I’ve had some more thoughts to add to my developing perspective on poverty that stems and evolves from my last post; there I had begun the line of thought that poverty is not an issue of charity and indifference, but rather of a systemic need to provide recourse for the poor to make their own money in a legitimate manner (duh!). Continuing this direction in thought, I would like to now confront a fundamental obstacle in the path to the poor helping themselves: those with the money and the power.
It is the onus and privilege of those with money and power to pretend that they have nothing to do with poverty. I am now going to begin speaking of these folk as “we”, in the assumption that if you are reading this post, you are probably not living in poverty. And I include these poor, destitute 20 somethings in NYC who are forced to flirt for free drinks and eat junk food while living in their loft apartments in midtown Manhattan (follow that link up there to read yet another article that demonstrates just whom the NY Times caters their news towards). At this point, you are probably throwing up your hands and backing out the door, saying, “I’m not responsible for poverty. I can barely afford my credit card bills, fill up at the pump, or pay back my student loans.” But you are. We are all responsible, because of the very reason of such a denial. We are responsible because we are complicit.
Don’t worry, this is not going to turn into one of those liberal assays of guilt and blame. I simply wanted to make my point very clear: the major obstacle in the way of the poor raising themselves out of poverty is not themselves—it is those who hold onto money and power and deny it from the poor. We are all complicit in this act because of reasons such as I had detailed in my last post on this issue: we believe that the poor are poor because they are lazy, stupid, or simply because we need poor people in order for there to be rich people. And so we either extend charity or pity, or we remain indifferent. And thus complicit.
Beyond complicity, there are those who work directly to keep the poor poor, and these are the people with the major money and power. The Bush Administration, along with groups like Enron and Halliburton, have clearly demonstrated what kind of stripes these people wear. They are greedy sons of bitches who will not hesitate to lie, cheat, and betray all of the world in order to get what they feel is their entitlement. And because we are complicit, we slap their hands, but we do nothing to stop them. Because we all want to be this powerful and have that much money. We all want to become the real life embodiment of the American Dream.
But to assume that simply because we live in a capitalistic society and that our market thrives on competition that we require for there to be have and have-nots is ridiculous, and in fact completely anti-capitalistic. The more people that we can allow onto the playing field of the economy, the more that there will be enhanced competition as well as collaborative growth, and the more the market will develop. Poor people need to be extended credit and resources to start their own businesses, fund their own developments, build their own communities, and invest back into the bigger pool. The more that micro-economies thrive and teem and interact with smaller fry, the more that the macro will be stabilized and efficient and healthy.
The fact is, there is no credible reason to keep poor people poor. The only thing that keeps poor people poor is the greed, complacency, bigotry, short sightedness, and all other forms of small mindedness from those with money and power. It is therefore only extreme indifference and cruelty that allows us to see, when taxes are cut and budgets are slashed and essential programs and social services are jettisoned, not the devastating effect on human lives, rather solely the hypothetical increase in our own coffers. We put up blinders to our own humanity to think in such a manner. The fact is that there is no excuse. There is no acceptable reason for accepting poverty.
And there is no acceptable reason, for that matter, of accepting any kind of tainted and bitter revolt against our own humanity. Compassion is much stronger than pity. Understanding is much more powerful than fear. Everyone on this earth has the potential to be beautiful. Everyone deserves to be beautiful, to shine, to be seen as the treasure and gift that they are.
We need to fight back against the ugly despair, disgust, and terror that is our nightly news. We need to fight back against the complacency and indifference that is so easy to succumb to, the avoidant eyes on the subway, the challenging aggression on the streets, the burning short fuses on the freeway.
No one said it would be easy. But there is a fundamental step within our own minds that must take place for anything good to happen: we must determine whether we will fight for joy, fight for beauty, fight for wonder, and fight for humanity, or whether we will simply step back into the shallows of our temporary alliances and turn against what we know is true. We know that the existence of poverty—ever, anywhere, but most especially now—is simply
So what do we do? Do we start throwing our pennies in the cups of homeless on the street? No, of course not. We need to start affecting change in the structures and environments of the most destitute and impoverished areas of our cities. We need healthy, beautiful, clean, and affordable living spaces. We need access to public transportation. We need the extension of credit and access to money. We need access to well-funded educational and youth development programs. We need nutritious food. We need potable water. Is any of this complicated?
Essentially, all that the problem of poverty and its related issues requires is ATTENTION. The solutions then flow from creativity, community, and collaborative dedication. And turning our attention to these matters should not be seen as charity, selflessness, and other forms of saintliness. Rather, we turn our attention to these matters because we recognize that we are enhancing our greater community—because we are removing the root source of fear, bigotry, and despair from all of our lives. Like what I was saying in another post about the need, in our personal lives, of cleaning and organizing every hidden and unattended spot in our living spaces and mind, so too in our civic spaces and minds we must focus on those areas that are ignored, have been left to fester and decay, have turned into dumping grounds. Because these are areas that are parts of ourselves.
We cannot detach ourselves from each other, except to the detriment of everyone’s humanity.