Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

No Such Thing as a Permanent “Emergency”

A recent New York Times article shines a spotlight on college students and hunger. One of the surveys it cites, estimates that almost half (48%) of the students attending classes at the City University of New York (CUNY), which also encompasses the city’s community colleges, are “food insecure,” meaning that they reported being hungry in the last thirty days.

Just when you think that, as a society, we can’t sink any lower . . .

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

We do the best we can, in America, to “hide” poverty.

When Shyster Lawyer Rudy G was “America’s Mayor,” for example, he “cleaned up New York,” not by addressing root causes and changing lives — Repubs don’t spend money on, y’know, frivolous things like . . . people — but, in part, by moving as many poverty programs as possible to the Bronx.

Presto!

Change-o!

A New York — well . . . a Manhattan — Renaissance!

Now you see it!

Now you don’t!

There are a number of places, however, where that strategy doesn’t work, where “the bill comes due” for all those things we refuse to fund.

The Big Three: Emergency Rooms, Prisons, and . . . Schools.

Fail to guarantee access to health services? The ER becomes primary care.

Close the mental hospitals — and block community-based treatment centers? Prisons become the new psych wards.

Abandon several generations of children? You overwhelm teachers with hungry, often homeless, students — and then blame unions for “quality problems” in America’s schools.

And if you assumed that getting into college was a benchmark of a higher degree of economic security? Not anymore . . .

In response?

The NYT article details the phenomenon of food pantries popping up on college campuses across America.

Here, as with other socioeconomic problems that government has — not just failed but outright — refused to address, well-meaning people are developing charitable programs to “help.”

That’s understandable.

And . . . it’s wrong.

Trade Union Consciousness

It may surprise people to learn that some of the old-line Marxists were actually opponents of organized labor.

Why?

Because, they argued, the incremental improvements won by unions might have made a small, short term, difference to workers, but the larger effect was to prop up a fundamentally unjust economic arrangement.

Unions didn’t really change the system, they said, they merely accommodated to it.

And the Marxists didn’t just want “more bread crumbs,” they wanted an equitable division of “the whole loaf,” didn’t want to “patch” the system, they wanted to replace it wholesale.

I would make a similar argument regarding the impact of a great deal of charity in the US today.

The conservative claim is that government supports “enable” poor people to (cleverly!) remain poor and dependent.

This is the case put forward by people like former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (a fan of Ayn — “rhymes with swine” — Rand), who was perpetually champing at the bit to lacerate the kinds of federal programs that . . . allowed him to attend college when his father died.

I would suggest instead that charities (like food pantries) “enable” government in general and (pseudo) conservatives in specific to slough off responsibility for addressing basic human needs.

Top Line: People need (decent-paying) jobs and job training.

And . . .

Guaranteed healthcare — not emergency rooms.

Affordable housing — not homeless shelters.

Access to healthy food, and the wherewithal to pay for it — not . . . food pantries.

If my house burns down and my neighbors get together and “help me get back on my feet,” that’s a reasonable community response to an emergency.

If I end up living on the street for a period of years, unable to find affordable housing, that’s not an “emergency,” that needs to be “patched.”

That’s a systemic — and moral — failure that society needs to address.

I know it sounds strange — and perhaps callous — but: we need less charity.

We need more — and deeper, fundamental — change.

[For the literal-minded: I am NOT suggesting that we should shut down 87% of all charities tomorrow, because that would result in our immediately transforming America into an Egalitarian Utopia. I am arguing that, too often, charities are used to divert our attention — and siphon energy — from the more fundamental changes we need to make if we are to have a truly just society.]

I write what I know and what I’ve lived: humor & chronic pain; politics & parenting; business writing & cultural analysis; and . . . ranting (a lot of ranting).

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