Isn’t every day Blog Action Day?

Today is Blog Action Day for poverty, which I only discovered a few minutes ago.  October is full of all sorts of made-up [Blank] Days, such as National Cake Decorating Day (10/9), National Kick Butt Day (10/13), National Mole Day (10/23, and it’s in honor of the animal, not the skin growth) and National Knock Knock Jokes Day (competing with Halloween).  Blog Action Days have taken place in the past for other social issues such as feminism and domestic violence, with the notion being that bloggers around the world wax eloquent on the issue to bring it to others’ attention.

I’ve probably been feeling a bit more cynical than usual these past few days (reading how the official website for the Sacramento County Republican party openly endorsed torturing Barack Obama will do that to a person), but I’m not really sure what the point of a “blog action day” is.  For one thing, it’s a little bit pompous for a blogger, or anyone really, to believe that it’s up to them to enlighten the masses on the really important matters in the world.  Most people don’t read blogs to be enlightened or lectured, they read them to be entertained, this is why blogs that focus on Hollywood gossip get considerably more traffic than those that focus on politics or social issues.  Also, I find it a little hard to believe that as we come to the end of 2008, there are people who still need to be “made aware that poverty exists.”  Perhaps if you are either under age ten or have spent your entire life in a windowless basement without access to a television, computer, radio or newspapers, then it’s possible.  Other than that, you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you “Hey guise, did you know there are poor people? Yeah, really, a whole bunch of them!”

Poverty isn’t an intangible concept with an existence that needs to be proven.  We’re all perfectly aware that it exists, and it’s confronted in one of four manners: you either actively help to alleviate the problem, whether by donating money, food or time, you want to help but are unable due to personal constraints, you don’t give a shit at all because you don’t give a shit about anything that doesn’t impact you directly, or you do care but don’t feel the need to help because, hey, nobody ever did nothing for you.  That last one is an excuse I find particularly disheartening, and far too common in people of my age group.  Generation X will become best known as the last generation of people who could find decent jobs without a college degree, albeit jobs that make us miserable and prevent us from achieving our dreams, whether that dream is to be able to write for a living full-time or to have your Guitar Hero skills land you a gig playing backup on AC/DC’s latest tour.  Once being a slacker stopped being cute, we got off our asses and got real J-O-B-S, jobs that were mostly boring, jobs that provided barely adequate health care, if any, jobs that earned us just enough money to get by, but not enough to really amass any sort of savings.  When we managed to get past the point where we weren’t pondering how moving back in with Mom and Dad would affect our love lives or living on Ramen noodles for two weeks straight, we were both relieved and embittered.  Relieved because, hey, no more Ramen noodles.  Embittered because, hey, nobody was championing our cause, but now we’re constantly bombarded with requests, demands, even, to give give give give our last dollar to the poor.

It seems my generation, and I am not at all separating myself from it, has returned to our grandparents’ stance of “these people just need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps,” neglecting to remember that in order to lift yourself up by your bootstraps you need boots to begin with.  Far too many of us still believe that the majority of homeless people are drunks or crazy, that if you give them a dollar they’ll immediately go around the corner and spend it on crack, or whatever the poor person drug of choice is currently.  We still believe those urban legends of the bedraggled man who sits on the sidewalk all day begging for change, then goes home to his mansion in a Rolls Royce.  “Freegans,” those insufferable hipsters who dig through garbage cans for food and clothes as a political statement when most of them have perfectly acceptable homes with all the accoutrements, certainly aren’t helping alleviate those misconceptions. 

Yet that’s what they are: misconceptions.  As of 2005 over a third of the homeless population consisted of families with children.  The reason why you don’t see them out on the streets is because they’re living in shelters, and no, that doesn’t count as “acceptable housing.”  Homeless shelters are intended for temporary stays, no kid should have to put one down as their address for school.  Over a quarter of homeless people do perform some sort of paid labor, just not enough to afford a place to live.  Sexual assault is a huge problem for homeless women, with a very low report rate and an even lower one for arrest and conviction.  Yeah, it’s true, the times in my life when I’ve been broke, I never felt like anyone was “championing my cause.” For a goodly part of my childhood my family was on welfare, and even back then in the late 70s it was perceived as a handout for people who were too lazy to work rather than assistance for people having a hard time.  It’s amazing to me that that perception has not only remain unchanged in thirty years, but has become more widespread.  The media continues to focus on that typical jobless mother of six illegitimate children (sometimes she’s a ghetto princess, sometimes she’s white trash), all of them from different fathers, spending her welfare checks on manicures and getting fat on the sweat of other hardworking Americans.  I can tell you from personal experience that such a person does actually exist.  But it is hardly representational of the typical welfare recipient.

I suspect that as we continue to experience fallout from the current economic crisis, as people lose jobs or are forced to cut back considerably on personal expenses, the “nobody helped me, why should I help anyone else” attitude will grow more prevalent.  We just have to understand that this simply isn’t constructive.  It may not be so easy now to give up a buck to the guy sitting outside the subway station, that dollar may be the difference between being able to buy a loaf of bread or not being able to buy it at the end of the day.  If you can’t afford to help, then you can’t, no one will fault you for it.  Justifying it by insisting that you got along fine without help, thus so can everyone else is pointless, and untrue.  You had help, we’ve all had help.  If you borrowed money from your parents, if a friend bought you a bag of groceries or drove you around from job interview to job interview, or if they just listened to you on the phone as you cried about your miserable life, you’ve had help.  We all have.  It doesn’t matter if we asked for it or not, we needed help and somebody helped us. 

As federal funding to homeless and hunger coalitions will undoubtedly continue to be decreased, it’s going to become almost entirely dependent on average citizens to help others in need.  It can’t be foisted upon the mysterious “someone else,” we are that someone else.  The insulated wealthy can’t be depended on, it comes down to the middle and working class, those who still find themselves struggling from time to time, those who have stood at the precipice and wondered if they’d have a place to live in three months, those for whom reaching out for help is an agonizing blow to their dignity.  Who is better qualified to help?

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