Five Justifications for Poverty in 2018 America

CONCERNED CITIZENS ARE NOT ACTIVISTS or revolutionaries, not the way we normally think of activists and revolutions.

A Father with two young sons isn’t thinking about protesting a politician on the sidewalk. A Mother with two teenage daughters isn’t planning on spending two hours arguing with her neighbors at the Community Council meeting. Grandmothers and Grandfathers have more stimulating things to do than watch Rachel Maddow all day. In order for a person with familial responsibilities to enter the political arena, there needs to be purpose.

Poverty Impedes Democracy. What’s in it for me? Seriously. Poor people don’t possess the resources to practice democracy. They are poor. Time is a luxury of the wealthy; or, at least the wealthier members of society. The mid-to-upper economic classes in the U.S. can afford to volunteer their time, their labor and their resources. A young parent is not in the same social position to act as the entrepreneurs or the semi-retired.

Before the first direct action event in Anchorage, a small body of volunteers met to discuss the intellectual challenge of sparking a movement in Anchorage to address poverty. The Poor People’s Campaign is an ambitious national effort by concerned citizens motivated by the Christian love ethic. It seeks to finish Dr. King’s last campaign. Inside of Anchorage’s Lutheran Church of Hope, on Northern Lights Blvd, eight concerned citizens discussed the most popular justifications for poverty. They came up with five.

Poor Education. This is more of an explanation, than a justification. We know poor people exist around us. It’s hard to ignore the homeless. They make themselves plain before us. It’s not as if they have a house to place themselves in, away from public view. Their presence reminds us that society is unfair in its distribution of goods, services and opportunity.

Because the myth of the self-made person dominates the American mind, the first explanation offered to address why poverty exists in a robust capitalistic system such as ours is: everyone doesn’t have access to the same information or services.

America works. It works well enough for the eight of us to be sitting inside of a climate controlled environment, waiting on others to join us.

Those failing in America, obviously are not working from the same blueprints that we who are able to get America to work for us are utilizing. Or, better said, that is how it feels. If the public school system worked, meaning, if it helped establish parity through a guaranteed level of shared knowledge, then, poverty would not exist. Everyone would access the appropriate level of resources because the individual would know how to navigate the system.

Sharecropping. The second explanation we generated was theft. Whether it is through the libertarian lens or the Alex Jones conspiratorial lens, the villain in this argument is the corrupt person. Think, Donald Trump. He doesn’t pay his bills – at all. He uses the court system to outlast creditors through litigation and files bankruptcy to avoid paying any taxes. Meanwhile, he has a high income level. If there was a way to limit the impact of corrupt personalities, capitalism would work, as the majority of people are virtuous and follow the rules.

Personal Responsibility. This argument is popular among those who still worship the American dream. It posits poverty as a choice. Like Kanye! No one has to remain poor, even if born into poverty. Jobs are fundraising tools, not endgame strategies. The achievements of rich and/or poor is a result of money minus bills. Limit the bills and sooner or later the income will make you rich. Or, so, the myth goes. If you aren’t strong enough to save money then your spending habits will always make you poor. Change your behaviors and you change your life.

No Compassion. This argument views society as a three-legged stool: Family, Government, Churches.

Government provides economy, the busy-ness mess of life. Family provides people, the relationships of life. Churches provide inspiration, the meaning of life.

When churches do not do their job, the more successful persons do not choose to compete with government over who is going to be better to the people. Business, or corporations, are supposed to put government to shame in how they solve societal problems. The museum supported by businesses captures the popular mind in ways the school, even university, cannot. Or, so, the ideal model of capitalist morality states.

Weak Social Safety Net. This last explanation puts the blame on government. The Great Depression proved that providing a basic annual income, or resource stream, is essential for our national defense. When the call to defend the country from the Nazis sounded, malnourished young men answered. So malnourished, the volunteers’ courage inspired the Congress to argue that it is a matter of self-defense to prevent said conditions where young men were too weak to run and shoot a gun.

For poverty to exist this far into the 21st Century, after extremely insightful congressional debate, just doesn’t make sense. It leads to the conclusion of purposeful underfunding of effective programs, like school breakfast, food stamps and medicaid.

We concluded the discussion with the idea firmly planted that we would bring these arguments up during the campaign. After all, if these represent the thinking among the masses, they were puzzles that needed to be solved. No social movement is successful that cannot speak in relatable terms of the people it seeks to attract.

Words by Kokayi Nosakhere

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