Category Archives: politics

Du Bois, the Black Panthers, and the lumpen

Came over to Norwalk today to hang out with Meo…the parents of small children really do fall asleep early! To get here of course, it takes two trains, I almost miss taking the train. The blue line was actually full of camaraderie today, and the blind guy who always comes on the train to ask for change actually took out one of his fake eyes. He did quite well. And I got some reading in.

I was reading Cornell West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – The Future of the Race. I picked it up in the library on a whim. It is Gates and West essentially reacting to W.E.B. Du Bois’ essay “The Talented Tenth.” And I believe I read this in college, when I was just angry and not politicized. It shocked me reading it again, Du Bois says:

“Can the masses of the Negro people be in any possible way more quickly raised than by the effort and example of this aristocracy of talant and character? Was there ever a nation on God’s fair earth civilized from the bottom upward? Never; it is, ever was and always will be from the top downward that culture filters. The Talented Tenth rises and pulls all that are worth the saving up to their vantage ground.”

Which is, of course, pretty much the absolute antithesis of everything I believe. They idea of anyone deciding who is worth saving actually makes me want to throw something. I do not believe that “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its great men.” Or even women for that matter. Of course, I suppose Du Bois makes sense if you conserve the framework of capitalism.

Funny that for Du Bois, change comes from the top tenth. For Marx, the middle-lower bit, the industrial workers…was it ever as high as 60%? In a world with ever more lumpens the workers are shrinking I believe. And for the Black Panthers it was the bottom…how many are at the bottom now? 20%, 40%, 50%? It all depends on your definition I suppose. I wonder about Mao’s peasants, and who comprises the anarchist’s masses. I’m reading Elaine Brown’s autobiography now as well…it’s big and hardcover and not at all portable. And it is astonishing.

I don’t really have anything thought out today, these are just things I was thinking on the train.

Obama’s Inauguration

I cried.

I know, it really surprised me too. Cynical and jaded and self-deprecatingly furious, I have little to no faith in this country’s electoral process or government. I have no hope, instead of hoping I work hard to try and make this world a little better, a little more just. I don’t know that I can hope in a man who raised more money from corporations than Bush did, who played the political game so well, who managed to rise to the top of this great corrupt and broken system of ours. I listened to his speech and we’re still at war with terror. And it’s definitely true that there will be no structural change without immense pressure in the streets and in congress, if there’s even a chance of structural change…And I don’t know why Rick Warren was up there at all.

Even so. Aretha Franklin got up and sang and she was radiant and for the first time she wasn’t the token loved pop star up there for diversity…for the first time the mall was full of black people who were happy…for the first time. Ever. March after march, protest after protest, centuries of change grinding along from slavery with racism never really yielding…and I don’t think it has yielded but yesterday meant something. And I cried. Last year in Dublin a reporter asked me if I thought America could ever elect a black president and my answer was no. No way. And America proved me wrong and it was beautiful yesterday when Aretha was singing the way only she can to our black President and his family, and millions of people watching and all of them crying from pure…I don’t even know what the emotion is. Happiness, disbelief that this could even be happening but this amazing knowledge in your stomach that it really is, something deep that comes from years of struggle and pain and injustice and the brilliant unexpected rightness of this family standing there. Taking the place of the Bush family who represent everything that is white dynastic power and corruption in this country. I don’t have words for it, but it was something profound. And I appreciated that Obama mentioned that 60 years ago his family wouldn’t have been served in DC’s restaurants, and most of all I loved Reverend Lowery’s speech, acknowledging that yesterday represented only a beautiful new beginning to the work for the world we are all trying to create:

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen!

REV. LOWERY: Say amen —

AUDIENCE: Amen!”

I’m glad I got to spend the morning with Gilda and Gary, and end the day with drinks and music at Tafarai’s party with so many folks I haven’t seen for a long time…what a day. And of course, now is when the real work begins again…I don’t disagree with any of my friends in their cynacism or fears for the future. But something did change yesterday.

LA’s floating islands

Wealth in LA floats. We are not just segregated from north to south and east to west, but above and below. And I suppose I knew about the aerial isle that was once Bunker Hill, but I’d never really walked it, and until you walk you don’t really know a place. At 4th and Hope you are high up above LA, and all traces of the old Victorian neighborhood once there were completely bulldozed and destroyed several decades ago. And there followed some truly grim decades in terms of block architecture, and a planning model designed to keep public space as the exclusive right of the right people. So it is a modern wonderland of concrete and plazas leading to car garages and sleek, expensive men and women. There are a couple of skyscrapers built on it, their lights serve as the stars and I’ll not deny a strange beauty to them…there are some expensive shops and restaurants, but they all look like upscale chains. It’s that particularly L.A. thing I think, where everything is relatively new, sanitized, familiar, safe. People here trade what is real and true for a secure and enhanced façade every time, just look at sunset strip with its fake western bar, it’s fake Irish pub. Look at people themselves. And this place is made for cars, you have to climb a very steep hill to get here, and it isn’t the easiest thing on foot. I’m sure that’s quite deliberate. The right sort of person doesn’t walk in this city. I passed Gehry’s Disney hall, it’s on the edge of this as is MOCA. Wealth’s claim on high culture.

Usually I go beneath this place, through the terminator tunnel with its shiny white tiles reflecting the light when they are not falling off the walls, and the homeless sleeping along the sidewalk. I like it better underneath.  The higher you go in LA, the richer it invariably gets. From crack in Hollywood to cocaine in the Hollywood Hills and so it goes everywhere…even Echo Park has had its bastions of wealth up on top of everything, and now of course it is gentrifying at the speed of light, and from top down.

These things make me angry, so I’m glad the YMCA is still there, giving people one last reason to democratize space. I was walking because I forgot a clean shirt to change into after workout, sauna and steam, and couldn’t face jumping on a standing room only bus full of people going home from work. Especially since I was going home TO work. Happy Friday to me. But I haven’t really been home for so long, so I’m still enjoying it.

Presidential debates and a bit more

Ahhh, a night out on the town with Larry Fondation, and it might not be that late but the drinks were certainly flowing this evening. So it feels late. And if anyone felt like arguing the point I might even argue given my current state, but I suppose hard facts would dictate that indeed it is rather early. And I am a sucker for lost causes perhaps, the Irish in me for sure, but I couldn’t in all conscience argue this one. If I were with my brother T at this moment, we’d be in the kitchen making beans on toast with grated cheddar on top and possibly hot sauce, but I’m in America now, and on my own, and the baked beans just don’t taste the same here. So I’m writing instead, and then to bed.

We watched the presidential debate, the dodgers reigned supreme in most downtown bars, it was a bit of a quest, but the bar at the Sheraton turned out to be golden, so we watched it there. My Jack and coke was mostly Jack, so consider yourselves warned. And they were both good in the way that all politicians are good, they spin like little tops and tell you what they want to hear, and it’s only your critical thought and deeper knowledge that separates the two. And given my own critical thought, McCain was incredibly infuriating in his hypocrisy, but he hit the right notes for the American public…less government, I agree. Hope, I agree. Less spending, I agree. If we stopped killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and escalating our military presence in the rest of the world, well! We could spend half as much, but put it into health care that works and if you scrapped no child left behind and channeled money into education, and housing, well, if you actually funded HUD fully and cut the corruption, what could we not do? Halve our spending while providing proper health care, education, housing…billions on the war machine could be much better spent elsewhere. Of course, that’s not what he’s saying. I don’t know where he plans to cut spending, but it’s not the war, it will be on the backs of working folks of course. And I don’t know how he can say we need a change when it’s his party in office, or that they stand for less government when it’s his government that brought us the patriot act and no child left behind, they’ve invaded two countries and called up every army reserve, hired hundreds of people to tap our phones, and have planned out what every teacher should be teaching for every minute of every day, and they say they’re for less government?

And so I do believe Obama is better…I have a more complex analysis of course, but it’s…er…late. Don’t make me argue. It hurts but I think voting for him is important, because I don’t think he’ll manage to do what should be done, but the alternatives frighten me. Some folks on the left argue that things should be allowed to go to hell and then the people will rise…the ones who argue that are always the ones who know they will not be sleeping in the streets, waiting in lines at the unemployment offices, struggling to feed their kids, I rather dislike those people. I think I’m united with most of the country on this, which is why the left has been so useless for so many years. If the revolution comes you know they’ll end up on the wrong side protecting their interests because they all have money, they’ll deserve what happens to them.  I don’t think fascism is that far away, and they won’t be the ones getting strung up.

That’s a digression though. I actually enjoyed it when McCain claimed that Colombia is our number one ally in South America and we must sign a free trade agreement with them, and Barak riposted that the Colombian government has been busy assassinating labor leaders (and so many others, how on earth could anyone consider them our greatest ally? An utterly corrupt government that employs death squads, torture, assassination and grows richer and richer every day? That’s my own comment, not the candidates). Not many politicians would do that, I must admit. Or promise to insert enforceable labor laws and protections into international trade treaties. I don’t know if he’ll do it, it’s doubtful he’d succeed even if he tried given the machine that is congress, but even introducing that into mainstream debate is good. Ha, makes you reassess your belief in what is good. We should be asking so much more, but a corrupt two party system lowers your expectations.

So. To conclude this rather ranting piece of writing, I think the republicans will be happy with McCain and the democrats happy with Obama, the rest of us rather unhappy with both. Hopefully the rest of us are leaning leftwards, there are a number quite enthused actually. My cynical self, well, don’t get me started on elections, but I rather like watching such enthusiasm. I’m like the jaded star of a good noir novel, sometimes I feel like the femme fatal but I’m probably the poor john…er…johnette. I’m not manipulative so that leaves femme fatal right out, and as I say, I’m a sucker for lost causes. Not that Obama is a lost cause, he’s got a great shot and I think he will likely win. It’s real change and real equality and real distribution of wealth is the lost cause, though I’ll argue it’s not lost any day of the week…life would be hard if I believed it were utterly impossible. People have to take power for real change to happen though (what politician will give the people what they ran for office to get?), and the questions remains, will they?

We didn’t talk about that question the rest of the night really. We talked about bar fights and Boston and hooligans and Flannery O’Conner, I believe my plan to remake LA as the center of the new noir is well on its way, I couldn’t ask for more from a night really. We went to Casey’s Irish Bar and Grill and it was alright, and then a bar on 7th…a hundred class whiskeys on the menu from $7 to $140 a glass, plaid carpeting, dead deer heads on the wall, two pool tables that were being played by amateurs, a crowd we couldn’t quite figure, live jazz, a beautiful bouncer with handcuffs prominently displayed on his belt…I enjoyed it. Not obviously hipster, there was even a guy there with longish blond hair and a white polo shirt tucked into his khakis. Where the hell did he come from? A good mix as far as race went, it was good. And home early, to write a blog and then fall fast asleep…

The radical thought on the wall

“Put down your weapon and come out with your hands up.”

There is a wailing of sirens. The helicopter circles endlessly, it has been doing so for twenty minutes. The megaphone comes through loud and clear, the house is at most two streets over I think. This is when I hate Los Angeles. Some poor fool holed up in some shit building, and if he’s not smart he’s going to be shot tonight. Or she, I suppose he could be a she, but he almost never is.

It’s sweltering. Hot like Arizona hot during the monsoons, not the white and blinding oven heat that I rather enjoy, but a slightly sticky heat. Nothing as bad as the East Coast though. I’ve worked right through it, got so much editing work done today I’m quite a happy woman though this weekend I have a lot to pull off and I’m not quite sure how well it will go.

Siguen los pinches helicopteros.

So I’m working on a map of radical thought, it lies in different coloured post-its spread across my wall. It is the foundation for my upcoming literary tangle with combining theory and practice. For money, my first paid article. I’ve been mostly a practice girl myself, but I think it really is time to take a good look at where we’ve been, and where it has brought us, and why we are still so fucked. And when people label themselves or others as this ist or that, I’d really like to have a firm handle on what the hell that means…apart from the fact that such labels have been rendered ludicrous over the passing years, and also that maybe they’re not actually working in the trenches. Still, in the trenches you forget to look up, you have no time to think, you’re not always aware of where you’re headed and how exactly you believe you might get there. And so organizing organizations seem to have a tendency to devolve into service because the emergency is always there, and it’s just easier. It’s such a huge weakness. So I’m doing my map and thinking through all this stuff again and it’s been good so far.
More sirens.

So I knew, but never quite…hm, how do I say what I want to say? I knew, but it never ever struck me before that Gandhi was only 1 year older than Lenin. That their struggles were contemporary, along with their philosophies. And I don’t know if they ever commented on each other. Why do I not know that? In my head these movements are entirely compartmentalized…Europe and to a certain extent America together (as so many Europeans fled here until we deported them back), Asia, India, Africa, South and Central America…separate, isolate. They seem like different eras almost, though the separation is philosophical and geographical only. There must have been connections, I shall have to find them. Or perhaps the arrogance of the Western World simply continued supreme…

The helicopter is still circling. They haven’t made demands in a while.

So you look at Europe up through the Russian Revolution, the Spartacist League, the Spanish Civil War, and all the theorists and philosophers have some connection to struggle. There are a number of people who are self-educated and brilliant and came out of the working class. And then it all gets more and more abstract, Marxism moves into the Universities and sits there writing to itself. The people doing stuff are elsewhere, in other countries around the globe. Or perhaps still in Europe, I just haven’t sifted down to them yet. But they aren’t like their forerunners, the heady times after 1848, actually perhaps since always when theorists tended to actually trundle themselves down to the barricades, rouse the masses, spend quality time in prison…is it just that they’ve all been bought out now?

The helicopter is still circling. It’s funny, but after hearing so many refugees unburdening their pain and fear when I worked at Carecen, I’m rather deeply afraid of helicopters, they are the perfect and ultimate killers. You can’t really hide from them. It’s not a surface fear because it’s not rational – in that I am almost certain a helicopter shall never come for me though I never say never; but in that it’s not my own memory. It’s like a nightmare fear that’s more powerful for belonging to a mass of other people and passed on to me slowly slowly through stories and tears and memories of the dead. It hides in my stomach and I don’t even quite realize how much it’s affecting me until my stomach starts hurting, and I can feel my shoulders around my ears. And I wonder that in this country we cannot understand that no one who has been in it truly escapes from war.

The helicopter is still circling.

At any rate, the other thing that seems clear is that a lot of these guys were just assholes. And they all hate each other. And Spanish communists somehow figured that anarchists were a greater threat than fascists, and did Trotsky really tell Martov he belonged in the dustbin of history with the other pitiful isolated individuals? What a dick. Better than shooting him, though he shot his fair share of people as head of the red army didn’t he? Did he have to destroy Makhno? Mao, Stalin, Hoxha (he was shooting his comrades in the resistance to eliminate competition even before the war was over)…all assholes. Some may argue that the revolution needs blood and ruthlessness to succeed. I think that perhaps it’s just that being assholes, these guys had to rise to the top quickly or be forever shut out and outcast because people just didn’t want to have them hanging around. You know they were the kind who went on that same old rant over beers that everyone was so tired of hearing, or perhaps they didn’t even drink, just ranted and were all self-righteous and lacked any ability to listen to others or laugh at themselves. It’s my (rather bitterly flippant) proposal for the asshole theory of…

The helicopter has left! After an hour. No shots. No death. Relief.

So, the asshole theory of failed revolution. Or why we are still fucked. I rather like it, after all, assholes want power, it’s the only way they can keep friends and sleep with attractive people. I saw Kissinger on the Daily Show, and he’s the rightwing version of this, the man has not a humorous bone in his body, he speaks in a monotone, he’s not at all attractive. Not only is he an asshole, but he’s a boring asshole. And yet he kicked it with the rich and famous all because he rose to the top, and power was enough to overcome every other natural deficiency.

Another helicopter, the same helicopter? And it’s fucking circling again. I guess the life and death confrontation continues and the helicopter just had to…refuel? Moonlight for the filming of some new Hollywood smash? Catch a quickie car chase?

Anyways, I’ve written enough now I think…I’ll come back to the delightful eccentricities of some of the older generation of thinkers and doers in another blog. I got the Maltese Falcon in the mail from netflix today, I suppose it will go well with the damn helicopter.

And it’s still circling. I can never fall asleep to helicopters, even after all of this time in L.A., it could be a long night.

Back in LA

My train hit someone today, the blue line at Vernon Station. The train hit someone. No one felt it, what is the measure of a human being against a hulking monster of iron and steel? We stopped and the conductor came on telling everyone to remain calm. Telling himself to remain calm. Two lives changed forever, and most people restless and angry only at the delay. Death today, or something close to it.

Welcome home to LA. I sat this morning, wondering how in fuck we have been reduced to this. Every time I come home I feel this, I see it clearly. How we have been reduced to this. Public spaces, angry faces, hard and drawn and bitterness carved. People take them off only when they get home. The world rolls past me, contained, when you’re in it no other world can exist. Homeless encampments along the train line, clothes and belongings scattered by police raids. They terrorize the most vulnerable. They stride along metro platforms, sunglassed, booted, guns pushed forward, large dogs beside them. Fundraisers for the city, reminders of who rules this place, and even in my anger I fear them. And here they are everywhere. I see hints of rebellion spray-painted in brilliance across gray walls, but around me there are simply people who survive. Survival is grim, it terrifies, it reduces life to a splinter working its way inwards. It kills senses, kills thought, kills compassion, kills joy. Life reduced to this. We live within the bones of capitalism, the structures of society, forces of history and economics that demand poverty, and place it here. And we yield with hardly a murmur, people getting on, making do. I understand riots, I do not understand why they are rare. I do not know what it will take to bring the structures down, and if they came down now I fear so much that we are too used to preying on each other. We do not look up but down when we inflict violence. We kill each other, we kill ourselves, we allow ourselves to be killed. I mourn my dead, in other worlds no one understands the number of dead, and I rage at this world with its invisible walls.  I wonder just what it is we have that we are so afraid to lose. I wonder how we can beat ourselves against walls without ever seeing them, without ever tearing them down. If we do not do it, no one will. Everyone on the other side is too afraid of us. Us I say…I grew up without choices but claimed them and I choose to stand here, it is a luxury of mine. I belong nowhere now, so I can chose which side I fight on. And I will always fight.

Tomorrow I will believe again in the possibility of building something better. I dream that it could grow large enough to bring the walls down with its tremendous swelling, I do not know another way to completely destroy them, and a breach has never proven to be enough. Tomorrow I will see again the strength and beauty that is here. But not today.

And you know, for all I write, the soundtrack of today said it so much better, The Roots, Bread and Butter, all of our cities are flooding and it never makes the news. All the levees are broken.

A child is born, his mother is gone
He in the middle of it literally, tusslin strong
For his life, the tide high
In the eye of the storm a mannish boy arrive
And the riot is on
Wit no spare time to try to respond
Or prepare times it’s hard not becomin a headline
Or prayin in the night when it’s bedtime
Or layin ya head down
Cuz you already know what it is now
You know a lot of leaders ain’t honest
And they can’t keep a promise
And I hate to speak about it but it’s all freakanomics
Cramped and proud of it, you amped and you rowdy
Treadin water tryina lift up ya head without drownin
This type of shit can make ya heart stop from poundin
Butchu pushin for the top too scared to stop
Now it gets deep, bodies are floatin around in the streets
Lotta people who won’t even be around in a week
Man get the operation gone
Whatch’all waitin on?
We been patient, y’all mo’fuckas takin long
The television gettin all the information wrong
Doin how they do it gettin they miseducation on
They already late
Somebody been was ‘posed to regulate
Instead of wait before they let the levee break
You try runnin from the truth but it’s givin chase
I got to ask myself yo, is any nigga safe?

[Chorus:]
A loaf of bread, milk and eggs, stick of butter man
Somebody mother lies dead in the gutter
Sheriff down by them that’s talkin that gutter
Tell the kids don’t look under those covers, mayne

Is perjury the same when it is the police who are guilty of it?

Luckily for Saul Eady, the police’s own recordings of a stakeout contradicted the testimony of detective David Friedrich. Accused of attempted murder, the other man arrested with him had already been convicted and received a life sentence…the only real evidence was the detective’s sworn testimony that he had seen Eady at the scene, driving the van involved in the incident. The tapes proved that at the time Friedrich never identified Eady, and that key things that Friedrich testified to under oath hadn’t in fact happened quite the way he said they did. In fact, nothing at all like the way he said they did.

So Eady is a free man, and what will happen to Friedrich? The District Attorney thinks he was just mistaken…such things happen after all. So what is the dfference between simply making a few mistakes, and outright lying? This sounds like lying to me. Which is perjury, and should be prosecuted. Even were it a simple mistake, it would have ended with an innocent man spending his life in prison as far too many other cases do. Eady had a good lawyer willing to put the extra time into getting additional evidence, and then to sift through 3 hours of confused police recordings and present them back to a judge. Very few defendants in our system have such a thing as a motivated lawyer, most in Eady’s position would have gone to jail for life. So what are the consequences for Friedrich and a broken justice system?

Long Beach police shoot LAPD officer

And they really don’t know what happened. For some reason they’re really not saying much. Apparently the LAPD officer was brandishing a shotgun while off-duty (and walking down the street after midnight), refused to put the gun down when requested, and then refused to surrender…well, at the end of the article it says he actually ran away. So they shot him. I assume they shot him at least twice. Being shot in the arm and the torso could possibly have been accomplished with one bullet but two bullets seem more likely…He was charged with threatening a civilian so I assume a civilian was there though that could just be crazy guesswork. I’m rather interested to know if he was after one civilian in particular, or if it was just any civilian that happened to come along as he went out for a stroll with a shotgun. And I would like to know what foreign substance was coursing through his veins at the time…at least, I hope something foreign was coursing through them.

It’s a lot of words to say what could have been said in one or two paragraphs…still, I shall persevere in reading the L.A. Times every now and then. Of course there hasn’t been much time to do actual investigation I grant, but I fear that this could be the extent of what is written, which is tragic. I’m sure there will be some people trying to keep the story alive, but possible more people working to squash it.

Apart from the irony of one police department shooting another, it’s even more of a political muddle because he happens to be the son of someone rather important, an LAPD lieutenant no less. Ah, these powerful men and their flawed children…and ah the state and it’s flawed police force.

So to me it’s not surprising that a stand-off continues at the Soboba reservation, with the tribe refusing to let deputies onto their land without an escort. And I suppose given the additional 150 lay-offs that have happened at the L.A. Times (which includes the death of the book section, there should be some rotting in hell down the line for those involved in that piece of handiwork), it might be understandable that the article on the situation is almost an exact replica of the May article on the same subject. Without the detail. I can’t say for certain nothing else has been written since the last article I read, but you would think if they had done any follow up, this article might have a bit more to say…

This should be a really big story: a reservation standing up to the U.S. government once again and trying to limit its power on their land, May’s running gun battles between tribe members and police, the attempt to shut down the casino. Where is it? What is really happening? It renews my interest in a road trip.

Hangover and hope

This morning I woke up cruda, cruda as I rarely am and so my head hurt and my stomach roiled and I had to get up far too early and I spent the day in rather a self-pitying lethargy with a hungry eye for any flat surface that looked remotely possible to nap on…last night was worth it of course, one of those nights where you get to talk on and on about writing and politics with someone who understands both and where you have enough in common to establish a sound basis of trust and liking and enough difference that you can really get into some interesting points and challenge yourself. I love those nights, they make life more brilliant. It was worth the pain of this morning.
And so today was a lost cause, but this evening? This evening I was glad to be human and alive and here in L.A…glad that I am not an organizer anymore, but a friend. Today I had a meeting with some of the folks I was once paid to work with, and of course I believe organizers should be paid, far more than they are paid really. But it is so good to be just a friend now, it is something beautiful to volunteer with people to take control of the institutions we created together before I left. Years of my life and theirs…tonight I watched these women step into their own potential, I watched them speak where they were once silent, I watched them fight for what they believe in and I know that this is how change happens. They will be strong enough to ensure true community control I think, and me and Leo will be there when they need help, and the inexpressible beauty of such a thing is beyond words really. Thus the cynic in me, who generally works fueled on pure rage, actually regained something beautiful and true and so happiness is mine. And I think all of my theories are right…I think I’m right and that’s always nice. Of course there are still a lot of holes, a lot of fodder for future nights of alcohol (though perhaps less of it) and passionate discussion and the writing of it and a lot of work to continue to put into practice what I think, ’tis doubtful I shall live long enough to sort it.

And so on the way home I endured the sour stink of alcohol and the unending stream of cars along the freeway and stared at the burnished piece of moon, it shone in the dark sky and lit up the clouds…the small specks of cloud that clustered around it. And I reimagined the world.

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…

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2