When I feed the poor,~ Dom Helder Camara
they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food,
They call me a communist.
Most of us would agree charity is important. There are, after all, large numbers of people who need a helping hand at times and who, without help, would fall between the cracks of society and suffer needlessly; perhaps perish as a result.
But we don’t seem to ever ask ourselves why charity is necessary; why there are always millions who haven’t enough to get by comfortably. It’s understandable in the face of natural disasters and unfortunate accidents, but more difficult to accept when it’s merely the “way things are.” I haven’t always done so myself.
Shortly after my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I was asked to join one of my city’s local Rotary clubs. I knew many of the city’s leaders were involved in Rotary and I also knew the club I was asked to join held a yearly Cajun & Blues festival on Memorial Day each year that was wildly successful and raised a lot of money for the community.
I was happy to join and discovered one of Rotary International’s projects was to eradicate Polio—a worthy endeavor in my estimation. I became fairly active in my club, taking on the responsibility of using social media to promote our activities and volunteering for many of the club’s activities, including providing a full Thanksgiving meal at our senior center, assembling bicycles to give to children for Christmas, and spending an entire weekend (sometimes more) during the Cajun & Blues festival.
Nevertheless, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the realization that quite a few of the members of my club were uncomfortably conservative; some of them clearly harboring deeply bigoted concepts of entire groups of people I felt were undeserving of their scorn. After all, I live in Simi Valley, home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and also known for the acquittal of the police officers who beat the crap out of Rodney King.
I celebrated my fourth anniversary with the club in October of 2016, though I had been attending breakfast meetings for nearly six months prior to becoming an official member (there was some kind of SNAFU that held up my membership.) I had long been uncomfortable with a large segment of the members and, after the election of Donald Trump, I decided I needed to use my limited discretionary funds for something other than rubber chicken circuit breakfasts and a glossy magazine I seldom had time to read.
I tendered my resignation in December and immediately started monthly contributions to five advocacy groups I felt were more aligned with the direction I wished to see society go in. Those organizations included Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the NAACP Legal & Defense Fund, MALDEF, and the Standing Rock Water Defenders. The last of these stopped accepting donations when they were unceremoniously kicked off the land, and I replaced them with my local Democratic club, of which I had also become a member.
So . . . my point here is that, while charity is important because many are struggling and need a helping hand, it is also an indication (a powerful one, IMO) that something is wrong with our society. Why does such a wealthy nation have such a large population of people living on the razor’s edge of existence? Why are people like Jeff Bezos allowed to amass fortunes in the billions while others are left to starve on the streets? I know it’s the logic of capitalism, but I don’t think it makes much sense from a systems or holistic view of humanity and society . . . even of economics. At twice the national poverty line (~$50K/yr) Bezos’s worth of $110,000,000,000 would bring a reasonably comfortable level of income to 2,200,000 families of four (that’s approximately 8,800,000 people.)
Many are beginning to realize income inequality is deeply hurtful to a society. Large segments of the population can’t possibly contribute as much as they’re capable of when they’re struggling to stay alive and healthy. I’m of the opinion we have a hard time understanding this because we are not conversant in the language of systems; we don’t see the interconnections between all of us and our actions and how such large segments of our population who are under stress is stressful to our society as a whole.
Whether it’s Universal Basic Income or a shift to a more socialistic economic system, I believe something needs to be done to allow as many as possible to reach closer to their full potential as contributing members of our society. Until such time, I don’t see how we can truly call ourselves “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The status quo is anything but freedom enhancing, and its acceptance is hardly an act of courage.