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I have just finished read How America criminalised poverty by Barbara Ehrenreich.

I have seen the effects of poverty when I volunteer in free health and dental clinics, not just in the mountains of SW Virginia, but also in Springfield VA, in the DC metro area.

Some would say I should be used to it.  Thank God I am not, that I am still upset when I encounter it personally, or read about it as I did today.

Ehrenreich is revisiting the topic that led to her best selling book, Nickled and Dimed.  Two selections from early in this essay:

The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.


In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street. Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed "experiment", had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.

It gets worse.

You will read in the essay how some communities now make it illegal to distribute free food to the homeless or hungry in a public place.

But then, they will place strict limits on how many people can be feed by homeless shelters and food kitchens.

And then there's this: Al Szekeley is 62, in a wheel chair from a bullet he received at Phu Bai, and spends a lot of time on the streets, especially G Street in DC.  

He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until December 2008, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants. It turned out that Szekeley, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs, or cuss in front of ladies, did indeed have one – for "criminal trespassing", as sleeping on the streets is sometimes defined by the law. So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail.

"Can you imagine?" asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Szekeley. "They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless?"

We criminalize being poor, being homeless.  But we allow corporations to ship jobs overseas in some cases to sweat shop conditions, then corporations will not hire those who are unemployed, they lower the wages they are willing to pay knowing that in a time of real unemployment over 15% people are desperate for jobs.  And our government gives tax breaks and bailouts to financial institutions that ripped off America - not just individuals who took on mortgages they could not afford, the entire nation.  

We continue to waste trillions on wars of choice that do nothing either to make this country safer, assure access to needed materials, or create stability for people in unstable situations defined by violence and intolerance - we kill and main as many of them as we see our own people killed and maimed and traumatized.

We transfer wealth and income to those who already have it, pushing ever more down the slope towards need and even poverty, then we say we can afford to do nothing for those we thus allow to be impoverished.   That is immoral, it is inhumane, it should be unacceptable.

That we refuse to consider these issues seriously in our public debates about politics and policy, that our major news media are more concerned with the latest missing blonde girl or the most recent perceived gaffe by a political figure than with the reality of pain and hurt and suffering in this nation makes me wonder why they need First Amendment protections if they are not going to expose the real wrong doing, which is the suffering we cause and allow to go unassuaged.

MIchelle Obama was criticized for saying that for the first time in her life she was proud of her country.

I have taken and modified her words for my title.

I don't know what more I can do about it.  But I know I cannot remain silent.  

Speak to me not of which candidate or party is worse when neither will address those truly in need, when they will not even speak about the poor amongst us, even as they increase as a percentage of our population.  

How dare ANYONE insist that the rich and the privilege are not obligated to give back to the society that has enabled them to become rich and powerful?  That is OBSCENE.

Today I took out the garbage.  I thought of how much waste our lifestyle, which is relatively modest, still creates.  I think about how I benefit from the sufferings of others.  I am ashamed for myself as well.

I will do what I can in my individual actions.  I must, and I must be more aware of the hurt of others that is created or worsened as a result of the choices I make.

But my anger and shame is beyond personal.  I teach government to young people.  Perhaps I will be chastised or worse, but I can no longer teach it without ensuring that my students at least have an opportunity to explore the implications of politics and policy.  I cannot impose my morals on them, nor do I seek to.  I believe if they are to become informed and participating citizens in what may still be a functioning liberal democracy - although at times like this I have my doubts - they need to be fully informed.  

I have nothing else I can say, except to end as I began:

Not for the first time, I am really ashamed of my country

Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Aug 13, 2011 at 09:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Income Inequality Kos.

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