Friday, September 23, 2005

LET'S TALK ABOUT POVERTY

There has been an ongoing debate in the media since the Katrina disaster about poverty, it's causes, its relation to race and geography--not to mention it's political implications. Even as the president, in a startling moment of clarity on the issue, was acknowledging the fact that poverty continues to be a major issue, his shills and minions in the media and elsewhere were already gearing up the machinery of spin. Those on the left, smelling blood in the water, went on the offensive as well touting President Clinton's success in dealing with the issue of poverty--how there were less poor people under the Clinton administration than during the first four years of the Bush administration. Blah Blah Blah...

Poverty continues to be an issue that politicians are loathe to discuss in a substantive way. They speak in sound bites. They feign empathy and affect a sympathetic posture that says to people, "I feel your pain..." Genuine responses, however, by policy makers to the stark images of poverty and privation in recent weeks have been more akin to stunned, sucking silence--a deer in the headlights reaction. The reaction is, as I like to call it, as if one had been "snake bit." While the events surrounding Katrina were the result of a natural disaster, it is entirely approriate to take this opportunity to discuss the issue of poverty while we have the attention of our nation's leaders. We must, in this country, finally recognize that how we treat our nation's poor is a reflection of our very basic values as Americans. How can we preach to others in the world about freedom and democracy and human rights while we continue to ignore our own failures.

The issue of race and how it relates to poverty is also extremely hard to ignore. When Matt Lauer on the TODAY SHOW stated that the images of people clamoring for food at the Superdome reminded him of images from Somalia I was actually sort of stunned. He was right... Not because it was a scene of hungry people fighting for food but because it was a scene of hungry BLACK people fighting for food. The black faces wailing and pleading for help on our television screens remind us that we still have far to go.

If we are going to talk about these issues, let's talk about them. Let's have an honest discussion... Let's deal with the failings of public education and unfunded national prgrams intended to improve it. Let's talk about the war on drugs and how that war has largely been a war on our nation's urban black population. Let's talk about how property tax increases in newly "gentrified" urban areas force many black people out of their homes. Let's talk about the lack of comprehensive sex education in this country that would help curb the number of unwanted pregancies among poor women. Let's talk about the need for child care opportunities for working mothers. Let's talk about making the minimum wage a living wage so that it keeps up with the rising cost of living. Let's talk about the ridiculous cost of healthcare and the cost to taxpayers of caring for the uninsured. Let's talk about re-vamping our welfare system so that it's more efficient. Let's reduce corruption in state and local governments that make it harder for poor people to be heard. Let's talk about job training. Let's talk about no more tax cuts for the wealthy. Let's talk about sacrifice. Let's talk about the war...

These are issues that aren't some abstract idea on an editorial page or on some radio talk show. These are issues that stare at us every day whether we notice or not y'all. We ignore these issues at our great peril.

8 comments:

Aunt Marg said...

James--The time for talk is over. We need action. Our leaders have talked and debated forever but no one listens. There have been those with good plans or good ideas but they never get implemented. I have always felt that the ones in power hope it will go away at least while they are in office. I wish it was as simple as helping our little corner of the world(my town--even my neighborhood)My heart aches--I am sure that is more than I can say for those with the power to help. We are suppose to be our brother's keeper. I just don't know what to do but to pray that those with power will use that power and their smarts to help us help our neighbors.

hyacinth said...

It seems to me that until we find a way to include the poor in the national discussion about poverty, we're not going to get anywhere. And you're damn straight about education -- if it's done right (and you know there is a right way!), then education is power!

BTW, have you ever seen this site? Thought it might be of interest to you...
http://jesuspolitics.typepad.com/jesus_politics/

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Bo Salisbury said...

I've found that discussions about poverty and policy don't seem to take us anywhere. I like to deal with these kinds of problems one on one or down at the local level... I live in one of the poorest areas of our state, but the "poverty" here is nothing like I experienced in Africa. Yes, Lauer's analysis of a piece of video may seem to make a valid point, but I can guarantee that if someone could set you on the ground where that was shot in New Orleans and then let you off in Somalia or even where I've been, in Uganda, you would see a world of difference.

By the way, the Africans I know will do anything they can to get an education and *if* they are so blessed, it's at about 1/1,000th the cost of educating someone here. And, their classrooms may not have desks, a door or windows (we taught out under a tree :). The reason? They are desperate... they are motivated... they know that no one will hand it to them and, if they want it, they have to go out and get it. It's a different mindset.

James Palmer said...

Thanks for the wonderful comments Bo. I hear you man. Africa is not only an example of how bad things CAN get--but also how people who are motivated enough and hungry (both literally and figuratively) enough can make a huge difference in their IMMEDIATE part of the world.

That said, everything is relative. Africa is Africa. Atlanta is Atlanta and New Orleans is New Orleans. Hunger is hunger--whether you are in Uganda, Niger, Sudan or two blocks away from my house on Confederate Avenue. To me, that there are million dollar homes and gated communities within feet of some of the most impoverished communities in this country is horribly sad. The mindset is indeed different--but then so are the circumstances.

As a devout Christian myself, I struggle with how best to minister to the poor. In working with Atlanta's homeless, I sometimes want to grab them by the collar, shake them and tell them to get their shit together. But that's not discipleship. I have been spat on and cussed at even as I hand someone the only plate of hot food they will eat that day. It's tough...

I don't know Bo. I don't have any answers either. It's a horribly confusing problem--one that needs a particular brand of empathy and ministry. Still, thanks for participating in the discussion!

Bo Salisbury said...

Thanks for visiting my blog... your art is killer. I love it... In fact, I think I've seen it out there.

I'm a Christian, as well. Our fellowship has worked with the homeless in San Francisco and we (our family) actually took a kid in off the streets for a while. A good bro of ours worked in a big home for street kids in the Haight-Ashbury.

I'm sure it's different from locale to locale, but we found here that the vast majority (70-80%) of the "homeless" simply choose to live on the street... they have considered what it takes to work and be responsible and they choose to live on the street. Some will begin to do the right thing, but then will go back out on the street, because there's no chance of serious trouble or harm. If you're not too ambitious, it's a decent life.

It's the other 20% that I'd like to focus on and, frankly, I don't know how to do that. I have some ideas, but they are probably wacky, risky, etc..

I/we do what I/we can... there are cooperatives in our town, where churches will put up folks in motels passing through, provide rotating shelters for local homeless, food pantries and other vouchers for clothing and stuff.

Jesus said the poor would always be with us and I think we look to ways of dealing with the poor... try to pare that number down. But, something I was musing on before I even read your blog entry was this: In a fallen world, there will be a fairly large percentage, perhaps 5 or 10%, who will never have what it takes to cope with living in society... to "fit in"... to keep up. This could be due to any number of mental, emotional or physical problems... I'm not saying to simply give up, but I think it's realistic to expect that there will always be some who we cannot help or will be unable to fully "help."

I work with a lot of people caught up in substance abuse... it's very similar. Unless someone wants to get off the stuff and get into recovery, most of our efforts will be in vain. I'm one of those optimists that keeps on plugging away, but now I think I get discouraged and disillusioned a little less often.

Aunt Marg said...

James--I tried to write once but it disappeared on me--I was just writing to say I guess it is improper for me to respond to Bo's first and especially his second statements. Considering this is your blog I wasn't sure just how to respond to a comment by another visitor. I would love to have a discussion with Bo about some of the comments he made. I will say this--he has been to places I will never go and probably lives in an area totally different from mine--but some of the things he said I felt were way off base. Not that he doesn't have a right to his opinion but, my goodness!

Aunt Marg said...

James-I feel I must disagree with some of the comments made by Bo. The blanket statement that 70-80% of the homeless simply choose to live life on he street...that they have considered what it takes to work and be responsible and that they have chosen life on the streets (no chance of serious trouble or harm---no ambition) Gracious Me!!!!This attitude saddens me. We have no way of knowing what someone has experienced in their lives that has made them resort to this. This is not an easy safe way to live,nor are these just people with no ambition. These people are in pain--so much so that they have actually retreated from life as we know it. I hope Bo can help the ones that do come to him--but we can't wear blindfolds to the pain of the ones that don't. I may not have been to Africa nor will I ever teach children under a tree in Uganda---but I have been through alot in my life and at one point actually considered living on the street as my only option--short of suicide. I have never told anyone this but I felt it necessary to share it at this time. Believe me when I say it is not a happy "choice"--more like a last resort. It is sad and scary. But for the Grace of God go I. This is just another way to maybe look at things--not that I am right or wrong--but this is the way I see the Homeless. Thanks---