Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Et tu, Brute?"

Last week, Councilmember +VALERIE ERVIN hosted a movie screening at the AFI Theater called American Winter.  Many of you were there.  The movie focuses on several Oregonian families who are having a tough time in the down economy.  Bigger than that, the movie also attempts (and succeeds!)  to raise our collective consciousness about hunger and poverty "in the richest country on earth"-- America.  Many of us see poverty and hunger every day in our work.  Even still, there are many more who have not yet perceived the rising tide of these things in our community.  Either way, the movie was for all of us.  A summary of the evening's events can be found here:

With the stories of families who were hanging on literally by a string, there were also folks who offered commentary on the dynamics and structures that contribute to the seemingly intractable presence of poverty in America.  I was already aware of much that was offered, however I have to admit that there were several comments that caused me to sit up in my chair.  They were so striking (and disturbing) that I tweeted them.  I'll play back the tweets here:

+Uma Ahluwalia's comment about the dramatic increases in food stamp recipients in Montgomery County:

The cost of preventing homelessness vs. the cost of caring for someone who is homeless:

The rich are getting richer while the working class and poor continue to struggle:

(Excuse the typo above-gotta move fast on twitter!)

And while all of this is happening, the American taxpayer has perhaps unwittingly subsidized a low-wage workforce that is being exploited by the same companies & corporations who are making record profits (more on this in the next two blogposts!):

What strikes me most about all of this is the unbelievable contradiction that seems to exist here:  while the safety net is being strained, companies are exploiting low-wage workers and making record profits.  I guess this proves yet again, that trickle down policies don't and won't work.  Apparently greed short-circuits any opportunity for this to happen.

"Et tu, Brute?"

Now these were comments made by experts in the movie (and Uma!) who were obviously making intentionally provocative statements in hopes of getting our attention (they got mine!!!).  Despite the shocking nature of these comments, how can we find out if any of this is really true-- i.e. that as we faithfully pay our taxes, we are also subsidizing a safety net that keeps low-wage workers in their place--barely above starving and permanently in the underclass as it relates to wages, income, wealth, health, education, and opportunity? Someone please tell me how we can figure this out!!!   If it is true, then this sad state of circumstances is not only immoral, it's bad business, its not sustainable, and it is a recipe for revolution.  Furthermore, if this indeed is the case nationally, how are these dynamics at play in our own Montgomery County-- a place where we both affirm and invest heavily in the safety net?    Could we, in our zealousness to address poverty and "meet needs"actually be contributing to our collective demise, and in particular the demise of those in our midst who are struggling the most?  Could we be feeding a local economic (and social) system that exploits, demands even, low-wage workers who remain far from being self-sufficient?  If so, we, the very people who affirm the safety net might be as responsible for keeping folks stuck in poverty as are the big and powerful companies who are exploiting their low-cost labor and gloating record profits.  In other words, despite our good intentions, we may be literally killing the very people that we really desire to help.

To be sure, this is not an attack on the safety net-- we need it for now-- until we become so uncomfortable with the above mentioned contradictions that we are willing to do something even more loving, equitable, and just.

I'm uncomfortable NOW!  How about you?