Women living in poverty are tired of sharing their stories. They share, and then some legislators water down legislation introduced to end poverty. So, no more listening for listening’s sake. We must build power and take meaningful action together.
By Michael Tubbs, Special to CalMatters
Michael Tubbs is the founder of End Poverty in California and the senior fellow at the Rosenberg Foundation. He is the special adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom on economic mobility and former mayor of Stockton.
If you want to solve poverty, you can’t do it without listening to women, and particularly women of color. As my wife, Anna Malaika Tubbs, has noted, women of color are the folks most consistently treated as invisible, whose histories are ignored or erased. They also absorb the brunt of policy violence — legislative decisions that keep families trapped in poverty: over-policing, mass incarceration, family separation, low wages, no good jobs, lack of health care or child care, and more.
End Poverty in California recently launched our statewide listening tour at the Young Women’s Freedom Center in Los Angeles. Through 2022, we will visit communities experiencing poverty, hear community members’ stories and ideas, and explore solutions. For 30 years, the freedom center has delivered opportunities to young women and trans youths of all genders who are affected by social systems such as incarceration and foster care — a perfect place to begin our tour.
At the freedom center, we were welcomed by more than 50 Sister Warriors joining us from across the state. While the freedom center develops new policy, the Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition is the army fighting to see these policy changes realized. The coalition has 2,000 members in 14 chapters across California, and they share their stories with legislators to try to make policy proposals responsive to their needs.
Many have grown tired of sharing stories.
As coalition co-founder Krea Gomez said, “We have conversations with legislators who say, ‘I’m so glad you shared your story!’ and then they water down legislation [and] we have to wait years to revise it.”
So my promise is that we aren’t listening for listening’s sake. We are listening to build power and to take meaningful action together.
Many Sister Warriors talked about the “benefits cliff” — financially getting ahead just a bit only to have progress result in the loss of a child care subsidy, or food or housing assistance. There are opportunities for reform.
In Stockton, we worked with the county to obtain waivers so people who participated in our guaranteed income pilot wouldn’t lose other benefits. The “benefits cliff” issue is on the radar of state officials and some county welfare directors, and conversations to pursue positive reforms are happening. End Poverty in California will bring Sister Warriors into those conversations to inform design.
Women also discussed their experiences with incarceration. Angelique Evans spoke of earning seven to eight cents an hour while working in jail, deepening her family’s poverty. The freedom center is working to amend the state Constitution so that involuntary servitude is no longer permitted, and to ensure that people are paid a wage comparable to that received for similar work outside of prison to help families and support reentry into the community.
There is anger at resources being used to punish struggle rather than prevent it. Jessica Nowlan, executive director of the freedom center, noted that the cost of incarcerating a juvenile in San Francisco is astronomical — the San Francisco Chronicle reports that it is $1.1 million annually per juvenile — and most are Black and from a few neighborhoods. What if these resources instead had gone to families to provide a guaranteed income floor? How might a family’s trajectory change?
Finally, a Sister Warrior spoke of advocacy organizations being afraid to talk about the lack of resources available to undocumented immigrant families. There is no solution to poverty in California without finding ways to be more inclusive of immigrants.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal would expand Medi-Cal eligibility to all income-eligible undocumented immigrants, and food assistance to all immigrants who are 55 or older, as would the Legislature’s budget blueprint. There also are legislative proposals to extend unemployment benefits to undocumented workers, and to expand food assistance to all income-eligible immigrant families and individuals. We should continue to explore these reforms as well.
We departed the session in Los Angeles with a sense of the exhaustion people feel from sharing their stories, but hope that their voices might make a difference. Beyond hope, we know that poor people and allies must organize so that our constituency one day will be as powerful as other interest groups that maintain outsize influence in the state.
On June 21 in Sacramento, we have an opportunity to do just that. There will be a rally prior to the inaugural hearing of the Assembly’s Select Committee on Poverty and Economic Inclusion, chaired by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, a Democrat from Baldwin Hills. We will make our voices and our priorities heard. Please join us.