Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thinking About Poverty Today

Blog Action Day is today October 15th. Tons of bloggers from around the world are participating in writing about poverty today. I hope that you'll enjoy what I've contributed and that you'll search out some other sources of information about the condition, cause, experience, or elimination of poverty and share them with me.

Thinking about the issue of poverty, I either just get too sad and thus paralyzed about it, or sometimes, I'll find something that is informative and energizing. Something that makes me get clear about my impact on the world, what I can change, what I as one person can do to help. This short film The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard is one such thing. I really recommend watching it, it is 20 minutes long and I bet it will help clarify the situation for you and leave you feeling a bit more hopeful.
Educating ourselves and our children about the interconnectedness of poverty, global sutainability and environmental justice is the key here. We need to get the change ball rolling, no matter who is elected president!

One organization that has a complete curriculum prepared that you can buy for a teacher is Facing the Future. There are free downloads so you can see what type of lessons they are incorporating into the curricula. I'm going to ask at my children's schools if they would welcome something like this for their science and/or world history classes. I'm pretty sure they'll say they don't have time for it, as the time is taken up with "teaching to the test" from beginning to end of the school year. But maybe it would be something they could use. Worth asking at least.

I don't personally have a lot of contact with poverty in my day to day life. The poor are pretty well hidden in my community. The street people/homeless people asking for change downtown in Santa Cruz are about it really. But I know there are a lot of people around here that are living below the poverty level, I just don't see them as separate from the rest of us folks. Not seeing the poor makes it hard to even imagine that someone is having a hard time, living in this area of bounty and abundance, near all the fertile productive farm fields, the life-giving ocean. But it is expensive here, among the most pricey in the nation and there aren't a lot of housing options besides those expensive single family homes.

I wasn't even sure what the definition of poverty was these days, so I looked it up, as it is adjusted every year: $21,200 per year for a family of four. That's the federal standard definition of poverty. I can't even imagine how families can survive on that in California, or anywhere else. Or even one person for that matter, much less 4 people. The thought that there are families around me working hard, trying to make it on so little seems unreal because I don't know any personally. I'm not active in any organizations that work on local poverty issues. Maybe I should be! (duh, of course I should!)

Does Money=Happiness? I have this impression that we are the wealthiest nation on Earth, and simultaneously we're one of the most unhappiest nations. All our money has not gotten us what we need, it has only gotten us what we want (or are conditioned to think that we want from advertising!). All this striving and consuming isn't what is ultimately fulfilling for a human life. Plus the overconsumption and excess consumerism produced from it is definitely going to make life harder in the future for everyone. But maybe I'm completely wrong about that. I think it probably comes down to how you define happiness! When your definition of "enough" is met, then you're happy.

I think that we need to advocate here in our own country for going back to basics, where we agree that our government's main responsibility besides keeping the country safe, is to make policies that ensure that all citizen's basic needs are met. This should be a given. That no one is hungry, thirsty, un-sheltered, and has medical care. Why is this still an issue here in the US? And how can we possibly go around the world preaching to the poorer nations that they need to copy our ways of doing things when the basics aren't a given back home? Fixing up your own house before you fix your neighbors is what I'm thinking here. We need to get back to being a good example and helping out the poorer nations more than we do now!

There are lots of views from the left and right on whether the eradication of poverty is ever even possible or even a worthwhile goal to tackle. And much of what each view brings up is absolutely correct. I personally think that it is probably a practical impossibility to achieve the eradication of poverty. But there has got to be an effort from all of us that have more than enough to help those who haven't nearly enough. Organizations such as The One Campaign are definitely worth supporting. The UN Millenial goals are a big step towards that, and even those will be very hard to meet.

What about you? Do you think about the issue of poverty very much?
I know I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to be able to sit around and just think and write about this today. I acknowledge that there are a whole lot of people out there who are not able to do that.


Laume said...

Very interesting ponderings. I think perhaps the correlation isn't so much between money and happiness as it is security and happiness. It seemed to us that a lot of folks where we traveled in the UK and in Paris had a lot less than even the folks here of the welfare class. By that I mean a lot less material goods - size of home, toys, cars... But what they had MORE of was security. Health coverage being a big one. Holiday time too. I'm sure I'm generalizing but I think that there's something to it.

Walker Lady said...

We have a poverty level income right now. Thank goodness we also have savings to augment that. I fear the day when those savings are depleted! One serious illness and we'd lose everything right now. Also because we DO have savings, we don't qualify for any aide. Not that we'd apply now, but the system is set up for you to lose everything before you can have any help.
I don't know how folks survive on that kind of money either. Or how homeless get enough food to eat or keep alive, living on the streets.
Laume's thoughts though, about material 'stuff' is right on. Many of the generation younger than we are don't seem to know they can survive without using credit cards so they can have everything they want, NOW!
Can't afford a new Play Station? A new fancy TV? Buy on credit! Instant gratification. The concept of doing without or saving to buy a LUXURY seems to be lost more and more.