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  Liz Theoharis writing for Tom’s Dispatch on poverty and the solidarity and ingenuity of the American people when it came to helping the poor in their country.  The underclasses in the USA have begun to organize again, I just hope it isn’t too late because the road before them is steep and filled with many pitfalls.  The recent addition of social media to the mix with it’s tendency to fragment and cause division among groups will provide a significant challenge for those organizations that wish to once again reform and reforge the poor into a political force in the US.  I hope they succeed as the survival of their nation is dependent on them achieving their goals.

“Another example was the transformative work of the Black Panther Party, whose legacy still impacts our political life, even if the image of the party remains distorted by myths, misrepresentations, and racist fearmongering. This October marked the 55th anniversary of its founding. For many Americans, its enduring image is still of ominous looking men in black berets and leather jackets carrying guns. But most of their time was spent meeting the needs of their community and building a movement that could transform life for poor Black people.

In a recent interview, Fredericka Jones, a Black Panther herself and the widow of the party’s co-founder, Huey Newton, explained that among their projects,

“the most famous and most notable would be the free breakfast the Panthers offered to thousands of children in Oakland and other cities, providing basic nutrition for kids from poor families, long before the government took on this responsibility. We knew that children could not learn if they were hungry, but we also had free clinics. We had free clothing. We had a service called SAFE (Seniors Against a Fearful Environment) where we would escort seniors to the bank, or, you know, to do their grocery shopping. We had a free ambulance program in North Carolina. Black people were dying because the ambulance wouldn’t even come and pick them up.”

Before his murder in 1989, Newton himself characterized their work this way:

“The Black Panther Party was doing what the government should’ve done. We were providing these basic survival programs, as we called them, for the Black community and oppressed communities, when the government wasn’t doing it. The government refused to, so the community loved the Party. And that was not what you saw in the media. You didn’t see brothers feeding kids. You saw a picture of a brother who was looking menacing with a gun.”

As Newton pointed out, the Panthers bravely stepped into the void left by the government to feed, educate, and care for communities. But they were also clear that their survival programs were not just about meeting immediate needs. For one thing, they purposefully used those programs to highlight the failures of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the contradictions between America’s staggering wealth and its staggering poverty and racism, which existed side by side and yet in separate universes. In those years, the Panthers quite consciously tried to shine a light on the grim paradox of a nation that claimed there was never enough money to fight poverty at home, even as it spent endless billions of dollars fighting a war on the poor in Southeast Asia.

Their programs also gave them a base of operations from which to organize new people into a human-rights movement, which meant that all of their community work would be interwoven with political education, highly visible protest, cultural organizing, and a commitment to sustaining leaders for the long haul. While deeply rooted in poor black urban communities, the Panthers both inspired and linked up to similar efforts by Latino and poor-white organizations.

These were, of course, the most treacherous of waters. At the time, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI listed the Black Panthers and their breakfast program as “the greatest threat to internal security in the country.” Government officials recognized that such organizing could potentially catch fire across far wider groups of poor Americans at a moment when the War on Poverty was being dismantled and the age of neoliberal economics was already on the rise.”

Inequality in society, in terms of political power and economic means, is what lies at the root of the problems we face.  Nothing will be solved until we stop the wealth disparity in society.

 

Poverty meant buying yesterday’s — or even sometimes last week’s — bread. In such a world, you shopped by the piece, not the pound. Even time is a different commodity in the world of the poor. Joblessness creates unbearable amounts of time to kill, while working three jobs just to get by leaves no time even for sleep. The free time needed to train for, prepare for, or develop a career, or even to relax and develop a life, isn’t readily available with a family to feed. Where there are few or no options for mobility — and in these years of the new Gilded Age, cross-class mobility has, in fact, been on the decline — escape fantasies are a necessity of daily life. How else to get through the drudgery of it all?

In such a world, so lacking in the possibility of either movement or escape, drugs tend to play a big role in the lives of the young and the middle-aged. Recently, doctors have received much of the blame for providing too manyopioid prescriptions too easily, while poverty is hardly blamed at all. One of the cruelest results of poverty is that people often fault themselves for their predicaments instead of a system that devalues their worth.

There was a curse, which was also a kind of wish, repeated in the hallways of my neighborhood’s rundown buildings. It went something like this: May the landlord stay healthy and have to live in this building for the rest of his life! Behind such a wish is the deep knowledge that the people most responsible for one’s everyday misery have never had to scrabble for their livings and don’t have a clue what poverty feels like. On television or at the movies, crises are often depicted as drawing people closer. In the world of the poor, however, it’s often the very opposite: poverty and unemployment break up homes, tear families apart, send some into substance abuse and others to one miserable job after another.

Need in America Today

And yet… and yet… what’s most troubling is not what’s changed but what hasn’t, which includeswhat poverty feels like in the body, the psyche, and the soul. In the body, it mostly results in the development of chronic or untreated ailments in a world in which nutrition is poor and, even if available, unbalanced. Asthma is one example that can be found now, as then, in nearly every family living in poor rural areas and inner cities such as the one in which I grew up.

In the psyche, poverty begets fear, anxiety, tension, and worry, constant worry. In the soul, poverty, which feels like the loss of you know not what, is always there like a cold fist to remind you that tomorrow will be the same as today. Such effects are not outgrown like a child’s dress but linger for a lifetime in a country where the severest kinds of poverty are again on the rise(and was just scathingly denounced by the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights), where each tax bill, each favor to the 1%, passes a kind of life sentence on the poor. And that is the definition of hopelessness.

Americans who barely made it through the recent recession now find themselves in conditions (in supposed good times) that seem to be worsening. In poor neighborhoods and rural areas, even when people listen to the pundits of cable TV chatter on about economic inequality, the words bleed together, because without the means to make real change, the present is forever. At best, such discussions feel like ateardrop in an ocean of words. Among professionals, pundits, and academics barely hidden contempt for those defined as lower or working class often tinges such discussions.

If media talk shows were ever to invite the real experts on, those who actually live in neighborhoods of need, so they could tell uswhat their daily lives are actually like, perhaps impoverishment would be understood more concretely and provoke action.It’s often said that poverty’s always been with us and so is here to stay. However, there have been better safety nets in the relatively recent American past. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, though failing in many ways, still succeeded in lifting people out of impoverished lives. Union jobs paid fairly decent wages before they began to be undermined during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Better wages and union jobs aided people in finding better places to live.

During the past few decades, however, with huge sums being poured into this country’s never-ending wars, unions weakening or collapsing, wages being pushed down, and workers losing jobs, then homes, so much of that safety net is gone. If Donald Trump and his crew of millionaires and billionaires continue with their evisceration of the rest of the safety net, then food stamps, welfare aid directed at children’s health, and women’s reproductive rights, among other things, will disappear as well. Add to that the utter disregard the Trump administration has shown for people of color and its special mean-spiritedness toward immigrants, whether Mexican or Muslim — and for growing numbers of non-millionaires and non-billionaires the future is already starting to look like the worst, not the best, of times.

It seems that those who foster ideologies that deny decent lives to millions believe that people will take it forever. History, however, suggests another possibility and in it perhaps lies some consolation. Namely, that when misery reaches its nadir, it seeks change. Enough is enough was the implicit cry that helped form unions, spur the civil rights movement, launch the migrant grape boycotts, and inspire the drive for women’s liberation.

In the meantime, the poor remain missing in action in our American world, but not in my mind. Not in me.”

An excerpt from Kennith Surin’s Essay, “Poverty American Style”.

There are not many aspects and norms that are left to chance in society.  The norms we accept, the ‘common knowledge’ we are all expected to understand, and “the way things are” are all socially constructed choices.  The decision whether to have society work for the majority of people or just a select few is not a codified law of nature, but rather a choice made by the people who currently control society.  The author of this piece argues that the crushing poverty in the US is a tacit choice made by the elite in American society, and because it richly benefits them, see no reason to change the current status quo.

 

“It doesn’t take an economic genius to know that what rescues the US is the dollar’s role as the primary global reserve currency, and the vast size of its economy. A huge and rampant stock market helps, but since that contributes significantly to cycles of boom and bust (87, 97, 2007, ??), its contribution to the overall economy should not be overestimated. In objective economic terms, therefore, with a smaller overall economy and without a global reserve currency, the US would in all probability be more like Brazil.

After making his statement on the US, Alston gave an interview on the Amy Goodman radio show, at the time when the Republicans published their tax-cut bill which is now law. To quote him:

“[T]he issue with elimination of poverty always is around resources: ‘We don’t have the money.’ The United States, again, uniquely, has the money. It could eliminate poverty overnight, if it wanted to. What we’re seeing now is the classic — it’s a political choice. Where do you want to put your money? Into the very rich or into creating a decent society, which will actually be economically more productive than just giving the money to those who already have a lot?”.

It is impossible to disagree with Philip Alston when he says that this state of affairs has resulted from political choice and not economic necessity.

Apart from his plutocratic supporters (the Kochs, Papa John the pizza man, Sheldon Adelson, Art Pope, Robert Mercer, Robert Kraft, the DeVos wife and husband, and of course the army of their hangers-on and wannabes in Republican country clubs), Trump’s base consists of moderately or less well-off whites who’ve had the show all to themselves for many decades– this making their own systemic exploitation somewhat bearable– but who now have to share this show with blacks and Latinos, Muslim Americans, “the gays” (as the near-senile televangelist Pat Robertson refers to this community), as well as a small quota of refugees from America’s unceasing wars and bombing campaigns, and so forth.

As other CounterPunchers have noted, “Make America Great Again” is code aimed at this group of white self-professed “victims”— thanks to Trump’s declamations the latter somehow believe they are more likely to have the show to themselves once again.

Supporting the very affluent wearer of a baseball cap (made in the US but from imported fabrics) sporting this slogan, is always a political choice, as is the preference of the plutocracy to line its already ample pockets by donating massively to the cap-wearing con artist: “con artist” being the appellation used by his fellow Republican plutocrats Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney, who have political ambitions of their own not entirely congruent with Trump’s white-nationalist agenda, however incoherent the latter may be.

Trump, Romney, or Bloomberg? Whichever one gets ahead politically; the plutocracy will prevail. As it did with Bill Clinton and Obama.

Also a political choice in this context is the preference of mainstream Schumer and Pelosi Democrats to make congressional shadow-boxing a pitiful facsimile of real opposition.

And so, a great many Americans have before them an option expressed by a well-known philosopher, if only they opened their eyes: “You have nothing to lose but your chains”.”

The level of poverty in the US is unacceptable, it won’t change until the streets are filled and people re-engage with the political process.

 

I’ve never gone hungry in my life.  With that statement it puts me in class that most of the world will never see.  I have been lucky and had a parent that worked to make my childhood pleasant, enriching and carefree.  With that base established I went to University and earned my degree in education and now make enough money to survive reasonably and keep my life nourishing and fulfilling.

I am certainly not upper class, heck probably lower middle class at best, but I have not had to endure decisions such as whether to eat or pay for rent, or fix the car or hope it does not explode on the way to work.   I’ve always had the means so I’ve never had to make those decisions.

“Spent” is a game, if you can call living in poverty a game, about the decisions people like you and me have to face if things really get stuffed up and it goes south.  What would you do?  Go to the Spent website and find out.

Pharyngula is one of my favourite places to go as P.Z Myers is always finding interesting bits of science and rationality to education, entertain and amuse me.

The thread on Pharyngula that I’m referring to is about how the gap between the rich and poor in the US is continuing to widen.  One of the commenters left a response that deserves a second viewing as someone who is having a tough time making it in a country saddled with supply-side economics and plutocratic values.   I quote “JustALurker” in her entirety.  (Please note that strong language is prevalent in the body of this quoted material)

“Ahm. As one of these lazy ass people in the absolutely poor demographic in the U.S I think I could help by throwing in my 2 cents here. Obviously, this is just from what I know and see so anecdotal and small study set at best. However, I think hearing from one of the people being discussed might help those that are privileged and ignorant to the actual situation and just like to spout ideological bullshit.

Firstly, yes I am a single mom and have been struggling on my own since I was 16. I did go to college for 2 years, received 2 associate degrees while doing my prereqs for Nursing. Due to this small and short education and 2 years experience I do get better paying customer service jobs than most people I know but it is still not enough to pay the bills. I worked two jobs, got out of the shelters and into my own place and was still receiving help for daycare since it would have taken up almost half of my income otherwise.

Everything was dandy until I lost both jobs (because I didn’t get hired on, was only temp and seasonal), couldn’t get a new one soon enough even though I applied online for over 100 jobs, and went through 4 temp agencies. Well, then the cascade began, phone got shut off, daycare help ceased since I wasn’t working, and now I have a 5 day notice to get out and the electricity will be shut off before then. I have been calling shelters for the past month but everything is booked including the nightly shelters and the shortest wait list I’m on is 4 to 6 weeks. Whoop dee do.

Now I’m screwed worst than before and can’t get any fucking help. Now I’m scared to death that I will not receive a miracle (haha) and have somewhere to go but will end up on the streets and have to give up my child to CPS since I cannot have her on the streets. Her welfare is more important than the fact that I love her and don’t want to lose her or the fact that I will most likely not get her back. What a lovely system we have here.

So fuck off sideways to everyone that says I’m stuck here because I’m lazy or that its my own fault. That is far from the truth. I will work fucking 3 jobs if that’s what it takes to take care of my baby. I didn’t end up here just because I was knocked up young. I got the crap shoot when it came to parents, one a crackhead and the other an abusive alcoholic. I’m so desperate I even tracked them down and asked for help. One can’t and one won’t. I had a bad start but I took control of my life and my actions. However, simply working hard and “excellence” will not get me out of this situation.

This is the fucked up system we have here. This is what the Republican pro-lifers want. This is there America, and I am only a lazy welfare queen stuck in it. If I am lucky enough to find a place, I will jump though several hoops, not only to get in but to stay. Most places only give you 2 weeks to find a job and have a mission statement that includes saving your soul (shudder). And that isn’t half of what your stuck with doing. I have lived with roaches and rats in shelters. I have heard fights, domestic violence and have been robbed. Yet right now I am hoping to find a spot in one of these places so I can work my way up to a better future for us. There are people that are stuck in this cycle, in this life but I am dedicated to not being one of them. I just need an opportunity.
So again to you privileged whinny ideological fuck heads go shove it up your ass sideways. Come live in my world, the real world for a bit and see how long you last. I bet you won’t be spouting your bullshit for long, if you were here. If you survive.”

toughoncrime I hear this often enough: “Crime is out of control we need more police on the street… or let’s get tougher on crime… or (insert conservative trope here)”

I wonder how much thinking people who say these sorts of  things have actually done about the issues of crime and poverty and how they are interrelated.  Whoops! I just used a 5 syllable word that, like it or not, it cuts me off from speaking to people who often hold this opinion, and relegates me to talking past them instead.   We do not have a common cultural frame of reference and I am written off as a lefty intellectual egg head socialist (Fear not I am neither smart nor witty enough to qualify to be in the liberal intellectual elite) and largely ignored.  Talking past one another is a serious problem for both me and the bumpkins ( My apologies I could not resist) whom I attempt to communicate with.

Crime is a problem. (But then again, criminality is on the decline, we should not let reality intervene… it might force us to reconsider our opinions)

The populist response:  We need more police, more prisons, and more courtrooms to punish these malcontents and n’er do wells.  Society has gone soft on criminals and we need to ‘toughen up’ on crime to fix things.

Okay, so to toughen up on crime we need to spend more public money on jails and police.  Where does the money come from?  The pubic purse of course and along with more police and jails/legal infrastructure comes the necessary bureaucratic/managerial superstructure.  So really, what they are advocating is more government spending and ‘bigger’ government.  Government spending and more government and antithetical to what conservatives and populists claim to believe.

More police and more jails often comes with the rallying cry of cuts to welfare and other methods of social assistance because ‘it makes people lazy’.  Check.  Never mind the facts of the matter.  Only a very small percentage of people who are on social assistance cheat the system, most do not.  Social assistance helps people avoid grinding poverty.  Poverty is the largest cause of our social ills, crime, violence, drug-use are all tied to impoverished people and conditions.  I digress though, as welfare and other forms of wealth distribution are inherently evil and must be abolished.   Charity will “fix” the problems of the poor.

My response:  Crime overall has been on a decline for decades, it certainly should not be ignored as a social issue, butCrime needs to be framed within the proper non-fear based context.  We do not need more police and jail infrastructure.  We need more spending on the front lines of social assistance and welfare that directly combats poverty.  Poverty is the enemy we need to combat, not crime directly.  People who can exist at a modest level within society are less likely to commit crime.  If we went after the root cause of crime (poverty) we could stop so much deviancy before it ever started.  Improving community supports and schools have measurable paybacks toward the positive health of society.

Yet, I am the bad one because social programs mean taxes.   The free ride conservatives give to industry also mean more taxes to pay for the average person as well.  In Alberta, the royalty regime is laughably pathetic, with rates at absurdly low values.  I digress as I’ve already talked about energy royalties in a previous post.

If you feel crime is getting out of hand in your neighbourhood first ask what can you do as a community to fix the problem.  Conservative commentators are forever decrying the lazy welfare state… fine… then lets see these righteous people organizing community watches and ‘take back the night’ campaigns and tackling issues on the community level.   Does this happen?  Occasionally, but more often, we hear ‘we need to be tough on crime’ and ‘more police’ refrain as if this will actually fix the problem.  Forget getting people involved in their community, that smacks of socialism and is a bold assault on self-interest which of course, is at the very core of conservative belief.

So we get more police and build more jails and taxes go up (or more valuable social spending is cut) and government gets bigger.

Populists rarely see this connection and thus are missing out on the sweet irony that laces much of their dogmatism.

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