The 2001 Economic Human Rights Bus Tour: The Movement Builds Momentum
Download Policy Brief No.5 about the Bus Tour
Bus tour delegation members. Top left to right: Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA); Rep. John Conyers (D-MI);
Cheri Honkala, Kensington Welfare Rights Union; Sarah and Zayd Zaidi, Center for Economic and Social Rights; Jeff Perlstein, campaign coordinator, Food First. Bottom left to
right: Anuradha Mittal, co-director, Food First; Roger Normand, Center for Economic and Social Rights; Isao Fujimoto, board member, Food First; Jessica Bartholow, Alameda
County Community Food Bank.
Credit: Photograph by Alain McLaughlin
From the Bay Area to the Central Coast of California, testifiers came forward to break the silence surrounding the daily violations of their human rights
in the world's most affluent society. Freeman Davis, a 71 year old veteran and client at the Oakland Homeless Project, said "I worked for 48 years as a machinist
and I helped build the Alaska pipeline. I served my country well and now I don't have enough income to rent an apartment and for basic needs like clothing and food."
Freeman Davis testifying at the Oakland Homeless Project, a site threatened with closure due to insufficient funding. Credit: Photograph by Alain McLaughlin
Food First organized the 2001 Economic Human Rights Bus Tour from May 29-31 to strengthen the movement for economic and social human rights in the United States.
The bus tour was endorsed by the fifty-seven member Congressional Progressive Caucus and more than two hundred organizations from across the country. The tour drew the
attention of policymakers and the media to growing poverty and hunger in rural and urban areas of California, as well as the powerful grassroots campaigns that address
these human rights violations.
"Even with my disability benefits, my income does not cover my basic expenses. Everyone ought to be able to afford the food necessary for good health without having
to worry about whether to instead pay for other necessities like rent and medications. If it weren't for the good lunches I receive at St. Mary's Center I wouldn't eat very
well," said Lynn Hoberg, a 62 year old former waitress, secretary, and administrative assistant. "I was upset to learn that I was only eligible for $10 in food stamps, even
though I had no income at the time."
Listening to these testimonies as part of Food First's delegation were Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the
Congressional Progressive Caucus, along with state and local elected officials, community members, and the media. Delegation members from Food First's national network of
endorsing organizations included Cheri Honkala, director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union; Mark Weisbrot, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research ;
and Roger Normand and Sarah Zaidi, co-directors of the Center for Economic and Social Rights. The distinguished delegation heard testimonies and policy recommendations
directly from service providers and community members, emphasizing the need for bolder legislative initiatives and a greater community role in policy making.
For a Living Wage and Universal Health Coverage
"Over the last two decades, workers have faced a drastically different workplace economy," said Hina Shah, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus and
board president of Sweatshop Watch. "While corporations have reaped tremendous profits by the free flow of capital, workers have seen their basic rights to decent
wages, health benefits, and protection from discrimination steadily erode."
At the packed meeting hall of Teamsters Local 890 in Salinas, community members described some of the struggles they are facing in the new economy. "I worked
for two weeks at minimum wage packing roma tomatoes and chilies. The owner paid everyone a week late because he said he had no money. When I was paid the check was more
than 10 hours short with no overtime." Paula Placencia of Lideres Campesinas described some successes and the ongoing struggle of her and her co-workers for their
basic rights: "After seven months of negotiations we signed our first contract. We got basic things like small wage increases above the minimum and paid sick days. Two years
ago in our second contract we were finally able to negotiate for family medical insurance."
With 43 million Americans lacking health insurance, 85 percent of whom are working, Frances Payne of Neighbor-to-Neighbor argued that "Health insurance has become a
commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder for the highest returns. We need to work together to ensure that health care is seen as a human right, as an endeavor to
alleviate suffering and promote the well-being of our diverse and vibrant communities."
The 2001 Economic Human Rights Bus Tour in California demonstrated through first-hand accounts that the violations of people's basic human rights in the world's
wealthiest nation continue to accelerate. Encouragingly, the bus tour also documented powerful community-based campaigns for justice in California. Site visits and hearings
included a downtown Oakland walking tour, led by Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS), of low income housing slated for demolition, the soup kitchen of the St.
Anthony's Foundation in San Francisco, and the fields of the Central Coast to witness the United Farm Workers' fight for fundamental economic human rights to safe housing and
working conditions, and basic health care.
This tour was one part of Food First's ongoing efforts to spur legislative action that meets the needs of the nation's poor. The tour called for:
Truly adequate federal funding for education, health care, and child care;
A minimum wage that is a living wage;
Measures to address the relationship between race and poverty;
A re-ordering of federal priorities toward meeting the needs of the nation's poor;
Ratification of the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
In the coming months we will continue working with policymakers, service providers, and community-based organizations to fight for every American's right to an adequate standard of living. We are now urging Congressional and California State officials to hold committee hearings based on the delegation's findings. California State Assembly Member Wilma Chan has already agreed to conduct hearings on child poverty in California this fall.
Join with us in demanding economic human rights for every single person in the United States. To get involved with Food First's Economic Human Rights: The Time Has Come! campaign, please contact us at humanrights [at] foodfirst [dot] org or call (510) 654-4400 x235.