We, as a country, are in collective denial. As Phil Alston states so well in a recent interview with Amy Goodman, we have the money to end poverty, but we simply choose not to, donating money to the rich instead (via tax breaks, tax refunds, and other forms of government assistance.)
Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Uh no. It actually makes no logical sense at all.
But I would take Alston’s point even further to say this: we’re not only refusing to help the poor but we’re also choosing to persecute the poor as well.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a war on the poor.
A war on the poor! The United States is always at war with something, and it’s usually something defenseless, something or someone we can easily defeat because of their lesser resources.
Here in the USA, we don’t know ourselves. That’s a part of our denial: 36th in water quality in the world, a high infant mortality rate, shorter lifespans than in many other countries, etc…
Yet the brainwashing continues. Schools continue to teach children that they’re lucky to live in the USA, the land of opportunity with freedom of speech, freedom to be yourself, unless, of course, you say something that someone with a lot more money and power than you doesn’t like…
That was true in Hitler’s day, and it is still true today. We’re all free, theoretically. People everywhere in the world are free to say whatever they want (as long as they are physically able to speak.) Problem is, some other people also have the freedom to lock you up in prison for speaking. Yes, you have the right to speak, but if someone else has the right to lock you up in jail for the rest of your life for speaking, you probably don’t feel free to speak, even though, technically, you are.
You see, we all can speak out against social injustice, but some of us worry about losing our jobs, about alienating people who have power over us, or worse, about being imprisoned. So we remain silent.
Here’s my speech:
There’s a type of prison that is rarely discussed in the US these days because the PTB (powers that be) would rather we not notice them. I’m speaking, of course, of the prison of poverty. You may not be in what we commonly refer to as a jail, but not having the freedom to do the things you love and live the life you choose because you don’t have the money to do so, is a lot like being imprisoned. Working at a demoralizing job in an environment that attacks your self esteem and that doesn’t pay a decent living wage, you can become so consumed with stress, always trying to keep up with the cost of living–paying bills late, paying fees charged on top of those bills because you paid late, paying the rent, the utilities, the high cost of healthy food, insurance costs, transportation costs, health care costs, etc. It all adds up for those of us who struggle to make ends meet.
Eventually, many of us just give up and accept that our lives will always be miserable no matter what we try to do to change them. That is the moment when some people succumb to addictions or abusive behavior toward themselves or their families. Some people have just given up on themselves and on the human race in general. ‘What’s the point?’ they ask.
If your voice isn’t listened to, then why speak out?
If hard work doesn’t pay off, then why work hard?
If you’re good at what you do and no one cares, then why be good at what you do?
If you’re a nice person but keep struggling while watching the selfish and the cruel succeed, then why be a nice person? Maybe greed really is good?
Do you see my point?
The worry and fear that goes along with financial struggles limits us, prevents us from fully developing as human beings. When we’re struggling so much that there’s no time to think, it’s easy to become self-centered. We become accustomed to worrying about how to pay for things.
Sometimes we forget about those measley hopes and dreams. We forget how to live life, how to find joy, how to relax and listen for our favorite song or wait for a film we want to see to be released. We forget these little luxuries because we just don’t have the money to pay for them and probably never will again. Sometimes we just have to let these things go and… just… survive. Let go of all that makes you human and just learn to survive, like a stray cat howling in the alley.
Survival. Not much of a life, is it?
Yet human suffering caused by poverty could end in an instant here in the United States where there is plenty of exorbitant wealth that could easily be spread around.
What are you saying? Are you a communist? Look, we already talked about that in my previous blog, didn’t we?
Here’s an excerpt of what Phil Alston had to say about poverty in the US:
“Well, the United States is, of course, one of the richest countries in the world. But all of the statistics put it almost at the bottom. Doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s child mortality rates, whether it’s the longevity of adults [that’s how long we’re expected to live, in case you don’t know,] whether it’s the degree of adequacy of health care, the United States is very close to the bottom on all of these.
What’s really surprising is that when I go to other countries, the big debate is that ‘We don’t have the money. We can’t afford to provide basic services to these people.’
And yet in the United States, they’ve got a trillion or a trillion and a half to give to the very rich, but they also don’t have any of the money to provide a basic lifestyle that is humane for 40 million Americans…
…What’s shocking is that in a country like India today there’s a huge government campaign to try to get sewerage to all people, make it available. In Alabama and West Virginia where I went, I asked state officials, ‘So what’s the coverage of the official sewerage system?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Really. So what plans do you have then for extending the coverage, albeit slowly?’ ‘Uh… None.’ So do you think people can live a decent life if they don’t have access to sewerage? If the sewage is pouring out into the front garden, which is what I saw in a lot of these places?’
‘That’s their problem. If they need it, they can buy it for themselves.
In Alabama where the soil is very tough, it can cost up to $30,000 to put in your own septic system.”
Your thoughts on the United States after this two weeks [of traveling through impoverished areas in the US]?
“Well, the United States is unique. First of all, it doesn’t recognize what we call as social rights on the international level—the right to health care, the right to housing, the right to food. The United States is unique in that, saying, ‘These are not rights.’ Second, the issue with the 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 over night, 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…”
__Philip Alston, NYU Law Professor, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, from an interview with Amy Goodman on ‘Democracy Now’ 12/19/2017