Category Archives: ACORN International

Indian Informal Workers are Starving

Pearl River     I have to tell the truth.  It’s hard to read some of these reports from near and far complaining about being required to comply with stay-at-home orders in order to protect their own lives and the lives of their community, once again, near and far.  I totally get the ones that are hurting because that means they can’t work and are still trying to file for unemployment across the digital divide and waiting with hopes and prayers to find out if they really got a check of $1200 from the government to help them make it through so they can figure out groceries and rent.

The ones that I don’t get at all are the stories that focus on dealing with boredom, advice about cabin fever, stories about soaring divorce rates in China and soon in the United States because couples had to stay together.  Games are recommended.  Netflix and Amazon Prime shows are ranked.  YouTube comedians are pushed so that they can have their day.

Maybe it’s me?  I keep wondering what world these people are living in?

ACORN has worked in India for over fifteen years now.  We have members in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, and dozens of other cities.  I get reports from the organizers every day.  We had an emergency WhatsApp call last week with the team in the wake of Prime Minister Narenda Modi declaring a national shutdown in the country with only four hours’ notice.  We have over 50,000 members of ACORN in India and our work is in the mega-slums like Dharavi in Mumbai and in building unions of informal workers in all the other cities.  Our members range from waste pickers to hawkers, street vendors, domestic workers, moto-rickshaw drivers, and informal residential construction workers.  These are daily wage workers.  If they don’t work, they don’t eat.  A stay-at-home order for many is meaningless because no small number are living where they work in their storage sheds or sleeping in their rickshaws.  There is no social distancing in the slums.   The government says it’s going to provide food rations, but they were not ready to do so when they shut the country down, closed the trains for migrant workers to return to their villages, and ordered the police to beat people found out during curfews.  Food is still late in arriving.

An ACORN affiliate and partner, Janapahal, operates more than a dozen night shelters in Delhi for informal and migrant workers without other housing.  I got this message from Darmendra Kumar, ACORN’s Delhi director last night,

“…Janpahal is serving food to migrants in Delhi to support them in surviving 21 days #lockdown.  We are serving more than 5000 meals on a daily basis through out 7 community kitchens to those not having access to food and any welfare measures.”

He asked me to post this on ACORN International’s website, and we will, because we have to do everything that we can do.

My advice to anyone stuck at home and bored is to think about how lucky you are to have food and shelter.  While you’re bored, here’s my advice for a pick me up, and I’ll quote Dharmendra again,

“Kindly donate generously on ACORN International’s website to help us defeat hunger and defeat corona.  All donations will go to feed migrants in India.”

Just say, “Delhi” on the PayPal memo.

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Some Changes the Coronavirus Should Bring

Pearl River     In the Age of Trump and the Time of the Coronavirus, there seems to be constant speculation about what changes in our society, habits, and government might be permanent given our collective experience.  Much of this is hyperbole.  One pundit argued that he went “to sleep in America and woke up in democratic socialist Europe.”  Oh, if dreams could come true!  Let’s instead talk about lessons we should learn in this crisis, and things that should absolutely change in the wake of this crisis.

The Affordable Care Act is now ten years old, celebrating its anniversary during the lockdown.  No matter Trump’s rhetoric and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican caucus, can anyone make the case that the private health insurance and the patchwork quilt of state health coverage is adequate for our people?  The elimination of mandatory coverage left our hospital network damaged, albeit their greedy pricing of their services, drugs, and the like are major players as well, forced mergers and left us with too many sick and not enough beds, equipment, and personnel.  Millions in states across the country are facing this crisis without any insurance.  That has to change.

How could we not learn that the internet has to become a public utility?  How could we not realize that we finally have to take this matter out of the hands of the telecoms and the pattycake FCC voluntary programs and eliminate the digital divide, here and around the world?  How can all the ideologues who want to argue that education is the answer, despite the facts, maintain their position as the country from elementary to college is pushed into on-line learning, leaving lower income families even farther behind?   Put this near the top of the list.

Living wages, paid sick leave, real unemployment benefits, the play pretend that gig workers are not employees, are all things that we have once again been taught have to be part of the safety net for everyone, especially lower waged workers and their families.   The failure of government in this crisis has to end the argument that somehow the private sector and the magic of market forces are somehow going provide for families.  They never have, and they never will.  That’s why we need a government, it’s time to make them do the job.

I didn’t put this on the top of the list, but our union represents home care workers, nursing home workers, developmentally disabled workers, and the government and society has depended on them for care as much as they do hospital workers, yet they are severely underpaid and under resourced.  Good health care is a top to bottom priority, and we have to guarantee our people that they will be provided for when in care, and when giving care.

Yes, people will finally learn to wash their hands better, but the virus ought to bring forward a host of changes that we desperately need and can no longer ignore.  The temptation by policy makers will be to fight the last war, rather than the next, by putting more respirators and masks into production.  Many of us will include different items in our “run for it” bags and storage closets for sure.  But we need to learn from this that there are fundamental changes that we have to make in protection and provision for our people, and we need to do it now.

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