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Changemaker Chat: Diana Balot Frank

Diana Balot Frank is a recent graduate of the MSW program at Kutztown University, an activist since her student days at N.Y.U., a writer, and an amateur chocolatier. She publishes a blog called The Foot of Mount Olympus.

How did you first become interested in social change?

I was always interested in history and politics. In high school, I could not understand how the holocaust happened. I didn’t understand how one man (Hitler) could do so much harm. It wasn’t until I was in college and working at my summer job as a maid in a hospital that I met some people who were involved in the anti-war movement. My political education and activism started then. I was attending NYU at the time and the president of the university was on the board of directors of Union Carbide which had holdings in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. As a student I was active in anti-apartheid work, keeping ROTC off campus and supporting the Iranian students who had fled the Shah. It was a very exciting time. Also, the women’s liberation movement was occurring and that influenced me as well.

How do you define social justice?

Social justice is economic justice: freedom from want, decent housing, healthcare, education; work that is meaningful and helpful to the people of the world and to the planet. Social justice is democracy defined as regular people having influence on and control over issues that directly affect us in our neighborhoods, our state, our country, our world.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist? 

My most exciting experiences so far have involved demonstrations in NY and Washington DC through the years. Living in a small city and working at a mainstream job for most of my life, there have been many times when I felt isolated and powerless. Being with hundreds of thousands of people who have the same passion for ending war and demanding economic justice reinforces your faith in humanity. Taking someone with you or meeting someone there who has never been to a demonstration before, seeing young families with babies in strollers, older activists, people in wheel chairs, with oxygen tanks, young people with nose rings and tattoos – allows you to see the continuum – the timeline of struggle. It reassures you that people will not stop speaking up when they know something is wrong. Sometimes you bump into people you haven’t seen in 20 years, and that’s nice too.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

I just got involved with the Allentown Community Benefits Coalition. Although I just attended my first meeting, I see this group of people as dynamic and creative. I believe we will have a positive impact on how the Neighborhood Improvement Zone can benefit all the people of Allentown.

What is your vision for a better world?

I see so many things. I think the main thing is that people – regular people – from the day we are born until the day we die are an asset to this world, not the burden we are made to appear to be in this time of unemployment and incarceration. We have to stop waiting for the “job creators” to appear with minimum wage part time jobs and no benefits. We have to get together, see what our community needs and create our own work with cooperative ownership.

What are your plans for the future?

After being laid off from my job as a purchasing manager, I decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in social work. I graduated in May, took the summer off and am currently looking for a position working with a community organization, older adults or hospice. I am also researching the private prison industry. If a state contracts with a private prison corporation, the contract calls for the state to maintain a 90% occupancy rate. That is a little frightening. Here are a few facts from a recently published post on my blog, The Foot of Mount Olympus

•Between 1990 and 2009 the number of people in private prisons increased by 1600%.•6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are housed in private prisons.

•The federal government is in the midst of a private prison expansion spree, driven primarily by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency that locks up roughly 400,000 immigrants each year and spends over $1.9 billion annually on custody operations. ICE now intends to create a new network of massive immigration detention centers, managed largely by private companies, in states including New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois (ACLU, 2011, p. 5).

I am also collecting information regarding food safety with the purpose of pointing out the amount of waste that exists in the way agribusiness manufactures food. I receive daily updates from, sometimes as many as 5 a day announcing recalls of thousands of units of food for reasons including possible e-coli and listeria contamination to undeclared ingredients. It’s mind boggling, the amount of waste.

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