Archive for the ‘poverty’ tag
Step Into A Garden
It has been a troubling week.
On Tuesday what many thought was confirmed, that the Federal government actually spends more when it out sources services to the private sector. A report completed by the Project on Government Oversight found that 33 out of 35 occupations the government turned over to the private sector actually cost the tax payer billions of dollars more to hire contractors than it would have cost to have government employees perform the same services.
On Wednesday the U.S. Census Bureau reported that another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty. 46.2 million Americans living below the poverty line is the highest since 1964 when Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty.” Also median household incomes fell last year to the lowest point in 14 years.
Another report from the U.S. Census Bureau reported on Thursday that, as we had always thought, the poor are still getting poorer. We now have 45 million people using food stamp assistance, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 4 children. We were also informed that 1 out of every five veterans are homeless.
Then Thursday evening during the Republican debate, when CNN’s Mr. Blitzer asked Rep Ron Paul, of Texas, a hypothetical question about a 30 year old man who chose not to purchase health insurance and suddenly found himself facing six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about- taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again asking whether “society should just let him die.” The crowd cheered and shouted “Yeah!” How far we have fallen from the ideals of the revolutionary radicals, as described by Gordon Wood in his The Radicals of the American Revolution. Wood argues that many of the revolutionary leaders were first-generation gentlemen, and for them part of being a gentleman was as Wood writes, “It meant dedicating himself to the public good.”
The atmosphere of the country can sometimes seem very ugly depending upon which way you are turned.
When I turn one direction I see that the lines at area food pantries are three times as long as last year. When I turn another direction I see our private sector plundering our common wealth to the tune of billions of dollars monthly. When I look another direction I see that we have come to the point where we are spending nearly $1 billion daily to maintain wars, and to run 900 military bases in 130 countries around the world. When I turn another direction I see that our unemployed are becoming more desperate as they see more of their lives slip away from them. And yet in still another direction multi-national corporations and banks are sitting on huge surpluses of cash.
With all this suffering we can be thankful that the public debate of our elected officials has finally turned to jobs, however we are far from seeing them agree to any thing that will bring relief. As Charles Blow pointed out in the NY Times, “three out of four of those below the poverty line work: half have full-time jobs, a quarter work part-time. Only a quarter do not work at all.” So it is not just jobs that is the issue, it is that we must create good jobs which pay a wage that a family of four can live on.
When I feel surrounded with bad news I go into the garden. I reach deep into the patchy sunlight that filters through the thick tomato vines to pick a bright red cheery tomato, my nose breathing in the strong green aroma of the vines. I harvest the garden and give the produce away to neighbors at area food pantries. I walk out into an open field with the woman who shares my life and we fly a kite togehter, talk with a neighbor, and lie back on the green grass and watch our kites dance against the soft white clouds that drift through a deep, light blue sky.
It is as clear to me as the sky I looked up into this afternoon, we will not see the condition of those who are unemployed, under-employed, homeless, living on food stamps, etc, get better while our policy makers are trying to fill their pockets with campaign cash from the elites. As Frederick Douglas said, and is often quoted, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Now, however, it seems that the people of this nation, a nation tottering on the brink of its own demise, still have not been able to muster the will to create that demand. (Although I think we can consider the strong message that was sent to Representatives at town hall meetings this summer with finally lighting a fire under them to move toward a jobs bill.) However we have had plenty of good jobs bills just sitting in committees for months, only time will tell if the tardy Obama bill moves or dries up to a mere spec that is casted about by the strong wind of need that is moving across our country to the capital.
While we are organizing and growing the will of the people to reach the demanding stage, we can also be building the new economy that will sustain us regardless of what the “too big to fail” banks do with all of their cash. We can create a slow money local economy that will see us through regardless of how many jobs Caterpillar and other corporations create in foreign countries while shutting down plants in the U.S. This “new economy” will be what will see us through the ever rising energy costs, and provide us shelter from the next financial storm caused by, what David Korten refers to as “Wall Street phantom-wealth.” The alternative that we will need to create in order to be sustainable through this changing world is a real economy based on people engaged in the production and exchange of real goods and services to meet the real needs of their children, families, and communities. “The solution to a failed capitalist economy is a real-market economy much in line with the true vision of Adam Smith.” Korten writes in Agenda for A New Economy.
And this revolution is already taking place in counties, cities, and towns all across the country. It is a silent movement that is growing daily. So like stepping into the garden, real security and hope comes with raising your own food and sharing your harvest with neighbors and friends. As Bill Mc Kibben writes in Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, “. . . local economies equal community, which in turn equals a better shot at deep satisfaction.” He goes on to say that the changes ahead may be scary but they are also appealing. If we lean on one another, create sustainable communities with our neighbors, then the world we want can be hand-made right now where we stand. If we create the garden then we can step into it and live the lives we were meant to live. Lives of mutual dependency, lives dedicated to the public or common good.
Shall I look for you in the garden?
Submitted by: Dan Kenney
September 17, 2011
Something Is Happening In America:
Poverty Tour Stops In Chicago
(Aug. 8, 2011) Last night in the large stone St. Sabina church on Chicago’s south side over 1,000 people gathered to hear Tavis Smiley, Dr. Cornel West, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speak. It was the third day and their fifth stop of the Poverty Tour organized by Tavis Smilely and Dr. West. The tour will cover 16 cities from the start on a Native American Reservation in Northern Wisconsin and ending in Memphis Tenn. The goal of the tour is to raise awareness about poverty, because as Mr. Smiley has stated the poor are becoming “more and more invisible.”
Smiley said the cities were chosen to cover people of all faiths, races, and ethnicities, ages-urban and rural- including immigrants. On the tour they will spend time listening to people and recording their stories. During the tour they will be staying in the homes of poor people and sleeping on the bus. They will also be staying at a homeless shelter and in a housing project. The stories they gather will be aired on the Tavis Smiley television show on PBS during the last week of September or the first week of October. Also beginning on August 22nd, Smiley’s radio show will devote one show per week to issues about poverty. In addition a dean and students at Smiley’s alma mater, University of Indiana, are working on a “white paper” about who are the new poor in America. The report will be presented on C-span in January with a panel.
Although it was said several times that this was not an “anti-Obama campaign” on this stop in Obama’s hometown, the words were challenges to Obama. Smiley said the tour is about “aiding and abetting the President,” pushing him to do the right thing for the poor of all colors in America. Smiley said, “It is really simple, are you going to stand with poor, or side with the rich. I am standing with the poor.”
When he ended his remarks his words built to a passionate and thunderous pitch. His words bounced off the stone walls and echoed from the high cathedral ceiling; all one thousand people seemed to stand at once, clapping, cheering, some with tears in their eyes as he shouted, “Say it Mr. President! Say the word Mr. President! Just say poverty! Let us hear you say the poor! Say it Mr. President!”
Next to speak was Lois Farrakhan. He began with a reference to the Sermon on the Mound, especially the statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He said that Mohammed defined spirit as energy of life itself. Then he made the powerful analogy to the poor having their spirit strangled. That the poor don’t have the energy needed to fight for justice. That the poor walk with their heads hanging down, their backs bent. He also went on to say that it doesn’t matter who is in the White House. He said that we are poor in spirit because we are poor in leadership. “Where there is no vision the people will perish.”
Farrakhan then lowered his voice. “Obama is poor in spirit today because the bankers have surrounded our brother.” He went on to relate how the bankers are few but the people are many, The poor are the majority. We need to rally the poor, to re-energize the poor. Give spine to their backbones once more.
He directly called upon Obama to become a spokesman for the poor, to be a spokesman for his base. “You don’t have a lot of time . . . when the poor rise-up there will be blood in the street.” Farrakhan then went on to relate a story of a visit he had with the chief of the Chicago police, a visit he said took place at Farrakhan’s dinning table. He said I asked him why is Blackwater training our police officers. I asked him, why are you buying 17,000 assault rifles with armor piercing bullets. “There is trouble on the horizon! The poor are tired and they are not going to take it any more!”
He continued that the poor carry the government on their backs. The poor are what holds the wealthy up. All the wealth of this country is built upon the poor.
Then as he closed again with his voice rising with the standing people, the clapping people, some with outstretched arms and their index fingers pointing to the heavens above, “Obama if you are a one term president at least go out standing up for the poor. Obama if you speak for the poor, your people will have your back. If you stand-up for the poor Jesus will back you, the people will back you. Go out standing in the tradition of Dr, King!”
Then Dr. Cornel West took to the podium. Wearing his signature three piece black suit and white shirt. He said folks ask me why I wear a three piece suit. “These are my funeral clothes.” He said tugging on his lapels with both hands. “I am coffin ready, because when you fight for the poor you have to be ready to die.”
He began by saying something is happening in Chicago tonight. Something was happening in Joliet earlier today. Something was happening in Wisconsin yesterday. Something is happening in America.
He then channeled those who have fought for the poor through history, among those he listed; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means something to me! Cesar Chavez means something to me! Malcom X means something to me! Dorothy Day means something to me!” Then he moved into how so many leaders today have “sold out!” Too many of our leaders have sold out to the oligarchy. He talked about how Obama’s first mistake was to surround himself with wall street advisors. He mentioned Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, who had been head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and before that was with Goldman Sachs, and Larry Summers former President of Harvard, former Chief economist of the World Bank, and former U.S. Treasurer. He also pointed out that Rahmn Emmanuel was the driving force behind who was chosen. “Now Summers and Emmanuel are gone, and he (Obama) is left with the mess.”
He made the point that we have enough money to address the issues of poverty. “The banks are sitting on 1.2 trillion dollars. If we need $700 billion for the banks we find it. If we need three trillion to fight two wars at the same time we find it. We have the money. The problem is “We don’t have enough folk who love poor people.”
They then took questions and comments from the audience. There were long lines at two microphones. There were questions and comments about the Take Back the Land Movement, which began in Brazil, and the anti-eviction work that is being done around the country, Smiley’s book The Covenant with Black America. (Smiley pointed out that the work done all around America to produce the covenant was done before Obama became the candidate. When Obama became the candidate then Smiley was asked to keep quiet about the covenant. He said he was told, “Don’t go bringing up that covenant now, first we have to get the brother elected, and then we can go back to the covenant.” So Smiley said he stepped back and worked for Obama’s election and now the covenant still has not been brought back up. Smiley also pointed out that Obama is the first President since 1948 who did not mention the word poverty in his State of the Union address last year. “One of the worst hurts you can cause someone is to make them feel invisible.”
Other questions and comments were about the split in the African American community between “grassroots” and “elites,” police treatment of blacks, need to eliminate tax cuts for the wealthy, Rahm Emanuel’s politics, and how much Congress is at fault (not just Obama).
Smiley also related the story of FDR and A. Phillip Randolph, who outlined the needs of black people. FDR agreed with Randolph and that he (FDR) had the bully pulpit to make it happen. FDR then turned to Randolph and asked him to do him a favor, FDR said, “Now go out and make me do it.” Smiley said that the tour was about making Obama accountable to the poor.
Father Pfleger of the St. Sabina church closed by asking everyone to “leave with a commitment to organize, to be a voice for the voiceless, to wake up the conscience of a world that is asleep, to find the moral center of those in power and lead them, drag them to our cause. May the poor be on their agenda because we refuse to shut up.”
Then my African American friend and I went out into the Chicago night. I drove him to a mosque on the far south side and then to his apartment on the west side. We drove past the boarded up buildings, the dimly lit streets, corners where black market deals were going down, past the prostitutes arguing with their pimps. Turning around on a dead end street where drug exchanges were taking place; in the darkness, among the trash and cars with flat tires. We passed the fearful eyes of those watching the police cars pulling to a stop. The men on the steps of darkened buildings with bottles in their hands, their heads lowered, and shoulders stooped. Only black people everywhere one looked, except for many of the police who were white.
As I drove the dark streets I thought about what Tavis Smiley said in response to a question, “This deal they just signed for a trillion dollars in cuts is a ten year deal. If you think things are bad now, if you think poverty is bad now, just wait until these cuts start kicking in.”
And as I watched a teenaged African American boy riding up and down the sidewalk on a bike at 10 o’clock, a bike that was way too small for his long thin frame, I thought again of the moan and deep heavy silence that fell across the packed church pews when one short black woman stood at the microphone and said that she was the grandmother of the 13 year old boy that was shot by the police recently. And she shared that she also worked with a drug rehab program that had had its funding cut. “What is going on? Why cut money from those who are in need? Why would they shoot an unarmed baby like my grandson?”
The first year Obama was in office the number of children that fell into poverty was the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Yet he never mentioned poverty in his State of the Union speech.
Well this Sunday night on the South side of Chicago poverty was the said aloud, and the word poverty was shouted. There are streets in Chicago that could be the same streets I walked in Kenya, or one could walk upon in any third world nation. The situation with the gap between the rich and the poor in our country is not sustainable. The backs of the people are strong but they are capable of being broken. It is a matter of time before the poor will rise-up.
To prevent a desperate explosion among the poor, to keep our streets from erupting in flames of anger, we must keep the word poverty on our lips and we must make sure that the poor do not remain invisible. Something is happening in America. Let us work together to make sure that what is happening leads to a better life of justice and security for all, of all colors and all faiths. And may we work to make it happen before it is too late.
Will you stand with the poor or side with the rich?
On the Eve of Independence Day 2011
Tonight on the eve of Independence Day 2011, I am not looking forward to celebrating. As I take stock of the state of our union 235 years after the first Independence Day I feel like setting off an alarm instead of fireworks. And I ask myself what Thomas Jefferson would have to say tonight.
Tonight across this land over 14 million are bound by the chains of unemployment with no end in sight.
On this eve 15 million children, 21% of all children in the U.S. are held in the captive grip of poverty.
Tomorrow 17 million households, 1 in 7, will wake to face hunger pangs and the dread of struggling to meet their food needs one more day.
More than 60% of those in prison tonight are of racial or ethnic minorities. Their dawn will not be a dawn of freedom.
This July 4th over 55,000 legal and illegal immigrants will be in federal prison. Immigrants who pay more federal taxes than the largest U.S. corporations combined.
During the day tomorrow 46 million Americans will be living in fear of getting sick or injured because they cannot afford a doctor or to pay a hospital bill.
Tomorrow at some desperate moment another 16 veterans will take their own lives. This is another cost of our so called freedom.
I sit writing this at just 15 minutes into July 4th and I know somewhere across this town someone is sitting up as well, worried out of sleep, desperately trying to figure out a way to save their home.
On this Holiday our government will go 700 million more dollars into debt to pay for another day of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In this land of opportunity the top one percent earns over 20 percent of all income, which is more than the bottom 50% earns. The richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. The land of the free has become the land where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class is disappearing. We are living through a period of the greatest gap between the rich and the poor since 1928.
No I do not feel like celebrating. Instead of celebrating freedom and liberty I feel a need to fight for liberty and freedom. Instead of waving our flag in celebration I feel a need to wave it upside down in distress.
It would seem the state of our country is not bleak enough for the poor, the workers and their families, now we are also under attack from those with the wealth and the power. As never before in my lifetime public servants, older Americans, children, and the sick are being attacked in the name of austerity. The elite are trying to balance the budget of our government on the backs of the weakest and the poorest among us. This injustice is being dealt by those who have paid the least and gained the most from the previous years of economic collapse.
Tomorrow when the sun has set and the air is filled with anticipation of the first bomb bursting in air, let us pause and weigh the facts of where we are and the path we were set upon 235 years ago. The Declaration of Independence set us on a path of shared equality and opportunity, not to become a nation that lives by the gospel of wealth. An America where so many struggle to put food in their mouths is not the America our fore fathers wanted for future generations.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
I think Jefferson, if he were alive tonight, would be writing a new declaration of independence to be read tomorrow from the gazebo in the park. He would read a declaration of independence from the corporations, the elite, from those in power; a statement of a desire to be free from those who live by the gospel of wealth at the expense of the many. I believe he would speak for those who are being attacked, the firemen, the police officers, the teachers, and all who are struggling to survive in a land hostile to the worker and the neediest among us.
I like to believe he would have the courage to stand-up and say enough is enough, to the millionaires in the people’s house. I would want him to have the strength of his convictions and give the house back to the people. Thomas Jefferson would say tonight that this will no longer be a land governed by the consent of those with the money to grease the wheels of government but that from this independence day forward will once again be the government whose powers come from the consent of those governed not by those who can afford to buy it.
Let us join together and find our strength to do what we believe Jefferson would do in this country in 2011. Let us join in one voice that cannot be silenced and say we have had enough and we are not going to take any more. Let us return to the true spirit of the first declaration of independence. Let us work together to make this independence day be the beginning of our creating the nation we want to live in, not one governed by wealth that keeps a foot on the back of the many, but a nation that provides shared equality of opportunity, a nation of hands lifting each other up, helping one another along. Let Independence Day 2011 mark the beginning of our return to what is the best in the true spirit of America. Let tomorrow dawn on a path of return to the roots of a country laid on the principle of the common good. Let liberty, freedom, and happiness for all be our cry once more, and let it begin with us.
Respectfully submitted by Dan Kenney