"never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. . ."
This diary isn't about The Dream Act, or promising young Latinos who find the ladder to success missing a few rungs. Although it could be. It's not going to be republished to BlackKos, although it should be. It won't deal with homeless LGBT teens living on the Mean Streets, but not because they aren't part of the picture. It won't focus upon the grinding poverty that marks many of our Native American communities and reservations, but not because they don't deserve attention. There will be no "awe shucks, that's so cuuuute!" pics of heart melting Labrador pups, or feisty kittens. Neither will it deal with the latest political assault upon the rights of women. Or the plight of Pacific Islanders in an age of global warming and rising sea levels. It's doubtful that any mention will be made of the dangers of fracking, or the ominous reach of Monsanto and the importance of eating local, organically grown food.
There will be no cheap and easy shots taken at the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rick Santorum, the tortoise like visage of Mitch McConnell, the shrill rantings of Michele Bachmann or ruminations upon how, when and why Al Franken lost his moral compass.
This diary is about America. It is about all of us. It is about what is happening to us. Maybe not to you...but to a lot us us. According to data just released from the U.S. Census half of us are now either living in poverty, or skating on the edge of poverty.
That, my fellow Americans, is approximately 153 million people. And this is 2011.
We are not moving forward as a nation. We are moving backwards. All of us. And this is the single most important issue of the day. I would hope that we could all agree upon that...but sometimes I'm not so sure. I know that this site is about electing more Democrats, and I support that goal. But sometimes I feel, as I read the diaries posted here, as though we get lost in the thicket. We cling to ephemeral statistics, like initial unemployment claims, or dubious BLS data which seem to suggest that things are trending in the right direction...mostly because we are searching for positive reinforcement that "our man" will win next year. The larger picture gets lost in the horse race analysis. The larger picture also gets muddled in identity politics.
When I read this morning that 1 in two Americans live in poverty or near poverty, I didn't have to go far to see the picture of that reality. I only needed to shave. As jarring and hard as it is to admit it, I am part of that picture. I look in the mirror, and I see a White, middle aged man, with a B.S. degree but no specific job skills, who lost his job in 2000, during the last recession...spent 2 years finding another job that was promising and seemingly stable, only to lose that one as well during the Great Recession we are still suffering through.
So what? How does that differentiate me from others who never had a firm foothold in the American Economy, and never enjoyed a bounce from the Clinton years? It doesn't. My current poverty is no "better", nor any "worse" than anyone else's. I'll take that back...it is better. It's better only because it isn't generational. I did not grow up poor. My parents did, but I didn't. I was supposed to be the kid that never had to face that reality. My parents did everything they possibly could to make sure that it would turn out that way. You have no idea how deep, how inescapable the feeling is of my sense of failure with respect to the sacrifices that my parents made in order to insure that I enjoyed a better life than they did. I hide the details of my descent from them, ashamed.
But that's just me. I am not the picture...just a tile in the mosaic. There are millions of others. Some Black, some Brown, some Gay, some disabled, some Vets, some vegans, some deer hunters, some Nascar fans, some who watch PBS, some Christians, some Atheists...but all struggling.
And the struggle for survival surpasses all other struggles, my friends. If you think otherwise, you have never struggled for survival.
I see diaries here from time to time...I won't and can't name names, and it wouldn't be appropriate to do so...but the jist is this:
"So and so is really struggling...can we help?"
These diaries invariably end up on the rec list, and the community opens its heart and its wallet to these individuals...and everyone feels good about it. It's a feel good story. For those of you who are flush and fortunate, it's an opportunity to feel like your donation made a real difference for a real person. I understand that...yet, at the same time...I feel almost like there is something...I don't know...not quite right about it at the same time. I can't put my finger on it, exactly...but something about it just leaves me with a queasy feeling. There is so much need...and so few people come forward or ever get noticed...and on the other side there are people who know that they are fortunate in their circumstances, and are looking for a way to make a difference. So somebody steps forward. Meekly, probably. Hesitantly. Not without a bit of shame, no doubt...but desperate. And when they do...this community steps forward and helps them out.
What's not to like about that? I don't know...I'm hesitant to say that there is anything wrong with that. Good is good. But helping one person does not wash us all of the guilt or the obligation to help the many...and I'm not saying that anyone who has ever helped a Kossack in need did so with the feeling that it did so. This is a big problem.
It's the biggest problem out there, I would suggest. The Great Recession has morphed into something else, and poverty is what it has morphed into. I'm 55. The last politician I can remember who really talked about poverty was Robert Kennedy. And he mostly focussed on Appalachia and inner city Blacks. As well he should have.
Today, inner city Blacks and Appalachians are still poor. Nothing much has changed. What has changed is that we are no longer making progress on that front. Black poverty is still a huge issue. Rural poverty is growing, not diminishing. Native American poverty is still grinding in too many places, even as tribes have found new revenue streams over the years. But the demise of the Middle Class over the past 30 years has catapulted people who only 30 years ago thought that they had made it back into the ranks of the poor. That's no more tragic than the fate of those who never escaped it to begin with...but it IS cause, I feel, for all of us to stop for a moment and reevaluate our priorities.
If the census numbers just released get worse...if the trend towards greater poverty in this country increases...I don't care what your pet peeve or your pet issue is...this country is doomed. And the doom will be accompanied, eventually, by real violence. Because you can only corner a wounded animal so long before it lunges, in one last effort at survival, for your throat.
I never thought I would live to see the day when this country retreated from the basic assumptions of fairness, of progress and of economic growth that I took for granted in my youth...But, having said that, I never thought I would see the day when Americans would become so self absorbed and so indifferent to the most pressing needs of the day that they would pursue so many peripheral issues, to the neglect of the most central issues, and thereby lose their way.
I used to give to the Sierra Club. The Nature Conservancy. The ACLU. I put two dollars into the kettle of the Salvation Army bell ringer today. 2 dollars, as puny as it is, that I probably can't afford. But I can't afford not to. They are on the front line. And I'm on the front line too.
Our whole country is on the front line...and the front line is our slow descent towards poverty. Maybe you don't feel it yet. I hope you don't. But it is creeping forward, not receding. Diaries about lowering initial unemployment claims notwithstanding.