“IMAGINE YOURSELF in the rugged countryside of the Appalachian Mountains, where you and your neighbors have lived with a history of poverty and lack of economic development–and you learn that the water piped into your home has been poisoned and can’t be used, even after it is boiled, until further notice.”
Professor Chomsky speaks on American politics’ descent into madness.
“I’ve seen the other kind of poverty — the kind that’s at least partly self-inflicted and more than a little self-destructive.”
Read the full essay: The other kind of poverty « Ben Irwin.
I’ve never had any use for the likes of Dave Ramsey and his little cult of prosperity. It was nice to see somebody stand up to his recent un-Christian stereotyping of poor people, although it is always saddening to be reminded of the daily struggles of our brothers and sisters.
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
Gun violence in Chicago has gotten so bad this summer that members of Congress (including Bobby Rush) are convening a “summit on urban violence,” and Illinois State Representative Monique Davis is demanding that Governor Quinn send in the National Guard “to protect our children so they can go to the park and swim and play and have a childhood.”
For his part, Mayor Rahm Emaunuel wants to continue to focus on “the four P’s – policing, parenting, prevention and penalties” as solutions to the problem. Considering the probable effects of His Honor’s war on children and teachers, they’re likely to need a lot more of the policing and penalties part of that equation in the near future.
I would humbly suggest that someone ought to begin focusing on the most important “P-Factor” relating to violence in our cities: POVERTY.
Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Cedric Johnson, Martha Biondi and Barbara Ransby take a look at the true roots of urban violence in their panel discussion presented at the Socialism 2013 Conference: Poverty Pulls the Trigger.
Those of us who are comfortable – and by that, I mean we who live in a decent home, have enough to eat, have access to medical care when we need it, who can offer a good education to our children, who are kept relatively safe and have a sense of stability and continuity in our lives – are able to enjoy our comforts only because of a system that subjects millions of other people in our country and around the globe to violence, illness, poverty, hunger, insecurity and despair each and every day.
To acknowledge this is the beginning.
Poverty is Over—If We Want it. [Adam Lassila | The Occupied Wall Street Journal] – It’s unconscionable that more than 30 million full-time workers don’t earn enough to provide for their families. It’s also unacceptable that 22 million willing laborers don’t have access to full-time work. Every human being deserves a job that can provide for his or her family’s well-being. Full employment is possible, but the U.S. government has rejected it as a policy goal because it is not in the best interest of the elites who control Washington.
He approached the van with a broad smile on his face while I was waiting to pick my daughter up from school. I’d arrived a few minutes early, and was catching up on some reading. He gestured to me, and I rolled down the window.
He asked me directly “Are you a Christian?”
“Yes I am.”
“Are you reading the Word right now?” His eyes were friendly and soulful.
I smiled back at him. “This afternoon I’m reading politics.”
“But you are a Christian?” It seemed an important question to him.
He now appeared rather nervous and I began to wonder what kind of conversation this was going to be. He pulled a card out of his pocket and brought it up to my eye level. It was his driver’s license.
“This is me. This is who I am. I’ve got money too. I can show you. I’ve got to get to Chicago and I need eight more dollars for my fare.”
I considered, for a moment. I knew that I had a five dollar bill and a few singles in my wallet. Before I could discern, he volunteered more information. “I don’t drink or anything.” For some reason, I believed him, though it really didn’t matter.
We seldom see people asking for money on the street in our small town. When we’re visiting the city, if someone is panhandling I almost always give them a few bucks (if I can spare it and unless it seems unsafe to do so). Although friends have occasionally derided me for “supporting someone’s bad habits,” my response has been that it’s not up to me to take on that particular burden of judgment. Let God sort it out.
The man seemed dressed for the weather, clean and not shabby. He told me that he’d had a good job providing transportation to senior citizens until state funding was cut, and then he had lived with his mother until her house was foreclosed. How he ended up here, or what was waiting for him in Chicago, I didn’t ask. By that point I was already handing him the five and three ones.
“This’ll get you there?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you. I’ll worry about finding something to eat later.”
I wished him good luck as he started to walk away, and then, struggling for a cheery admonition, added “I’m trusting you.” As soon as the words crossed my lips I regretted them.
He stopped, looking crestfallen, almost as if he was going to give the money back. “I wouldn’t lie to you. I’ll be on that train at 6 o’clock.” With that, he was on the move again, and I noticed for the first time that he was carrying a backpack.
I called out “God bless you,” as an afterthought.
By the time he had turned the corner I wished that I had done more. His comment about finding something to eat stuck with me. I had eight more singles in my wallet. I could have at least given him enough for a sandwich. I realized that I hadn’t done it because his comment had sounded like a slick panhandler’s line. I had judged the man, and shown him disrespect. I guess I was willing to “let God sort it out” when it came to a couple bucks, but when it approached the princely sum of ten, I didn’t want to be taken for a sucker.
The guilt that I felt at that moment was terrible. I recalled the words of Jesus, and they shamed me. “I was hungry, and you fed me not.”
There were still a few minutes before the kids were dismissed, so I got out of the van and started walking, hoping to find him. I saw someone walking from the nearby grocery store with what looked like a six pack of beer and (still yielding to judgment and suspicion) at first thought it might be him, but then realized by the hat and lack of backpack that it wasn’t. I went into the church to see if he was there waiting in the warmth until time for the train. The church was empty, and now it was time to go collect my daughter.
Back in the van and headed for home, my conscience was still bothering me. I told my daughter “We’re going to take a little detour.” I figured I would drive the five or six blocks to the train station in case he might be there, and then circle back toward the school on our way home in case he was still walking somewhere in between. I was almost desperate in the quest to find him and make amends for what I had said and for what I had failed to do.
To my delight, as we rounded the corner near the depot, I spotted him approaching it from the other direction. I pulled to the curb and rolled down the window. He recognized the van and walked over to us, smiling just as he had earlier.
“Hey, man – I should have given you some money for a sandwich. This is all I’ve got with me, but it ought to at least get you one meal.”
He nodded and grinned warmly. “Thanks. I think they’ve got hot dogs and stuff on the train.”
We shook hands through the open window, and suddenly he looked a little embarrassed. “You could tell that I’m homeless?”
I didn’t really know how to respond, but as we released our handshake I said “The depot is open and it ought to be warm in there until your train comes.”
“Yeah. Thanks again.”
“Good luck in Chicago.”
As we pulled from the curb, my daughter asked “Was that a homeless man?”
As many as 3.5 million people in America experience homelessness in each year, with nearly three-quarters of a million homeless at any given time. The main cause of homelessness continues to be the lack of affordable housing. We can help by volunteering at local shelters, by contributing to organizations like Catholic Charities, by offering our prayers, and (perhaps most importantly of all) by showing our respect for the human dignity of homeless people we encounter.
I don’t know the name of the man I met today, and I will probably never know how his story turns out. I wish him godspeed on his journey, and good luck in the big city. He gave me much more than I gave him.