2019 LaborDay with #PoorPeoplesCampaign

I spoke these words to the assembly at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, September 1, 2019. It’s a long read, settle in. 

We’ve got a lot of ideals, but right now we gotta be Real. 

There are 140 million poor and low wealth people in America. 

39 million children

21 million elders

65 million men

74 million women

26 million Black people

38 million Latinx people

8 million Asian people

2.1 million Native people

66 million White people

(Who exactly are the poor?)

We can expect everything to change. Change is the only constant. 

“Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.” -Alice Walker  

It’s been a little over 5 years for me, gathering in this space with you. 

I finally remembered to collect water for the silly yet satisfying ritual of water communion. Because as I’ve learned from the PPC and the UU faith, we must engage each other on a deeper level. Humans are an extremely complex animal – alien even – but we are not alone. We are a social animal. 

This year has been a series of learning experiences for me, first with the UU-UNO trip in April, where I learned about gender equity. In April the Poor People’s Campaign also hosted a Reality Tour, where we visited Hutch, Dodge City, Hays, and Pittsburg to listen to local residents and have community discussions about the healthcare crisis. In July, I visited Pennsylvania for the first time, thanks to the Poor People’s Campaign and Put People First! PA. Our Kansas PPC team met with and learned from other leaders from across the country, and we connected with local folks in Pittsburgh, PA. Their slogan: Healthcare is a Human Right! This past weekend I attended the Nebraska Leftists Red State Conference- a full day of workshops and panels specific to Democratic Socialism. In all of these areas, I kept my listening ears on and asked many questions (as children often do). 

I learned that we must begin with building relationships. We have to start with political education and reframing the moral narrative to teach people about the myths of poverty and to realize how the Capitalist system is perfectly happy to keep one hundred forty million (140,000,000) people destitute.

I didn’t learn the whole history of Labor Day until I was an adult. Our public education system has whitewashed history to the point that Mother Jones, Caesar Chavez, and other Freedom Fighters were reduced to mere sentences and dots on a timeline. 

The Lesson: in the past people fought for worker’s rights, but it’s all good now because we have this One Day Off. 

Individualism disrupts our natural order of Being.

The problem with Individualism is that I am a write-off, another brilliant mind that slipped through the cracks wrought by Poverty. In order to rationalize that the system is not flawed, we make excuses 

“Her parents weren’t there to supplement the education” 

“She should’ve known to go read other books, when I was in school we did research papers in 3rd grade…” 

…we make the same excuses concerning the low minimum wage. 

“Those jobs are for teenagers who still live at home & don’t need a full wage”

“Those people should be more responsible, don’t have kids, save their money, blah blah blah….”

We do this to keep our own comfort protected. We do not challenge the system of low wages plus high-interest payday loans, which become necessary to keep the bills paid. For some, donating plasma is a way to “stretch the paycheck” 

We shame and blame the victims of an abusive capitalist system.  

Our communication breakdown is a class issue, an age issue, and the divide between Ideal & Real. The only way to break through these invisible borders is with the hammer of justice. 

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Loxodon Warhammer, the power to trample enemies and gain strength when enemies are defeated. via Magic, the Gathering)  

During my travels, I discovered Olga Phoenix’s Self-Care Wheel. One of the homes I stayed in belonged to a med student, she had a copy on her wall near her desk. I found that I already do most of what this wheel suggests for whole self-care, but I had an ah-ha moment when I noticed the equalization between spiritual and emotional care and professional and physical care. Our society teaches us to ignore feelings and deeply held beliefs in order to remain professionally and socially healthy.  I feel like this is where we get it wrong. We cannot shut out our emotions, we NEED to be touchy-feely, and in connection with some sense of the divine in order to build healthy relationships within our society. 

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We unconsciously segregate ourselves and isolate/shun new members when we should embrace & welcome many humans, all animals of Earth, as One. 

Corporate Capitalism values greed, competition, individualism, and an authoritarian government. Our rulers, those men of wealth actively exploiting workers, would have us believe that we are each, individually, alone. Individualism demands that we sacrifice the whole for the exception of any given one. For example, since I can sing, anyone who cannot sing must be wrong, flawed, shunned. Since you may have been able to go to college while working a part-time job, and earn a degree without any student-loan debt (60 years ago) young people today should have the same abilities. We’re fed single-stories such as a homeless man who overcame adversity and persevered to find success, so we expect anyone could do the same. A single story of a star athlete getting out of the ghetto, or a model who overcame drug addiction and is now our modern Mother Teresa, these stories can get twisted and feed the fear that failure = flawed. 

(Homework, watch The Danger of a Single Story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg&t=182s )

Individualism rejects outright the collective struggle of 140,000,000 people. The baby boomers, my mother’s generation, had the benefits of socialist democracy, even though the system was still inherently flawed by racism. My mother could have gotten a part-time job to save up money for college, because her father earned a wage that provided for the family, as a civil servant, an employee of the state. His children had access to public education, healthcare, and on-the-job training. 

(I paid $210.00 this year to send my two children to public school)

We’re fed this myth growing up – that you can be anything you want to be. That if you work hard and study hard you’ll have a successful life. That if you get a job you’ll have the means to survive and thrive. But it’s just not true. The truth is that poverty is perpetual violence against many to protect the few who hoard our collective wealth. It’s the class myth, the only reason we have a class structure is so wealthy whites can remain in power. If we average folks are working to the bone, we don’t have the time or energy to remain in relationship with our government. Meanwhile, corporate capitalist owners hoard wealth so that they are free to manipulate our government. 

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The Minimum Wage has not gone up since 2009.

We cannot expect the children today to have a similar experience as the baby boomers unless we tax the wealthy, raise the wage, and care for the laborers & workers who are parents. (Not only parents but many, many parents are low-wage workers)

We also cannot expect today’s parents to find similar work as what was available to boomers. All the types of jobs one could learn & benefit from have been moved overseas by capitalist neoliberalism. We don’t have any more bricklayers to teach our children how to build. That skilled work has been outsourced, and it’s not the Mexicans fault. It is the fault of wealthy corporate owners refusing to participate by the rule of justice. 

So, in caring for each other, we need to care that our fellow residents in Topeka can’t make ends meet. We also need to accept the fact that charity is not enough. A mom trying to feed her kids a healthy meal should not be expected to rely solely on charity. We need to accept that the current minimum wage is not enough – not enough to live on, and not enough function on. Workers are not receiving a fair share of the profits our labors produce. Members of our community are working, are capable and competent, but are not fairly compensated for their time and talent at their job. It’s not alright. It’s not any fault of their own, it’s not any shortcoming of character. It is the fatal flaw of free-market capitalism.

At UUFT we ask each to give of our time, talent, and treasure because we know how valuable a person’s time and talents are. So why do we not exercise our fifth and sixth principles by demanding every person’s time and talents be fairly compensated by a minimum wage? Folks say they want to “go back,” can we get back to the New Deal where democratic socialism began to rebuild our country’s people’s lives after the depression? Except, this time we can expect to include people of color in a fair deal. Some more homework for you, go read up on the Green New Deal. 

5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

We only get what we’re organized to take, and lately, we let individual egos cloud our vision and desperate need. Fear overrides our sense of justice, and conservative rhetoric reinforces those fears. 

BUT WE DO NOT NEED TO BE AFRAID! We’ve got the numbers. 140,000,000, more or less. 

If $100.00 doesn’t seem like a lot to you, if $5,000.00 is something you could pull out of savings tomorrow then you need to accept that you are privileged. For many working adults, even scraping together $30.00 to visit the doctor is money that’s not in the bank. So they go to work sick and serve you that big mac w/ fries, because heaven forbid employers would pay a wage that would keep workers, and incidentally you, healthy. So, when you spend your disposable income, is it going to the corporations who in turn exploit labor? Get over your guilt, stop being sorry, and EMBRACE CHANGE! We must realize the truth that, whether we’re Officially Organized or not, our actions affect the whole society. We, of course, don’t intend to cause harm, but we do harm when we shop at WalMart. And a lot of people shop at WalMart. Those collective dollars from our general public (the many drops of water in a bucket) spill over into slave-like manufacturing in Bangladesh and Mexico, and slave-like wages in stores and restaurants here. 

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Once upon a time, we taxed the wealthy at a higher rate so that all people could receive free education. It is too important to leave to the hope that billionaires will donate the money needed for public education. 

Some hard truth now: as a social group, white men have had millennia to get it right, and instead they’ve raped the entire planet.

Men of GoodFaith will TrustWomen, and get out of the way. White women, in turn, can get out of the way for PoC. Right now, I believe Black&Brown women are the true saviors of our Human Race. Ironic since they created it, too. 

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