today is blog action day. the topic is poverty. i was thinking about how the presidential candidates never talk about it. throughout this whole economic crisis, the media, the candidates, the analysts and the pundits speak only of wall street and main street; the fat cats and the middle class. there are only two classes in america: the super rich, and working families. i've hardly heard any coverage of how the housing foreclosures are effecting people who rent. while i consider our little family to be quite privileged (in so many ways), we don't own a home, or a small business, we aren't shareholder's, CEOs or even investors (other than some tiny 401K-type accounts). we are not poor, and yet i rarely even hear the realities of our lives represented in the media.
i've always been amazed at how most of us believe we are middle class, even if we are working class, upper class, very wealthy, or poor. americans have a sketchy understanding of class distinctions. we are made to feel that we're all middle class, or that we live in a classless society.
and, let's face it, the poor, the growing numbers of people actually living in poverty in america, are powerless. if you don't have money to contribute to a campaign, if you are too busy finding tonight's dinner to find out when the last day to register to vote is, or, if you don't have an address to register from, or, if you lost your id, and can't find transportation to the DMV to get a new one, or, your birth certificate got lost in the shuffle the last time you were evicted from your apartment--- you don't count-- you do not have a voice. if poor people mattered, post-katrina, lower 9th ward, new orleans would be a thriving community on the mend right now.
that's why it is so heartening to learn about geoffrey canada, and the harlem children's zone. If you have not already heard about it, it is a comprehensive program designed to lift a generation, in one community, out of poverty. the focus is on the children, from birth THROUGH college. i recently heard a piece about it on NPR, and then i heard a story on this american life, and i was so moved by the insight, determination, and seriousness of this man's work. when i went looking around online, i saw that he'd appeared on oprah, and that barak obama even talked about him in a speech (and yes, he did use the word poverty). there's a new book out about him, and he's getting a lot of attention.
one of the things he said in (i think) the NPR interview, is that he himself rose from poverty to the middle class, and was living in the suburbs raising kids. when he observed the kinds of things that middle class people did for and with their kids, he realized that the most important things really had very little to do with money. things like reading to your children, creating a language rich environment and encouraging your children instead of tearing them down verbally, and expecting them to fail.
he believed that he could change the lives of children in poor communities, by nurturing and educating parents, and providing families with what they need to raise healthy, smart, successful, happy children. in a way it sounds like "duh!" but at the same time, we recognize how impossible that goal really sounds.
i encourage you to check out some of the media that is out there on canada and his work, including this book:
it is a fascinating story, and it may inspire me to get off my ass and actually do something, instead of cowering in despair and hopelessness, as i have done for so much of my life.