Resolved to Change: A Reflection on the Capital Region Truth Commission on Poverty

by Mark Emanatian

On July 13, 2017, I was a Commissioner at the Labor Religion Coalition Truth Commission on Poverty held in Schenectady, NY. I was one of 150 people who witnessed heartbreaking testimony of homeless teens, homeless veterans, impoverished and hungry fast food, farm and retail workers, elderly citizens and disabled individuals enduring poverty wages, terrible living conditions, horrible interactions with government agencies and suffering hopeless desperation.

Commissioners at the Truth Commission on Poverty

Commissioners at the Truth Commission on Poverty

While listening to the stories of those courageous enough to share a vision of the personal hell they had endured, I went back and forth between tears and anger. How do we allow this to happen? What kind of system produces these conditions? In the richest country in the history of the world with the wealthy class living like kings of greed and gluttony, how is it possible that little children of hard working people cry from hunger and veterans live on the streets? How much money do the wealthy need? How many mansions, yachts, jets and islands do they need to own?

Scott Fernandez, of IUE-CWA Local 301, offers testimony. 

Scott Fernandez, of IUE-CWA Local 301, offers testimony. 

I was struck by the fact that only two elected officials, both Schenectady City Council members attended. Where were the other "representatives"?

What were they doing that was more important than listening to the cry of the very people they are supposed to serve?

I was struck by the fact that there were only reporters from three area newspapers. Where were the TV stations and radio stations? What were they doing that was more important?

I was ultimately struck by the mood of the room at the end of the meeting. You could feel it. I felt that everyone from those who testified or those that listened were resolved to change the unjust system that produces this misery. I believe everyone there by the end of that night hated that system. The powers that be should listen.

Mark Emanatian is a the Senior Field Coordinator for the Capital District Area Labor Federation. He comes from a working class town and a working class family. He has been a political activist fighting on behalf of working people for decades. He has been active in union organizing and strike support, anti-­war and peace groups, anti­racist and anti-­apartheid movements, defence of women’s rights and equality, the fight for jobs and socialism, climate change and environmental causes and the struggle for civil liberties and democracy. Mark has lived and worked in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Louisville, Boston and the Capital District. He has worked as an organizer, teacher, garment worker and musician