Some Thoughts Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin-Luther-King-I-have-a-dream

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I’ve been working on this post since yesterday, but the kids and my life keep pulling me away. And sometimes I have to stop myself from waiting until something is “perfect” before I post it. I have to remember it’s more important to speak our own truth than it is to do it perfectly. This is true for all of us.

This year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day felt especially important to me. As I look around at this world that we live in and the way things have been going in terms of racial prejudice, injustice and poverty, I feel Dr. King’s words and his message are more important than ever. And eerily, they still ring so very true today.

Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.  MLK

 

Black lives matter. We’ve all heard this recently. It actually started in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murder, and has become a movement to bring light into the darkness about the number of black lives taken by the police.  But I wonder if people really know that. Because now, everywhere I turn, I hear an argument of sorts that states, “All lives matter,” as if “Black lives matter,” made someone feel left out.

Of course all lives matter. That isn’t even up for debate.  But I don’t get shot in my home and neither do my children. And it is safe to walk on the streets of our neighborhood and to go to our grocery store at any time of day or night.  Life is different here in small town (white) America. Here, there is a general safety and assumption that our lives matter. But that isn’t true in Ferguson, or in a very large section of Milwaukee, or Chicago, or Detroit, or countless other places in this country.

In those places, life is different. Where there is no money, there is a systematic segregation. Yes, that is the right word. Segregation, just like Dr. King talked about so many years ago. Only this legal and it’s allowed. (Not unlike what Hitler did was legal, and allowed). You don’t believe there is segregation? Take a drive down Hwy 41  just off the interstate by the gleaming Miller Park. The road says, “Freeway Ends” and you will spend 20 minutes in another world. That is segregation.

I can’t breathe. You might say, “That guy had it coming to him. The police were only doing their jobs. They don’t harass people unless they deserve it. And it was ruled justified.” But 11 times that man said, “I can’t breathe.”

What if you got into a disagreement with an officer? I know, that would never happen to you. But theorize with me for a moment here and imagine it happening to you. Let’s call it a misunderstanding. Do you think that he would put you in a choke hold? Even after you told him 11 times that you couldn’t breathe? Right out in public, in broad daylight, until you died? Do you see that as any kind of remote possibility in your life, or your town?

We live in a different world. You don’t see it because you aren’t looking, not to mention that it’s tucked away. If you are looking and you do see it, then you’re mad as hell that this goes on in the country you call your own. Which means you are already part of the movement.

4 ½ hours. If you were shot, would your body lay out in the street of you neighborhood for 4 ½ hours? Would that be allowed? Would someone come up with an excuse trying to make it alright?

How about this… Do you have to fear the police because of how you look? Not who you are or what you’ve done, but how you look?  You don’t believe it? I’ll tell you who to ask. Ask a white mother who has adopted black sons. Ask her when she starts to train her sons on how NOT to provoke the police in any way. She’ll tell you the danger is real for all black boys turning into men and that they need to understand this before puberty to protect themselves.

I’m not saying that all police are bad, or even the majority of them. In fact, I have some wonderful friends who are police officers that I trust totally and I am so thankful for the service they provide. Some of them even go so far as to mentor kids in the inner city and are doing all they can to help. I believe that most police are doing a good job. But in order to keep that profession honest and justified, we have to punish those that abuse their powers and do harm unnecessarily, on purpose or not. But that is not happening. And that is the part that allows a creeping darkness to wrap itself around the profession itself and undermine the good that police can do. We need to recognize and correct the holes within that system.

And then there is the media. They are bought and paid for, and they are selling you whatever they are told to sell you by their owners, and I don’t just mean things you buy with your money. It isn’t truth they are selling though. There may be a smidge of honesty here or there, but there are never two sides represented. They are brain washing you to get you to do and say and believe and buy whatever they want. And in doing so, are able to get most people to forget about anything else. And it’s working. We talk about the Packers and the weather and Duck Dynasty. But poverty? We blame for that. We judge that. Or we ignore that. Hungry children, we place blame and ignore and we talk about a football game. Really, that is what we do. We spend lots of time on imaginary things and say we have no time or money to help with important things.

I probably sound like a conspiracy theorist, only I’m not. I’m someone trying to shed a light on the darkness.  I’m someone who went to college for journalism and is very, very good at research. And I’m telling you, the media is not telling you the truth, and certainly not the whole truth. You have to look deeper to find it, and we have turned into a lazy society who wants it spoon fed to us. They know that, too.

Did you know? “The typical nightly newscast often depicts people of color only via negative images of black men in handcuffs and Latinos invading our borders.” (http://www.freepress.net/diversity-media-ownership)

Or… 90% of all media in America is owned by 6 corporations. And you know what corporations are, right? They are those entities out there trying to get us to buy things. Things like medicine and clothing and beauty supplies and assumptions. But since there are only 6 of them, we basically only get a couple peoples point of view, and we’re taught to treat them as truth. And we do. We trust in the NBC’s and the FOX’s stamped on their foreheads and we let them tell us it’s okay if we just go buy that car because the poor aren’t working hard enough anyway. And besides, our country doesn’t have any money to help anyone right now.

God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. – MLK

The fact that the government has no money? Guess what. That’s a lie too. Our military budget is $640 billion dollars this year. JUST THIS YEAR.  There is not a country in the world (IN THE WORLD) that has a military budget that is even 10 percent of that. Which means we are either spending our money very, very unwisely or we don’t need to have a budget that large. What if we cut it in half? We’d still have a significantly larger military budget and be way bigger and stronger than ANYONE else, but we’d have $320 billion dollars to spend elsewhere. $320 billion dollars for schools, to pay teachers, to feed children. To send people to college or help folks earn a living wage, to assist the veterans so scarred from serving this country. To get help for the homeless. To improve the inner cities and give them the funds to get their feet on some solid ground for once and have a chance at a real education from day one. To take care of the elderly, so many of whom live in poverty. Cause you know what? $320 billion dollars would go a very long way.

Or how about this?

“A study released today from Oxfam reports that the richest 1 percent in the world are on the verge of controlling more than half of the globe’s total wealth. Already the richest 80 people in the world together own $1.9 trillion, which is just about as much as is owned by the 3.5 billion people in the bottom half of the world put together.” (Robert Reich)

There is a revolution coming, my friends. You can’t have such inequality without the force of that snapping the structure. This country is at a tipping point, so many of our people poor and oppressed, working hard but not making enough to even pay for necessities. There is hatred in hearts and so many who refuse to see, too comfortable in their own warm home and decent incomes to risk looking outside. But this revolution is coming, nonetheless. We will wake up one way or another, whether we look inside ourselves and travel outside our comfort zone and jostle ourselves from our own slumber, or we get shaken out of this sleep by the power and force of change. Either way, this country has been asleep too long. It’s just a matter of time.

We are all one people. Really. We are. Don’t believe that we are all so different. It’s just another lie they are telling us.

There are things that give me hope. Like all the people posting about Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, who realize that the injustice he fought so hard for (and died for) is still not over. Who are all still touched by his words and his dream.

The only way to change the world is one little movement at a time. A Facebook status, a conversation, a blog post, a person deciding to march and help raise awareness (and that ends up with 50,000 marching, but it took each and every single person to decide to do that to tally up to 50,000).

Martin Luther King, Jr. is still speaking. I have heard his words ringing out all over the internet this week. I’m listening, and now so are you….

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Poverty

For a very long time, basically my entire adult life until last year, I lived in poverty. The extent of the poverty varied, from well below the poverty line to just hovering around it. Either way, I was poor for a long time. For my girls entire childhoods. Pretty much since I had them and until Steve and I moved in together.

I never talked about it for the same reason that no one I know who lives in poverty talks about it. Because they are ashamed. And because pretty much anyone who lives above the poverty line will basically tell you that it’s your own fault and you aren’t working hard enough. ** There are exceptions to this, but it’s rare. Very rare. **

The real problem with poverty is exactly that. The assumption that it’s the poor persons fault. So you have this person who doesn’t have enough of anything and we beat them down for it. And anyone who has raised a kid or made a friend knows that you don’t get very far with someone by belittling them. Especially when they are already feeling bad.

I worked. A variety of jobs, always trying to find a better one. Or a job with better hours so I could work a second job or just one job so I could actually be around my kids and go to their activities. But here’s the thing… Jobs that pay 7 dollars an hour don’t care. They really don’t. Not about your kids or your sick mom or your school schedule or anything. So scheduling around taking care of kids or another job is impossible. Plus, they don’t want to insure you so they keep you under 30 hours a week. Which, if you do the math, means you take home $217.50 before taxes. Try raising a family on that. Try just paying rent on that. Forget eating. Eating is cereal and Mac and Cheese because YOU HAVE NO MONEY!

Then there is that wonderful little meme floating around Facebook that says that if you don’t like minimum wage or poverty, you should go back to school. Or, be a good employee and you will get paid better. But I was a very good employee. I’ve never had anything but positive feedback and reviews in all the jobs I’ve had. They just don’t want to pay well because it hurts their bottom line. And someone always needs a job so you are replaceable. It’s really that simple.

And college, well… 30k in debt for someone who is already so poor that they can’t afford food is kind of bad math. It’s supposedly a better option than most but it’s not a good one. Going into debt when you can’t make ends meet is just bad math.

And really, we need people to work in the service industry. We all buy pizza and groceries and gas for our cars, and the people who work those jobs deserve to be able to pay their bills. First off, they deserve it because they are human beings just like us, but also because we depend on them to live our lives so conveniently. They deserve a living wage, even if they aren’t highly educated. Why does that have to be for everyone anyway?

I’m not someone who pretends to know the answer. Do I think paying people a living wage would help? Yes. Do I think higher education should stop being a for-profit business at the expense of people trying to make their lives better? Yes. Do I know how to make that happen? No. But I do know that if we don’t talk about poverty, and it’s so taboo that people are shamed into silence about it like victims, then we aren’t ever going to get anywhere.

For me, poverty was traumatic and something I’m honestly still trying to recover from. It’s scary to not know how to pay the rent or the water or heat bill. It’s scary to know that 20 dollars is all the groceries you can buy for a week. It’s crushing and heartbreaking to finally ask for help from someone and be belittled and talked to like you are a failure. But do that for many years and it becomes traumatic. Something you need to recover from, not something you can just leave behind.

It’s strange now, to buy good healthy food and not think twice. To not have to constantly total the groceries in my cart so that I am sure that I have enough money to pay for them. To have the rent paid, to be buying a house, to drive a vehicle that has no problems at all and is safe to take on trips. I feel lighter. But I also feel lucky.

I think of poverty like a walled city. And the “help” and government assistance out there is like someone handing you a little toddler steeping stool and telling you that if you try hard enough you can use it to climb the 20 foot wall around the city. But you have to be special, like, Michael Jordan special, to make it over that wall. Or, you have to have someone willing to reach in there and pull your ass out. And these days, no one wants to do that. It’s every man for himself these days. Families scatter and resent being asked for help. From my experience, asking for help paying a 400 dollar heat bill so you don’t get shut off will result in hours of belittling for a week straight. And it may get paid, and of course you’re grateful, but you pretty much feel like the most worthless person on the planet. Only you are doing all you can and trying your best but the government stepping stool that everyone raves about just isn’t fucking high enough. And no one can raise a family on minimum wage. It just isn’t possible.

So how did I get out? How did I get so incredibly lucky that I thank my stars every single day?

I married a man with a good job. Someone who came in and saw how hard I was working and how difficult my life was and he didn’t run. And he didn’t belittle me or judge me or assume that it was all my fault. He looked around at my life and who I am and what I was doing and he believed in me. And no matter how many times I told him I was fine and that I didn’t need him, he kept trying to help. He kept coming back because he knew that I wasn’t really so hard and tough, but that I was so afraid of being honest and admitting that I’d been drowning for years and really did need someone to help me. And so he did. Just like that. Which I guess you could call luck but really I think of it as a miracle.

I don’t know how to solve the problem of poverty in America. But I will tell you it’s everywhere and you know lots of people living there that just can’t admit it to you, because they are afraid of what you’ll say and how you’ll treat them. So I’m saying all this here now, and if I get bashed for it from anyone, whatever. I’m going to try really hard not to care. Because I do know that the only way to change poverty is to change the way many Americans view it, and we can’t do that it we refuse to say it out loud. So I’m starting the conversation.