Nice Service Marks Life of Social Justice Champion
I attended a very dignified memorial for a long time friend of NEOCH on December 21. It was ironic that the memorial for Ione Biggs would fall on the same day as Homeless Memorial Day in Cleveland. My first few months at NEOCH, I called a protest to call attention to the drive toward cutting benefits to mothers under the guise of welfare reform. It was August and only two people showed up. One was Ione Biggs who saw the impact that this gathering storm would cause for our community. I was this young punk kid trying to build an organization back after a period of inactivity. We soon got some momentum in battles with City Hall, wasteful providers, and the media that had ignored the growing problem of homelessness. The following year we had a huge demonstration in Jesse Owens park that had over 100 homeless people, but I will always remember the quiet dignified protester Ione Biggs. She regularly found a ride to came out to support homeless people, to oppose sweeps and wars, to condemn government, and to denounce the Plain Dealer. Greater Cleveland was the first city with a Welfare Rights Organization, one of the strongest homeless coalitions in the Country, and we have a racially diverse community by standing on the rock solid shoulders of Ms. Biggs and others.
The service was a time for activists from the region to gather and remember a leader of many of our movements who brought us together under the umbrella of social justice for all. (In a time of illegal wiretaps, spying on protestors, and an increasingly totalitarian government, I worry when all those advocates are in the same building.) I was especially appreciative of the powerful words of Rev. Robert Campbell in remembering an elder of the Church of the Covenant and humanitarian in Ms. Biggs. I was conforted by the service, but certainly share a sense of loss for one of the great women of our time. The last time I talked to Ms. Biggs was following a speech I gave to the City Club Young Leaders group in 2004. I gave her a ride home and she told me of her concern over the health care system in America. She had gone to the hospital the week before and waited for 9 hours in the emergency room to see a doctor. When she finally got to see the Doc., she complained, and she told me that he said, "I know it is horrible, but some of the people wait for 24 hours to get through the emergency room." Her body was tiring of the fight, but her mind never did.
We should all keep Ms. Louise Lawler in our thoughts who fell after she spoke at the service. Ms. Lawler is the leader of Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice, and was taken to the hospital.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.