"Poor People." Say It: "Poor People."
Perhaps it's the fact that our political leaders find it easier to talk mostly in terms of rich and middle class. Perhaps it's that, despite the increasingly dire headlines about our economic state, we remain blinded by the myths of American exceptionalism, purity of intent and omnipotence.
But whatever the case, don't you think it's well past time our political discussions stopped ignoring the poor?
Like most, I too was saddened by the reports of unrest at Cobo Hall yesterday. But I'm downright pissed that, to some, that's the only reason yesterday's eruption deserved national headlines.
It didn't matter to most that as many as 50,000 people showed up, some from as far away as Flint, seeking government help to either get them off the streets or to keep them from being thrown into the streets. It didn't matter that, the day before, thousands of other state residents had descended on Cobo Hall looking for the same help. No, the poor only became visible and meaningful to most when their frustrations began to boil over at not being able to get applications for aid.
Despite being led by an African-American president born into modest beginnings, the national discussion continues to assiduously avoid talk about how to best help the worst-off among us. The poor continue to be little more than an inconvenience to one political party, a scourge to be wiped out to the other. History has taught me that it wasn't always like this, but for nearly as long as I can remember, poverty in this nation has been treated like some moral failing that only strikes those who deserve it. And since poor people have it coming to them, we figure, we're better off turning our attention and national ministrations to the "rich" and the "middle class," those assumed virtuous by the balance of their checking accounts and the number of SUVs in their driveways. In this stilted, ineffective debate over "Wall Street vs. Main Street," we've turned our backs on the Avenue and the Boulevard.
Already, I've seen headlines accusing those in the throng of being driven by "greed." On these boards even, I've seen comments from people noting that some of those in line were on cellphones, as if to intimate that anybody using some $20 burner from the liquor store couldn't possibly also need government assistance to stay in his or her home.
I'm not saying that poor people don't have an obligation to strive, and frankly, I'm annoyed with myself for even feeling the need to add that caveat. But I also don't think it's a contradiction to say, on one hand, that poor families need substantive attention and assistance and, on the other, that poor children need to excel in biology and English classes.
We need to get past these phony class boundaries surrounding our talk about how to best save our country and beyond this BS "moral" hectoring of the poor. We've also got to stop talking about "the middle class" as though it was some euphemistic catch-all that includes welfare mothers earning $15,000 a year as well as $150,00-a-year accountants. We need a serious plan of action -- and no, this is not what even a welcomed temporary federal grant constitutes -- that does something to address the crushing poverty that's sucking so many Americans under. We need a vision for the worst off as well as for the best off. We need jobs and education on the Boulevard as well as on Main. We need to make the poor a priority again.
Because, given the continued unabated transfer of wealth from those who have next-to-nothing to those who have it all, what we saw yesterday wasn't just about the present conditions facing the poorest metro Detroiters. What we also got was a glimpse of a future that, unless we widen the perimeter of our political discourse, threatens us all.