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2011’s Most Important Electoral Campaign


There may be another election campaign in 2011 with as much movement-building potential as the Cheri Honkala for Sheriff campaign in Philadelphia, but I doubt it. For those progressive activists who understand that we can’t count on either the Republican or the Democratic parties to solve this country’s myriad crises, Honkala’s campaign deserves your support—with a donation, by organizing a house party in your town, spreading the word via Facebook and Twitter, coming to Philly to help out or in other ways.

Cheri Honkala is the founder of the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union, formed in 1991 to organize low-income people to fight for housing, food and other basic needs. In 1998 she launched a national umbrella organization called the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign to advocate for the human rights of people struggling with issues of poverty across the country. She was active for many years helping to build the U.S. Labor Party.

Cheri is running as an independent, Green Party candidate against the Democratic Party machine; the Republicans are a weak political force in Philadelphia. The candidate chosen by that machine is a Pennsylvania State Representative, Jewell Williams.

Why would a state representative decide to run for sheriff? In Cheri’s words, most likely because “the last sheriff (a Democrat) took off with $53 million. The federal government is investigating, and it is likely that there will be indictments and jail time. The Democratic Party wants someone they can count on to deal with that situation.”

This situation isn’t why Cheri is running for office, though it does give her campaign some advantages. The primary reason she is running is because, “after 25 years of working in the anti-poverty movement, we need to do something different. Things are getting worse for low-income people. One million more families will lose their homes this year. Every 13 seconds a family goes into foreclosure. We’ve done all we can by going and begging for this concession and that concession, all of it falling on deaf ears. I am running on a campaign platform whose major issue is ‘zero evictions.’ If I win I will refuse to throw people out of their homes.”

When I asked her what specific alternatives she supported, she said that she “would turn the sheriff’s office into a drop-in center to help people solve their issues. Sheriff’s deputies would stop putting writs on people’s doors; instead, they would help people in trouble figure out what city and state resources are available. There are 40,000 abandoned properties that should be used to house people.”

Cheri is pleased by the response she has gotten and the support she has garnered. “People are deciding to relocate here to work on my campaign, people from Denver, California, Chicago, New York, Minnesota, Atlanta. People want to learn from my experience and see first-hand the importance of getting involved in pushing for a third party alternative. We are building in the wards and districts, focusing on the districts with high foreclosure rates, and we are getting a good response.”

Among those supporting her from the labor movement are Tom Cronin, former President of AFSCME District 47, Jim Moran, long-time union organizer and founder of the Philadelphia Area Project for Occupational Safety and Health, Paul Grubb from 1199-C/AFSCME and Hugh Giordano of the United Furniture and Commercial Workers Union. In an interview, she talked about how “union workers are being hit hard. 600 teachers were just laid off. I talked to one of them last week; her husband was also just laid off, they have no idea of how they’re going to pay their mortgage. She has been an active member of the American Federation of Teachers for years, and she wants to figure out what she can do to help my campaign.”

She is also gathering support from disenchanted progressive Democrats, including a long-time activist who has run for city council who came into her office last week, offering suggestions and support.

More than anything else, the Cheri Honkala for Sheriff campaign in Philadelphia, Pa. is about motivating and teaching low-income people about the need to “get political” to fight for their rights and needs. “Low income people need to get politicized, not divorce themselves from the electoral process. I’ve been bringing people from the ranks of the poor into a party, the Green Party, that they never knew existed. I’ve heard from someone in Los Angeles who is thinking of running for sheriff. Another person has stepped forward here in Philly to run for City Commissioner.

“I’m encouraging people to step forward, build the third party movement and the Green Party, become actors. We can’t just complain about the weaknesses, we need to be the change we’re looking for, make it happen.

“There is a great opportunity in at least one area of the country right now to say no to foreclosures and evictions in a very loud way. As sheriff I will use my power to stop evictions. There are better solutions when someone owes money on their mortgage than throwing women and children out on the street.”

To find out more, to contribute and/or to get involved, go to http://www.cherihonkala.com.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past columns and other information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com. 

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