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Real Women, Real Voices

Listen Up! America’s Families Demand Action

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Luz A. Vega-Marquis

In McAllen, Texas, Martha Sanchez doesn't dare drink the water that runs out of the tap, for fear of getting sick. In Augusta, Georgia, Sunny Johnson, a single mother of two, thinks that working full-time as a certified nursing assistant should earn her a wage that puts her above the poverty line. (It doesn't.) In San Francisco, California, Cathleen Muhammad wants justice and good health for her children, who appear to have been made seriously ill by exposure to asbestos from a nearby construction site.

These three stories exemplify the different struggles families are facing in America today; meanwhile we have 37 million people -- 7.7 million families -- living in poverty.

As the country prepares to elect the next president of the United States pundits and politicians will certainly talk about 'working families' -- 'middle class families' -- and 'poor families.' Isn't it time we address the needs of America's families collectively?

All families despite their economic status -- be they two parent or single parent families -- share the same goal: to provide for their families and ensure a bright future for their children. America's families rise and fall together.

Last year, Marguerite Casey Foundation launched the Equal Voice for America's Families campaign -- a campaign designed to hear directly from families as to the challenges they face and to change how we as a country address the social and economic needs of our families.

Between January and June 2008, approximately 12,000 families from diverse backgrounds, often with children in tow, gave up their weekends and evenings to participate in 65 Equal Voice town hall meetings held across America. At each town hall meeting, they were inspired, engaged and motivated. Families conveyed not only a sense of urgency but also their desire to be directly involved in the creation of policies that affect them -- to be drivers of change.

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They tied family stability to living-wage jobs, affordable housing, quality healthcare and education. They let us know that their well-being is not tied to a single issue and that piecemeal solutions have failed to address the complexities of their lives. The testimonies of families at the town hall meetings have been synthesized into a cohesive National Family Platform.

On September 6, 2008, at a multicity convention of 15,000 families in Birmingham, Chicago and Los Angeles, we will release the Equal Voice for America's Families National Family Platform and call on the country, lawmakers and the next president of the United States to adopt a comprehensive approach to addressing the issues and challenges that families face.

Families are the backbone of our nation and no family should live in poverty. Everyone who works hard should be able to advance and participate fully in the economic, political, and cultural life of the nation. To do so America's families need income equality and the opportunity to build wealth to insure upward mobility and equal outcomes.

We can no longer ignore that single issued policy solutions are failing families. The needs of families must be addressed universally.

The strength of our country depends on the strength of our families. It's time we listened to the voices of America's families.

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Vega-Marquis is president and CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation, sponsor of the Equal Voice for America's Families campaign.

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