Investing in Our Communities by Investing in Community Members

Our communities are more than just the physical spaces, or indeed even the relationships, that constitute them.  Rather, our communities are a reflection of the countless individual times when each and every one of us has looked beyond our parochial interests to invest time, energy, and resources into something bigger than ourselves.  Bringing food and comfort to an ailing neighbor, organizing a block party, or even stopping to pick up a single piece of litter; these are the actions that build a community. 

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Health Care is a Human Right, Not a Commodity

[E]veryone in the United States has the human right to health care. . . . This means that benefits and contributions should be shared fairly to create a system that works for everyone . . . [and] that the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure that care comes first.

Amnesty International USA has launched a petition calling on Americans to declare that health care is a human right, not a commodity.  The petition emerges from the work of a new Health Care is a Human Right Coalition, which includes Amnesty International USA, the National Social & Economic Rights Initiative (NESRI), the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), and The Opportunity Agenda.

The petition urges elected officials to deliver a U.S. health care system that fulfills the human right to health care and meets the core principles of universality, equity, and accountability.  It states that “publicly financed and administered health care should be expanded as the strongest vehicle for making health care accessible and accountable to the people."

You can sign a short version of the petition online at the Amnesty International USA website, and view the full petition at NESRI's website.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.

Weekly Immigration Roundup

This week's updates include the economic crisis and immigrants, more on the Family Unity tour, and local immigration news from New Jersey, California, and Alabama.

National News
Amnesty International (AI) released its report on immigrant detention in the United States.  AI's recommendations include:

1. The US Congress should pass legislation ensuring detention of immigrants and asylum seekers is a measure of last resort;

2. The US government should ensure that alternative non-custodial measures are considered before resorting to detention;

3. The US Congress should ensure that all immigrants and asylum seekers have access to individualized hearings on detention; and

4. The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities that house immigration detainees.

An article by the Washington Independent on the report can be found here.

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Opportunity on Ice

There's been a lot of conversation lately over what Wall Street needs to finally fix the economy.  Some say a good paddling, those most outraged with federal money paying AIG bonuses, while others feel that reinvestment in assets is the only way to jump start its engine and finally pull the world out of the mud.  What Wall Street needs isn't so much a massive flow of cash, but a deepening understanding in their interconnectedness with communities all around the country.  This became quite clear to me the other night during the second period of the New York Rangers game.

This past weekend, my wife and I stopped into a favorite Irish pub of ours, known for having the best burgers around The Garden.  The place is nothing fancy, more Irish by its staff and patronage than on its walls.  We love the place not just for the burgers, but, by Irish pub standards, its quite clean, lots of big screens and always easy to find a big booth once the Rangers take the ice.

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An Uneven Journey

Earlier this year, I visited my father, who lives in the Bay Area. As we drove from the Oakland airport, the conversation quickly turned to the Obama presidency. Born in 1923, my dad survived the Great Depression, fought in World War II, endured vicious Jim Crow segregation and violence, participated in the Civil Rights Movement, and, this year, witnessed the inauguration of an African-American president of the United States.

On our drive, he reminisced about how, at age 8, he had gone with his 2nd grade class to see the cavalcade of then-president Herbert Hoover as it drove through downtown Detroit. A year later, the country would throw Hoover out of office for his gross mishandling of the economy, choosing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his message of change. Before my dad's teen years were through, he would join the Marines and defend a segregated nation from within a segregated military. Traveling to and from southern military bases, he would experience racial humiliation, threats, and violence from white fellow Americans, often while wearing his Marine uniform.

As we marveled at the progress we've made as a country, we drove by block after block of boarded up houses in some of Oakland's African-American neighborhoods, many with foreclosure signs visible. Many homes in the same neighborhoods still sported lawn signs reading "Change" and "Hope."

As the Obama presidency sinks in, many are interpreting it in absolute terms: arguing either that it shows that racial bias and discrimination are no longer factors in American life, or that the election means little for race relations, reflecting merely a unique confluence of events--a historically unpopular incumbent, a historically bad economy, a gifted politician raised by white folks who ran a flawless 21st century campaign against a pair of tone-deaf 20th century opponents. News media coverage mostly echoed that polarized, simplistic discourse, with an emphasis on the "post-racial America" narrative.

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Immigration Reform on the Horizon: Change We Can All Use

Opportunity is the light that illuminates the path taken by immigrants. Yet, it, too often, is extinguished by the will of the majority who seek an opportunity of their own. This has become clear during the past six months, since the economic crisis weighed its heavy burden onto the shoulders of Americans. Nevertheless, millions of immigrants continue their sojourn toward becoming active members of our society, and laying the groundwork toward progress.

I see this everyday in my own neighborhood, as the struggle between present and future come together in search for opportunity. And looking at the message that comes this afternoon from the White House, I remain optimistic that change, though a struggle when first offset, will ultimately strengthen our country.

Obama announced today before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) remains a clear objective for his administration, expressing his desire to change the broken system we currently face. From the early days of his transition, his administration called for real solutions. Committed to the values of community, dignity and opportunity, three key American values that his administration has echoed since the early days of his campaign, it is clear that Obama understands that the immigrant community in our country is a critical part of our larger community. Seeing this today, by his willingness for reform, it's clear that his vision is one that seeks to move us all forward together, particularly during these difficult economic times. This is an important message to grasp, knowing that change in any form often receives resistance; more the reason for us to stand firm in our resolve for real solutions, rooted in our national values that can move us all forward as one nation.  

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Twitter, Congress, and You

Thinking Twitter had finally hit the mainstream, as evidenced by Nightline doing a feature on it, I recently wrote in this space a brief summary on what Twitter actually is.  Since then, I feel like Twitter—or more accurately, talk of Twitter—has been everywhere.

It started with some members of Congress thinking Twitter was a useful way for them to reach their constituents.  A minor hullaballoo arose when a few of these Congresspeople continued to "tweet," through Obama's recent, don't call it a State of the Union, address before Congress.  Not only were they disrespectful, they were inane.

For example, Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) was really excited "Sully" was there.  Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) "did a big woohoo for Justice Ginsberg."  And there's everyone's favorite, Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) with this gem:

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Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

A few stories being covered by immigration blogs this week:

Daily Kos adds another voice to the growing chorus advocating for immigration reform.  Former Secretary of State Rice also voiced her support, saying “As a country, we can’t have people living in the shadows. It’s just wrong. It’s not only ineffective, it’s wrong.”

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Van Jones As Green Jobs Czar

Brentin Mock at The American Prospect reports on the nomination of West Coast green jobs and urban revitalization advocate Van Jones to the White House position of Green Jobs Czar.  Van Jones is the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Green For All.  He is author of the New York Times Bestseller The Green Collar Economy.

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Strong Communities, One Crisis at a Time

It's been said that when your neighbor loses his or her job, the economy is in recession, but when you lose your own, the economy is in depression. In addition to being overly glib, this idea has always struck me as a fundamental underestimation of the strength and compassion of our communities.

From the surge in volunteerism to the heroic efforts of food banks to meet increased demand, we are responding to the current economic downturn not by retrenching, but rather by recommitting ourselves to our obligations to one another.  This may seem like a fairly dull silver lining to such an overwhelming crisis, but if you believe, as I do, that economic events are temporary but cultural events are lasting, then it is fair to assume that the current spirit of community-mindedness will drive the creation of an economy that is fairer to all of its participants.  And this new, fairer economy may in fact be what prevents the recurrence of the type of events we are currently experiencing.

Perhaps no group better exemplifies this reinvigoration of community values than Millennials. As the cohort of Americans who are roughly 18 to 30 years old today, Millennials have come of age in an era of skyrocketing inequality.  Their backlash to this inequality has been a commitment to community service and political participation. They understand, intuitively, that we're all in this together and that we rise and fall together. If that's the future of America, we have plenty to be optimistic about.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.


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