“Sadly, more and more children are making their way into the ranks of the poor. Forced to surrender their life`s chances before they even know their life`s choices because the poor have no powerful lobby, no political clout, and no good cards in a deck stacked against them already. In America today, we don`t just have a poverty of jobs, we have a poverty of affirmation, a poverty of opportunity, a poverty of optimism and a poverty of hope,” stated Social commentator Tavis Smiley during the CBS “Sunday Morning” TV program July 24. More recently, on a hot July 31 in downtown Eugene, a 16-year-old named Darren exclaimed: “I don’t have any money. I don’t have a home.” The teen also noted that he’s been living rough with other teens on the streets of downtown Eugene this summer.
Darren is not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau that estimates more than 60 million people in America are living in poverty. In fact, Oregon has one of the largest homeless populations in the country with many young families living in tents by streams or in cars and old trailers.
What does it say about a country where so many are hungry and in need
Social commentator Tavis Smiley has asked in a recent commentary what does it say about a country where so many are hungry and in need. And, what does it say about America with more than 60 million in poverty at the height of the debate over deficit reduction. The answer, says Smiley, is “you almost never hear the word poverty or any serious talk about the poor in America.”
In turn, Darren and other homeless Eugene teens – who are the same age as pop stars Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber – are forced to eat from garbage cans and endure back alley sexual liaisons for cash while Darren points to “dumpster diving” is what he’ll probably be doing in September over going back to school “because I have no home, no parents to give me anything.”
Nearby, a young family dumps the bucket of urine and feces from their car that’s used for a bathroom while crusted dirt and rashes can be seen on their necks as they panhandle for “anything you can spare.”
War on poverty in America stars with a “kindness revolution,” say activists
Also, those here in Eugene and other parts of the country who are fighting the war on poverty, note that a “kindness revolution” needs to happen now rather than a “me revolution,” per I “got mine” and “the heck with those who don’t have anything.”
“Imagine what would happen if people in America – at every level – practiced kindness towards the poor and needy in our world? Just imagine if everybody did one kind thing for their fellow man or woman or child on a daily basis? How can you tell people that life is not just about taking, but giving back and serving others,” questions local Eugene activist Harper who recently protested outside a Eugene McDonald’s asking that fast food chains act responsibility by offering “real live” food to local kids rather than just their “mystery meat” burgers and fries.
“There’s so much we can do to right the wrongs of the world, be it poverty, bad food served to kids or a simple act of love and kindness. What’s wrong with that,” asks Harper.
America’s “invisible” literally don’t have a pot to piss in, say locals trying to help
“We’re trying to get to the coast, thinking we can sleep on the beach or something,” quips 20 something’s Travis and Julie who with eyes that blurred with perpetual indecision admit they’re homeless and trying to eke-out a life on the road.
“Every empire in history has either failed or faltered, but for some reason, be it our arrogance, our hubris or our nationalism disguised as patriotism, we turn a blind eye to the growing chasm between the have-gots and the have--nots. One percent of the population owning and controlling more wealth than ninety percent of Americans is both dangerous and unsustainable. At the heart of the problem is political cowardness. As the 2012 race for the White House heats up, it`s worth remembering that in 2008, not once during three presidential debates did either candidate even utter the word poverty and not much more has been said or done since then. Even as the indiscriminate net of poverty in snares even more Americans,” asserted Smiley during a July 24 CBC “Sunday Morning” commentary on the plight of the poor in America at a time when the country’s leaders are more focused on appeasing the rich and their fellow lawmakers than those who have nothing.
Smiley, who’s been dubbed one of the 100 most influential people in the world today, also evoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when noting that “at this critical moment in our nation`s history, we have a choice to make as Americans. We either choose to eradicate poverty or poverty just might eradicate us."
"I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity,” said Smiley while noting that when, in 1968, Robert Kennedy, then a candidate for President, embarked on a tour of some of the poorest and most forgotten places in America.
“The notion of a political figure, one so well-healed and well-known making a choice to reach out to the least among us was an inspiration for millions. In this upcoming election cycle, let`s hope that someone steps forward to speak on behalf of those most in need. They probably won`t unless we demand that they do,” he said.
Meanwhile, Smiley and others are asking why is the country turning a blind eye to this chasm between the haves and have nots?
The new poor in America are the middle class
While the White House and congress were finally successful in sorting out a budget deal on Aug. 1, it comes at a time when many who voted for more cuts for social programs are considered to be the “haves” in America who seem, says Smiley and others interested in social justice.
For instance, a recent New York Times and CBS poll found that only 1 percent of Tea Party members are not white. In other words, the survey noted that more than 98 percent of Tea Party members are white. Thus, it’s no surprise, say some social justice experts here in Eugene, that the wealth gaps between whites and minorities are so great.
In fact, new figures released by the Pew Research Center stated that “the median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared with just $6,325 for Hispanics and a low $5,677 for blacks.
Pew researchers also noted that this analysis of new U.S. Census data points to more white people being viewed as “rich” or the “haves” and more Hispanics and blacks are “living on the economic margins” of our American society.
In turn, those who are poor in America today may ask how does this budget deal help them when social justice experts still complain about a new budget deal that still “rewards the wealthiest Americans with continued tax breaks.”