My Turn: Time to champion the poor again

Posted: Monday, June 07, 2004

With our recent focus on the tax breaks for the wealthy, the privatization of public employment, the off-shoring of jobs to distant ports, the strain of the war in Iraq, and the aftermath of 9/11, we have forgotten to remember those who live silently among us - the poor.

In a society of enormous wealth, our poorest citizens receive less and less of their piece of the pie chart. If the true measure of a society is the way it treats its poorest citizen, we are badly failing here in the United States.

Though we are a society of strongly professed religious convictions, each declaring a responsibility to help others less fortunate, we have been withdrawing our support for those who need our help the most.

We pride ourselves on our focus on children, yet we allow large numbers of children to grow up in poverty, which we know will result in poor diet, inadequate medical care, unsafe housing, poor educational opportunities, exposure to violence, exposure to toxic chemicals - all leading to futures that are elusive at best.

In a society of great generosity to the needy overseas or to those who face a crisis, such as a tornado or a hurricane here at home, we fail to see those in our midst who live in daily trauma of insufficient everything.

We know who the poor are. They are one of our most studied groups. We know that they include the mentally ill, the drug addicted, single parents, displaced elderly and lots and lots of children. Were these found among our own family members, we would respond with help and treatment. But are the poor not our family too?

We do not merely ignore their plight. No, worse than that, we blame them for it. The poor have brought their condition on themselves, we tell each other - just one of the many lies we need to believe to be able to forgive ourselves for taking no action. We want to be free to ignore the conditions of our society that allows such poverty to exist. But we are not. Our humanness does not allow such easy assignment of blame.

The poor exist outside of our world, isolated in certain sections of our larger cities and hidden among our rural communities. We provide financial support to institutions to house and feed them as long as they stay in their part of town and out of ours. Yes, they are in our world but invisible in our daily lives.

Poverty, by definition, is caused by the lack of financial resources. The wealthiest country in the world can easily change the incidence of poverty in it's midst by sharing our abundant resources. It is up to us.

We have the opportunity, in this year of a presidential election, to let our politicians know that we want to challenge their lack of response to poverty in our great and wealthy nation. At different times in history, both parties have championed the cause of the poor. This can happen again. It is the will of the people that allows poverty to exist. It is the will of the people that can assure each and every American citizen their birthright - the chance to be a full participant in our great society. It is the right thing to do.

• Beth Hovind lives in Gustavus and has worked in the field of social welfare in Wisconsin and California for the past 28 years.

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