The January 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Religious Witness with Homeless People

Memorial for Homeless Deaths in East Bay

Remember Rosa Parks: Justice in Public Transit

Justice is Pushed to Back of Bus

Big Brother Watches the Poor

Homeless Woman Works to Survive

Let Justice Roll: Raise the Miserly Minimum Wage

Richmond Courts Unfair to Poor

War Profiteer Parties Hearty

Poets Against the War Machine

Poems for the Poorman

Poems in Spirit of St. Francis

Songs of Our Shared Humanity

Psychotic Breaks

How to Deal with Pain and Fear


November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005





Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Remember Rosa Parks:
Building a New Movement for Transportation Justice

by Janny Castillo

Sylvia Darensburg speaks at a rally in Oakland on Dec. 5, 2005. She is a plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit seeking equity in public transit. Scott Braley photo

"Something great and wonderful came out of Montgomery. Fifty years later, we are still tired and fighting for transportation justice. We do not have affordable, accessible, and safe transportation. It is a travesty of justice that AC Transit is not being funded at the appropriate levels." -- Reverend Andre Shumake

In 1955, the first ten seats of every bus in Montgomery, Alabama, were reserved for white people only. Even if the bus was filled with black passengers standing in the aisles, no one could sit in these seats. In addition, Montgomery city law stated that if the seats in the back of the bus were needed for white passengers, black passengers could be compelled to surrender their seats.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a department store seamstress and volunteer secretary of the NAACP, refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. This heroic act became a catalyst for change. It sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and 13 months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery's segregation laws were unconstitutional.

On the eve of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, on December 5, 1955, a young Baptist minister already knew this. His name was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke the following words that encouraged thousands to walk instead of ride the bus for well over a year:

"And just because she refused to get up, she was arrested. You know my friends there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression...

"We are here, we are here this evening because we're tired now. Now let us say that we are not here advocating violence. There will be nobody among us who will stand up and defy the Constitution of this nation. We only assemble here because of our desire to see right exist...

"My friends, I want it to be known that we're going to work with grim and firm determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, then the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong... If we are wrong, justice is a lie. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Grim and firm determination

Fast forward 50 years to December 5, 2005, on a cold winter evening at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. The fight continues for an equitable and just transportation system for ALL. Urban Habitat sponsored an event that brought together religious leaders, community activists, AC Transit bus drivers and transit-dependent riders, to honor Rosa Parks and take a stand on the inequities that exist in public transportation today.

Reverend Cheryl Elliot's words opened the event: "Dignity, Justice, Respect, Access and Opportunity for All."

Reverend Andre Shumake said, "Something great and wonderful came out of Montgomery. Fifty years later, we are still tired and fighting for transportation justice. We do not have affordable, accessible, and safe transportation. It is a travesty of justice that AC Transit is not being funded at the appropriate levels."

"When funding for roads is inadequate, we have to endure a few more potholes," said Lila Hussain, event organizer, "but when funding for buses is inadequate, people are unable to get to work and school."

Nearly 80 percent of AC Transit bus riders are people of color, and more than 60 percent have no other means of transportation.

Lila Hussain described the unequal distribution of funding by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to the public transportation giants: MUNI, BART, and AC Transit.
Richard Marcantonio, an attorney with Public Advocates, shared these facts: "As a result of MTC's knowingly discriminatory funding practices, AC Transit riders receive a public subsidy of only $2.78 per trip, BART passengers receive more than double that: $6.14; and Caltrain passengers receive $13.79, nearly five times more than AC Transit riders."

Sylvia Darensburg, an African American mother of three, is transit dependent and, like Rosa Parks, has taken a stand for justice. Sylvia, along with two other plaintiffs, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against MTC for its discriminatory and inequitable funding processes.

Kid's First youth activists who were present at this protest also carry Rosa Park's spirit in their constant struggle to keep transportation affordable for Oakland's low-income youth.

Justice runs down like water

"This society would still be as wretched, were it not for their sacrifice," Joshua Abram of the Ella Baker Center said about the struggles of the civil rights workers of the 1950s and '60s. The struggle for social, economic, as well as transportation justice today is in need of a "Rosa Parks" sacrifice.

Many are working diligently in our social justice and grassroots organizations. They are working against all odds to ensure that our communities of color are treated fairly and equitably.

As long as injustice exists, the work is not done. As long as injustice exists, there will always be a call for the one and then the many to stand and demand that the most basic human rights be available and protected for ALL.

"If we are wrong, justice is a lie."

To join the effort or to donate, contact the Transportation Justice Working Group at (510) 839-9510 or visit

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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