I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I started rereading an old article I wrote about America’s unwillingness to do much to help the poor.
That topic seems to put our apathetic society as a whole to sleep, so I thought it might help me nod off.
I didn’t find sleep like I hoped. In fact, my mind began racing in the still of the night, and I had an epiphany instead.
Lying there staring at nothing in the dark, I finally realized what it is that irks me about gun rights advocates. I know what you’re thinking…how on Earth did this nut leap from feeding the poor to guns?
Well, they’re linked in my mind. It’s about priorities.
We get terribly bent out of shape about guns, ranting and raving and shouting passionately at each other. Both sides do this; the gun control advocates are every bit as bad.
It’s not just guns, either. Pick another hot button issue like abortion. Good lord, if you want to see an amateur sh*t show of a fistfight, complete with plenty of biting and slapping and kicking and scratching, just let a right-to-life and a right-to-choose protest group get too close to one another without a few cops to hold them apart.
Hell, even animal rights stirs plenty more emotion than human suffering from poverty. If you don’t believe me, walk through a PETA march wearing a fur coat.
After you recover from your injuries and get out of the hospital, try walking through a feed-the-poor rally with your fat gut hanging out, eating a big ole, super-sized submarine sandwich. You probably see where I’m going with this, and as funny as it might be to tell you you’d swagger right through unscathed, the reality is even more pathetic.
I’m actually sending you on a snipe hunt; there’s no such thing as a feed-the-poor rally, because we don’t give enough of a sh*t about the poor to rally around them. Hell, forget rallying—most of us would rather step right over homeless people lying on our sidewalks than lift so much as a finger to help them.
If my somewhat ludicrous examples about protest marches don’t do much to convince you that I’m making a valid point, I have a real-life example that might.
I used to work as fundraising director for a homeless shelter in Hawaii, a thankless job advocating for those who truly have no voice. I had a small staff who were thanked even less than I.
One was responsible for entering donations into our database and sending out acknowledgment notes. He wasn’t very busy—shocking, right?—except near the end of the year when we’d get a few more last-minute tax write-off gifts, so I sent him to this training and that and tried to involve him in other little projects to use his talents.
One of these projects involved helping our volunteer coordinator make arrangements for some group we were hosting. One day, as they were working together on logistics for this event, I overheard a conversation.
“My husband is a Gifts Processor just like you,” said the volunteer coordinator, “only he’s so swamped entering gifts for the animal shelter he’d never have time to help out on any other projects.”
“Really? That’s crazy,” came our gifts guy’s dumbfounded reply.
“Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, he’s so far behind they just hired a second gift entry person.”
Wow is right, I thought, slinking over to join the discussion.
Probing a bit, I extracted more information that led me to believe the animal shelter was bringing in substantially more donation revenue than we were at the homeless shelter. Later, I pulled a copy of their annual report from their website that confirmed my assumption.
As if I needed more evidence that I wasn’t very effective at raising money to help Hawaii’s cleverly-concealed-by-its-marketing-machine-yet-crisis-level-nonetheless homeless problem, I now had to face the hard truth that my office was being lapped by some mutts. It didn’t seem to matter how many stories we told about homeless children going to school hungry or not going at all; those images of sickly looking dogs were simply far more impactful.
When Oahu was threatened by an approaching hurricane a few months later, all the animal shelter had to do to be deluged by its own flood of donations large enough to win its fundraising team an award at the annual fundraisers’ meeting was share a photo of a soggy dog standing helplessly in a downpour. Our 400 or so residents could have floated to sea using their army-issue cots as life rafts and our meager fundraising efforts wouldn’t have been met with anything approaching that outpouring of support.
I’m trying hard not to judge and to interject a bit of humor, but I still struggle to understand why. Even my social media feeds are regularly filled with posts imploring me to adopt a pet, yet I don’t recall ever seeing a single plea about feeding the poor.
Maybe someone mentioned passing out turkeys at Christmas, but I guess they figure those degenerates can fend for themselves the rest of the year. Lord knows homeless people put themselves in this position by making bad choices anyway—insert eye roll—let them figure their own way out of it.
I certainly get helping oneself and one’s own family first. That is, and should be, our number one priority.
But don’t most of us have everything we need and then some? Sure, we might be driving an older car than we’d like, but we have plenty of food and stylish enough clothes and a warm bed and at least some small amount of money left over every month for leisure or to put away for a rainy day if we’re smart.
As I see it, the basics are covered and then some. Once that’s the case, it’s time, both as individuals and as a nation, to do what we can to help the poor among us.
If we don’t start getting serious about doing that, we may find ourselves among them one day soon. Even with those basics covered, the reality of the new American middle class is a paycheck-to-paycheck existence as we struggle to keep our financial heads above water and maintain our precarious position in that middle class.
In December 2017, The Washington Post reported in this enlightening story that “the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.” The story outlines extreme wealth and income inequality that’s getting worse every year—not the kind of normal inequality capitalist societies expect.
This disparity snowball careening downhill may very well swallow many more of us up in the coming years if we don’t start addressing poverty both with individual action and sweeping policy change. Forgetting my moral arguments and approaching the issue purely from a standpoint of self-interest, the likely outcome of continuing to turn our backs is that wealth will further concentrate over many decades into fewer and fewer hands.
What happens then? I don’t know; too bad Marie Antoinette isn’t around to ask.
National security is the only issue that should top tackling extreme poverty on our list of priorities. Gun rights and animal rights and abortion rights and every other cause du jour should take a back seat to first making our citizens safe and then figuring out a way to provide basic necessities to as many of them as possible.
It shouldn’t even be such a hard sell; it’s both the logical and compassionate choice. In a country that so often conveniently moralizes enacting many strange pieces of restrictive legislation, I’m baffled as to why we aren’t able to pull the morality card in the one instance where it might actually be justified in order to advance some major reforms that could really help our poorest citizens.
Looking back, most every negative thought I’ve ever had about guns wasn’t really much about guns at all. I don’t give a damn about taking anyone’s guns.
I’m just pissed off no one seems to care about, or even acknowledge, this issue that’s so much more important to the prosperity of our entire country. Whether we see it or not, we’re measured not only by the greatness of our highest achievements, but also by the disappointment of our lowest failures.
Have all the guns you want if you’re a responsible citizen. Stockpile an arsenal.
But, Jesus Christ, would it kill you—would it kill any of us—to get even one-tenth as fired up about getting poor people off the streets as we do about all these other issues? None of them cut to the core of our humanity or pose a threat to our democracy like poverty does.
Consequently, none of them deserve higher priority attention.
Otherwise, our demise may well come from within our own carefully maintained borders—the predictable and avoidable outcome of our selfish refusal to give those on the bottom rung just a small sliver of pie and the hope that comes with it.