UndocuFund and the Philippines

Petaluma   Two interesting meetings, one in San Jose and the other in the north bay city of Petaluma in Sonoma County brought the issues of immigrants, both documented and undocumented in California, into stark relief.

I tracked down Davin Cardenas, co-director of the North Bay Organizing Project, and lead organizer for their tenant organizing for many years.  We knew Davin well from the Organizers’ Forum dialogue in Bolivia several years ago and keep in touch.  My first concern was to find out how the coalition they had organized was doing in their efforts to rekindle a petition drive around rent control in Santa Rosa.  They had narrowly lost last year at the ballot, but in the aftermath of the disastrous fire that raged through Sonoma County, the shortage of housing and high rents was an even greater issue, so they were in the middle of another signature drive to see if they could put the issue on the ballot again.

We’ll dive deeper into that discussion another time, but one of the interesting things Davin shared, especially given ACORN’s experience in the aftermath of Katrina, was their own efforts to organize support for undocumented workers and their families in the area after the fires.  They organized something they called UndocuFund.  The idea was simple.  There are some 3000 undocumented workers in Santa Rosa and more in the county.  Many of them lost work and housing in the fires, which displaced both rich and poor indiscriminately.  The difference is that FEMA does not support undocumented immigrants, so the UndocuFund was designed to provide similar emergency cash support to fill the gap for these families.  Davin said they hoped to raise a half-million, but they hit a cord and raised over $6 million, gaining a lot of attention.  In the six months or so since the fire they have already given out more than two-thirds of the money and are getting ready to make an additional appeal since some of the same issues persist.  Fires in the Santa Barbara area also triggered establishment of an UndocuFund in that area.  This is a real unique organizing breakthrough!

Less encouraging was a meeting I had earlier in the day with an immigration lawyer based in San Jose who specializes in dealing with issues relating to immigrants from the Philippines.  In his case load the issues were less about documents and more about other issues where predatory practices target immigrants.  His other concern was for families caught in the crossfire of the government in the Philippines and its extra-judicial killings that are little more than masked vigilante activity triggered by concerns over drugs.  At one level my friend was shocked at the amount of support some of these actions had among the Filipino community.  At another level the organizing problem became how to offer support to people and institutions willing to stand up for justice and the rule of law.

The issues are daunting and effective strategies are illusive, but as Davin’s experience indicated, where organizers and organizations are close to the ground, feeling the pain, and moving with their base, they are coming up with creative approaches and responses.

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How About a Better Deal for Philippines Disaster Relief from US Banks & MTOs?

Q113_Wu_Com_Typhoon_V1_Facebook_1200x627_EN_USNew Orleans  The typhoon that devastated large parts of the Philippines, in a Hurricane Katrina like disaster many are seeing as part of what we can expect regularly in the future from climate change,  is inspiring protests by poor countries at the UN Climate Change Conference and some corporate social responsibility, but, sadly nowhere near enough, especially in the United States.  

            Some banks have stepped up to do the right thing and have waived all transfer fees, most for a month from mid-November until mid-December.   There may be more on the honor roll, but from what I’ve found so far, it includes two banks in Canada, the BMO Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Scotland, there and presumably elsewhere, Wells Fargo is the only bank in the US that has stepped up, and the Noor Islamic Bank in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.   That’s all ACORN International has been able to locate.

Of the scores of money transfer organizations, Western Union has been the surprising hero here, though with exceptions.   In Canada, they are doing transfers to the Philippines for $1.00.   Interestingly, the Western Union website in the US seems to have waived fees completely, though it’s a mystery to me why they are charging a loony in Canada and nada in the States.  Regardless, cheers to them for doing what they are doing since MoneyGram, the other huge MTO, is charging $5 for a $100 transfer, which is hardly a bargain, and shows little heart in this crisis.

But, what’s up with US-based banks?  Why is Wells Fargo the only one of the big boys standing tall in the face of this tragedy?  Where are Chase, Bank of America, Citi, and the rest?

And, even more puzzling, especially in wake of the $1 charge by Western Union in Canada, are we starting to find out the real cost for these folks to do transfers?  

But, I digress.   The important thing now is for all of us to ask our banks to waive all transfer fees to the Philippines so that there can be real resources and financial help for typhoon victims.   Raise your voice for lowering the fees!

 

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