This came in via private email, so I am posting it anonymously, because it makes so many excellent points. It also gives a chance to expand upon some ideas and reveals even more how we need to be careful with our choice of words if we want to work together with more people.
Hope all is well with you.
I was going to comment on your last blog entry, but I didn’t want to get into a public discourse on it on your blog. But I was really bothered by the acceptance of entitlement culture. I see that terminology and view as a great way to “evilize” or put down the poor. Did you know that most of the people on food stamps are working? Many of the poor work one, two, or even three jobs. When we are the ones who lose our jobs or houses or go bankrupt trying to pay our healthcare bills, the system loves to keep us thinking it’s our fault and never question the system. Our system is designed to keep many people poor, and I’m not talking about handouts; I’m talking about policies made to benefit the rich on the backs of the poor.
And the very term entitlement. It’s a positive term. Right wingers have managed to equate the very word with a sense of undeserved/false entitlement. Entitlement is a legal term. When you put money in a bank, you are entitled to it. A worker is entitled to their agreed upon wage. Someone who has met the terms to qualify for social security is entitled to the benefits.
Are there lazy people? Sure they are! But they exist whether rich or poor. And most of the poor are working, often times much harder than the wealthy; often times much more honestly than the wealthy. This pejorative use of the word entitlement to denigrate the poor really bothers me.
We need a system that empowers people. An economy where people can get good paying jobs that put a decent roof over their head and keeps them warm and feeds them. Let’s not forget to look at systems that are designed to keep the wealthy wealthy by keeping the poor poor and moving more into poverty. We have many, many very hard working poor people. I hate to see them denigrated with this word entitlement.
My two cents! I have a hard time writing this without sounding aggressive. You know I mean nothing bad towards you, I just feel strongly about this.
I actually very much agree with you that we need a system that empowers people. I posted this exchange anonymously so you won’t feel the need to duke things out on a public blog — but you’re absolutely right. Clearly “entitlement” is another of those trigger words like “sustainable.” I do know about people working two or three jobs, as that’s what the film “A Place at the Table” addresses and I personally know people who do. This is why some of us are looking into entrepreneurial opportunities that pay better than low wage jobs — AND allow for a sense of self-respect.
At the ECO-Pax panel on Food Insecurity (part of Share the Bounty Week), my exact comment was, “If two jobs aren’t doing it, then that third job is not the answer. Why isn’t anyone talking to people about busting out of the system? Why isn’t anyone sitting down with people, looking at their finances and explaining to them that some people might be better volunteering at a farm in exchange for food — that hour for hour value, this might actually be the better deal? Why isn’t someone talking to people about entrepreneurial opportunities completely outside the system? Take me, for instance. I would normally be a statistic. If you stuck me in 99% of the jobs out there, I’d have migraine headaches and couldn’t work. But I not only make a living, I feel good about what I do and have time and energy to volunteer in my community. Both have value; they connect me with others and with my soul. Why isn’t someone talking to people about how to find their passions and just blast out of this whole sick system?”
The farmers in the room LOVED the idea and said they would love to get more involved in helping to shift the hunger in this community. They also expressed flexibility in hours put in so that people could work that around a first job. The businessmen in the room came up to me afterwards requesting meetings to brainstorm ideas about what sorts of community needs we have that entrepreneurial jobs could fill. One also noted that if we start one manufacturing business that pays a fair wage, then it puts pressure on all the others to do so, too.
Soooo, we are doing this with full awareness of the broken system. If I had not decided to bust out of this ridiculous system, then I would probably be living with my parents having constant headaches and feeling depressed that I couldn’t work. Again: “Do what you can with what you have, wherever you are.” I’m doing quite a lot, but as I always tell people, “I live a magickal life because I can’t afford to live an ordinary one.” It’s true for me. Maybe it’s true for a lot more people, and they just don’t know it yet.
I do not believe that most forms of long-term handouts, entitlements or whatever you want to call them are a good idea, but this comes from having spent time as a) a completely disabled person, b) years working with people disabled by various health crises and c) women in abusive relationships afraid to leave because their husbands have convinced them that they have no skills and could never make it on their own.
IMHO, we have an abusive government who’s extorting the exact same dynamic from our country as the abusive husbands. If you heard as many belittling stories, comments and sideswipes at these amazing women’s dignity, then you’d probably be even more fired up than you already are. Ditto on the national front: taking people’s homes, sending jobs overseas so they’re underemployed or unemployed … imho, it’s all strategic, because desperate people tend not to fight back. They lose their self-respect and become fearful. That’s wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.
I cannot tell you how many people I’ve encountered who are terrified to get well or to make a go of things because they might lose their tiny, practically unlivable social security disability income. How many people are accepting the massive, encroaching tyranny in this country because as boiling frogs, they’re afraid they might not be able to afford heat out of the pot?
This is not a system or culture that empowers people. I don’t think we have TIME to change the system in the time we need these changes addressed, so that’s why we are looking at work arounds. The discussion with the director was not about ALL the people he sees there, but was based on some very specific details and patterns that I’m not going to share publicly. He has a huge heart and is looking to empower people so that they don’t keep slipping through the cracks and wind up needing to get food at a food pantry.
At one point in my life, I have actually been so poor that I had to get food at a food pantry — I went twice, and I had a job. It was mortifying, so I got super creative to make sure that would never need to happen to me again. If you talk with people who rely on this, no matter how nice the people are who volunteer at the food pantry, it doesn’t feel good. David works at a credit union and sees the people line up way ahead of the CU opening, welfare credits in hand waiting to turn those into cash. The lines are long, and it always goes immediately to cash, presumably because they need every cent. Now. This is not a proud or comfortable feeling to have. When they closed all the businesses in Goshen for snow, we actually wondered what would happen to people who couldn’t get their cash.
We DO need a different system. I just don’t believe the government will provide it any time soon, if ever. I’m sorry for using the word entitlement, although that was the correct word for the particular conversation we were having. Unfortunately, it is a big trigger word in the same way that “sustainable” is for the other side. Thank you for addressing this, and I can assure you that the tone of the conversation was one of sincere desire to help people get back on their feet, not a snarky Republican diatribe. I don’t believe in either party. That’s why I look to local work arounds.