi-billion dollar business of incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline that feeds it through discriminatory punishment. When discussing the adverse effects of imprisonment, one aspect that is usually glanced over is the effect on families and how these contribute to cyclical disenfranchisement.  

In an article touching on an ex-prisoner’s reentry to society, Cassel discusses the story of Elaine Bartlett, as told in the book, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett. Her story is one of a first-time drug offender, who made a “drop” in order to get some quick cash to pay some bills and fund a family Thanksgiving party, and resulted with a sentence of 16 years in prison. Cassel urges us to think about the damage to a person’s agency that can come from years of not being able to make any decisions, such as when to eat or when to go to sleep.

Now imagine this narrative. You’re a mother of an infant and your husband has been convicted for selling drugs. His minimum wage job wasn’t enough. Your minimum wage part-time job also isn’t enough. It is part time because a full time job would require that you seek day care services, which you cannot afford with your minimum wage even if you were working more hours. Now that your husband is in jail you can’t afford to pay your bills and provide for your baby. Your parents’ pension isn’t enough for anyone either. You’re offered a single “drop” job. It should take care of the bills you currently have pending. You consider the risk involved, but with so many necessities you end up taking the offer. But as you soon come to know, the dealer you worked for was under surveillance and it results in your arrest. You won’t have a moment of privacy with your baby until he’s a teenager. The few and short visits, closely monitored by correction officers, are deeply painful to you and your child.

Now imagine going back to society, you’re not eligible for a wide list of jobs, federal educational aid (why you couldn’t study in prison), public housing, food stamps, and other welfare benefits.

This story could be edited to match hundreds of thousands of women’s realities. And because women’s rate of imprisonment is expanding the most rapidly, hundreds of thousands of children will grow up without their biological parents. Most mothers being incarcerated are single mothers.

Is imprisonment a solution? The lack of tolerance and compassion in the judicial system, schools, and in the writing of legislation regarding punishment, does not help us move towards a safer and more just society. It seems easy for government officials to only take lobbyists’ special interests and people’s apathy into consideration when implementing ineffective, divisive, and unimaginative methods of behavioral surveillance and correction. This problem reaches new depth when one considers the lack of second chances, and society’s inability to evaluate how greater social constructs, institutions, and hierarchies cyclically places certain populations in a pipeline that results in disenfranchisement. Who is at fault? Society suggests that it is the individual’s choices that lead them to this reality, and therefore, it is their problem. Meanwhile society is completely dismissing the root of the problem. This is a collective issue; it is shaped by the racial and class disparities that have been strategically acted upon since the end of segregation, and that is inherent in our social institutions.

By: Felix Acuña

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Do we have the wrong idea about charity? Part I

What role do nonprofits actually play in changing the world? In his book, Uncharitable, Dan Pallotta wrestles with this question while pointing out that society has established a “rulebook” for nonprofits that drastically differs from the rulebook that business and other sectors get to follow. As a result, nonprofits are repeatedly inhibited from playing the role they should play in changing the world, and are burdened by the fact that the public has the wrong idea about charity and how charity should work. Businesses have been entrusted to drive economic development and advancement, while social businesses are believed to generate solutions for all remaining matters. The outcomes these sectors produce can be easily measured, and are greatly valued. But when considering the role that nonprofits play in this dynamic, their impact is continuously questioned. While the number of nonprofits consistently grows, their measurable impact is hard to define. It is seldom that an organization, whose mission is to eradicate poverty, can say that it has fully done so in their domain. Pallotta claims that there is a solution: we need to change the way we think about changing the world.

The problem, as Pallotta identifies it, is that the charitable world is competing against all other sectors, but not by the same standards. They are restricted by this perception that ‘non’profits should spend as little as possible, even though achieving their goals would require a lot more resources to be utilized. He further argues that nonprofits are unfairly limited in what they are able to achieve because of the way society perceives charity. The charitable sector should be awarded for what they are able to accomplish, even if it comes at a cost, instead of being praised for being frugal. There is no doubt that nonprofits add traction in achieving social change, and it is clear that if we were to do away with the current setbacks they face, they would certainly reach higher grounds. 

About Dan Pallotta
Dan Pallotta is a bestselling author, humanitarian activist and a leading expert on innovation in the nonprofit sector, shares his visionary perspective on transforming the way society views charity, giving and changing the world. Pallotta's message of "freeing charity to use the tools of capitalism" will resonate with the corporate community to encourage nonprofits to use innovation and creativity to reach their potential and enhance their effectiveness to impact change. With over 2 million views on TED talk, Pallotta is a powerful, passionate and thought-provoking speaker. Pallotta is best known for creating the multi-day charitable event industry and a new generation of citizen philanthropists with the AIDS Rides and Breast Cancer 3-Day events, which raised $582 million in nine years.

To hear more from Dan Pallotta, you can attend his lecture at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on September 11, 2013.
Click here to purchase tickets.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Catalyst's Health Insurance Marketplace Navigator: Here to Assist You on October 1st

Starting on October 1st, Florida residents will be able to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace run by the federal government and can begin enjoying the benefits from their new health insurance as early as January 1, 2014.

The Health Insurance Marketplace allows individuals to find and compare different types of health insurances in their area, which fits their specific needs and their budget, all in one website. Each insurance plan found on the Marketplace is offered by a private company and they all promise to at least fulfill each of the essential health benefits found here. With this same application, you can find out if you qualify for lower monthly premiums, lower out-of-pocket costs, and free or reduced coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Just as important, the plans found on the Marketplace cannot charge you more or deny you coverage just because of a pre-existing health condition, and they also cannot charge women more than men.

What makes the Marketplace more accessible is that it only takes one single application, which can be completed online, over the phone or in person and allows you to explore the options of each plan. It simplifies the process by creating a clear description of the amount of coverage in each plan, prices, quality, and other important features in order to make choosing a plan easier and faster. We also have great resources available here at Catalyst to assist you throughout this process. Catalyst Miami, as part of our Prosperity Campaign, will launch a Marketplace Navigator, where clients can get in person help accessing and enrolling via the website.

It is time to get ready for the Health Insurance Marketplace. You can find more information on The site fully explains some of the things you can be doing now before enrollment officially starts, such as gathering your tax information, setting up a personal budget, and familiarizing yourself with some of the main aspects of health insurance in order to make the application process smoother. Still feeling overwhelmed or confused? Not to worry! Come visit us at Catalyst Miami and we will assist you with your questions.

Mark your calendars: 10/01/13, and get ready for better access and service when dealing with your health insurance needs.

Become a CHAIN Advocate by registering here, and keep up with the latest Health Insurance Marketplace facts and updates.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Under a False Sense of Normalcy, part two: The Prison-Industrial Complex

Last month we looked at the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), the presence of racial profiling and counterproductive disciplinary action in schools. Now it is time to look at one of the main driving forces behind the STPP, the Prison-Industrial Complex.

The term Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), as explained by Julia Sudbury in the Feminist Review, refers to “the emergence and global expansion of an intricate web of relations between the state penal institutions, politicians and profit-driven prison corporations.” We have witnessed an accelerated expansion of the U.S. inmate population that has been largely driven by political agendas and that of their influencers, the private prison corporations that supply the goods and services to the governmental prison agencies. Now keep in mind prisoners are used for labor and are, on average, paid $4.73 a day, with the lowest figures coming from private prisons: $0.16 a day. In other words, prisoners signify profit, so corporate lobbyists and prison-worker unions are steering political processes to ensure that there is a constant supply of prisoners from which they can keep sustaining their livelihoods.

In an Counterpunch article, Kenneth Hartman mentions the conditions underlying the violence and instability perpetrated by individuals and used by authorities to justify the prison system. He indicates that lack of health care and mental health care, drug addiction therapy, education, and “the opportunity to look at themselves as human,” as a by-product and cause of racism and classism that sustains this system. Yet the most important point he makes is that thinking that punishment is the only way to manage these seemingly non-treatable social ills is “not a statement of fact; it is the declaration of an ideology.” This ideology holds that “punishment, for the sake of the infliction of pain, is the logical response to all misbehavior. It is also a convenient cover story behind which powerful special interest groups hide.”

It is under the logic of punishment that we fail to look at, for example, legislation criminalizing the use of marijuana through a scientific lens instead of an ideological one, ignoring the fact that Blacks are four times more likely than Whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite nearly equal levels of consumption. And it is under the logic of profit that the multibillion dollar private prison industry, as well as police and prison guard unions, are among the top five special interest groups lobbying to keep marijuana illegal. 

Under what logic will people realize that our legal and judicial systems are corrupted by profiteers? Under what logic do we tell ourselves that technical definitions of slavery do not apply here? Even if technical definitions do not fully align, it is slavery nonetheless, and to not see it that way is a dismissal of the full severity of this issue. 

By: Felix Acuña