Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sunday Evening Update: The Simple Life

Note: Today's entry is being simultaneously posted at my old site, I'll be transitioning over here in a few days, and am still working on the look and feel of the site.

This week’s update is a little more personal, but still contains pieces of the politics that I am examining these days. If you’re not interested in a personal story, I can understand, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and wanted to get out in the open. My decision to post about it began with the kernel of something I read on Truthout: A Day in the Life of the Homeless in America, which can be found here. The most pertinent bit of information that I found in the article was this:

“Americans are troubled by this issue: An Associated Press poll taken Feb. 11-13 found 53 percent consider homelessness a very serious problem, while 36 percent say it's somewhat serious. Some 56 percent see the long-term homeless as victims of circumstances beyond their control, according to the survey. It was conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs among 1,001 adults and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.”

The issue of poverty and homelessness cuts close to the bone for me, and has colored my political stances for the past eight years or so. It’s not entirely compassion that drives me, though compassion is an important motivating factor. The truth is, I lived the life of poverty. While I’ve never been homeless, I have known people who were, and I have had to make do with minimum wage jobs and unemployment. I am fortunate to have risen to a higher economic level, but I have never forgotten what it means to be poor in America: the looks when you’re wearing the same clothes you’ve been wearing all week, the comments when your family is too poor to afford to wash the clothes for that week, being too poor to afford a haircut or a decent meal, and all the social problems that it causes.

I’ve probably stated here before that I was born in a poor rural Virginia farming community, where just about everybody worked in a manufacturing position of some sort, whether it was poultry or (what was then) the brand-new Coors plant, or distribution. In Rockingham County, poultry is king; hell, when you enter the country from one end there’s a bronze statue of a turkey welcoming you to the county. College is denied to all but the most fortunate who are usually either children of retailers or college faculty or who push their brains to earn scholarships and grants. High school educations are the norm, though it’s no unusual to see people with no high-school diploma on the job.

My father falls into the latter, though it’s not for a lack of intelligence, but rather one of opportunity. When he was growing up in rural North Carolina, education was not highly prized and a young boy with epilepsy was seen as even less of a prospect for higher education, so he eventually left school in eighth grade and was stuck with the consequences ever after. You see, my father is one of those people that Republicans love to say should have gone to college and learned marketable skills and who must be happy with whatever scraps he can earn, but my father is also a proud man who was knocked down by circumstances but kept on coming. He could have spent his life on disability, drawing off the government teat, becoming another target for Republican ire, but he got off his ass, and earned what he could. Most times it wasn’t a lot, but he knew what responsibility meant.

Given such a background, even given my struggles, you can see how I would come to oppose the Republican idea of responsibility, because I understand that good people can work hard and be hobbled by circumstance. I understand that it’s not always your fault that you’re poor or homeless, that you can spend your entire life slaving away for a company and they can throw all that time away with merely the flick of a pen on paper. We need to be responsible for each other, to keep each other from hitting bottom. We need to hold the companies and corporations accountable for their malfeasance. We need to find way to help the poor, homeless, and marginalized, wherever they are.

It’s a popular tactic among Republicans to call the left the extremist fringe, that we represent marginal thinking, but I have to wonder what kind of a country we live in where the idea of decency, fair play, and compassion have become marginal sentiments, where greed is good above all else. The problem is that so many people do not recognize poverty when they see it, or when they do, they think of it as something disgusting, a culture, rather than a result. Hence the rise of the term “white trash”. Hence the demonization of the poor.

And why? Because it keeps the upper classes secure. It makes them feel safe, knowing that these awful animals won’t come for their stuff. As long as there is a bottom of the barrel, they know that they’re not there, at least not yet. But if things keep going the way they are, a whole lot of people are going to find out the pain my father and my family have lived through. I just hope we can reverse course soon enough to help them.

Posted by crimnos @ 4:38 PM

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As the mother of this commentator and wife of this father, I am extremely proud of both. At times, we were told welfare was the only way to go, but my husband said NO I know I can find a job and he did. He never shirked from his responsibility of the family. The "establishment" tried time and time again to push this family down, but thanks to the hard work and stubborness of this man, we are still going. My son has gained the work ethic of his father and I am very proud of him and I know that in the future, he will prove to the country what a fine person he is and that "being poor" is not some dreaded disease.

Posted by Blogger tallulah @ 6:17 PM #
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