Created on Thursday, 18 October 2012 04:43
Written by Gideon Bradshaw, Staff Writer
After concluding her remarks yesterday evening, Green Party vice presidential candidate and longtime activist Cheri Honkala paused as she heard music from the doorway. After a moment, she began playing a video featuring artists Lil Wayne and Eminem from her smartphone. “I listen to this almost every day,” she said. Honkala, who is currently running alongside Dr. Jill Stein on the Green Party ticket, spoke with the same informal style as she told the audience of about 40, who came to watch her speak, about her history of activism and her thoughts on injustices in the United States political system. Originally scheduled for Tuesday evening in Posvar Hall, the event had to be rescheduled because Honkala was unable to make the original time slot after being arrested for disorderly conduct near the campus of Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., where last night’s Presidential debate was held. Her lecture, which the Department of Sociology, School of Social Work, Women’s Studies Department and Political Science Department co-sponsored, was moved to Wednesday and lasted about an hour and a half. Honkala described growing up in Minneapolis, Minn., within a string of state-run facilities after her mother, the victim of domestic abuse, was declared an unfit parent. Although Honkala had the younger of her two sons, Mark, while she was still a teenager, she managed to finish high school. But when she lost her job and couldn’t afford to pay rent, Honkala and her son moved into a car. After getting a flat tire that crippled the car in which she and her son were living, she said she moved into an abandoned building that provided warmth during the Midwest winter. Fed up with the limited prospects for the unemployed like herself, Honkala began to call press conferences in order to publicly request affordable housing. Because there were no cell phones at the time, she remembered handing her son handfuls of change to call family friends on the pay phone in case she was arrested. “I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was doing was forming organizations,” Honkala said of her early days as an activist. During the 1980s, she and her colleagues, whom she characterized as pioneers, began to use tactics such as setting up tent cities and moving families into abandoned houses. After these uncertain beginnings, Honkala continued her work as an advocate for the homeless after she moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s. In the mid 1990s, while living in a tent city for the homeless in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, she became concerned when rats began to infest the encampment. The mayor’s office and several progressive members of the city council fueled her concern that the tent city would be looked upon as a permanent solution to its residents’ lack of permanent shelter. So she and 70 homeless families marched for seven days to the state capital, covering 22 miles per day. Honkala displayed a wry humor about the journey. “Yeah, we would have taken the bus if we had $600 between us at the time,” she said. Despite eventually getting evicted from the Capitol rotunda after six weeks of camping there and later being removed from the steps of the building, Honkala has continued to lobby against what she sees as the social injustice of the American political system. Before her current run for the vice presidency, she ran for the office of sheriff in Philadelphia. During her campaign, she promised to prevent foreclosures of homes by deputizing the neighbors of those families whose houses came up for foreclosure. She said that under her plan, these deputies would move the families’ possessions back into the homes. “Do you know how popular I was in high-foreclosure neighborhoods?” she said, asking the audience rhetorically. “Quite popular.” Honkala, who said that her own vision for an ideal society included converting members of the U.S. military into organic farmers and forgiving all student loans, also said that she believed that she needs such revolutionary tactics in order to inspire the radical change she expects. She said she believes that development projects in Philadelphia came from the efforts of vocal activists like herself. Unorthodox tactics such as moving families into Independence Hall, she said, have proven effective in gaining the attention of the city government. At one point toward the end of her remarks, she directly addressed the students in the audience to tell them that she still felt optimistic about the potential for change in the U.S. “The glass is half full because people are getting tired of the crap that’s going on in this country, and there are going to be some changes,” she said. “And you guys will live to see those, and that’s exciting.” Russell Noble, a sophomore majoring in philosophy and political science, said that he enjoyed Honkala’s remarks, although he regretted that she did not speak on a broader range of political issues. “It would have been nice if she addressed U.S. foreign policy ... It would have been nice to hear that the [Green Party’s] vice presidential candidate has stances on issues that aren’t directly related to the environment or the housing problem,” Noble said. Jackie Smith, a sociology professor who helped organize the event, felt glad that the event provided a forum for others to hear about Honkala’s work. “I know a lot of the story, so [Honkala] said exactly what I hoped she would say,” Smith said.