Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sacré-Coeur

These past two or three weeks and this weekend especially have been hard for me. I am working to manage more relationships than I've ever had the privilege of juggling before. I am working to find my place in an organization and with people who I respect but am struggling to truly understand. I am working to love and care for my close friends while loving and caring for myself. I am working to preserve my optimism while I watch broken politics make broken policies.

This poem is about one of the best moments of my life in one of my favorite places in the world, Paris. I wonder if taking mental vacations can give us as much perspective as real ones. I am in desperate need of a little perspective. As a note to the reader, every line in this poem starts with a different letter of the alphabet, beginning with A.

Alto saxes croon over cello cases
Boldly splayed open like expectant ladies
Crowds have climbed up
Draped now on stairs, statues, and lovers
Engrossed in separating sun from sound
Film and camera steal moments of the late afternoon
Gaping giantess of Sacré-Coeur looks on

Homes rise up like crooked teeth
Ivory piano keys
Jingling stars fall from loose pockets
Kaleidoscopic lenses capture colored flecks of hurry
Lengthening shadows
Millions of glass windows wink back at us
Narrating plucks on his guitar

Orange eye peeks over a jagged horizon
Prayers flow down the stairs and swirl around our ankles
Quiet echoes dance between us
Replaying favorite lyrics on our lips
Secret memories

Troubadours pour the last of their thick melodies
Under the bruising ceiling of night
Violinists slip their bows across
Waiting friends and taxis and stiff drinks
X marks this holy hill, drips down a reverent face
Yellow lights bleed back into purple sky
Zealous worshippers make their way down holding hands

Hoping for a moment in the coming week that makes me as whole as this one did.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All the wrong questions

This is going to be brief, but I feel I need to say that the more time I spend in DC the more angry I become. The divisiveness of Arizona's politics made it easy to draw a proverbial line in the sand and to see clearly who stood with you and who stood opposite you; but here the boundaries between what is clearly just and what is clearly unjust are less obvious. We can't pin the city's discrimination on just a few individuals who have found their way into the limelight (Arpaio, Brewer); we end up taking a harder look in the mirror. And if I had to name all of the blemishes we see when we do that, I would call them collectively Failure to Challenge the System by asking questions whose answers actually matter.

At the risk of oversimplifying the issues, here's what we're currently asking (a.k.a. the places where I believe we are only spinning our wheels and, in some cases, furthering race and class oppression):
*How can we convince decision-makers that poverty and hunger are problems where they live?
*How can we preserve nutrition program funding?
*What are the most compelling ways to tell the stories of low-income people to people who need to hear them?
*How can we best help the "new poor" and the "donors turned recipients?"
*How can we get food into the hands of the people who need it?
*Where is the common ground between liberal and conservative interests in hunger alleviation?

These are the wrong questions. They lack all of the important pieces of a just and sustainable campaign to ACTUALLY end hunger and poverty. Here are the questions I think we MUST ask before being involved in or party to any real change:
*Why don't the race and class backgrounds of our legislators mirror the backgrounds of their constituents? If we have to "sell" hunger and poverty as important topics to legislators, do they actually represent us?
*Do nutrition programs do what they say they're going to do? To the extent that they do, how can we grow the effective pieces? To the extent that they do not, how can we change, consolidate, streamline, and connect programs AND INVEST IN POLICIES AND PROGRAMS THAT ADDRESS ROOT CAUSES OF HUNGER?
*How can advocates create significant and increasing space for low-income people to join and lead the conversation? Why is a conversation about programs for low-income people, especially low-income people of color, led by class-privileged, white people?
*How should the anti-hunger movement balance the needs of newly poor households and households who have been experiencing deep poverty for a long time? What are the essential differences in types of capital accessible to the "new" versus the long-time poor? Again, why do the needs of the formerly middle-class have more political weight than the needs of low-income families?
*Why do people need emergency and/or subsidized food in the first place? How would they prefer to procure food for their families?
*What is it about our political and economic systems and the interplay between the two that keeps poor people in poverty? Will "common ground" messages and solutions EVER advance a just process to ENDING poverty and hunger? How can we use the power we do have in our current political and economic systems to change their very nature?

The confusion lies in the fact that the people asking all of these questions are people interested in ending hunger, which I think most would agree is a positive goal. As Jim McGovern (D-MA) has often said in public, he's "never met a member of Congress who is pro-hunger." Anti-hunger work is one of the few human service issues that receives significant bi-partisan support. Yet, the intents, the assumptions, and the envisioned processes behind each of the two lines of questioning are worlds apart. One maintains systems of power and one challenges them. One addresses the problem and one investigates why the problem exists. One assumes poverty is inevitable and one proclaims the promise of high quality of life for all. One is about charity and one is about justice. And I believe strongly that one has easy answers but will lead us toward ineffective solutions, and one has far more difficult answers but will lead us toward becoming a truly hunger-free nation.