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Poverty Haunts Us

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Poverty Haunts Us

Heeding the homeless, jobless, hopeless.
Cornel  West
Cornel West More by this author
Apr 16, 2012 at 10:00 AM

In America, as in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, we are witnessing a magnificent democratic awakening with restless citizens all around the world demanding justice. We have rightly celebrated the democratic uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere without realizing that economic injustice is just as explosive on our own soil. Can poverty be the spark that ignites democratic enlightenment?

The American Dream has inspired progressive change all over the world. There is sad irony in that the loss of this over-mortgaged dream is now igniting protests on our own soil.

Alexis de Tocqueville was the first major commentator to describe the United States as “exceptional.” To be sure, America is unique and distinctive. But as Frederick Douglass opined, a true patriot also must wrestle with the night side of democracy in America.

In 43 years, we have gone from an aggressive stance on the eradication of poverty to passive, indifferent, and downright destructive positions where the poor are maligned and rendered invisible. Because both major political parties are so dependent on big campaign contributions from the rich who benefit from loopholes and tax breaks, politicians are hesitant or lack the will to even utter the “P” word in the public sphere.

Put simply, when we make anything a priority in Washington, it gets done. We prioritized funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and—bam!—it was done. We prioritized bailing out Wall Street; it was a done deal. Since there are no lobbyists for the poor lined up on K Street in the nation’s capital, it is incumbent that the eradication of poverty be reintroduced into the national dialogue and that we force our leaders to make poor people a national priority again.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a
sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

Excerpted from “Being Poor” by John Scalzi

Unless and until we rethink, re-imagine, and redefine how we confront poverty, it will never be eradicated. Unless and until we honestly tackle the greed and dissect the political, economic, and societal black holes that allow it to flourish, increasing and intractable poverty will remain American capitalism’s and the global economy’s permanent partner.

About Author
Cornel  West
Educator and philosopher Dr. Cornel West is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. Known as one of America’s most gifted, provocative, and important public intellectuals, Dr. We Continue reading