by Carol Harvey
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n estimated 500 to 600 people from across the Western states and California packed Mission High School on Saturday, August 20, for the first San Francisco Bay Area “Care Congress: Caring Across Generations.” The event succeeded in reaching across generations, with all age groups from infants to elders in attendance, along with people with disabilities, their advocates, and caregivers.
James Chionsini, an organizer with Planning for Elders, told the gathering, “Earlier today I was looking outside, and there were more people in here than there were in Dolores Park.”
Billing itself as a town hall meeting, the mission of the Care Congress was to prevent “a social crisis of immense proportions.” This looming crisis is being triggered by calamitous federal and state budget cuts, the critical shortage of jobs, the urgent need for a massive increase in support services required due to an explosive increase in aging Baby Boomers, and the exclusion of domestic workers from the protections other workers enjoy.
Gordon Mar of San Francisco Jobs With Justice was a key organizer of the Care Congress. Pam Tau Lee, of the Chinese Progressive Association, and Jazzie Collins, of the Senior Action Network, served as the masters of ceremonies.
The Care Congress was held to launch a “bold new campaign for quality care and support and a dignified quality of life for all Americans, across generations.”
Acknowledging that “older adults hold lessons and our historical memory,” organizers of the Care Congress declared their commitment “to take collective responsibility for upholding the right to a dignified quality of life for our elders and people with disabilities,” and their caregivers.
Shaw San Liu from the Progressive Workers Alliance victoriously announced a new San Francisco ordinance which will penalize employers who punish immigrant workers for defending their job rights. Carol Harvey video
In the face of massive federal and state budget cuts, Caring Across Generations proposes “a federal policy solution with five interdependent components — the five fingers of the Caring Hand.” This five-fold proposal calls for creating and improving jobs, supporting workers in gaining citizenship, protecting and improving Medicare and Medicaid, protecting Social Security, and helping families of disabled adults and the elderly.
The aging Boomer population is “projected to grow from 13 million in 2000 to 27 million in 2050” and this will mean an immense rise in the need for supportive care for millions of elderly people. Only three million support services workers currently exist to meet the growing needs of disabled adults and elders.
The present economic crisis, with high unemployment rates and swiftly disappearing jobs, could leave an ever-diminishing workforce to care for this huge and vulnerable population. Disabled and elder people and families may be confronted with soaring financial burdens as they attempt to manage their care on their own.
Long-term caregivers provide quality care to elders and people with disabilities. Direct-care workers are often compelled to work under “strenuous, highly vulnerable and often exploitive conditions.” Similarly, domestic workers are without pathways to appropriate training, career advancement or citizenship.
Danielle Feris, the national director of Hand-In-Hand: Domestic Employers Association, described the mission of the Care Congress as “connected caring” — people reaching across generations to cooperate in realizing a dignified quality of life.
The congress called for the creation of two million new jobs in home care to meet the growing need. It demanded that stronger labor standards be enacted to improve the quality of these jobs, raise wages, provide better access to health insurance, and protect the right to organize and form unions. It also called for better job training and certification programs to improve the quality of care provided to disabled and elderly recipients.
Caring Across Generations also called for new pathways to citizenship by creating a new visa category for workers enrolled in training and certification programs for these caregiver jobs.
A major goal of the Care Congress was to preserve and expand Medicaid and Medicare, and improve the access to care for low-income recipients. Also, unpaid family members should receive help from Social Security so they can support disabled adults and elders at home.
California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano was a keynote speaker at the event, and championed his vital legislative proposal, AB 889, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. It would extend the labor protections that other workers enjoy to domestic workers in California.
The next speaker, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, said that officials need to make it a high priority to provide better support to the aging population. He promised to follow up assertively at City Hall on Care Congress issues.
S.F. Labor Council Executive Director Tim Poulson said that the labor movement is committed to supporting the Care Congress in demanding improved working conditions and, ultimately, unionization for domestic and home care workers.
Hand-In-Hand’s Danielle Feris said, “We are pitted against each other under the illusion of scarce resources,” leading to closure of adult day health centers, criminalization of immigrant workers, and employer wage theft. Feris asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine what it would look like if we all trusted each other, and collaborated “across sectors and communities with open hearts.” How would our families and homes then look? She invited the group to listen carefully as speakers described the vision of the Care Congress.
Jessica Lehman, who receives in-home help every morning allowing her to keep a full-time job, tells the Care Congress that the disabled and elderly will suffer because of recent cuts to these services.
Video by Carol Harvey
Maria Guillen, an activist renowned for her commitment to the community, proudly announced the impressive array of sponsors for the Care Congress, beginning with her own organization, the S.F. Department of Aging and Adult Services. Other sponsors include Jobs With Justice, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, California Domestic Workers Coalition, Hand-In-Hand: Domestic Employers Association, Planning For Elders, Senior Action Network, the Gray Panthers, Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, SEIU 1021, S.F. Labor Council, the Chinese Progressive Association; the Filipino Community Center, and more.
James Chionsini, interim director of Planning for Elders, spoke in support of a lawsuit (now delayed until a November hearing) against Gov. Jerry Brown’s June 30th legislative closure and statewide elimination of Adult Day Health Care Centers, leading to 35,000 to 50,000 elders losing services, instead of corporations paying more taxes. “There is a little hope that these things can be restored. Don’t pull the trigger on us!” he said.
Nikki, an advocate with Hand-In-Hand: Domestic Employers Association, spoke in support of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. She emphasized working together because, she said, “We know that if domestic workers are oppressed and disempowered, then people with disabilities will also be oppressed and disempowered.”
Jessica Lehman, a longtime community powerhouse, said she is unable to work full-time without her attendant. She stressed that disabled people must keep fighting to block cuts to In-Home Support Services (IHSS) and Medicaid, or become unable to live independently, ending up in nursing homes and institutions.
Veronica Lozano, a domestic worker for ten years and a member of Mujeres Unitas Activas, stressed that, “For more than 50 years, domestic workers have been excluded from basic worker protections” against employer abuse. “We want California to (pass) the next Domestic Workers Bill of rights.”
Matilda Vazquez, a member of the Women’s Collective, spoke on immigrant residency rights and described Ammiano’s strong support for AB 1081, allowing California counties to opt out of Secure Communities and S-COMM, a federal program in which people are stopped for no reason and their fingerprints sent to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), thereby causing deportations for minor or no infractions and subjecting immigrant families to devastating separations of parents and children.
Then, the spirited Shaw San Liu of the Progressive Workers Alliance victoriously announced a new San Francisco ordinance penalizing employers who punish immigrant workers for defending job rights.
Next, came small-group discussions at more than 40 tables set up in the hall. Each table had between eight and ten participants, a mix of employers, domestic workers, and elder or disabled recipients.
Donna Willmott, Planning For Elders, said that, at her table, people shared “our stories and visions of what we hoped care would look like in this country.” Group members told their stories of being caregivers, recipients, or advocates for care.
“There was a lot of emphasis on wanting basic respect from employers,” she said.
Willmott said that the basis of these very personal caregiving relationships was caring, concern, love, and mutual respect. One person kept repeating, “Love and caring are the foundations of this kind of work,” Willmott said.
Willmott said that the energy at this Care Congress was strongly grassroots. Ultimately, all the groups focused on offering feedback to the National Care Campaign and describing their understanding of the Five Fingers of the Caring Hand concept. They were invited to give responses and ideas for the local Care Council forming soon in the Bay Area.
At the end of the event, many child participants proudly paraded their Caring Congress artwork on a banner before applauding parents and Congress members.
Then, the Brass Liberation Orchestra rocked the hall and danced the celebrating assemblage to a delicious catered dinner.