“My teacher lives on a bench”

I felt a strong personal connection to Janny Castillo’s January story, “My Teacher Lives on a Bench.” I’ve long admired the wisdom and grace of my unhoused neighbor, who can be found sitting on the stoop next door most nights. From our occasional conversations, I know he has witnessed and experienced a lot in his life. I often wonder what he sees and what he thinks about on our block. Like Castillo, I’ve learned much from my neighbor’s ability to be present and simply observe. Selfishly, I also appreciate the fact that Lou provides “eyes on the street” for our block. I feel safer knowing that he’s watching over all of us. I just hope he feels safe and comfortable, too. 

—Benjamin S., San Francisco 

“SEIU 2015 to enter negotiations for new contract, increased pay” 

Thank you for the article about SEIU 2015. In light of all the recent strikes in California and through the U.S., it is exciting to hear about continued organizing with this union. It made me think of the Wages for Housework Campaign, founded by Silvia Federici, Selma James, and Mariarosa Dalla Costa. This campaign calls for recognition and payment for all caring work, inside the home and outside. It sounds like IHSS caretakers take on lots of different kinds of caring work, in providing critical care like cooking, cleaning, shopping, and taking clients to doctor’s appointments. I imagine there’s also a lot of emotional labor that goes into this work and care, which is perhaps even more important than the act of cooking and cleaning. Of course, our world couldn’t keep going if people weren’t doing the socially reproductive work that it takes to keep up going as humans. I wish more people saw this as work, or paid these workers equitably. Are there ways for readers to support IHSS caretakers in their push for increased wages? I’m grateful for the work that they do. 

—Catherine V., Berkeley 

“Remembering street musician Anthony Bledsoe” 

What a joyful piece Ace Backwords wrote in the last Street Spirit about Anthony Bledsoe, and an all-night jam of street musicians and buskers that took place in 1995 in KPFA’s studios in Berkeley. I am a reporter and sometimes-host at KPFA, and unfortunately, the pandemic has caused the station to close its doors to the public since March of 2020. I suspect it’s been almost two years since live musicians have filled its halls. Covid precautions save lives — but it’s not lost on me how important music is for healing, for activism, and for bringing people together during isolation and illness. Ace’s piece got at the root of what radio and live music can be, especially when it’s transgressive, chaotic, and fun. (I’m sure the managers at KPFA don’t condone smoking indoors, but…) I was lucky to see a live jazz show about six months ago, and I was struck by how revolutionary it was to see musicians relentlessly pursuing their art despite all the pressure from capitalism to do something more profitable for those at the top. May street music be less rare in the coming years! I hope everyone supports, and jams out to, local street musicians in Anthony Bledsoe’s memory. 

—Ariel B., Oakland 

“Why aren’t stimulus checks automatically given to the poor?” 

I’ve been a fan of Jack Bragen for several years, and I’m sympathetic to his frustration at having missed out on at least one stimulus check. However, I believe his reasoning is faulty on this issue. 

Anyone who makes under a certain amount of income doesn’t have to pay taxes, but in most cases, they should still file a tax return. This includes all independent contract workers, like my son, who makes well below the taxable level. It’s an easy way for the government to find you and send benefits. 

If you’ve never filed income taxes, you are still eligible for stimulus payments. Instructions are available on the IRS website. Even now, you may be eligible to claim a Recovery Rebate credit for ’20 or ’21. 

You also mentioned that people who receive disability or SSI payments are disregarded because politicians don’t benefit from their votes or donations. I agree, but this doesn’t affect their entitlement to stimulus money, which should have come automatically in the same way they receive other federal benefits. 

—Logan N., San Francisco 

“SEIU 2015 to enter negotiations for new contract, increased pay”

I was excited to read Street Spirit’s excellent piece on home care workers with SEIU 2015 fighting for a living wage in Alameda. Zack Haber’s piece was a sobering reminder that the workers that provide essential long-term care to the elderly and vulnerable are still being treated as disposable, even as the ongoing pandemic lurches into its third year. 

Home care is more important than ever. SFGate reports that “home care has become the nation’s fastest-growing job sector. The U.S. will need to fill an estimated 4.7 million home care jobs, one million of them new jobs, by 2028.” Yet like in so many other sectors, home care jobs are low-paying and often do not offer benefits like health care, hazard pay, sick days and other essentials. That means the U.S. will be facing a crisis of unfilled home care worker jobs if the industry does not start treating its workforce with dignity and respect. SEIU 2015’s current negotiations are an important part of this fight.

The union’s effort to raise pay for home care workers in the Bay Area is also a reminder that labor struggles are important vehicles for racial and gender justice. As Haber’s article reports, “81 percent of IHSS caretakers are women and 74 percent are people of color.” Solidarity to the workers with SEIU 2015 and to home care workers across the country who deserve more recognition, pay and respect for their labor.

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