Declaring peace - and why declaring "War on Poverty" undermines it all.
I’ve been reading a lot about the “war” on poverty, what with today being the 50th anniversary of the declaration of “unconditional” war on the awful predicament. On this day in 1964, LBJ traveled to Martin County, KY and announced the creation of programs that are still in place today: Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, and tax cuts, to name a few. The poverty rate was about 20% then. The poverty rate today is 15%. Say what you will about why the rate has decreased so little (hello income inequality, globalization, low minimum wage), but it’s clear that the poor haven’t been winning anything.
That’s just it: The problem with war is that there are sides. There are losers and there are victors. There are casualties and counts and weaponry. Ammunition and battles and marches. What we need is peace.
No one WANTS poverty, right? What people want is to get money. And if there are sides and decisions to be made, humans will most always choose for themselves. So, when we declare war on poverty, we’re declaring war on others’ bank accounts and earning power. People don’t like that.
We need to make peace with this. (Liberals, I’m looking at you)
No one in poverty wants to be there, right? Being so poor stresses the brain in ways that those who aren’t poor will never understand, in a way that follows a person for life. Living in poverty is an institutional problem that this country continues to perpetuate. People don’t like to admit that it’s not just a personal responsibility problem.
We need to make peace with this. (Conservatives, I’m looking at you)
How? What we need to do is to reframe the discussion regarding the factors that have pushed poverty down by some margins while also allowing poverty to remain so entrenched. To finally make some peace with what our country has wrought – and what it has achieved. The programs that LBJ championed fifty years ago has saved approximately 40 million people today from the ravages of poverty. Creating an “us” and “them” simply perpetuates the growing inequality between the “haves” and “have nots.”
Eradicating poverty is GOOD economics for everyone – even rich people. It’s always good to have fewer people in prison and more people with high school diplomas and job training. It’s also good to have people earn a lot of money in traditional white collar careers so that they can buy cars and go on trips.
I’ve been thinking of making peace quite a bit lately: I now have a tween in my household. Gone are the days of sticker charts and time outs. In are the days of positive reinforcement and a sharing of ideas and feelings. This is the time that I can decide to draw lines, teen v. parent, or I can circle our wagons and hold on for the ride. Her success is my success, her feelings of belonging are my feelings of warmth. I’ve made peace with her hormones and her rebellion in my efforts to bridge any divide that might break us.
For the 16 million children who are living in poverty, I hope that we can circle our collective wagons and make peace. As we move into a new year, I hope that we can begin to think about the next 50 years and see that creating sides simply divides us more, breaks us further. As we move into a new year and continue to work on policy initiatives that empower women and children, let’s do so in the spirit of peace. Unconditional peace.