Homelessness is on the rise. Despite the fact that we have more than enough houses to adequately shelter our population, three and half million homeless men, women, and children live and sleep in the streets. Imagine how it feels to be freezing to death, looking at one of the 18.5 million vacant houses in America . . . homes that are owned by banks that bought the foreclosed properties with bailout money that came from our taxpayer dollars.
It rankles the soul.
On Occupy Radio this week, homeless advocate Jean Stacey likened the unhoused to the canaries in the coal mine of our nation. They are signs that something has gone terribly wrong. (Listen here)
Some argue that the something is the economy, but I’d say there’s nothing wrong with the economy as far as the wealthy are concerned. 95% of the 2009-2012 income gains dove into the pockets of the wealthy 1%1. The rest of America saw little sign of economic recovery. For many, poverty is just one step closer.
Nearly half of our population is poor.
100 million Americans fall into the low-income category, and another 50 million live below poverty. That’s staggering. It’s worthy of a national crisis. Why don’t we know about this? Perhaps because poverty is all too common.
If a father and mother both work to meet the bills, but fall behind on their credit card payments, they’re impoverished. If a student goes hungry at the end of the month to scrape together the rent money, he’s impoverished. If an old woman’s social security doesn’t cover her heating bill in the winter, she’s impoverished. Every child receiving free or reduced cost lunches at school is living near, at, or below the poverty line. The stories sound familiar, don’t they? They’re normal. Here in the United States, we can’t see the forest of poverty because of all the trees.
But think of this: if the income in the US were distributed equally, every man, woman, and child would receive $50,000 per year.5
Do you make that? I don’t. My partner and I together don’t earn that much. In fact, if we were making a combined $100,000 per year, we could afford to give a house to the homeless . . . only, would there be any unhoused people?
Occupy’s message of the 1% broke the notion of income inequality into our minds, but the shocking scale of the greed displayed by our nation’s elite has yet to sink in. Culturally, we persist in believing that a) we are not poor, and b) our poverty is our own fault. With enough hard work, we think, we should be able to make ends meet.
Let’s do some math: at $8.50/hr – a dollar and a quarter more than the federal minimum wage – you can work 40hrs a week and still only make $17,680. The average cost per living per person in the United States is $20,194, according to the US Census Bureau. At that rate, no amount of hard work will pull you out of poverty.
Ready for some more math? Warren Buffet makes $1.54 million per hour each day (yes, even while he’s sleeping). That works out to be just over $25,694 per minute. Which means that Warren Buffet makes enough money while taking a shit to buy a small house. (Or a fancy one, depending on his level of constipation.) In the course of a year, he could pay the cost of living for 628,000 Americans, including himself.
We have a crisis in America . . . and it’s not the rising tide of homelessness. The crisis is the moral depravity that allows unchecked greed to devastate people’s lives. The crisis is that a schoolteacher pays more in taxes than our major corporations. The crisis is that the dollar has more civil liberties than citizens. The crisis is that we do not live in a democracy; we suffer under a representational republic controlled by avaricious oligarchs.
This crisis cannot be solved by soup kitchens and shelters alone. It will take coordinated, concentrated nonviolent struggle for social, political, and economic equality. It will take thousands of citizens working together to redress the inequalities and reverse the slow demise of justice. The wealthy elite have turned their doublespeak upon the phrase “class warfare”, but they do not understand the nature of language.
A war is a struggle between two sides. Perhaps, in our modern era of warfare, they have forgotten how to confront a formidable opponent. After all, with a military budget the size of the entire world’s combined, the US elite survey the globe with smirking superiority. But when it comes to sheer numbers, the struggle between the super-wealthy 1% and the 99% is, indeed, a war. Its battles may be fought nonviolently, with boycotts, strikes, divestments, political maneuvers, and legal showdowns, but a conflict of ideologies is unfolding in our country.
You can see it on the street corners, in the alleyways, and crowded apartment buildings. The casualties of this war fill the homeless shelters and assistance program offices. The elite are losing ground. Hunger, homelessness, poverty and sickness all work against their propaganda efforts. They call out the parades and pageants, but the people line the streets in rags. The poor don’t want to watch armored limousines roll past; they want food for their children and shelter from the storm.
We all hear the canary in the coal mine crying . . . but will we act before the silence falls?
Listen to Occupy Radio as cohosts Rivera Sun and David Geitgey Sierralupe interview Bruce Wright, Jean Stacey on Eugene, OR’s Whoville Sanctuary and the criminalization of homelessness. Listen here: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/occupy-radio
Author/Actress Rivera Sun is a co-founder of the Love-In-Action Network, a co-host on Occupy Radio, and, in addition to her new novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, she is also the author of nine plays, a book of poetry, and her debut novel, Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, which celebrates everyday heroes who meet the challenges of climate change with compassion, spirit, and strength. www.riverasun.com
1 Wall St. Journal Business Section http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/09/10/some-95-of-2009-2012-income-gains-went-to-wealthiest-1/
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