Commissioner Responses - Poverty Amid Plenty on Long Island, Wyandanch, NY

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

Larry Cox

I just want to express my gratitude to the people who told these stories. The stories are often very upsetting to hear. They make you very angry, but I just hope that you feel what I feel. Which is the power when people come together to tell those stories. I think there's power in this room that you can feel and I would just ask you to imagine coming together not just on Long Island, but what kind of power would we have if we came together across New York State. And then I would ask you to imagine what kind of power could we have if we came together like this across the whole country. And I would say that we could have enough power to not just begin to talk about the horrors that are going on every single day to the people, like the people we heard tonight, but we would have enough power to begin to transform the structures and the systems that cause those horrors every single day. And what I want to share with you is that I know that it is possible to build that power because for the last several years as part of the effort to build a new poor people's campaign like the one that was inspired fifty years ago by Dr. King, we have been traveling across the country to sessions like this and we've gone to all kinds of different communities. Those communities are divided by different histories and different cultures. They're divided by their make-up in terms of their racial make-up, their economic make-up, their gender make-up, other kinds of divisions and those divisions are real and they're not easily overcome. They're also divided by the kind of NGO-ism and the issues that people work on and the way the funders keep people competing with each other for money. But the hope, and what we're finding and what I found again tonight, is that the things that are used to divide us are not as strong as the things that we have in common when we listen to each other to hear these stories. And I can testify personally to you that people are beginning to understand what they have in common and they are beginning to express very clearly the desire to break out of the way we have been divided and the way we have allowed people to divide us. To come together to build something strong enough to take on the evils we have talked about, not just to say, "this is horrible, this is terrible" but to say, "we can change it and we can overcome and we can transform this country if we come together". That's the message of the National Truth Commission, that's a message working its way across the country and it's not easy. There's no guarantee it will happen, but if we can hold on the kind of power we felt in this room tonight and keep building it in the state and across the country it can happen. Thank you.

Sahar Alsahlani

One of the things that I've noticed, going around the state, is definitely the carbon copy of the systematic racism, and systematic inequalities of the distribution of resources. And that is the catalyst of the Poor People’s Campaign, the common denominator for all of the injustices in the world. The more that I see the direct pattern of economic inequality with racism, the more it opens my eyes to the further marginalization of new groups of people. Without this Hijab I’m a white girl you know? The minute I put it on I am kicked out of the white club and so [the same thing is] happening to my trans brothers and sisters, they. And so slowly but surely people are continuing to be marginalized and demonized and with that comes economic inequality and the failure for them to reach their human potential because of further discrimination. And just as Larry said, the only way we can achieve any kind of justice for each and every one of us is to be there for each other. And I’m going to end with one of my favorite quotes from the Quran and I actually said this when we were in Charlottesville, when we were at a church surrounded by neo-nazis. And by the way neo-nazis started chanting “Jews will not replace us, Jews will not replace us", the next morning, when they saw that the people standing in front of them were not just Jews they were a whole cast of characters, Muslims and Hindus and Hare Krishna, Sikhs, and Buddhists, they changed their tone and they said “you will not replace us” because they saw all of us there. We felt bad for them because of their own internal pain, they were crying out in pain also. So I said this quote “In the name of God the most compassionate the merciful, God says ‘Oh children of Adam, I have divided you into nations and tribes, I have given you different colors and tones so that you may get to know one another and live in peace. I have created you different and in need of one another. Different and in need of each other. So vie with each other only in that of doing good deeds. For the most noble in the sight of me is most righteous.” God bless you all.

Elaine Gross

I feel so blessed to have been able to be here tonight so thank you for asking me. I don't think it would have been possible for anyone to be here tonight and to hold in their head what the secretary of HUD said, that poverty was a state of mind. Because what we saw were real people. A lot of different real people in different situations but sharing a lot in common. Struggling with poverty, either longstanding poverty or poverty that was triggered by a particular incident, and everything in between. We heard about the trauma associated with that and the fact that there are such a large number of people who are obviously tone deaf and blind to what it means to be struggling against poverty. It is both heartbreaking and scary, and it also makes it clear to the rest of us that bringing about the kind of systemic change that is required, will only happen if we recognize what was just said. That we were created different so that we would need one another. That's the situation we're in folks so we have to roll up our sleeves, we have to not forget. I'm so glad all of this is recorded and there will be a report, because we know that it's very easy for people to forget. Unless we face the reality we really won't roll up our sleeves and take seriously the task at hand. That’s it.  Thank you.

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Claire DeRoche

It has been hard to sit here tonight and I don’t just mean because the chairs are hard. It's been hard to sit here because we have had to listen to some hard truths. I have been working here on Long Island for almost ten years now. I come originally from Maine, and I have done church work in Maine, I’ve done church work in La Paz, Bolivia, but I have to tell you when I came to Long Island I was stumped. I could not wrap my mind around how Long Island was put together. What made it work? For the first couple of years I just puzzled over this and then it struck me. Being on Long Island is like being back in the Middle Ages when you had fiefdoms and each lord wanted to protect his fiefdom and controlled who came in who went out, and everything about that fiefdom. That’s what Long Island is like. So I think that tonight has been a real moment of grace because we have come together. We who are different, we’ve come together, we have given one another the gift of listening to these hard truths, to the suffering of our sisters and brothers here on Long Island. But I feel this is a moment of grace because we have witnessed the persistence, the perseverance, the courage of the people whose testimonies we have heard and that is a gift to all of us. And I hope in the days ahead as we reflect on what we’ve heard here tonight, that we will keep coming together because that’s what Long Island needs. We need to step out of our fiefdoms, we need to learn not to be afraid of one another. Because what is it that creates these fiefdoms? It’s fear. And we have to overcome that fear with love, and we have to continue doing the hard work of listening to what we don’t want to hear, of seeing what we don’t want to see and of proclaiming what we know people need to hear, and as Anita said especially our elected officials need to hear. Let that be our pride as we go forth tonight. Let us not be afraid to call out the injustice that is among us here on Long Island. And let’s continue to get together. This is such a beautiful, you can’t see yourself the way we see you, but you will because everything has been recorded. All I can say is that this is a moment of grace and my hope is that we will each take this with us, we will continue to reflect on it and we will draw strength from it. And we will be bold. And do the hard things that need to be done to change the injustice and the poverty that we have heard about tonight.

Jonathan Landsman

This has been humbling coming from my perspective looking out at all of you guys here, this is something that I don’t see happen that often. That a whole bunch of people came into a room and we all share common knowledge of a big problem that is happening here on Long Island, that being poverty. But I think, oh so often people stand up and give their take on it of why this is happening, whether it's just one specific issue that's happening here, but we all got together and realized that we're in the same boat here, that this boat is either sinking or this boat is going to stay afloat. It's happening all together. You know they normally try to divide us, they normally try to conquer us and that's obviously by design in this situation. It's the side that fights us, the side that is united already, they have an easier job: they just make us hate each other! They’ll say it's the immigrants fault, they'll say it's African-Americans fault, they'll say it's labor unions fault, and we normally then all start blaming each other and we bring ourselves down. Through hostility just like that. And we're showing that, no, we're not letting that happen. We all realize that we're all allies in this, that even if there is the better safety net and there's better housing but then there is still the same problem where, what if you get a job then, but the job absolutely stinks and there's people who aren’t being educated to get those jobs... That really all these problems are not just problems that can happen in their own bubble, that we all need to get together we're doing this all throughout New York State right now and I'm just humbled to be part of this and be part of this process where we also recognize that we can look a little bit deeper into this and we could all realize that we're in this together and we could start to make really better choices with who we vote for, and what policies we support to make an actual change here.