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A poor people-led revolution: The POOR Magazine story

July 15, 2010

Become a Revolutionary Donor to help keep POOR alive and kicking – the need right now is dire; donate on-line or by mail to POOR, 2940 16th St. #301, San Francisco CA 94103

by Marlon Crump

“P-O-O-R, scholars till we die! The revolution begins with I!” – slogan and chant of all POOR Magazine and POOR News Network scholars in residence

Several members of the POOR family gather outside POOR’s headquarters in the historic Redstone Building to protest the “sit lie” ordinance – one more way to criminalize the poor. – Photo: PNN
“POOR’s rule from the beginning was to break down the myth of objectivity and the implicit ‘other’ stance of journalism. We accomplished this through the integration of self, the use of ‘I’ in every story,” explains Tiny – Lisa Gray-Garcia – in her book, “Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America.”

“No Dickensian positivism here,” she eloquently adds. “We were the subjects: the incarcerated, the welfare moms, the working poor, the disabled, the homeless, the low income youth of color, the evicted tenants. We were the ‘insiders’ seizing media and creating resistance with every article, statement, story and photograph.”

For most if not all of us, we are either advised or warned not to “believe everything we read and hear.” Corporate mainstream media, both broadcast and in print, aim at us an arsenal of weapons to coerce, capture and control what our eyes and mind take in with facts distortion, false notions, stereotypical viewpoints, innuendo, fear mongering.

POOR Magazine and POOR News Network: All the news that doesn’t fit

The seeds planted by media to root within our minds grow to incarcerate and rob our capacity to reason and think for ourselves. The end result is that poverty, racism, oppression, gentrification, race and class segregation, po’lice brutality, incarceration and other evils are tolerated by public ignorance and made policy by corrupt politicians.

Overall, we people in poverty are halted from being heard. Even worse, when we’re allowed to talk, we are never truly listened to. This reality alone exposes the “myth of objectivity” within media.

“POOR Magazine is very dedicated to supporting the efforts of grassroots social justice organizing,” says Emily Lee from the Chinese Progressive Association. “Working class Chinese youth are fighting to save St. Luke’s Hospital from being downsized, and POOR was the first media outlet to give our leaders an opportunity to speak out about our campaign. We need organizations like POOR Magazine to give the marginalized communities of San Francisco a voice!”

POOR Magazine/POOR News Network, based here in San Francisco, is a non-profit, community-based, multi-generational indigenous-led grassroots arts and media organization, reporting the news and supporting people in poverty locally and globally.

Every signature by government officials targeting poor communities brings POOR to the forefront to confront them. An unlawful eviction notice from a landlord (slumlord) or “poverty pimp” to the vulnerable gets immediate intervention, sometimes resulting in prevention. POOR publishes the awful truth, concealed by mainstream media lies, about children being separated from their parents by child welfare workers, immigration enforcement and police repression.

Unlike any community I have ever witnessed, POOR is deliverance to unheard voices. Operating on little or no funding, POOR provides media access to people in poverty, offering a variety of programs, resources and hope to resist systematic oppression with new editions published monthly online. However, it’s not just media access that POOR provides to low-income folks; these programs prepare us to penetrate corporate mainstream media with “digital resistance.”

Writing workshops are offered plus the Po’ Poets Project (poetry), POOR Press Authors (book preparation and publication), Court Watch, Revolutionary Legal Advocacy Project (the program I head), Family Project (child care), Spanish classes, Voces de Inmigrantes (for migrant scholars to become media producers and writers), Welfare Queens, Hotel Voices (theater) and media education. Recently, People Skool/ Escuela de la Gente was launched to challenge what is really learned and researched within academia.

“POOR’s greatest impact is that it has always respected the genius that exists in all of us,” says Paul Boden, activist for the homeless and director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). “Each one is a teacher and student. POOR has always promoted the intellect that people have regardless of their income.”

“POOR is the most effective and essential organization I know,” says Mary Ratcliff, editor of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper and a comrade who often publishes articles produced by POOR. “As government and big business make the rich richer and the poor poorer, POOR reminds us that the poor are the vast majority. By learning journalism the way POOR teaches it and speaking truth to power, poor people can combine forces to seek and win justice and determine our own destiny.”

At POOR, the writers are poor people, the artists are poor people, the experts are poor people.

“Throughout time our ancestors have passed on the history, the struggle, through the medium of art. Egyptians, the Mayans and the Aztecs use art to speak about their past and present,” said Muteado Silencio, migrant scholar and artist, explaining what art means to him. “The way I use art is to organize.”

Exploring POOR

Inside the office of POOR exists an indigenous land, welcoming all poverty scholars and everyone – scholars of all struggles – uncompromized by corporate media and politics. A separate room for the children of moms struggling with child care, called Family Project, was co-founded by June Hall, aka Jewnbug, in 2001.

This project is also for children to participate in arts and education and become youth scholars. Revolutionary youth scholar 6-year-old Tiburcio, son of Tiny, softly said to me why he loves POOR: “Because they write articles that support poor people.”

On every wall is artwork – posters and pictures relating to struggle. The Uncle Al Library is dedicated in honor and memory of the late great Al Robles, a legendary community organizer who fought for the rights of seniors. On a sturdy table is a huge urn bearing the ashes of the late great poverty hero, Mama Dee Gray-Garcia, co-founder of POOR. It is chalk signed by everyone who knew, heard and loved her. A collage of past revolutionaries rests on the wall beside Mama Dee.

A wall of resistance is dedicated to those who’ve passed while in struggle: The Poverty Hero. The practice of ancestor and elder worship is very sacred to us and we are reminded of its centrality in our lives each day on this indigenous land, especially when we are used for target practice by the system.

In the beginning, Tiny and Mama Dee

For those who don’t know about POOR Magazine/POOR News Network, it was created by a woman of a unique vision, Tiny, aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, for the poor to be heard. She and her mom shared this vision.

A mother and daughter team with only a car to call their sanctuary survived on “underground economic strategies” such as street vending, defied “crimes of poverty” and endless court fines and took care of each other. Having only a sixth grade education but equipped with self-education, Tiny has speaking and writing skills equivalent to a professor.

She and her mom had survived 22 evictions and were one court date away from homelessness on the day the first edition of POOR Magazine appeared in print. She cried.

Surviving these lifetime struggles, Tiny gave birth to POOR Magazine/PNN in 1996 after she applied and received a small grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission. Using this opportunity, she immediately set her sights on society to educate and deconstruct the institutionalized ignorance surrounding poverty.

The knowledge she share with others is the consciousness of Western Eurocentric cultural colonization and its abominable domination of poor communities everywhere. The continuing need for us to be conscious of what is written 24/7 about our lives, before our eyes but without an echo of our voices, is the scholarship she shares.

What Tiny also shares and teaches is to question where academia and formal institutions of learning stand when higher education is available almost exclusively to the privileged.

Taking back the land, resisting criminalization, one story at a time

“I was told I was stupid, retarded and would not amount to anything,” explains Bruce Allison, staff reporter and elder scholar. Even as an elder in the year 2000, Bruce’s own father ridiculed him, disregarding the fact that he was able to negotiate a union contract for 12,000 workers. “In 2005, they (POOR) gave me dignity, hope and the chance to write a book. I was able to get on the radio and find the skill that I never thought I had.”

Since joining POOR, Bruce has never ceased being grateful. He tenaciously reports on decisions made by city and state officials. “I have the option to do the easiest duty reporting on San Francisco City Hall,” Bruce jokes. He continues to advocate for the rights of seniors.

No more stolen lives!

Excerpts from “In honor of ALL fallen victims of po’lice terror” by Tiny:

Oscar Grant, Nadra Foster, Idriss Stelley,

Ahmed Mohammed, Sean Bell,

Amadou Diallo, Lucerno Rodriguez,

Marlon Crump ,Mama Dee Gray-Garcia and me,

Some of these folks you know –

some you never will see …

For poor people struggling daily to survive off the crumbs we are fed by tyrants, our education impacted by budget cuts, we fight for justice against an unjust and prejudiced “just-us” system. Our blood runs cold at the dark reality of po’lice terrorism in AmeriKKKa every time the lives of young people of color are stolen.

Taken away,

silenced, destroyed

and killed by Po-lice,

racism and povertee

… cause people say we have nothing else –

“When my only child, Idriss Stelley, 23-year-old Afrikan American student, was gunned down at San Francisco’s Sony Metreon in 2001, POOR Magazine immediately published poems and articles about Idriss,” mesha Monge-Irizarry, director of the Idriss Stelley Action and Resource Center (ISARC) recently told me. Idriss was killed by multiple police units as he experienced a psychological breakdown. “And in the same year, POOR gave Idriss a posthumous Resistance Award.”

A very powerful ally, mesha Monge-Irizarry’s monumental support to POOR and myself over the years exemplifies the importance of community. Her support far beyond words led to my resistance against the San Francisco Police Department five year ago. Twelve guns, 12 badges, armed with a lie, illegally intruded into my life at 12 midnight.

Tiny’s astonishment at my own act of resistance, when I took direct civil action against them as my own lawyer, led to the founding of the Revolutionary Legal Advocacy Project of POOR in 2007. Since then, we’re both proud of the lives we’ve been able to change by intervening against injustices within the unjust legal system.

The ink from governments and corporate mainstream media never dries as they try to write away our lives. Neither will the ink from our hands, recording the “I” voices of all scholars struggling locally, globally and in residence at POOR Magazine/PNN.

For Joseph Bolden, Leroy Moore, Laure McElroy, Jewnbug, Bruce Allison, Muteado Silencio, Ruyata Akio McClothin, Carina Lomeli, Charles Pitts, Thornton Kimes, Ingrid de Leon, Vivian Hain, Tony Robles, Tiny (Lisa Gray-Garcia), Mama Dee Gray-Garcia and yours truly, Marlon Crump, our scholarship is summarized with these words:

In the words of Mama Dee, “We have used what little resources we have to reach out and help other people like ourselves. Some say that just surviving is a form of resistance, but while it is occurring it does not feel like resistance inside. The Western culture in which we have been raised and its Eurocentric values in our opinion do not translate well for poor people.”

Become a Revolutionary Donor to help keep POOR alive and kicking

For POOR to keep helping others, the rest of us need to keep helping POOR – not because poor people are helpless without aid from know-it-all superior beings with funds enough to live comfortably, but because our excess funds can fuel the poor people-led revolution that is POOR. Here’s how Tiny explains it:

“POOR is in fact poor. We are a multi-generational, multi-lingual, multi-racial cru of po’ folks tryin’ to hold it down, guided by our ancestors, our elders, our spirits and ourselves. We make media and art and education in our indigenous circle, accessible to ALL voices, languages and perspectives. We use media and art as tools to fight the ongoing onslaught of criminalization, oppression and hate working to evict us, gentrify us, abuse us, incarcerate us, starve us and silence gente pobre locally and globally.

Help keep us alive for as little as $10 per month. Please, if you haven’t already become a Community Support Member starting at as little as $10-$100 or more if you are able to give more. Please give – once or continually. And please give now – because the need right now is dire. Give by check or on-line. Our snail mail address is 2940 16th St. #301, San Francisco, CA 94103.”

P-O-O-R scholars till we die! The revolution begins with I!

For the testimonies of the scholars in struggle about the importance of POOR Magazine/PNN and PeopleSkool/ Escuela de la Gente, watch this video featured on PNN TV on You Tube:

Marlon Crump is an activist and journalist who has been working with POOR for about five years. He can be reached at marliniumn@yahoo.com. To learn more, visit www.poormagazine.org, www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.

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