The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan

Recorded 11.03.2016 — Chicago DSA’s Aaron Armitage interviews Cecily McMillan on her memoir. McMillan is a DSA activist who had been involved in the Wisconsin protests

Cecily McMillan
McMillan at press conference upon release from Rikers Island.

against Governor Scott Walker and in Occupy Wall Street. In an almost accidental connection with Occupy, she was arrested under dubious circumstances for assaulting a police officer, convicted, and sentenced to Rikers Island.

This interview explores the intersection of the personal and the political. In particular, McMillan describes growing up in an isolated rural Texas town, her dawning awareness of a larger world that leads to a continuing reassessment of her sense of identity. McMillan and Armitage discuss the Walker protests and Occupy Wall Street: It’s good, bad, and inadequate aspects.

In the end, many of the problems facing the poor

Cecily McMillan
McMillan at Seminary Co-op Bookstore.

and marginalized end up being regarded as personal problems. But, as McMillan notes at the end, “if it becomes personal, there is no language to deal with it.”

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The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan by Cecily McMillan


Modernizing U.S. Food Aid

In the wake of World War II, the US launched an ambitious effort to help save lives by fighting the scourge of hunger. The idea was simple: take surplus US grain and send it to people in need around the world. Since then, US food aid has saved hundreds of millions of people from malnutrition and starvation.

Now, 60 years after the program was launched, it’s time for US food aid to be modernized. Millions of more lives could be saved simply by adding flexibility and efficiency to the program.

Chicago DSA’s Alex McLeese interviews Oxfam America’s Adam Olson on the fight to reform food aid.

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Adam Olson is Oxfam’s Regional Advocacy Lead and Advocacy Advisor for Illinois and neighboring states. Oxfam is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. Adam’s work focuses on breaking cycles of poverty through change in in public policy and private practice. He regularly collaborates with policymakers, allied organizations, community leaders, and academics. His work is entirely nonpartisan, and is not related to elections.

About Oxfam America

Oxfam America is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. As one of 18 members of the international Oxfam confederation, we work with people in more than 90 countries to create lasting solutions. Oxfam saves lives, develops long-term solutions to poverty, and campaigns for social change. Oxfam America is a nonpartisan organization, and works closely with members of all parties and backgrounds.

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Episode 58 — Norvelt: Hope Only in Hard Times?

Recorded November 21, 2015. It is ironic that today planned communities are private affairs, such as gated communities for the fearful well-to-do or age-segregated retirement resorts for get-off-my-lawn geezers or even large scale condominium developments. But in the 1930s, the New Deal had ambitions to build nearly 100 new towns that were intended to relieve destitute poverty and slavish conditions of industrial employment. Influenced by the British garden city advocate Ebenezer Howard (who in turn was greatly influenced by Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, a work that in turn had helped inspire Eugene V. Debs and the socialist movement here in the States) and by the ideal of Jeffersonian agrarian independence, these communities were intended to provide all the means of livelihood without the residents having to commute elsewhere. Not everyone in these towns might be self-employed, but economic depressions and recessions and capitalist greed would be cushioned by backyard agriculture and cooperative community enterprises. Thus these new towns were called “Subsistence Homesteads”.

One of the more successful examples of a subsistence homestead was Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Originally named Westmoreland Homesteads when ground was broken in 1934, the residents renamed the settlement in 1937 on the occasion of a visit by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, combining the last syllables of her name. As a relief measure, these settlements were an outstanding success. The residents knew it. They appreciated it. They voted for it. Fast forward to the 21st Century, and Norvelt has become deeply conservative, Republican territory, a politics that would not ever consider, never mind tolerate, a government program like subsistence homesteads. What happened?

This episode of Talkin’ Socialism examines Norvelt and the subsistence homestead program through the lens of this question. It features Peg Strobel in conversation with Margaret Power, co-author with Timothy Kelly and Michael Cary, of Hope in Hard Times: Norvelt and the Struggle for Community During the Great Depression, wherein this still-unfolding story of transformation is examined. In this episode, Margaret Power explains how her own personal history intersects with the history of Norvelt and offers some of her ideas about the changing politics of the area.

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Episode 46 — Veterans, Poverty, and the New Jim Crow

Recorded November 8, 2014. Ray Parrish talks about his decades as a counsellor to military veterans, the post-military challenges faced especially by combat veterans, and the ways in which a less than honorable discharge can put a veteran on the wrong side of the “new jim crow”. The interlocutor for this episode is DSA’s Tom Broderick.

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Ray Parrish

In 1987 I stepped into a one-person office at the Midwest Committee for Draft and Military Counseling, MCMC with some trepidation, but I had twice applied for this position after four years doing outreach in the VA’s college work/study program. I was fortunate to have a long-serving Board of lawyers, psychiatrists and community counselors who not only trained me but also worked with me on these cases and gave me the “supervision” (therapy) that I needed. MCMC’s primary concern was helping GI’s who faced discrimination or who were having trouble getting an appropriate discharge from the military, especially those claiming conscientious objection. In addition, MCMC co-authored (together with the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild) “Fighting Back,” the textbook on legal rights of homosexuals in military and veterans’ law. So, I staffed an information table at the Gay Pride parades until the local Gay Lesbian and Bisexuals Veterans of America chapter got started. The Board supported me when I expanded our work to include helping veterans win VA disability claims and “upgrading” their military discharges. It was for this purpose that I began working with a group of lawyers now known as the National Veterans Legal Service Program, NVLSP. In 1990 I was one of the first non-lawyers to represent veterans (as their “friend”) at the newly created US Federal Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims and I was the cause of the Court ruling that “friends” could represent only one vet at a time (1Vet App). During the first Gulf War I trained over a thousand lawyers and laypeople in draft, military and veterans counseling in dozens of sessions in six states. Successful grant writing allowed me to hire two veterans part-time. In 1992 I hosted a weekly live-call-in show on Chicago’s cable access TV. In 1994 I co-founded the GI Rights Hotline, a toll-free phone counseling service for military personnel and their families supported by a national network of non-profit groups. I continue to provide them with training in VA claims and take their referrals.

In 1995 I had to close MCMC after donations dried up and I had gone two years without a salary. I was immediately hired as a Veterans Service Officer by the new director of Chicago’s American Legion office representing veterans and their families in VA disability and Pension claims. He had run into me at discharge upgrade board hearings and we both had been doing outreach to local veterans with shows on Chicago’s cable access TV channel (mine was a weekly, live, call-in show). In 1999, the veterans that I represented won nearly $500,000 in retroactive benefits, an unprecedented amount. I was fired the next year in retaliation for a labor grievance that I had filed against the Legion’s state adjutant.

In 2001 fate allowed me to become a Mental Health Rehabilitation Caseworker at the Heartland Chicago Health Outreach. This experience as a member of an ACT team, working with a PSR center was life-changing for me. It gave me clinical experience with mental health professionals that complemented my work with disability claims and expanded my counseling skills to the point that I realized how limited they had been in the past. At the end of 2003 I found my first homeless Afghanistan veteran in a shelter and I notified VVAW, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, of this. I had been working with referrals from VVAW since 1979. Within a month they offered me a job staffing a counseling hotline for GI’s and veterans for $1000 a month. I took it, despite the loss of benefits.

From March 2004 to August 2012 I was Director of Military & Veterans Counseling for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Because of declining donations I was laid off by VVAW. I was on call 24/7 via cell phone. Over the phone, internet and in person I provided supportive peer-counseling, referrals, and information to military personnel, veterans and their families. I became the primary resource on VA claims for Chicago area vets groups, the GI Rights Hotline and Iraq Veterans Against the War. I helped clients to obtain and understand military and medical records, find appropriate psychological treatment and evaluations and helped them use these in VA disability claims and discharge upgrade applications. I wrote a web page on these issues at the web site and regular columns in VVAW’s “VETERAN.” I reviewed decisions made in discharge upgrade cases and VA disability and pension claims and helped clients understand the laws and respond to letters. Until the DoD and VA set up their suicide hotline, many calls during the first few years were “crisis” intervention. After a prisoner rights newsletter printed a story on our services we had a flood of inquiries. In response, I spent a year training 3 volunteers who all became accredited VA Claims Agents. We then hired a therapist, becoming the only veterans group with one on staff, who then began training the 40,000 volunteer mental health professionals of “The Soldiers Project.” For five years I hosted a weekly, live, call-in TV show on Chicago cable access. I arranged with other veterans groups to take turns so that every Thursday evening veterans could find help. It was streamed live by CANTV on the internet and past episodes are posted on the web at ““.

Episode 45 — Domestic Violence and the Economy

Recorded October 11, 2014. Just in time for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, DSA’s Peg Strobel interviews Dr. Stephanie Riger about the complicated relationship between domestic violence, poverty, and gender roles, about the services available people in abusive domestic situations, and how this has changed over the years.

Stephanie Riger is a Professor of Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her current research includes the affect of welfare reform on domestic violence and the evaluation of domestic violence and sexual assault services.

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How does the economy affect the domestic violence incidents and reporting by victims?

Although domestic violence is not caused by poverty, unemployment, and economic recession, these factors may increase the risk of domestic violence.

Domestic violence may cause financial problems for survivors and entrap them in poverty and an abusive relationship.

Economic stress and hardship may increase the demand for services, just as emergency domestic violence service providers are struggling with fewer resources.

Source: National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.

Episode 44 — Poverty in America

Recorded September 13, 2014. Dr. Kim Scipes is interviewed by Greater Oak Park DSA’s Tom Broderick. What is the measure of poverty in America? While a few Americans are doing very well indeed, is there more poverty now or less? If, under capitalism, the poor will always be with us, how does our country compare to other industrialized states? And why? Hint: It’s no accident.

Dr. Scipes is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana, although he lives in Logan Square in Chicago. Along with teaching courses on Race & Ethnic Diversity, Sociology of the Media, Environment and Social Justice, Social Movements, and Developing Countries in a Globalizing World, Dr. Scipes teaches Social Stratification, which is a course on income inequality. He is a long-time labor and social justice activist, and a familiar face among Chicago activists.

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Episode 43 — The Criminal Record Is the New Jim Crow

Recorded August 9, 2014. Ruth McBeth, an Assistant Public Defender for Cook County and an activist with The Next Movement, and Anthony Lowery, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Safer Foundation, discuss the vicious feedback cycle of poverty and crime and incarceration, with a special focus on Illinois. The program proper is 30 minutes but includes an extended question and answer session. For more information on the subject, see:

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