Oct 27, 2011 | By Claire Wheeler
Yesterday, while walking back to the NETWORK office after a coalition campaign (Half In Ten) panel discussion on poverty, my thoughts were racing. I was contemplating the different reasons people are motivated to care about the welfare of another human being. I then questioned the potential explanations as to why others are so opposed to the notion of shared responsibility, which promotes the common good. This shared responsibility is not only central to the Catholic faith tradition, but it’s also fundamental to being an American. This is evidenced in both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice… promote the general welfare…”
My thoughts were interrupted by a voice politely asking, “Will you help the poor today, Ma’am?” This question came from a man waving a Street Sense newspaper in my peripheral view. Twelve steps later, I confronted a woman sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign that read: “Hi, my name is Carla. I am deaf and homeless….” The clump of pedestrians with whom I was walking all passed by without acknowledging this woman, but behind me, I saw one woman drop back and hand Carla a banana from her lunch. Many Americans are eyewitnesses to poverty on a daily basis, if not living it themselves. It’s unsettling how many of us are able to stare poverty in the face, yet continue on with our routines.
In our country, poverty has been isolated as someone else’s problem. The timeliness of NETWORK’s Super Citizen Campaign is great because of the opportunity to ride the energy waves from the multiple Occupy protests and seize the moment to make progress with our message. The ‘political will’ required to change our infrastructure and create jobs is not confined to our legislators, but to every American. We must be advocates for ourselves and for those who aren’t heard. If we as a nation are to achieve Half In Ten’s stated goal of cutting poverty in half in ten years, we need to proactively help others become civically engaged. When the time comes, more people need to vote for Members of Congress who will champion these social justice issues. Many people are not financially able to write their preferred elected officials a check to help with campaigns, but voting has its own arsenal of power, which has yet to be fully utilized.
I encourage you to read Half In Ten’s reports. To access the full report, click here and to access the summary advocacy sheets, click here. They provide us with substantive material to educate our Congress, acquaintances, and friends and family.
When dealing with those who are ambivalent about poverty, educate them. When dealing with people who claim that they have no obligation to look out for anyone’s welfare but their own—well, it looks like they are in the wrong country.