April 04, 2011

My Struggle to Understand the Republican Response to the Congressional Cutbacks and Another Plea To Fast For the Hungry

I have many Republican friends and some family, none of whom can be considered dispassionate about human rights or hard-hearted when poverty and want falls into their laps. And so I am grateful to these friends for their responses to my Facebook Note and earlier e-mail entitled "The Tea Party is Over." And their explanations as to why they continue to choose to support the Tea Party agenda despite my passionate request to fast for the hungry--a movement initially started by MoveOn.org in protest over the proposed budget cutbacks. The explanations, though appreciated, confound me; and I want to share these responses for I am struggling to understand the thinking behind them. 

I'm a woman who's lived in poverty all her life, some years better than others, some worse. It's my hope that moderate Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between will listen to what I have been witness to and to seriously consider fasting for the hungry. Mostly, it's my hope that everyone will pick up the phone and talk to their representatives about this, and ask them to balance the budget not on the backs of the poorest of poor who did nothing to create this mess but the backs of the wealthiest who do not pay their  fair share of taxes and corporate America that started this mess in the first place.

You're been tricked. 
The most common response I've received is that I've been tricked and should watch Fox News. I'm confounded because all you have to do if pick up the phone and talk to your representatives, Republican and Democrat. They've got the cutbacks in their hands, on their desks, and can tell you exactly what they're supporting, not supporting, and what they're willing to capitulate on. Or not. There's no denying the cutbacks and Congress is even now pushing through a bill that goes even deeper for 2012.

Time for tough love.
Another common response is that they've personally known hard times but have never asked the government for help. It's time, they say, for a little tough love for those who do ask. I'm confounded by this as well because

1) lucky you, life's dealt you a winning card; you should be grateful, not judgmental.

2) it must mean I need tough love--specifically hunger--because I am currently using food stamps and have drawn unemployment after being replaced at work by a 20-year-old.

3) finally, tough love as I understand it was designed for people who refuse their advantages to make something of themselves. Ingrates who sneer at the face of grace and turn on their benefactors. Not for people with a special needs child requiring costly medical care, people who've lost their jobs and can't find another, people who work multiple jobs without benefits and still can't make it, people who find themselves divorced and without resources. What advantages have they thumbed? Luck simply turned, as it can and does.

It's all a lie fed to you by the left-wing media.
This probably confounds me the most. Congress is threatening to shut down parts of the government on Friday if they don't get to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest of the poor rather than the backs of the wealthiest and corporate America. In what way is this the liberal media spoon-feeding lies?

It is my own conclusion that we've got a war against women, children, the elderly, and the sick--and that conclusion comes directly from the fact that the crippling of these people is not balancing the budget, not even close. It will account for less than 1% of the deficit. If GE Capital, who made billions and paid no taxes (they were even given a $3.5 million tax credit this year while millions went hungry) was required to pay the same kind of taxes the rest of us do, problem solved. But the current Republican congress does not want to do this. It doesn't take a liberal media to tell me that Congress is not interested in balancing the budget as much as it is in going after our most vulnerable. Otherwise just balance the budget on the back of GE and be done with it.

Do you honestly think MoveOn.org cares about these people?
I am confounded because 1) what's happening clearly reveals that many Republicans don't care and so it's a wobbly leg to stand on when throwing this particular javelin; and 2) whether MoveOn.org and other organizations now participating care is immaterial. They're doing something.
We're Christian and we value life.
I have to admit this so confounds me that it makes my head spin. The contradiction cries from the very rocks. So if you value life why you aren't you supporting the hungryIf you're Christian, why aren't you doing as Jesus says, feeding the hungry? I'm really trying hard to reconcile this. Maybe my Republican friends, with all due respect, honestly feel there are no poor. There are only the gullible, people like me, who foolishly believe the liberal media's lies and trickery. Yet there are many Christian organizations who are supporting the fast in protest against these budget cuts. Numerous church organizations and prominent ministers have called on Washington to stop this. 

Following is a CNN report. Also a March 29 article written by Mark Bittman, food editor for the New York Times. Scroll past if disinterested, but the references to Christian involvement I personally find gratifying. But then maybe the liberal media is making all this up too. Tricking us into thinking Jim Wallace is involved,Tony Hall, Bread for the World?

See? It's so easy to dismiss what we don't want to hear by calling it a lie. Nevertheless, I've highlighted some of the religious references.
Washington (CNN) - Several leaders of progressive organizations announced Friday they will join a group of 6,000 [as of today, 22,000] participants in fasting to protest budget cuts that would affect those living in poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

Executives of MoveOn.org, Service Employees International Union, the Center for Community Change, and ColorOfChange.org are among those that have jumped onboard. They will protest the proposed cuts with fasting, advocacy, and prayer, Tony Hall, former Ambassador to the United Nation Agencies for Food and Agriculture, told CNN.

The group said in a statement that their protest focuses on the proposed budget cuts that would eliminate $7.6 billion from domestic programs that impact low-income women and children. Other cuts would potentially eliminate feeding programs for 18 million of the poorest and hungriest around the world, and could cause low-income seniors to lose their monthly nutrition assistance, the group stated.
Hall and Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, announced the fast Monday with support from a broad coalition of religious leaders. "Everybody who is fasting believes in fiscal responsibility but not in making cuts that will hurt the poorest of the poor," Ambassador Hall said, adding that he advises people to contact their representatives and pressure them not to cut funding for the poor and hungry.

"At a time when billionaires are getting massive tax cuts and Wall Street profits are sky high, balancing the budget on the back of the most vulnerable in America is simply immoral," Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org said in a statement. "I am fasting because this budget will leave pregnant women and children hungry, sick people without healthcare, children without pre-school and students without teachers-while giving tax breaks to those who caused this crises."

Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, Ritu Sharma, president of Women Thrive Worldwide, Rick Jacobs, Chair and Founder of Courage Campaign; Joaquin Guerra, Executive Director of Presente.org will be among the participants.

As the situation progresses into next week, Hall will call on members of Congress to join in the fast.

New York Times: Why We’re Fasting
By MARK BITTMANcongressional budget office, Food Stamps

I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 [that number is now up to22,000--Brenda] other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry.

By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor.

Who are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.

Beckmann, who is president of Bread for the World, made me want to join in just by talking about his commitment. For me, the fast is a way to demonstrate my interest in this fight, as well as a way to remind myself and others that there are bigger things in life than dinner. (Shocking, I know.) I expect I’ll learn something about patience and fortitude while I’m at it. Thirty-six hours into the fast, my senses are heightened and everything feels a bit strange. Odors from the cafeteria a floor away drift down to my desk. In the elevator, I can smell a muffin; on the street, I can smell everything — good and bad. But as hungry as I may get, we know I’ll eat well soon. (Please check my blog for a progress report.)

Many poor people don’t have that option, and Beckmann and his co-organizers are calling for God to create a “circle of protection” around them. Some are fasting for a day, many for longer. (I’m fasting until Friday, and Beckmann until Monday. And, no, it’s not too late to join us.)

When I reminded Beckmann that poor people’s hunger was hardly a new phenomenon, and that God hasn’t made a confirmed appearance recently — at least that I know of — he suggested I read Isaiah 58, in which God says that if we were more generous while we fasted he’d treat us better. Maybe. But a billion people are just as hungry, human, and as deserving now as the Israelites were when they were fleeing Egypt, and I don’t see any manna.

This isn’t about skepticism, however; it’s about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.

It’s those people whom Beckmann and his allies (more than 30 organizations are on board) are trying to protect. The coalition may be a bit too quick to support deficit reduction, essentially saying, “We understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but we don’t want to sacrifice the powerless, nearly voiceless poor in its name. As Beckmann knows, however, deficit reduction isn’t as important as keeping people from starving: “We shouldn’t be reducing our meager efforts for poor people in order to reduce the deficit,” he told me by phone. “They didn’t get us into this, and starving them isn’t going to get us out of it.”

This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?

If faith increases your motivation, that’s great, but I doubt God will intervene here. Instead, we need to gather and insist that our collective resources be used for our collective welfare, not for the wealthiest thousand or even million Americans but for a vast majority of us in the United States and, indeed, for citizens of the world who have difficulty making ends meet. Or feeding their kids.

Though Beckmann is too kind to say it, he and many other religious leaders believe that true worship can’t take place without joining this struggle: “You can’t have real religion,” he told me, “unless you work for justice for hungry and poor people.”

I don’t think you can have much humanity, either.
Democrats want a one-world order, controlled by the Muslims.
I have to quote this to get it right: "The liberal left wing [d]emocrats would love a one world order with the radical Muslims in control, then you won't need to fast because you will be classified as a[n] infidel and won't live long enough to fast. I prefer to worship the One True God and not George Soros." 

This is too muddled to sort. Who's George Soros? The guy who played a significant role in the peaceful transition from communism to capitalism in Hungary? Isn't this the American way? Isn't this what we're cheering about for Egypt? George Soros, isn't he the one who ponied up for education? Providing the largest-ever higher education endowment to Central European University in Budapest? This is a bad thing?

Are people are actually worshiping him?

As to Muslim rule, is this a throw back from Obama's father being an African? Surely not.

As to what fasting for the hungry has to do with any of this, someone needs to fill me in.

I'm grateful this came from one my readers and not a friend. Yet the broad-sweeping generalities--all hodge-podged into one sentence of vitriol--begins to explain a life-long question I've had regarding the German Holocaust. How could a Christian nation pick certain subcultures within their nation to blame for all their economic woes? And then systematically eliminate them? Without a hue and cry being raised off the streets? 11 million people!  My God! I cry. So many Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled, mentally ill, people protesting this!  People ask, where was God? I ask, where was a nation? 11 million people! And so I'm beginning to understand. Let your government demonize its chosen patsy to be sacrificed on the alter of economic woe, and then deny the reality of growing inhumanity all around. In our case, demonize the poor (40 million by the US census of 2010), deny the laws being leveled against them, ignore those who are affected, turn a blind eye--consciously or unconsciously--to the growing obvious, and then attack or diminish those who speak out.

My dilemma.
Clearly, I am much confounded and much conflicted as to why my perfectly wonderful friends don't see this. I've known their compassion and generosity and understand the depth of their commitment to justice and what is right. It drives me crazy and breaks my heart.

Mark Bittman of the New York Times asks, "Whose side are you on?" He chose the side of the hungry, not because he's a "liberal" and espousing "socialism" but because, he says, it's the humane thing to do. I too have chosen. The other day I drew my line in the sand and began writing about the cut backs because I cannot not speak up. I choose to follow Christ's most adamant commands: Feed the hungry, take care of the sick, and bind the wounds of victims who've been beaten and left for dead--even if they are from Sumeria and we despise everything about them. I find it interesting that Jesus had more to say about the poor than anything else combined. His final words to Peter were: Feed my sheep. He must think their care important. Yet there are so many Republican reasons why 40 million Americans living in poverty should not be acknowledged or aided and further burdened.

My conclusion.
The conclusion I am coming to is that my friends and many other Republicans simply don't know this as reality. They can't. They've never met the poor, or been poor, they've never seen their children go hungry, never watched someone die due to poor medical care. Their life experiences leave them out of the loop when it comes to hard core poverty and the brutal, bitter winds that drive the poor and hungry down a road into deeper deprivation, where there is none to help. I would like to introduce them to my side of the tracks. For I have been there, and still am in many ways.

All my life I've lived in poverty. At one point I was juggling  7 part time jobs and have never had a job with work-related benefits. It's not that I'm unintelligent. Or lazy. Quite the contrary, there was nothing I wouldn't  or couldn't do. But it was never enough.

I raised three children on my own. I wrote for magazines and newspapers. I wrote radio scripts. I wrote nine books. I spoke at conferences and other venues. I went back to school (first to get my undergraduate degree and then my masters). I taught at two universities ninety miles apart. I rebuilt my Volkswagen engine when the head gaskets blew. I sold our bodies for science at the University of Washington's medical research center. We stood in line at the food banks, the clothing bank. When we couldn't get to the food bank, I starved myself so my children could eat. They were never dressed as well as their friends and Heather recalls sitting alone while her classmates enjoyed pizza--I didn't have the $3.50 required for her to participate. There were no movies for us, or eating out, or the kind of holidays their friends enjoyed: Hawaii, Barbados, Disneyland. They felt left out. And they were. In one house we lived in, the boys popped down a hole my father cut in the kitchen floor to a wee bedroom he created for them in the basement--accessible before only by going outdoors, down, and around. My daughter undoubtedly suffered the worst, for much of the work fell to her and what little energy and attention I had was diverted to the boys--a mistake. I did it because my daughter was capable and stoic. I doubt she had a childhood because of it and I blame myself for it. She also physically suffered because I couldn't afford the doctor and so administered her allergy shots myself--using the needle over and over again until she could no longer bear it and we'd get a new one. 

The worst: My children never had my undivided attention. They lived under the cloud of my anxiety and, too often, the downpour of tears and crankiness that comes when frustration is huge. I was the Jack of All Trades and so therefore did none of it well. But all that I did fell short. I begged, borrowed, and once stole. I sold apples, as Alice Walker puts it, on the street corner. I did it with chronic health issues that eventually evolved into an immune disorder that disabled me when the boys were in high school.

Why was life so hard that it nearly killed me and then crippled me? No sooner would I hear of a social resource, free children's shots for instance, than it was yanked out from under me--Reaganomics in full blown hatchet mode, axing any and all social services that would have alleviated so much. I wobbled from one hope to another--my emotional support for disappointment coming from the "trailer trash" of society. The downtrodden, the suffering, the overlooked--the "lazy." People who "deserve" their deprivation, who need "tough love." The very people the congressional budget cutbacks are going after again. People like me. And so I take this personally. I have banged my head against cupboard doors until bruised, bitten my hands in agonized wailing until blood ran. I've rocked and moaned with no words to throw against heaven's door. Years I lived like this. 

But my life was a walk in the park. I at least had medical insurance. I had an ex-husband who, when coerced and taken to court, coughed up some child support. I had parents who at times subsidized my academic scholarships so I could continue in school. I'm sorry to report that some of my friends were not so fortunate. They lost their children to drugs, violence, gangs, and prostitution. Their kids dropped out of school, got into trouble, ended up in jail and who's paying for their keep now?

Penny wise and pound foolish, budget cutbacks of the '80s did not serve society well. We should take note, and learn. If you're really interested in efficient economic spending, wouldn't it be smarter to help support struggling families now than pay for incarcerations down the road?

An editor of mine once said, "No one ought to suffer so much." He was a Republican, but when witnessing my life and those of my friends his compassion eclipsed political views.

Asking again.
And so I'm asking that compassion eclipse political views. I'm asking moderate Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between to rethink this, join the fast, and ask their representatives to dismiss the cutbacks so undeserving. And if you just can't bring yourself to believe the "liberal media"? Believe me. Listen to me when I tell you that poverty is unrelenting and that without help there is no way out of the hole. I am grateful to those who helped me, Republican and Democrat friends alike. Very few poor are so lucky. It takes a village and government aid is sometimes all people have.
Please call your representatives and ask them to let you know who they're cutting and by how much. And then let them know you'll be fasting for the 40 million! who will be hungrier for it, and ask them to require corporate America to bear the burden of the deficit they created and not those who had nothing to do with the mess we're in. They may, they just may, change their minds.

At the very least, the hungry will know someone cares. That spells the difference between hope and despair. Sometimes, this is all we need.

Link to join the campaign:
 Homeless and Hungry in America Today