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A Movie and A Movement
by Mary Nyiri

A little boy dies at home, asleep in his own bed with his mother in the next room. They lived in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia. His death resulted from a severe asthma attack and the lack of medication. There were no cameras, no news reports, and no public outcry. Most people would probably blame the mother for not taking proper care of her son. No one would protest that the little boy was deprived of his human rights.

Mark Webber was raised by his single mother in the slums of Philadelphia. He knows what it is to be homeless. He sheltered in cars and abandoned buildings. In the fall of 1995, Mark at just 15 years old, helped his mother Cheri Honkala organize a homeless shelter in an abandoned church in North Philadelphia. The tent city within the church was run by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, an organization over five years old that was begun by five welfare moms, including Honkala. In 1998 that organization sparked the formation of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign with Honkala as its national organizer and spokesperson.

Webber digs deep into his roots for the screenplay of Explicit Ills with a subtle, but right on, message about the importance of health care as a basic human right. Throughout the film a pamphlet is being distributed around town and different characters get a copy. The pamphlet invites everyone to join in a march with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. One character, Babo, is an intelligent seven-year-old boy who lives with his single mother. Babo takes a pamphlet home. While hanging out with a neighbor, Babo has a severe asthma attack and is taken to the hospital. Babo survives the attack but his mother doesn’t have the $50 needed for medication and the pharmacy will not make an exception. Babo insists they go home for now and his mother puts him to bed. After Babo dies during the night, his preventable death motivates hundreds (and the characters in the film) to join in the march for affordable universal health care as an economic human right.

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign based its mission to unite the poor in a broad movement to abolish poverty on the basic human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), specifically Articles 23, 25, and 26. On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted the UDHR thanks to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt. As part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of this momentous event, the American Women’s Club of Hamburg’s (AWCH) umbrella organization, Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO), encouraged member clubs to hold teas in honor and recognition of Mrs. Roosevelt, who would invite friends and foes for tea, then persuade them to help support the UDHR. Several FAWCO clubs held teas as a reminder of past success but also to emphasize that millions of women around the world are still waiting for their rights. On December 10, 2008, the AWCH combined tea and Christmas cookies at the U.S. Consulate for an informal discussion about the UDHR.
Webber and his mother have been outspoken homeless advocates for many years and continue to be. They walk in protests, help educate voters and volunteer their help to provide food and shelter to the urban poor in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Webber’s successful career as an actor and now writer/director has not changed his commitment but instead has provided yet another way for him to tell the truth about poverty and homelessness in the USA today. It’s a good movie with a moral and must make his mother proud.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.