Fighting Poverty and Media Idiocy in America: Local Activism

14 Mar

If we follow the media, our lives are saturated with not only the indulgent exploits of Charlie Sheen, but more importantly, government spending and cutting. Everywhere we look it’s a program cut, a new bill on spending, a fresh controversy for the budget. While the government is trying to bring the economy out of the tank, the political effect of spending and lack of job creation is taking place at the individual level; poverty is real.

Some in media would like to argue that poverty is not real.

“You know one of my favorite quotes on poverty comes from Benjamin Franklin. I love this quote: We should make the poor uncomfortable and kick them out of poverty.” I love that! There’s compassion for ya. He knew if you made poverty more comfortable, there’s a lot of people that would be like, you know what, I’m just going to kick back here. I’m just going to — you know what I — I’m going to sit back and, you know, let the state give me a candle, you know. Kick them out of poverty! Give them something to strive for. Instead what happens is we enslave people in poverty because we give people everything, we make it easy for them to live in poverty and at the same time — it’s the combination of the two — at the same time the leaders will say, “You can’t make it, you can’t make it.””

Glenn Beck

Why is this crazy rambling of Glenn Beck any less media marketable than the erratic ramblings of Charlie Sheen? Read Glenn Beck. Read Charlie Sheen. Compare the two. Is either one more comprehensible?

I do not think so.

I think the ego-inflated, substance-abusing movie star and the self-important, ideologically mad media man, both of who make more more money than the majority of Americans, need to take a sharp turn out of their bubble-protected worlds and meet with reality. Poverty is real. There are Americans who cannot afford adequate food, housing, clothing, or medical care for themselves or their children. Because we have moved from an agrarian culture, a person can no longer simply live off the land because buying land costs money. The other option available is working for income. When the economy is in the tank, finding a job becomes a job in itself. In addition, because people living in poverty statistically have lower education levels than those who are not living in poverty, securing that desperately needed minimum-wage job becomes even more difficult. Who would you hire for a hotel desk clerk position? The 35 year-old man with a tenth grade education, or the 25 year-old with a GED? Hopefully, both candidates would get an interview. However, with current unemployment rates, receiving an interview is almost as precious as getting the job, and most employers do not want to waste their time with “bogus” interviews. How do we decide to sort diamonds from the rough? Often, all employers have to look at are qualifications, such as education levels, length of employment at other jobs, and references.

The conditions of a frail economy, low education levels, and the cycle of poverty in low-income areas all contribute to bolster the fact that poverty is real. Glenn Beck claims that we enable those in need by offering services to them. Considering this opinion, Beck probably despised the work of Mother Teresa and adamantly advocated against despicable her work which enabled those capable lepers to receive the most meager form of health care. Shame on you, Mother Teresa.

No, the funds used in Mother Tersea’s work did not come from the United States government, nor does the US have leper colonies. However, we do have families who cannot treat their sick and poor; we have children who die every year due to inadequate health care; we do have people living in destitute conditions. Just because the wind doesn’t blow inside your high-rise apartment, Glenn, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The word poverty has become a glossed over term for those who have no experience with its reality. It is easy to allow poverty to become a symbol if the meaning behind the symbol is never encountered. According to Merriam-Webster, poverty is “ the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” This definition is fairly nondescript; the words do not offer any shock or vivid pictures of those in need. In contrast, I offer a scene from a case study in Bridging Multiple Worlds. While names have been changed to protect identity, the case studies presented (in the book) depict real people in real situations.

“The Ramirez’s neighborhood had the appearance of a war-torn city where abandoned houses, small business, and factories were boarded up, windows broken, and structures gutted. The street on which Maria’s family lived was typical of many. Broken sidewalks and potholed streets were littered with broken glass, rocks and other debris” … “The Ramirez building was sandwiched between two abandoned factories” … “In the tiny basement apartment where the Ramirez family lived, two small front windows with curtains flapping in the wind allowed the only air to enter” … “Roaches and mice ran about freely in the old building, and sometimes the girls’ clothing had a roach on the sleeve of a coat or sweater. In the cold winter weather the girls often wore clothing that was too small and inappropriately flimsy” … “The tiny apartment of three rooms had no bedroom for the girls. Their bed was placed in the small foyer at the front door, which could be very cold when the temperature dropped well below freezing” (Taylor and Whittaker, 2009, pg. 158, 160).

The case further details the problems of the Ramirez’s youngest girl, Maria. She has poor vision, is chronically sick with sore throats and colds, and has recurrent urinary tract infections. Despite the recommended medication, the family cannot afford prescriptions for Maria, who is in elementary school. The mother holds a job as a laundry attendant in a private school, and the father is constantly looking for work. Mr. Ramirez has a ninth grade education, completed in Mexico.

There is no denying the truth of poverty in America. While I cannot prescribe a government solution, I can offer something for the average man: Get out in your community. Volunteer. Help the poor and needy, and I do not necessarily mean money. Offer your time, your resources, your assistance. Become a Big Brother. Help low-income kids figure out the bureaucracy of getting into college and then help them to succeed in college. Big Brothers, Big Sisters is a great program. So is Habitat for Humanity. Offer yourself to something bigger than yourself; you will shock yourself with what you can do, what you can “fit” into your schedule. You have time for what you make time for. Do it. Stop making excuses. Let a little ego go, and make a difference in your community. There are literally hundreds of kids and people who need you.

My message for the aforementioned  filthy rich?

Grow up, Charlie Sheen. Grow up, Glenn Beck. Put your energy forth into good causes, instead of spreading viral ego-driven nonsense into the hearts and homes of America.

References

Taylor, L.S., & Whittaker, C.R. (2009). Bridging multiple worlds: case studies of diverse education communities (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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