Salvation Army Simulates Poverty

If you would like to watch me turn from a well-balanced happy woman to a glass-shatterer and purity of spitting rage, you really just have to mention simulating poverty…

It is a primal sort of reaction. Even so, a piece of my mind can stand apart from that and see some benefit to it I suppose, after all the gap between those with wealth and those with none is so extreme. People with even middling incomes take so much for granted, there is so much they don’t know about survival on even minimum wage, I suppose a taste of reality is better then none at all? The obvious answer is yes, but only if they acknowledge the limits, do not presume that a week long exercise can bestow upon them anything but a glimmer of what is truly lived by those in poverty. They have to acknowledge that simulation is impossible.

Poverty is a constant weight, it is constant worry, it is constant struggle. It is an absence of choices; with the weight, worry, and struggle stretching forever into the future. It is a blinding lack of safety nets, and no one to rescue you when you fall. It is you financially supporting your parents rather than relying on them for support. It is a heavy responsibility for others. It is knowing that this responsibility carries more needs then you can provide for. It is a daily battle, a daily fear for the roof over your head, the food in the refrigerator, your transportation to work. It is breaking your body and swallowing insults to keep a paycheck. It is always being talked down to, disrespected, seen as less. It is the feeling that you are less. You cannot experience it for a day, or even a year, because it is the feeling of being trapped, the feeling you get when you have tried and been carved down to the bone in your failure. It is knowing you cannot get out. There’s no point in looking ahead, day by day is the only possible way to survive it. Poverty carves itself into your face in deep jagged lines, and makes you old before your time.

Poverty is hopelessness, converted into apathy or rage. Until you fight back; only then does it become a strength. But most simply fight each other, fight over the scraps they are allowed. I will never deny that the extraordinary and the lucky make it out of poverty, my point is that they should not be the only ones. But with classes of 40 in schools that are falling down and don’t even offer the minimum courses required to enter a 4 year college, with an absence of preventative health care, with high rents for overcrowded slum housing that slowly kills its inhabitants with lead poisoning and asthma, with racism and racial profiling channeling more and more youth into the prison system, with communities from which all decent paying jobs and hope for the future have long since fled…these are all systemic barriers of dizzying magnitude.

You can give people, very humbly, some idea of what is required of the poor to survive. I support that. You cannot simulate for the rich what it is like to live in poverty, there is such an arrogance in the very idea of that. And a danger too, when people believe they understand something that they do not…

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