I’m not really sure where to begin. Links are easiest and there are half a million good ones out there – Flowing Data’s map of Poverty in the US, the Girl Effect, the ONE campaign, and more and more and more.
I’m privileged, in lots of senses of that word. I’ve never lived in poverty. I’ve always had health insurance, I’ve always had plenty of food, the heat in my home has never been turned off during the winter, I’ve never had to spend hours on public transportation just to get the day to day things that must be done accomplished, or had to rise in the wee hours of the morning, just scant hours after going to sleep, just to be able to keep doing it again and again.
It’s easy to believe we’re strong and powerful when we wake up every morning in warm bedding, walk down the hall to a shower with clean water, while our electric coffee makers brew, our minds already on the challenges of family and work for the day. We don’t have to take the time to think about any of the millions of people who wake up in a shelter, stand in line for a space in a public bathroom, jostle through a line for what breakfast there might be before walking or, if they’re lucky, taking a bus to work. We don’t have to think about the families who worry not only about getting their kids to school, but also about having to pack everything they own into bundles they can carry because they can’t stay in the shelter during the day and they certainly can’t leave things there.
Abject poverty is somehow easier, both to imagine and feel outraged about and to ignore. The working poor, the two-income families without homes, are harder. The Protestant Work Ethic is strong in this country; we believe as a matter of course that hard work is rewarded. It’s ingrained in our policies – think about the differences between Medicare, available to retirees who have worked to earn those benefits, and Medicaid, often derided as “welfare” and “charity”. It’s inherent in our capitalist economy – work gets you money which gets you power and status and privilege. Our public schools are based in a system that perpetuates the idea that only if can afford to live in neighborhood with other people who earn “good money” do your children deserve the best education.
So, in a country where hard work is supposed to save you, the idea that there are an increasing number of working poor is anathema. From that follows the belief, admitted or not, that if you’re poor, it must be because you aren’t working *hard enough*; that you somehow don’t deserve basic security. You may not believe that. I may not. But enough people in this country do, at least enough to stand mute if not to actively oppose changes that would provide a safety net for the poor.
Maybe, through the attention of thousands of people on one day, we can begin to change that. That’s my hope for today.