Time to Fight Rising Inequality

John Ashton - Souvid DattaInequality is plaguing the United States and other countries around the world. Most notably, the UK is also experiencing steep inequality. The President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, John Ashton notes that inequality and poverty is the predominant health concern for youth in the UK. Although, Ashton’s job is to monitor and promote health in the country, he sees fighting poverty as preventative medicine. When he was asked what the largest health concern is for the UK he said, “One is the growing inequalities in people’s position, income and control over their lives over the last 20 or 30 years. Lots of people are living miserable, short lives, with a lot more ill-health than people in the more advantaged parts of the country.” He went on to explain the distribution of wealth and poverty in the UK stating, “Being a northerner, I’m aware that a lot of people in the more advantaged parts of the south-east have no awareness at all of what people on the west coast of Cumbria or in parts of north Liverpool or east Manchester where nobody’s worked for two or three generations, they can’t put food on the table and the children can’t take part in school trips, so those children are growing up as second-class citizen relative to other young people.”

In this way, he points out that a child born to poverty is almost locked into that system with less opportunity for advancement and they are almost surely bound to repeat the process. This is particularly a problem because the quality of life and life expectancy varies drastically from rich to poor. Ashton was also trained as a psychiatrist before entering public health and he is also very concerned with the high rate of mental illness that goes along with poverty. He notes, “the condition of adult males is of increasing concern because suicide has been going up in working-age men, especially the under-40s. There’s something in the dramatically changed position of men in society vis-à-vis women and vis-à-vis the labour market that’s affecting men’s self-esteem and self-confidence as a result of this dislocation…” He is also very concerned about young people growing up in an environment where they cannot get jobs and contribute positively to society. There is no easy fix, but Ashton notes that a four day work week may open up positions and allow more leisure time for men and women in the UK to enjoy spending time with their family and building positive relationships.

Ann Yasuhara, the Legacy of the Social Justice Advocate

yasuhara1Ann Yasuhara died last week at the age of 82 in her home in Princeton. She was a Quaker, a computer scientist, and a fierce social justice advocate. She loved to garden, listen to music, engage with art and contribute to her community. In 1972, Yasuhara joined the faculty at Rutgers in the computer science department. Ileana Streinu took Yasuhara’s classes and said “it was an exquisite topic, beautiful mathematic that Ann was conveying to generation of graduate students. In a department with only a few women on the faculty, she was a model to look up to. With grace and generosity, she touched my life and the lives of many students like me.” Yasuhara also touched many lives through her peace and justice activities. She resisted war and violence whenever she could, always following the peaceful resistance methods of the Quakers. Her many positive contributions to this world include organizing training groups for inner city children, serving on the committees for the Society of Friends in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and working on nonviolent direct action protests with the Earth Quaker Action Team to stop mountaintop coal mining. Documentary film maker and member of the Princeton Friends Meeting, Janet Gardner said of Yasuhara, “Ann was a leader in the Quaker faith and an inspiration to all of us. She set the bar very high and gave us confidence to fight for a better world.” Yasuhara made the world better for her students, for the environment, and for her local community. In Princeton, Yasuhara started Silent Prayers for Peace that organized vigils each week. She also founded the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Not in Our Town, an interracial, interfaith social action group for racial justice. She started a discussion on race at the Princeton Public Library where thought provoking community discussions were held on the differences that define us. Yasuhara will be keenly missed, but the good she put into our world will live on.

Yuri Kochiyama Passes Away

yurirally_vert-0c62c75e3b7214127057d0907da968c5be2c83b9-s3-c85Yuri Kochiyama was an amazing woman who stood up for the civil rights of Asian Americans, and others of color in California. Kochiyama was born in 1921 as a first generation Japanese immigrant living in San Pedro, CA just outside of Los Angeles. She was among those Asian Americans who were rounded up during WWII and put in camps by the U.S. government. 100,000 Japanese American families had their property stolen, their liberty taken away, and were moved into these camps. Kochiyama and her family were sent to a camp in Arkansas. This traumatic experience had a huge impact on Kochiyama and started her on her life-long quest for equal rights for those in marginalized and minority communities.

Kochiyama understood how the situation she went through was similar to that of African Americans in the segregated Jim Crow south. She and her husband Bill began to work towards equal rights, using the Civil Rights Movement as their context for fighting for all men and women of color in the United States. The activities that she organized and her prominence as a Civil Rights leader led to her acquaintance and friendship with Malcolm X. She was in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965 when he was assassinated. While everyone else ducked for cover after the shots started she ran to Malcolm X and cradled the Civil Rights leader as he died in her arms.

Later in life she used her position and activism experience to help others in a variety of social justice issues. She spoke about the rights of political prisoners, nuclear disarmament, Puerto Rican independence, and reparations for those, like her, who were Japanese American internees. She dedicated her life to uniting many in marginalized communities and was a model for other activists. The president of Advancing Justice- LA, Stewart Kwoh, said of Kochiyama, “We honor her memory by continuing to fight for justice for all marginalized communities and standing up for everyone whose rights have been infringed upon, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

The Faith of Reverend Ellen Rasmussen

53018efa809c8.preview-620Reverend Ellen Rasmussen is a strong advocate for social justice and it comes from her strong faith in Jesus Christ. Rasmussen is the pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in La Crosse, but she did always believe in God.

Rasmussen grew up as the daughter of a Navy officer and would attend church each Sunday wherever he was stationed. When she was eight they settled in Wisconsin, but her mother couldn’t find a church that suited her. As Rasmussen went through school she was surprised by the hypocrisy of churchgoers who treated others poorly. This prompted her to doubt the existence of God.

Things began to change in 1996 when a hospital chaplain in Tennessee began ministering to her. At the time she met Rev. Jim Ellis her father had passed and her mother was hospitalized after being diagnosed with a fatal illness. Rasmussen recognized that the chaplain reached out to her because, “I was in the denial phase…I said a lot of things some would consider blasphemous.” At the same time that her mother was sick, Rasmussen was going through a divorce and still grieving for her father. Despite experiencing her lowest low, Ellis comforted her by saying, “there is this aura about you, and in a very short time you will have a conversion experience and it will be glorious.”

Rasmussen’s conversion did come, suddenly, while she was attending a convention in Dallas. All of the sudden she felt God’s love and new he was her friend “without a shadow of a doubt and with every cell of my being.” From that point, Rasmussen quickly read the Bible and other texts and began teaching Sunday school. In 2007 she received her master’s degree in divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern. She soon became a minister and quickly developed a reputation for helping the poor and disenfranchised. Rasmussen continues to uphold that reputation with actions like opening Wesley’s doors as a shelter for the homeless in brutally cold weather.

Rasmussen has a strong sense of justice and she feels so blessed to be able to help those in need in her community. Her struggle to find faith has helped her lead others who are unsure of how to love God. She admits that she “never imagined that this is what I’d be doing with my life, and now I can’t imagine not doing it.”