not the only one…

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Poor and Rich share the same America

The American life is a constant balance between having enough $ to “live” in our inflated, over-priced society and giving enough to support the many people left behind by colonial capitalism. I put the word “live” in quotes because that is a highly relative term in today’s America. The stratifications within our society are so stark that one wealthy American may find it hard to “live” without their iPhone, organic food, or designer car(s), while another American, hidden in the woods behind million dollar mansions, finds it hard to “live” on change from pan handling, food from dumpsters or food banks, and one pair of old worn out shoes.

The divide between poor and rich continues to grow. Just yesterday, I was doorbelling for my husband’s campaign for state representative in a middle- to upper-class neighborhood and learned about another encampment of people living in the woods. Part of this neighborhood is filled with million dollar homes that wind down the hillside with gorgeous panoramic views of the beautiful Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. I met an older woman in her yard and after we’d talked a bit about why my husband is running… fully funding public schools, restoring our social safety net and ending homelessness… she stopped me and said she was worried about me walking alone out here in this neighborhood. She said “its a nice neighborhood, so you wouldn’t guess its a problem, but we have a ton of homeless people living on the 15 acres over on the other side of my street. And, just last week they found a woman strangled to death. And that’s not the first time.” I thanked her for letting me know and called my husband to let him know. He was doorbelling not too far from me, so he came by and met the woman and her nephew to learn more. And as we talked to more people in the neighborhood, they were all very aware, and had varying responses, but all were concerned for the safety of the neighborhood.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about people living in the woods or parks. It happens everywhere but we notice that it’s happening more and more, in every city and suburb and in rural towns too. Its a problem, but its not just a problem because homeowners feel unsafe or because crimes are occurring, its also a problem because there are people “living” without homes.

Homeowners don’t know what to do so they call the police. Terrible crimes like murders are happening, so the police should be alerted. That’s the first layer to the problem:  stop the violence.  But what happens next?  Why are there people living in the woods in the first place?

In America, as competition over resources increases, our capitalist system creates more “casualties.” The “casualties” of capitalism are people without access to money. If you’ve paid attention to the social and economic history of America, you’ve seen that chattel slavery is the root of our economic system.  Even after chattel slavery of Africans was abolished a century after the birth of America, the economic model continued in the form of feudalism where Africans and poor whites could rent land from landowners only to be charged high interest rates so it was not possible to accumulate wealth. Many Africans were enslaved again. This is not unlike today, where a majority of all Americans live with debt that hinders them from living them a life of their own making. Many Americans are so strapped with debt, they are forced to get a job with corporations like Wal-Mart or fast food chains who contribute to the poverty and homelessness problem in our country because they game the system to escape paying taxes. Jobs With Justice has a great info graphic that perfectly sums up how Wal Mart simultaneously scams its workers, the US Government, and US taxpayers to put more profits in their pockets. WalMart, in its never ending search for profits, exemplifies the perfect implementation of capitalism and exactly how capitalism destroys and disregards human life in the name of profit. They would rather have their workers on food stamps than loose a tiny bit of profit.

In the midst of capitalism we find Americans hungry or stuffed, living without homes on the street or in million dollar mansions, in designer shoes or shoe-less, dropping out of high school or graduating from ivy league schools, living as inmates or celebrities, as workers or CEOs, as over-burdened, underpaid teachers or overpaid, tax-evading wall street bankers, and so on.

Even though there are days when I complain and wish we had more space or a more reliable vehicle, I’m thankful to have our one bedroom apartment and our 20 year old car. Living in America is very strange. In the richest country in the world, we find people without money living right next to people with lots of money and it seems like all the rich people want to do is banish the poor people from sight. I’m appalled at the disparity of wealth in our country. It makes me very angry. I’m appalled and dismayed that the only solution cities can find is to sweep poor people out of the woods and shoo them off to somewhere else. Well, the world isn’t so small. We have too many people to keep sweeping the problem to the next zip code. When they are pushed into another suburb, its going to be the same in that community.

We need to address the root causes of homelessness. We need more affordable homes, we need more living-wage jobs and every person needs access to quality affordable education. Or, maybe we need a new economic system???  We’ve tried capitalism for centuries and its not working for most people. Only the top 1-10% thrive/hoard all the wealth, while most of us run in hamster wheels, and about 1% of Americans go to jail. Its pretty depressing and we need to make a change. Ideas encouraged. Discuss.

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Will America ever really share the wealth?

Talked with a good friend yesterday about the drug war, specifically about marijuana legalization in our home state of Washington. My husband worked on the initiative 502 campaign to legalize. Our friend, a black woman, expressed her concerns about how legalization will hurt black people in our state while white people will profit from legalization. She understands why we support ending the drug war (because it issues arbitrary long sentences for possession of an illegal substance, destroys families and communities, and is racist in its implementation), but she is fearful of the repercussions this new law may have on the black community. We talked about how new laws that aim to “level the playing field” or “end racist policy” can sometimes create new oppressive systems and how white people can end up benefiting more than black people. And just to be clear, its this whole “white people benefit more than black people” thing that keeps racism in American (and is the definition of racism!).

The prison system in our country is very profitable. This system relies upon people filling the jail cells to make money. Our jails are overcrowded and filled with people who have non-violent drug charges, and a disproportionate number of these people are black and brown. The owners of private prison companies and the many companies who rely on “prisoner labor” will not stand to lose profits because a state or two has legalized marijuana. With a history of chattle slavery, Jim Crow segregation, red-lining by banks to withhold capital from black families, sub-prime mortgages and pay-day lenders preying on communities of color… what will our country do next to disenfranchise black Americans?

If we look at the new emerging marijuana market in Washington state, the recipients of retail licenses are overwhelmingly male and almost exclusively white. When will we have an economic market that is available and profitable for black women and men? When we compare the net worth of households in the USA along racial and ethnic lines, the wealth of black families has remained stagnant since the 1980’s, while wealth amongst white families has risen by almost 11%. With this wealth gap between white and black communities, its no wonder that black individuals and families are starting fewer businesses. Fewer young black men and women have wealthy family members who can lend or invest start up funds for new ventures… such as, a new pot selling store!

I’m not hating on the many people who have received licenses in Washington, I’m happy for you and I’m even happier about the revenue our state will collect from this new market. But I do want to call attention to the ongoing “white supremacy” within America’s economic markets and I am calling for it to end. We will never “level the playing field” and close the “opportunity gap” if we do not address the heart of the matter, which is money and wealth. Access to capital is the only way to “succeed” in “capitalism.” When large communities within our society are consistently stepped on and ignored when it comes to “wealth gaining” activities, these groups will never “rise” within this system. When 50% of all African American boys do not graduate high school, these individuals do not have access to wealth, and may never access a living wage job. Thus, their families will remain without wealth and will struggle financially. Half of black American boys do not graduate high school!  That has a ripple effect and will affect all members of their community and their families. That is roughly a quarter of the black community that is not getting an education. Education is supposed to be the “ticket out of poverty.” A third of all black men will likely see the inside of a jail cell at some point in their life. Where is the effing outrage?!?