As I prepared to enter the NC Legislature last Monday with hundreds of fellow citizens who are deeply concerned about how policies coming out of our General Assembly are harming our most vulnerable neighbors, I was glad to see Leigh Bordley, a member of our school board in Durham. I’m grateful for the work she’s doing for all kids in Durham (including mine). But I was moved by her testimony about why she, as a Christian, knew she had to go to Raleigh for Moral Monday.
When a friend of mine told me about her experience of being arrested on May 13th, it was the push I needed to do the same thing. I had read about the Moral Monday protests and intended to go – but in a general, amorphous way. Once I talked to my friend, I made a plan to go the following Monday. I was eager to go express my disappointment and outrage about the bills being proposed and passed in the General Assembly. I am blessed to have representatives there who represent my views; the only downside to this is that I have no one to complain to or try to sway when legislation I don’t agree with is being considered. Participating in the demonstration was one way to have my voice heard and at least be a warm body that could be put in jail.
It’s interesting to have opportunities to give advice to young artists. Each time, I learn something about myself, something about the way I may appear in others’ eyes – and something about the gap between them too.
I suppose the easiest way to explain that gap is that to those several decades my junior, my life – or at least its trail in print and online – evidently appears to follow a “career path.” They want to know who mentored me, or how I crafted my ambitions and what helped me actualize them. But it’s been more of a stumble than a blueprint. If you’re close to my age cohort, you know what I mean, because your life has already taught you the truth of that old saying: “We plan and God laughs.”
The thing is, I get asked variations on that question a lot: What needs doing now? What is most important, most effective? I want to do X but my (parent, professor, pastor, etc.) says I should do Y; what do you think?
The idea of giving cash directly to the poor, rather than donating to non-profits which provide services, is anathema to most Americans.
A principal reason for this is the way in which we as a society view panhandlers, who have unfortunately come to personify those who are in desperate and immediate need of financial assistance.
Not only has giving cash to those asking for it become frowned upon out of a fear that such money will be spent to support substance addictions, but the very act of panhandling has been criminalized across America. (Of 234 cities surveyed, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found 53 percent had criminalized public begging.)
Which is why, when Google’s Director of Giving, Jacquelline Fuller, told a superior that she wanted to funnel millions of dollars of cash directly into the hands of the world’s poorest people, he responded, “You must be smoking crack.”
But this is precisely what GiveDirectly, a non-profit based in the U.S., has been doing for some time in Kenya: finding poor villagers and transferring donations directly to them via a cellphone. And the data shows that it’s working.
Over 10,000 Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv this evening to protest new austerity measures in the country’s budget, echoing (and perhaps renewing) Israel’s historic social justice protests from two years ago.
Over 10,000 Israelis took to the streets on Saturday, May 11 to protest austerity measures. Photo by Haggai Matar.
Many activists who played a central role in those protests were involved in this evening’s renewed call for Israelis to march in the streets against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and their budget, which proposes cuts in social welfare programs and raised taxes on lower- and middle-income workers.
Ella Baker, community organizer and mother of SNCC
Ms. Juanita teaches three year-olds at the Head Start program downtown. She stays just a few doors down from us in Walltown, but I never see her in the morning. She catches a bus to work long before I come downstairs, put the kettle on for tea, and walk down to the sidewalk to get the newspaper. A room full of three year-olds is no walk in the park. (I know; mine usually wakes up before the tea is done.) But when Ms. Juanita sends the last kid home with her parents at the end of the day, she catches another bus to night school. She’s been keeping this schedule for over three years now.
Most nights after dinner is done and the dishes are washed-about the time we’re getting ready to start the bedtime routine with our kids-Ms. Juanita comes walking down from the bus stop. She’s tired, of course, which she’ll tell you. But she always has time to ask how our kids are doing, to tell a story from her day, to talk about the most recent neighborhood news. For the past couple of years, she and I have coached a 7-8 year-olds basketball team together. One night a week thru the winter, we head off for practice about this time in the evening. I’m always amazed that Ms. Juanita is still standing.
When we moved to Walltown ten years ago, we got to know Ms. Juanita’s kids. They’d come by our house in the afternoons and often stayed for dinner. They were middle school kids with sweet smiles. In their early twenties now, they both still live with mom. One is in school, the other has been in and out of jail for the past two years.
David Azerrad in a recent post at the Heritage Foundation’s site, “What the Left Misunderstands about Poverty and Dependency” offers a long list of right wing assumptions: that housing, food, and medical assistance prevent people from marrying and working, that government assistance “erodes the virtues that allow people to flourish,” and most astonishingly, that “all Americans – conservative and liberal alike – believe in a strong safety net.” I sent him an email with several questions (if he answers, I’ll provide that in an update). Here is the first:
When you mention, “the virtues that allow people to flourish,” which virtues do you mean and what would be “flourishing”?
by: Levi Bridges on April 1st, 2013 | 1 Comment »
Time after time, Pedro Santez has moved away from his native village of Coyutla to pursue a new career.
Each time, after spending years away, Santez returns home and finds that his four children are older and more of his neighbors are gone, seeking opportunity elsewhere. Santez tries to start a new life in his home town, but he always leaves again.
And the pattern repeats.
It was only when I sat down to write this piece, some version of which has been brewing for some time, that I realized that it is, in some ways, a direct continuation of what I wrote about last week. It is a piece that’s about how we came to make money so central to our lives that it masks the fundamental dependence we have on each other. It is also about how our interdependence likely was and can become again fueled by a web of love and care instead of fear and separation, as it is now.
I get an inkling of this, in my own life, from seeing that, in some small and yet significant ways, I have exited the money economy. Even though I clearly have more money than the vast majority of the human population, I don’t have, and am unlikely to ever have, enough money to hire all the support I need in order to make my work possible. By necessity and by luck, I can only do my work because of the existence of people who, based purely on their love and the inspiration they get from my work, take on projects that would otherwise simply not get done.
Moving beyond Relying on Money
The reality behind this privilege, namely my access to far more resources than the money I have could ever buy, is based only on love. In this way, I have joined the large web of sharing resources that, I believe, is the underlying truth of our humanity, where we started and where I want us to move toward (I will have more to say about sharing resources and about love in a moment).
While I rejoice, I also recognize that I am still quite limited in my ability to fully relax into this web and to make choices about what I do or don’t do that are purely motivated by the intrinsic meaning of the action, without taking into consideration money. I am definitely part way there, just not all the way.
At tables, during holy days, occupy our hearts with something new:
Let us risk a conversation in which debt is not considered shameful.
Grant us mutual release of any embarrassment that we aren’t rich yet.
Release us from the nasty shame that says debt is our fault.
Remind us to keep our resumes at home.
Keep us from reporting only accomplishments to each other.
Help us forgive all our intimates for not winning the lottery.
Help us redefine what it means to win.
Grant us some generous forgiveness for not being wildly successful and limit our
bragging to one self-referential story per hour. Move us beyond shame for being “poor”
or understanding how you can have a lot of food and still feel poor. Remove internalized
poverty from our table, where it sits next to the egg, the root, the parsley, the shank.
Let me be clear: my dog doesn’t care about the new pope. He’s not Roman Catholic (he’s labradoodle) and he has no political interest whatsoever beyond when we will next go for a walk and how he can steal other dogs’ squeaky toys. So I haven’t tried to convince him of why the election of Pope Francis matters, and if you share his indifference to the world beyond your immediate senses, then for you there is no reason either to care about any politics, papal or otherwise. Just sit back, hope for good weather, and watch the oceans continue to rise.
But I believe that what happens in the world is worth paying attention to. Maybe it’s an inherited gene: European Jews who, unlike my parents, didn’t pay attention to politics in the 1930s tended to have fewer children. While you are alive, paying attention to the political weather helps you to stay alive. Perhaps sadly, it is not sufficient in the long run, but it really does help in the short term.