Bill Moyers and Michael Winship had an OpEd on Truthout Sunday titled Invisible Americans Get the Silent Treatment Sunday in which they made reference to a group that nobody wants to talk about. This isn’t about the Native Americans although many of them are definitely part of the group nor is it about immigrants, legal or otherwise although again, many of them are by circumstance, members of this group. It’s about America’s poor and it’s the poor that these gentlemen refer to as Invisible Americans.
As a bona fide card carrying member of the League of Invisible Americans I was actually surprised to see that someone of their stature had even noticed us, such is the degree of transparency under which we shadowy figures exist and live our daily lives.
As much as I admire these two gentlemen as masters of their craft, I was nonetheless struck once again by the fact that it would appear that each of them view the poor from the lofty standpoint of someone who has reached the apex of their craft, made a comfortable if not extravagant living from it but who is definitely NOT poor, never been poor and doesn’t face the prospect of ever having to go without something. This is not to say that they’re in the same league as the radical right wing blowhards who are quite certain that the only reason anyone would “choose” to be poor is that they’re too damned lazy or ignorant to be rich, but only that there is simply no way their perspective allows them to truly understand the day to day plight of the people they wrote so eloquently about.
They did however, make some very pertinent points, one of them being the very title of the piece in which they refer to the “silent treatment” with which the majority of these ghostly figures meet when they try to get someone to listen and understand that it isn’t just about the middle class but about all of us who make up the ninety nine percent and that the poor have occupied the deepest hold of the boat we’re all in together since before the middle class even came aboard. We simply do not need the same bullshit class distinctions on a sinking ship that we have on dry land.
According to the article (emphasis mine):
It’s just astonishing to us how long this campaign has gone on with no discussion of what’s happening to poor people. Official Washington continues to see poverty with tunnel vision – “out of sight, out of mind.”
And we’re not speaking just of Paul Ryan and his Draconian budget plan or Mitt Romney and their fellow Republicans. Tipping their hats to America’s impoverished while themselves seeking handouts from billionaires and corporations is a bad habit that includes President Obama, who of all people should know better.
Remember: for three years in the 1980’s he was a community organizer in Roseland, one of the worst, most poverty-stricken and despair-driven neighborhoods in Chicago. He called it “the best education I ever had.” And when Obama left to go to Harvard Law School, author Paul Tough writes in The New York Times, he did so, “to gain the knowledge and resources that would allow him to eventually return and tackle the neighborhood’s problems anew.
This is the very fact that, during the first two years of the president’s term, had me ready to just toss the whole thing and walk away from the process. After all, he had on numerous occasions during the campaign promised to bring us all together and give us a united voice against the predations of the Wall Street oligarchs and their congressional wienies and then, once elected, it was again all about the middle class as we were labeled, and dumped into the same bag as the “Firebaggers” and “Emoprogs” and went back to our little non-existence while the “Pragmatists” once again took up the battle solely for the middle class.
Your first reaction to a snub… in ANY situation… is anger and anger is what I felt at what I considered an outright betrayal by the one person I thought had an inkling we were even out here. We have no reason to have any loyalty to the middle class but I do feel a responsibility to the class I’m a part of and for us to exercise that responsibility we NEED a strong middle class so that’s what I fight for now. But as the authors of the article state in no uncertain terms, if you ask anyone in the current administration about what is being done or will be done to ease the burden on the poor, you’d better be a big fan of cricket concerts, because that’s all you’re going to hear.
Oddly, though, for all his rhetorical skills, Obama hasn’t made a single speech devoted to poverty since he moved into the White House.
Five years ago, he was one of the few politicians who would talk about it. Here he is in July 2007, speaking in Anacostia, one of the poorest parts of Washington, D.C.:
“The moral question about poverty in America — How can a country like this allow it? — has an easy answer: we can’t. The political question that follows — What do we do about it? – has always been more difficult. But now that we’re finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has an obligation to keep trying.”
Barack Obama the candidate said he wanted to spend billions on a nationwide program similar to Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone in New York City, widely praised for its focus on comprehensive child development. In the last three years, only $40 million have been spent with another $60 million scheduled for local community grants.
Obama’s White House team insisted their intentions were good, but the depth of the economic meltdown passed along by their predecessors has kept them from doing more. And yes, billions have been spent on direct aid to families in the form of welfare, food stamps, housing vouchers and other payments. What’s needed, as Paul Tough at the Times and others say, is a less scattershot, more comprehensive program that gets to the root of the problem, focusing on education and mentoring. Not easy to do when a disaffected middle class that votes says hey, what about us? — and the wealthy one percent who lay out the fat campaign contributions simply say, so what?
I don’t know if the irony of that last sentence struck Mr. Moyers and Mr. Winship when they were putting the piece together but if you’ll notice, it’s once again about a “disaffected middle class” and the wealthy one percent. The Invisible Americans have once again faded entirely from view.
They finish up the piece with the following:
Just a few days ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy issued a report on charitable giving. Among its findings: “Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their incomes to charity than rich people who live in more economically diverse communities.” Responding to that study, social psychologist Paul Piff told National Public Radio, “The more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become, and the less attuned to the needs of other people you also become.”
Those few who dedicate themselves to keeping the poor ever in sight realize how grave the situation really is. The Associated Press reports that, “The number of Americans with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level is expected to reach an all-time high of 66 million this year.” A family of four earning 125 percent of the federal poverty level makes about $28,800 a year, according to government figures.
That number’s important because 125 percent is the income limit to qualify for legal aid, but although that family may qualify for help, budgets for legal services have been slashed, too, and pro bono work at the big law firms has fallen victim to downsizing. So it’s not surprising, the AP goes on to say, that there’s a crisis in America’s civil courts because people slammed by the financial meltdown — overwhelmed by foreclosure, debt collection and bankruptcy cases – can’t afford legal representation and have to represent themselves, creating gridlock in our justice system — and one more hammer blow for the poor.
We know, we know: It is written that, “The poor will always be with us.” But when it comes to our “out of sight, out of mind” population of the poor, you have to think we can help reduce their number, ease the suffering, and speak out, with whatever means at hand, on their behalf and against those who would prefer they remain invisible. Speak out: that means you and me, and yes, Mr. President, you, too. You once told the big bankers on Wall Street that you were all that stood between them and the pitchforks of an angry public. How about telling the poor you will make sure our government stands between them and the cliff?
Indeed gentleman, that is a very good question for the president of all of the people but my question to you would be why we’re also invisible to folks like yourselves on all weekdays and most weekends except when we’re trotted out to provide a means for chastising Mr. Obama over his own benign neglect? Why aren’t the few honest journalists we have left including the plight of the poor… which after all IS the plight faced by the middle class… as an integral part of their narratives on a daily basis. Inquiring minds really do want to know.
In the meantime, those of us already living the kind of life planned for all but the upper reaches of the middle class will sit here, quietly doing what we can… which admittedly is very little… to help stave off the yammering jackals that are beating on your doors and when the time comes, it will be as it always has been… it will be the serfs and the raggedyassed poor who rise up and kick the living crap out of the oppressors and given the lessons of history, the middle class… the gentry if you will… needs to rethink which side it wants to be on. No revolution… peaceful or otherwise… was ever instigated or won by those interested only in maintaining their own position in the existing hierarchy at the expense of those below them.