We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

Like a Wheel Within a Wheel: The Kyriarchy Economy

Kyriarchy is a way of understanding the interwoven systems of oppression and hierarchy – those of patriarchy, classism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and ableism. It is one – albeit shortened – way to understand how solidarity can happen under such varied and disparate circumstances among people who are not supposed to get each other, let alone work together to dismantle specific oppressions. If the main tool of patriarchy is misogyny, though, I’d like to suggest that a main tool of and reason for (its MacGuffin, so to say) kyriarchy may be the economy – as it largely has existed, but particularly through capitalism. And a main tool of and reason for most economies is, in turn, the kyriarchy.

To not recognize that the capitalist economy and kyriarchy need and feed each other is to not recognize how either capitalism or kyriarchy exist and operate. It is to erase the impact and wealth that slavery, Jim Crow, and underpaid/unpaid domestic labor have been producing while managers and capitalists – those who have enough money to gamble on ventures and profit from those – are praised and rewarded for the work that others produce. Kyriarchy is both funded by and is skewed towards a warped economic reality in which those who work hardest and produce the most benefits have the least amount of wealth. Consider migrant harvesters and housewives – how would modern Western society survive without them?

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“Vintage Bank Vault” by Brook Ward via flickr

Of course the most obvious way this works – and yet still denied by much of the US – is that the closer one identifies with the kyriarchal ideal, the more capital one has – the more the economy favors that person. While not every white person is wealthy or even middle class, the more one is part of the predominant White, Middle & Upper Class, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Able-bodied and Psychologically Normed, Educated, and Male Elite structure, the more one has access to what Amaryah Shaye recently configured as “inheritances” – the more capital one has access to. This capital comes in monetary form (inherited wealth and the things one can do with that), educational form (not just blanket “education” as something to be picked up, but as a way of knowing how to respond in a specific culture and among a specific people who can get you nice things and as a way of presenting that culture and your work within that culture as being of utter value even though its real-world equivalence is pushing around numbers and may actually have negative influence upon the world), social form (knowing who is who and knowing the who’s who through familial relations), and even ethnic and racial capital. It is easier to gain trust with the Powers That Be if you were to talk like and look like and write like them.

The system works to keep the system – and the elites – in place. And those elites look a lot like those who show up as members of Congress and the Supreme Court and in the Oval Office, as political pundits, as board members of not only huge multinational corporations but also the non-profits they help fund, as Christian conference speakers, as history writers, as managers, as megachurch pastors, as police, as – yes – those who teach our children. They are the brokers and gatekeepers of the kyriarchy. The various institutions which they populate have as their primary function the guarding of the kyriarchy of which they are members.

We can see how Western Economies (all capitalist, whether large-scale capitalist like libertarian USA or small-scale capitalist like the social democracies of Northern Europe) have benefited from and are benefiting from what Andrea Smith calls the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Slave logic (via anti-Blackness), Genocide land-grabbing (anti-indigenous), and War (anti-Asian/Middle Eastern Orientalism). In the US, we recognize it as the land of Indian Country fueled by the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement and perennial lower-class-ness of Black people, and the perpetual wars in Those Countries of Orientalism to provide the fuel to continue the system of perpetual capitalism. The capital made from the land and bodies of the enslaved and disappeared, Smith argues, in turn, funds the perpetual state of war that the US is in. It’s a cyclical machine of economic enslavement. IOW, kyriarchy economy.

The kyriarchy economy needs heteropatriarchy in order to survive and has created this myth of the Nuclear Family in order to fuel its endless consumptive consumerism. It needs the families to stay intact so it makes it harder for women to survive apart from a male partner, and uses children (as bait/anchors), the church, and even extended families to prevent this dismantling, even in the face of severe physical violence and psychological abuse. This is how much it needs the future consumers that are children and the free labor that is provided by many women in these situations.

When the number of consumerist 1 Mom 2.5 Kids 1 Dad-To-Rule-Them-All Families started dying out, the Kyriarchy Economy stretches its borders to include middle class same sex marriages, but under the same auspices (Now you can have 2 Dads or 2 Moms with options to adopt). Not that this is a bad choice. People should have the option to join in or opt out as they choose. But notice how few rally around the cause of homeless LGBTQ youth, or trans rights in the workplace or public place. But Pride parades are increasingly being heteronormatified in order to be more open for Coca Cola and Target advertisements, even as leather pants are being erased.

However, this isn’t to say that kyriarchy only works in capitalism, but that capitalism is where we best see it exemplified. Many socialists and communists here in the States erase and ignore the plight of people of color, feminists, and other oppressed peoples, telling them that once the capitalist system is overthrown, then true equity will flow. But that is striving for an equality without justice, a racial and sexual hegemony without recognizing the present social realities that exist when brocialists try to take over pro-black solidarity rallies by erasing racial injustice and grievances from POC. They are instituting their own kyriarchy in a system they haven’t even realized and wondering why so few will join their cause. Precisely for the very reason that it is their cause and others are not welcomed.

Prosperity & Gospel

Some thoughts about Prosperity Gospel preachers within context of trends I’ve noticed of other Christians – primarily White ones – speaking against them:

  1. The theology of the Prosperity Gospel is one of mammon. So, there, I said it. It worships wealth and accumulations. The God of the Homeless Jesus is replaced by the God of materialistic consumption.
  2. But so is the typical Western, First World Church. The typical white church of means may not be so bold about it, but that’s because they already have the materials and consumption. They don’t talk about it because they’re good in stasis. Many of the loudest critics of the PG preachers themselves already live in abundance that many of the audience members of those same churches can only dream about.
  3. Poor people are allowed to have dreams, too. And here’s the gist: We live and breathe the air of capitalist consumerism. This is what we are taught from birth so why are we surprised when poor black and Latino people also find solace in this? Sometimes, hope is all we have, and a drive to bigger and better things energizes those who have felt trampled all our lives. So we blame materialistic rap for this – but we never blame the Capitalist Consumerist Christian Culture that stomps out the poor in the first place. Sometimes, hope is just a survival technique.
  4. We don’t interrogate the White Supremacy narrative that white people get to have the finer things, but get upset when black and brown people desire to have good things.
  5. I think I’d rather go to a church that values and speaks from a position of familiarity with the poor and oppressed than to go to a church that ignores them when it doesn’t look down with disdain on them. Even if that first church has the theology wrong – at least I know I’m where Christ is.
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Well, to some it may be a disadvantage…

I’m a strong believer in Christian socialism as an end goal. Every person, being made in the image of God (ie, having a spark of the divine – we are all made out of stars and dust as it were) and being of infinite worth and value should be treated as such – having invaluable, immeasurable worth. I believe we should all prosper. But not in materialistic aspects. Not according to the disposable things and trinckets of Consumer Capitalist Culture. Things like flatter TVs and bigger houses and fancier cars of nicer clothes don’t add any value to our lives. They were made yesterday, worn today, tossed tomorrow. That is a waste of good resources and energy for something that will spend hundreds of years on a trash heap, eating up our scenery and poisoning our air and water for a few minutes of vapid pleasure.

But that a human race can prosper due to adequate housing, meaningful work, fresh food, and good health care coverage is, indeed, good news.

How About a Laborer’s Day?

A good many of us poverty workers look at the recognition of Labor Day as a tiny concession to the sacrifices of the working class and the historical rallies of unions and socialist forces. But it’s not much of an honor in reality. After all, if (IF) we get the day off, it’s rarely paid for, particularly if we’re part-time and paid hourly. How could labor be honored today? By honoring the labors and lives of all the laborers.

Previously we had talked about the cray-cray things conservatives do and say to deny even the most basic of wage increases for the poor. And, in light of the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (over at Forward Progressives where I also occasionally blog, I talked about how job payment and poverty are still vastly unequal for women and People of Color) fell right before Labor Day (a kind of Capitalist rejoinder to the scarier but internationally celebrated May Day) and both are in the middle of the rising fast food and service worker demonstrations, it is high time to talk about not just wage equity, but respect to the worker, respect to the family, respect to the poor, respect to the backbone of this country.

Workers should be allowed to mobilize without being treated like criminals. Should be allowed to petition for livable working conditions without being stigmatized and labeled lazy. Should be allowed to apply for livable wages without propaganda from corporate media that makes us appear lazy, unwilling, and unfit to balance a checkbook. Should be able to redress our bosses for grievances without being lectured to or threatened with termination.

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What kind of a civilization demands everything from you and then crushes your back when you demand fair return? What kind of a civilization says that those at the top with all of our robbed riches deserve our food, blood, children, and bones?

Not only is the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour too low for most that aren’t somehow independently wealthy (say, a teenager living at home that doesn’t need extra income – I’ve had several students in high school who needed to work to bring in extra money for their families), but the idea that the minimum only needs to be lifted a couple of dollars an hour shows how out of touch most of the Beltway is with half of America. Not liberal or conservative, not Democratic or Republican or White or Black America – but with those of us struggling to keep a roof over our heads while feeding and sending our children to overcrowded schools. Those who hope to remain healthy since we cannot afford to take days off work, let alone afford any sort of comprehensive medical coverage. We are not moochers, we are givers, givers beyond ourselves.

When we look at even the efforts of the Lucha Para 15/Fight for 15 people, we see something that seems radical even in a union-favoring state like my own Illinois. And such a wage of $15 an hour, if given the full forty hours through fifty weeks (let us assume a week off for vacation or sick days. Or child sick days. Or funeral days. Or a family member needs emergency help) will definitely help. A single person would make 30,000 a year. Not a tremendous amount and certainly, contrary to what the Fox News Awful Fascist Machine insists, not a ton of money either. Yet, a single accident can wipe that out.  Thirty thousand a year before taxes is 2,500/month. For taxes, let’s assume 500 (more taken away for singles, less for those with dependents).

If we take into consideration that housing costs should be one-third of the total take home pay of a family, then the 2K per month could afford something a little under $700/month. In Chicago, it’s becoming impossible to find a one bedroom or studio for that price. So, the single could room and actually save money.

The single parent, though? That’s not even an option. A typical two bedroom in Chicago runs a good 900/month. That’s almost half of the income before getting to basic utilities, transportation, food, clothing, medication, insurance…

Respect for the workers means more than just fair wages, though that is an important aspect of it. Respect due our workers would call for not just livable wages, but a livable economy, a livable society. It would call for fair and just housing, health care, child care, public transit, schools (from pre-K through grad level), working conditions, maternity and paternity leave.

The US has an official Labor Day, but it seems like an affront to the Labor of the poor – particularly when the lowest paid of the workers are forced to work today. Perhaps it’s time to either give the worker her full rights or stop pretending, US?

Those Tricky Bastard Founding Fathers

One of the premises of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is that the supposed heroes of our history textbooks weren’t really heroes. They were exploitative schemers, and the great trick of the American Revolution was getting a ragtag group of unsettled, angry, hungry and impoverished citizens to fight for the capitalist desires of the land-owners, slaveholders, and capitalist merchants. One way they did this was through language that seemed to include and represent their best interests, such as in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. To include the white male without wealth was a tricky endeavor, because, as they had noticed in previous encounters in calling up the masses, their anger and frustration is not easily controlled. When the colonial leaders called upon the landless to help protest against British taxes, the people didn’t just stop with an effigy burning. Their anger drew them to destroy property and occasionally hold governors captive. Part of how the Fathers (because this is a patriarchy, so “Fathers” is a wholly appropriate term) solved this dilemma is by framing the fight for their own economic determinism as one for the commoner’s freedom as well.

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To be sure, the Framers and Fathers did extend them some rights, but – as with all wars – it was the poor that had to fight and die for the rich in the rich’s wars in the first place.

But even in the Declaration, we see that there are people represented (“all men”), people ignored (women), and people discounted as savages and property (indigenous and enslaved). Those sneaky, sneaky bastard Fathers.

Excerpted from A People’s History, Chapter 4:

To say that the Declaration of Independence, even by its own language, was limited to life, liberty, and happiness for white males is not to denounce the makers and signers of the Declaration for holding the ideas expected of privileged males of the eighteenth century. Reformers and radicals, looking discontentedly at history, are often accused of expecting too much from a past political epoch – and sometimes they do. But the point of noting those outside the arc of human rights in the Declaration is not, centuries late and pointlessly, to lay impossible moral burdens on that time. It is to try to understand the way in which the Declaration functioned to mobilize certain groups of Americans, ignoring others. Surely, inspirational language to create a secure consensus is still used, in our time, to cover up serious conflicts of interest in that consensus, and to cover up, also, the omission of large parts of the human race

In America… the reality behind the words of the Declaration of Independence (issued in the same year as Adam Smith’s capitalist manifesto, The Wealth of Nations) was that a rising class of important people needed to enlist on their side enough Americans to defeat England, without disturbing too much the relations of wealth and power that had developed over 150 years of colonial history. Indeed, 69 percent of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had held colonial office under England.

John Adams, by the way, had served as the defense lawyer of the British soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre which had killed Crispus Attucks just six years prior.

Guest Blog and Part Two of “Religious Right Leaders Don’t Take Jesus Seriously”

Today I’m guest-blogging at the aggregate site Forward Progressives.  In “Religious Right Politicians Don’t Take Jesus Seriously” I argue that Religious Right politicians like to say they take the Bible seriously and literally, except they don’t when it comes to the passages about taking care of the poor. It’s a theme I’ve addressed elsewhere in this blog, of course (and that sometimes lands me in deep with them), but here I specifically focused on Matthew 25 and Republican Representative Conaway’s response to what seems like a pretty clear command by Jesus:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left…

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me…

‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

So, again, helping the poor is accepting Jesus – is being welcomed into the Kingdom. Refusing the poor is refusing Jesus and his Kingdom. That, I was further arguing against Conaway’s objections, was never meant to be for or about individual charities – but about community involvement, as is pretty much everything else in the Bible. This passage is, after all, addressing nations and addressed to a group of people.

But this exchange was one short one in the House Agriculture Committee’s vote for an immoral and ignorant, and economically ignorant budget that would take 20 billion dollars out of SNAP benefits (food stamps) over the next ten years.

I also wanted to cover this second part from the House’s back and forth on the Gospels:

Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., then quoted a verse from the 26th chapter of Matthew, saying the “poor will always be with us” in his defense of cuts to the food stamps program.

Fincher said obligations to take care of the poor should be left to churches, not the government.

Fincher is probably a literalist himself – one who claims to take the Bible literally (which always means that some parts are taken literally while others not. It’s a selective sort of pan-literalism that isn’t very literary, of course). The problem with a politically unjust perspective is that it really, really doesn’t like those passages of scripture that contradict and confront its own injustice. The passage Fincher quoted was understood by its original hearers as a challenge for their complicity in the ongoing mechanisms of poverty.  Yes, the poor are always among you. Why? What are you doing about it?

Photochallenge.org 2010 Challenge Week 1: Resolution 4 of 4

I’ll quote, at length, a previous blog I wrote on this very passage to give it its much-needed context:

The original quote is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Not one of the nicest books in the world, let alone the Hebrew canon. But it is within this passage where we discover that all servants/slaves must be released from their debt service during the seventh year. In fact, all debts are to be canceled on the seventh year (pretty outstanding, even by today’s standards). And it is here where we find this about treating the poor:

There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15; NIV)

This isn’t just about a bunch of nice individuals. This isn’t just about being kind.This is to be a concerted effort by the collective people of Israel. In other words, “the government”

If the poor appeal to the Lord against you….

I guess I wouldn’t want to be in Fincher’s shoes. But maybe he doesn’t believe in that God. idk…

The Poor Will Always Be Amongst …

While doing a quick surf on the interwebz yesterday, I rediscovered why I so much hate Megan McArdle’s pseudo-intelligent writing. This famous statement from Jesus was a title for one of her posts that – as usual with this cryptic statement – was used to justify an anti-poor agenda. In her case, she was arguing against the validity of at-risk hunger in the American poor. The logic was akin to, “See, they’re all so fat! Ergo, they don’t need MORE food money.”

It’s a pretty despicable show of aggression against the marginalized, but Christians all throughout this country use Jesus’ words against his intentions all the time. On Facebook, some of my friends and I were discussing this term and what it means. I like some of their alternative perspectives – that it may be about the “poor in spirit”, that it’s also a sign that Jesus used the poor as an example to look to when he would no longer be around. We were discussing this term, of course, because we hear it being used as an excuse to do nothing for the poor – or nothing structurally, at least. That and, “All people are sinful. Therefore, whatever we do will simply fail. We will have to wait until Jesus comes.”

The thread itself was on this great resource, Let the Churches Do It Is a Deceptive Myth (h/t to Slacktivist), that makes the – all-too-rare – case that churches cannot and will not pick up the slack for government if the “government would only get out of the way.” It also clarifies that there is tremendous work still to be done with/for the poor NOW, and we don’t have to wait for the gov’t to get out of the way, but rather partner with them and fill in missing pieces.

But back to “The poor will always be amongst you…”

Homeless Woman searching for cans and bottlesphoto © 2006 Franco Folini | more info (via: Wylio)

Jesus was quoting the Old Testament. He does that a lot. Sometimes when you’re reading your bible, it’ll point that out for you. Sometimes you have to dig a bit deeper. Sometimes he makes commentary on and updates the ancient scriptures. Sometimes, he uses the ancient scriptures to put the present reality into horrible context. This is what he was doing in this case.

The original quote is found in the book of Deuteronomy. Not one of the nicest books in the world, let alone the Hebrew canon. But it is within this passage where we discover that all servants/slaves must be released from their debt service during the seventh year. In fact, all debts are to be canceled on the seventh year (pretty outstanding, even by today’s standards). And it is here where we find this about treating the poor:

There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.


If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15; NIV)

This isn’t just about a bunch of nice individuals. This isn’t just about being kind. This is to be a concerted effort by the collective people of Israel. In other words, “the government”

The writer, Moses, mentions specifically that there will be plenty of resources to share, so there should not be any poor amongst them. However, he knows their hearts, and he knows reality enough to say that “There will always be poor people in the land.

“Therefore….”

Therefore…

Are there poor people among us? Why?