Friday, August 19, 2011

Domestic Insecurity

One in five children in the U.S. officially live in poverty now. In cities, the figure climbs to as high as two out of five. How shameful this seems to me, in light of the money pouring out of our pockets and into the highly profitable business of war. In Charlottesville, VA, for example, taxpayers will be asked to contribute $63.3 million to the Pentagon budget, which would provide 27,933 low-income kids with health care next year.

The mainstream press is increasingly taking notice of the high costs of endless war, as if it had taken a decade to wake up and smell the red ink. Many who don't believe in social progress are joining the antiwar chorus. They don't want to save money in order to, for instance, give 6,414 university students scholarships for a year -- they just want to save money, period.

But how will young people ever pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps if they can't read and write competently? For the two decades I've been a public school teacher, every national assessment of future needs concludes that, to compete successfully for the dwindling number of jobs available, students will need at least a high school diploma plus some kind of post-secondary training. Yet public education, chronically underfunded for decades, is again on the chopping block -- with schools closing, teachers laid off, and class sizes climbing. University tuition is skyrocketing from New York to California. Summer job training programs for youth were also cut in lots of the most economically disadvantaged places. (As had been done also in London, Liverpool and Manchester, with riotous results.)

Food insecurity is already at the doorstep of many who thought they were educated enough, or secure enough -- homeowners with careers that brought the elusive health care benefits, suddenly laid off after decades, unable to find a job in their field. Students with enormous debt from their college degrees, working for minimum wage at jobs with no benefits, barely able to make the rent and their education loan payments. Families who had a member with a disease or injury they could ill afford, in foreclosure. Soup kitchens and food cupboards are swamped like never before. And the federal food stamp program, morphed into something called SNAP, now takes weeks or months to apply for.

The federal government's response? Start practicing for urban warfare, apparently. The Jamaica Plain Gazette reported that the U.S. Special Operations Command landed a military helicopter on the roof of a closed elementary school after dark last week in a poor residential area of Boston. No notice was given to the alarmed neighbors, watching men in combat gear descend onto the roof of the building where their children used to go to school.
“We’re from Special Operations,” (spokeswoman) Tiscione acknowledged, referring to the umbrella organization of all four military branches’ special forces. “I’m kind of being vague on purpose. It’s more of a challenge for us when people know who we are.”
(Hey, aren't they the same Special Ops reported to  be carrying out assassinations and renditions in 70 countries worldwide -- without any Congressional oversight?)

Domestic insecurity*, indeed. What are people to do? Burning down buildings doesn't solve much and leaves a poor neighborhood even poorer. Some young people are getting organized, mobbing sites of police brutality like BART subway stations in San Francisco-- and having their cell phones shut down by authorities (but that's another story).

Then there are vibrant cultural responses to rage. CODEPINK's campaign to Create, Note Hate supports artful expressions of what ten years of "war on terror" has brought, and what alternatives might look, sound and feel like, part of a national effort called 10 Years and Counting. Maybe you could get a few hundred friends together and create a dance expressing your yearning for the opportunities offered by higher education like these college students in Chile:

You could write a book, like Buggy, the young adult novel I co-authored about about the poverty draft, and what really turns kids on. You can read a sample on Amazon.

You could help occupy Freedom Plaza in DC this October 6 and beyond. You could organize a Bring Our War $$ Home Care-a-Van to tour your state, finding out what budget cuts have done to your neighborhoods, and how small those are in comparison to the funds lavished on building weapons.

You could study and teach about nonviolent methods of effecting change. Because children living in poverty need ALL of us to pull together and create a better future for the world.

* Domestic Insecurity is a name I lifted from my creative friends the Three Monkeys Art Collective, from their 2004 installation at Fitchburg Art Museum. Grateful for the artists!


Mark said...

Non-violent methods are the answer. Work stoppages/slow downs, etc.
As more and more are damaged by the increasing lack of resources to provide citizens with their basic needs, the priorities of their elected officials will become obvious.
Stand together to say no to war and Bring Our War Dollars Home.

chrisrushlau said...

A Korean War Marine vet (a platoon sergeant, shot through the temples by a "gook" who "drew a bead" on him) told me, "The best Marines grow up crawling through the mud." He'd been one of those Okies fleeing the Depression-era dust-bowl himself.
So are we incubating future soldiers?