Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who's fighting now? Thoughts on Poverty

There's a war on poverty.  I'm not talking about the one that everyone claims to support, or grudgingly allows to exist, and pays lip service to those who hate what poverty does to people.  I'm talking about the one that actually goes on, and for some bizarre reason, people allow to continue without much fan fare or anger.  And you should be angry.  Everyone should be up in arms at the increasing wealth disparity in our country.  Let me give you a few examples that you can see in your daily life.  Let's first look at general locations.

You'd think that libraries would be created equal.  You would think that urban planners would situate work, school, and essential services around the residents they claim to serve.  The problem is that all locations are not created equally from the get go.  All places are not thought through. There are a lot of reasons why this may be the case, and any potential solution would be complex in the best of times.  But it doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to make changes to our world.

We do live in a capitalist society.  But that doesn't mean it has to be socially unconscious.  Hayward has an ugly post office which sits across from the okay exterior of the library.  The library inside is filled with overused books, a cramped ceiling, and the most awful yellow paint color one could pick for an already musty smelling building.  Even still,  I walk down B street in Hayward, and there are beautiful buildings.  I love them.  I want to fill them up with shops and services and companies.  I want to create festivals and holidays and opportunities.  I see all the potential in the place, because mostly, its empty.  Even the plaza in front of city hall, which could be amazing and full of life, is empty.  Poor people live here, as poor as you can be and live in the Bay Area, but still poverty is relative.  And here, these people are poor.  I'm poor.  Stupidly poor. For here.  No one wants to be here.  There isn't any money to support the businesses.  There isn't the demand because there isn't the supply....and around the cycle goes.  No one knows if it was the chicken or the egg, but this is the state of Hayward.

Meanwhile, if you go over the brown dusty hills to Pleasanton, the situation is radically different.  Trees line the roads.  Everything is beautiful and fits perfectly in some kind of clearly planned masterpiece of pseudo-suburban development.  Their library is gorgeous.  It has high vaulted ceilings, white clean painted walls, and beautiful wood buttressing that reminds me of architectural glories of the past.  And everyone in there was white.  Well, almost everyone.  There were a few South Asians there as well.  When you compare Pleasanton to Hayward, you can see something is profoundly wrong with this picture.

It's not just the libraries, which are free to those who want to use it and the best ones are in the rich areas. It's not just the fact that public transit is still expensive for what it is and only goes through certain areas of the bay.  It's not just the tax structure, or the fact that education and health care access is still scanty for a place that is supposed to be one of the world's superpowers.  I for one, would love to know why millions and billions of dollars are going into the pocket of the military industrial complex instead of providing low cost housing, health care, education, and transport to the poorest people in our country.

I'm sorry but we're not fighting for freedom from Iraq or Afghanistan.  We're fighting for freedom from the bonds of corporate greed and government incompetency.  Poor people are fighting for basic needs on a regular basis.  We have to make choices about what we can do without.  There are no options.  It is good food, or it is gas for the car. It's going to the dentist, or good food.  It's the nice apartment in the safe neighborhood, or its the internet and electricity.  Someone who has never been in this situation will not understand just how dire and extreme it can be, but this is the actual set of choices people have to make.  Health insurance and car insurance aren't even part of the equation.  How could people be concerned about self actualization when they're trying to figure out what they're going to eat that day?  It's impossible.  So we balance things.

I don't believe I'll be in this place forever, but it feels like I've been here for a long time.  And I'm getting scared.  I'm scared not just because of my own tenuous situation, but because of the situations of so many people around me.  They're stuck too.  They have no way out too.  I will be able to climb out of this eventually, but what about them? Capitalism is designed with masses of poor and unemployed as part of the system.  That just doesn't seem right.  Relative poverty I can deal with, but the kind where there are people who have to make choices between basic services is immoral.  What I don't understand is why people think that it is socialist to provide those services to the poorest of the poor and the working poor? It's not.  It's just good citizenship. 


  1. Oh No, you got me started. This is one of my major pet peeves. Clearly people in poor neighborhoods deserve great library services just as much as everyone else. At least the books are well used/loved?

  2. That is one thing that is ironic. The Hayward library is FULL all the time. There are people of all types using it and all the books appear to have been checked out repeatedly. The Pleasanton library had people there, but there were fewer people inside and all of them arrived in their SUVs (no one took public transit, bicycles, or their own two feet). It was a telling contrast that showcased the socio-economics of Hayward which just made me sad.

  3. our library's(both of them)are always full. of all kinds of people and all ages,etc.
    some arrive on bikes, or walk/bus. lots come in mini vans or SUVs or trucks.
    when you live on a mountain or on the rez, you need 4 wheel drive. we are a very small and eclectic town that is immersed in the green movement.our community is close knit.
    it is amazing how diff it is then CS. i will never live in southern cali again(or in CA period. the whole state is a selfish money pit that does not take care of its own.
    now i am on my soap box.
    saying SUVs or the like are showing how a certain society is split is not reality. old trucks, old and well used vehicles and SUVs rule here. the label is not the function.

    i am sorry to sound so irritated but really CA is a bad example.

  4. I don't think it's possible to say any state is immune though California is often considered to be one of the more extreme examples because of the affluent coast. That said, just like in all places we can't make a generalization that all people in a place are bad. There are many people here trying to make a better world in small and big ways everyday. That they live here in the middle of these incredibly strong social pressures for material success speaks to their strength and resolve.

    Perhaps I forgot to mention that Pleasanton drivers tend to have new BMWs, Mercedes, and Land Rovers as opposed to ten-year old Ford trucks. Here the type of vehicle one uses is an indicator of socio-economic class more so than in some other locations. This is especially true considering the cost of maintenance and gas for many of these vehicles.

    Of course, I am bias. We have always been small car people (though I understand the time and place for larger vehicles) and if I could, I would likely abandon it altogether in favor of a good pair of sneakers. :-)