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blog action day: poverty

I think about poverty differently after having been poor. I grew up middle class but spent several years as an adult below the poverty line. I had to live off the charity of others for my shelter, my food, my transportation. My oldest was born on state aid and received her first year of well baby checks at the community clinic. I’ve had to make the “rent or food” decisions and had to keep my baby in soggy diapers for lack of funds that week.

This period of time was formative for me in changing my thinking about how to deal with poverty. Not only did I grow up in the middle class but I grew up in a “salt of the earth” family. We were as American as apple pie and proud of it. You couldn’t find a more stereotypically conservative Republican family than mine. We were Evangelical Christians, believed in small government, were patriotic, nationalistic, gun owners/hunters, entrepreneurial, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, faith in the American dream…that was (and still is) my family. Work ethic was instilled in us from birth (well maybe not…but pretty close). I always believed that there is NO EXCUSE for being poor. If you work hard enough, sacrifice enough and have strong work ethic you will be able to acheive everything this good, God-fearing country has to offer.

And then, just like my religious education, the ideals failed me. It didn’t work. I had to believe one of two things a) I was a failure or b) sometimes, the (philosophical) system fails you. I waffled between the two options and have finally come to where I find myself today.

The first thing I have come to terms with is this - poverty is. It just is. People are poor and sometimes we have to get out of our heads long enough to stop asking the why’s and figure out what we’re going to do about it. The second thing I have concluded is that in the figuring out of what to do about it, the why’s need to come back to me. In other words, it’s easy to look at the person who is poor and say “she is poor because” with the intention of getting to the root of the “problem”. it’s a bit more difficult to look at MYSELF (not poor) and say “she’s poor because of you.”

One of the most disturbing things I heard when America was trying to figure out what to do about our financial situation was when people started saying “well yes, of course America will now have to pull back on our aid to other countries, of course we’ll have to reduce spending in the areas of aid in our own country, something’s gotta give.” When people were trying to convince us that we needed a bailout plan, what I heard the most was that it would hurt the middle class if we didn’t do something. And then when I heard complaints about the bailout plan FROM the middle class, the argument I heard the most was “I don’t want to have to pay to bail out the bankers”. What i heard very little of was “I don’t like the bailout plan because it’s going to end up hurting the poor”.

What brought us to this place financially are the same reasons we still have so many hungry on this planet - ultimately, if we all chose to shift our own priorities, our own standard of living, our own assets, we could equip many of the world’s poor to rise above the shackles of poverty. To help the poor, we need to stop looking at the poor and look at ourselves. We need to ask the hard questions of ourselves - questions like “do I really need that new macbook?” (a question I am currently asking myself), “is capitalism, in the way we are currently manifesting it in America, the most just way to steward our resources?”, “How am I contributing to the crisis of poverty in my own city and what am I willing to do to fix it?”.

If a church of 200 people making on average $60,000/year chose to give their 10% tithe toward the crisis of poverty for just 1 year they could fund an average “back on their feet” program in an average mid-sized city in America.

I don’t think the problem is as hard to attend to as we think. But we first must look at ourselves, and THAT is what’s hard.


consider making regular contributions to a micro lending organization like Kiva - be the change.

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  1. Pingback - Blog Action Day Wrap | TheGeoffRe(y)port — October 15, 2008 #

    [...] Swinging From The Vine (Makeesha) - blog action day: poverty [...]

  2. Jamie Arpin-Ricci — October 16, 2008 #

    Great post!

  3. Shanna — October 18, 2008 #

    I agree with the points you made. Thank you!

    I came from the same background as you did…except we didn’t own guns (dad couldn’t kill bambi–he tried & failed…those brown eyes & all) and we were Lutheran (who listened to a lot of Christian Radio…Dobson, etc).

    I will say another aspect of this is that we have to be willing to get our hands dirty too. That means going outside of our comfort zones and reaching out to those around us who are suffering.

    That is what is really hard for people. I notice that in our society it is very much still about me, my & I. I myself struggle with it–after all I was raised like you…to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” & “rugged individualism”…which does not allow for the community or the church to come together in a cohesive manner.

    When I mention the above to my family/dh’s family & friends, I notice people get instantly uptight about it all.

    The reason why? You hit the nail on the head…we have to look at ourselves honestly and most people just don’t want to do that because it means that they actually have to “do” something.

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