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Jules Hathaway is a graduate student at the University of Maine and community volunteer.
Shortly before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. realized how intertwined racism and poverty are. He started asking what good it did a person if they had the right to sit at a lunch counter but couldn’t afford a burger. The Poor People’s Campaign was born from that insight.
About half a century later, the Poor People’s Campaign is having a very much needed resurgence across the nation. The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that America is a nation of haves and have nots. Our wealth divide is wider than at any other time, except for right before the Great Depression.
In addition to being an essential part of COVID infection prevention, clean water is necessary to sustain life. In the richest nation in the world, nearly 14 million households can’t afford their water bill. Think of all the ways you’ll use water today. What would you do if it wasn’t available?
Additionally neglected infrastructure problems mean that millions of young children are exposed to unacceptable levels of lead. How would you feel if they were your children?
Have a good breakfast? Have no worries about whether you’ll also have lunch and supper? If so, you’re doing better than many of your fellow citizens for whom hunger is a constant gnawing presence. As the need for food assistance is growing, it’s being cut or made harder to access through methods like proposed work requirements for SNAP recipients, about 75 percent of whom are children, older adults or already working. What would you tell your children if they were crying from hunger pains?
Do you wake up in your home, unless you’re travelling or hospitalized? A lot of families with working parents are living in cars or shelters, couch surfing or sleeping rough. Rents are going up faster than wages. On-demand shifts mean hours are unpredictable. In addition to the millions of people who are homeless, millions of Americans are just one emergency or catastrophe away. Maybe even you.
COVID infections and deaths have disproportionately fallen on people of color and poor people. Many of them have been the essential workers put out on the front lines in places like stores and often aren’t issued the most basic protective equipment. How would you feel each day you headed off to work if the only way you could keep a roof over your family’s heads and food on the table involved possibly exposing your loved ones to a deadly pestilence?
When I went to the hospital to give birth to my first child, what was supposed to be a routine delivery turned out to be an emergency c-section followed by a hospital-acquired infection. That baby was nearly in high school when a good Samaritan paid off the last of the bill.
We were the lucky ones. Medical issues are the number one cause of American bankruptcy. In countries with national health care, this simply doesn’t happen. Wouldn’t you like this kind of security?
Those are simply the basics. I haven’t even touched on topics such as separate and far from equal pre-K-12 education, increasing inaccessibility of higher education, the paucity of jobs that offer workers decent pay and dignity, infrastructures in need of life support and the increasing devastation caused by global climate change. I haven’t mentioned a government that can afford to ignore the voices of its most precarious citizens by finding ways to take away their votes.
The Poor People’s Campaign is working to change all of this. I’ve signed on. I hope you’ll consider joining me. For more information, you can check out www.poorpeoplescampaign.org or https://www.facebook.com/maineppc/