Commissioner Responses - Capital Region Truth Commission on Poverty, Schenectady, NY

These responses were given at the conclusion of the Capital Region Truth Commission on Poverty. They have been lightly edited for clarity.

Shailly Gupta-Barnes

Good evening everybody and thank you for the honesty, the truth, the courage, and the love that was shared with us today. I wanted to actually start with, just, sharing back what I heard, which was, that poverty is one of the worst forms of violence. And that it is a constant battle. It is a battle against an enemy that is a monster. This monster is attacking us in places where we think we’re protected. In the DSS, in the VA, in the justice system, in our hospitals, and in the places where people are making and growing our food and what nourishes us, it is taking advantage. And what this monster demands are sacrifices. It demands sacrifices of our families, of our children, of our dignity. And it is terrorizing our communities. And it counts on that fear, right? It counts on the fear of being in battle against this terrible, terrifying monster. It counts on, it feeds on the fear.

But what it doesn’t count on is our strength. It doesn’t count on the amazing courage and bravery and love that is coming up everywhere, that we’re seeing everywhere, that is seeing that poverty doesn’t have a color, a shape, or religion. And we understand that. And we know, like Ms. James was saying, that we shouldn’t have to live like this. And we know that a lot of people, as she said, have stories like this. And we know that when these people get together, as they are today here in Schenectady, as they did in Cuba, as they are getting together in cities and towns and places all over this country, that we can defeat this monster because we are stronger when we come together. And we do not give into that fear. And it is in in our unity that we find our strength.

And this is why we need a Poor People’s Campaign. To build and show and share and grow the strength that exists in all of these fights that people are facing and challenging and coming up against and saying, crying out to the world, that no, I shouldn’t have to live like this. And so we can, we can end poverty. And I think that everybody here tonight can in their strength, in their love. And I know that we are going to get there together.

Suzanne Flierl Krull

I also want to thank everyone who’s here tonight. And I want to especially talk to those of you who shared tonight because as you said, and as we heard in Cuba, we know the barriers that could’ve kept you away tonight, the barriers that could’ve kept you silent tonight. But you showed up and you pushed past those fears and you pushed past those barriers to be open and transparent. And so the truth is that for too long, the people that have been in charge of making policy decisions have no experience with poverty.

And those of you who shared tonight shared a glimpse of the extremely large wealth of contextual expertise that is finally coming forward to be part of the policy discussion. So keep being bold, keep being brave, don’t see yourself as victims, but recognize that you are experts and we need to hear your voices. And we heard you tonight. Carry it forward outside these walls, keep sharing, encourage others to share, and be the experts that you really truly are. Thank you.


Mark Emanatian

I want to thank everyone that just spoke and is here. It’s important that we’re here. I've worked really hard in my life to not be full of anger. But after tonight, you have to say, that with the love in your heart, there has to be anger in your heart. We’re in the richest country in the history of the world. We’re in a country, where, as was said in the one quote tonight: Poverty isn’t injustice, injustice causes poverty. We have to face the truth about this country and this system, and I notice that there are very few elected officials here tonight, like a couple, right? Thank goodness, thank you for coming those elected officials, so I’m not counting you, but where the hell are they? We have to get rid of this system, this is the fight of our time. We have to get rid of this system that profits from poverty and keeps half of us, 75% of us...and our self worth - we have to get in our heads our self worth, because if we really believed it collectively, we would not put up with this for another day.

Barbara Smith

I also would like to thank everyone who had the courage and the integrity to share what are the most tender and painful aspects of a life living in poverty in a society that perpetuates hell depending upon who you are and whether or not you’re considered to be valuable or worthwhile or not. I thought that what Mr. Sanchez said, it is not poverty that causes injustice, it is injustice that creates poverty. I thought that’s really important for us to grasp. I’m going to be really hard-nosed about this, I am a Democratic Socialist, have been for many decades. And rest assured that the economic system that we live under, which is what I call mad dog capitalism, that’s why we have poverty in this nation. That’s why there’s poverty around the world. The exploitation of people’s labor, of their best selves, working to create, to feed, to take care, to do all the things that we do, to take all the things that we do as workers and to have that be seen as a commodity to be exploited, as opposed to a collective project of us to be better humans on Earth. That’s what I think. And I think that it’s going to be and it’s already been a long struggle. I’m glad that Mark is angry because that means that in anger, there’s a power in anger. It isn’t always negative. Anger fuels the fight for justice. And that’s what we’re involved in.

I’m old enough to remember when Martin Luther King was assassinated and I was involved in the Civil Rights Movement at that time back in the 1960s and I know that what followed was the Poor People’s Campaign that he had been working on. And that because of the assassination and the fact that it just felt like we were at such a loss of all that we did or try to accomplish during those Civil Rights years, and also because it was incredibly rainy (look it up). Very, very rainy in Washington during that summer, late spring. It was very, very difficult. The fact that we are uplifting the Poor People’s Campaign in the early part of the 21st century with the wonderful prophetic inspiration of the Reverend Doctor William Barber, as well as the Labor-Religion Coalition, all of you, all of you. Because of the fact that we have decided that we are not going to take it anymore. And like Fannie Lou Hamer said, we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. There’s a chance, whenever any of us speaks up for justice, there is always a possibility of making things a lot better. But don’t forget that system and how that system functions, that 1% versus the 99% and why we’re in the trick bag we’re in.