Many folks responded to my last post either on Facebook or privately, and most didn't care for my tone. To those I offended, please know that I approach much of my blogging as op-ed style journalism. This comes from studying with Katie Orenstein's The Op-Ed Project. When I share an opinion of mine, it is just that: my opinion. And I welcome -- embrace, even -- your disagreement. It's my firm belief that healthy dialogue among those with differing points of view is at the very heart of democracy.
To clarify my viewpoint on the Occupation of Wall Street, I offer the following: I spent my first years of life in a trailer on a farm in rural Appalachia. And I now live comfortably in a house I own in one of the most high-earning zip codes in America. When it comes to the range of wealth in this country, I truly understand it, for I've lived it -- not to the tunes of millions, but I'm lucky in that, at times, I've had more than I've needed. Enough said. But what sticks with me from my youth, especially, isn't the feeling that I had less than somebody else. (I don't think I ever felt that our circumstances were meager since I had a place to live, food to eat, clothes, and cousins with whom to play.) It's the trips I took with my mom to deliver boxes of food to families in some pretty extreme circumstances. Sometimes, we would drive these boxes down dirt roads to shacks in which the living conditions were comparable to the slums of India depicted in "Slumdog Millionaire." I understand poverty in America, I really, really do. I work, now, for the day when I can "retire" to a job that actually does something meaningful for the 535 American counties affected by something called rural persistent poverty. As a native West Virginian, I see it as my longer-term calling in life to revisit the walk Bobby Kennedy once took with MLK through Appalachia, tying the fight against economic oppression to the struggle for civil rights. I've studied it from an academic perspective, and I'm taking time to build my own service ethic and network such that I actually have the connections to effect change, whether in Washington or with nonprofit work. If I ever do have excessive wealth, it is likely that it will be spent in and on West Virginia.
My cards are on the table now, and it should be clear that I care very deeply about this fight against poverty. While it is not wholly incompatible with the "occupation" movement, depending on whose sign you read or whose perspective you believe, I do believe that the fight against poverty is a wholly different thing. I am more bothered by poverty than I am by the widening income gap; they are related, but different, causes. The United States is not yet living up to the standards demanded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a very major problem, and we have to ask ourselves where the answer to that problem is found. I think it's found in holding our politicians' balls to the fire. (Not feet. Feet aren't sensitive enough.) Wall Street can't vote on a living wage. Wall Street can't make sure early childhood education is strengthened throughout the nation. Wall Street can't guarantee our citizens' healthcare. And neither will our government unless our ire is directed at it.
So what do I think can be done differently? I really like change.org's "Top 10 Ways to Fight Poverty" -- especially, as I mentioned in my last post, the call to volunteerism. The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign is dated but still rife with information. I also believe in tracking anti-poverty legislation. My representatives in Congress know what I think; do yours?
At the end of the day, I do respect people's right to protest on Wall Street -- of course, I do. I still reserve my right to opine that there time would be better spent elsewhere. Unless our entire government is going to be recalled, the point has been made; and now, it's time for people to start figuring out a way to "think globally, act locally" when it comes to concerns about the economy -- whether jobs, hunger, education, or whatever is your hot-button. We have the world's attention now; and now, we can do some great things. We don't have to wait for government action, though we can work locally to impact that. There's so much that we can do ourselves to make a difference where we live. That movement could be called "occupation backyard." Or, as Gandhi says, "be the change you wish to see in the world." Change starts with me -- and you.
Cross-posted on Rox on a Soapbox