Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Today, I take a break from berating presidential politics. It's Blog Action Day and the subject is Poverty.

Odds are, a good percentage of those who might read this have only dealt with the issue at arm's length. That's not a bad thing, by the way. I'm not going to sit here and yell at you for being above the poverty line. The old saw about catching more flies with honey definitely applies to charity. Getting angry doesn't increase donations. Every activist working in an inner city or on country back roads knows this very well.

My own experience is a little closer, although I have never felt poor. But there were weeks growing up when we ate the same thing three or four days in a row. Corned beef, cheese sandwiches and hot dogs & beans are intricately woven into my childhood. There were years when Christmas was more about refilling the sock drawer than a new bicycle. By some definitions, my family came close to that scary "poverty line." Close enough to be on government assistance a time or two. Close enough to shop at a thrift store or Pic n' Save instead of Macy's, let alone Nordstroms.

But let's face it, that's nothing. We had a roof over our head and we live in a country that helps. It could help more, but we'll save that topic for later.

I live in San Diego. It is my home and it always will be, even if my travels lead me other places for extended times. I grew up here, in a city that draws tourists and rightfully seems to have fewer problems than many urban areas. We do have many people living on that edge, although we don't have projects like Chicago or abandoned buildings like New York. We have families that are just scraping by.

However, living in San Diego also means living next to Tijuana.

I have seen poverty. Real poverty. The whole family living in a room whose walls melt in the rain, under an aluminum sheet roof where everyone has to be outside in the afternoon because inside becomes an oven. In high school, I helped feed orphans whose lives made me vow never to be unthankful about the conditions as I grew up. I have seen a child kneeling on a sidewalk leading to the United States, unwashed and awake at three a.m. because he has no school to go to in the morning, singing "La Bamba" and hammering a cheap guitar with three broken strings. Hoping that some drunk American teenager, who has crossed the border to party, will toss him a quarter. Mothers sitting under an overhang with an infant suckling while the baby's brother and sister try to get someone to buy Chiclets.

Scenes that we like to think exist only in India or Africa happen on hillsides that, on a clear day, I can see from my house. Unlike Sarah Palin, I don't think that just because I can see the hills of Tijuana makes me an expert on how to erase the scourge of poverty from our planet.

I don't wonder at the causes of illegal immigration. If I could get my family out of those conditions, I too would cross a desert to find a minimum wage job.

And yet, I can become desensitized. I've grown up with this, seen it a thousand times. It's only when someone points it out to me that I feel the things I felt the first time I saw it.

We are the lucky ones. If you own a computer to read this on, you are living in greater luxury than the majority of the people who have lived on this planet. And you are living in greater comfort than a great many living on it today.

Do something.

On days when I remember, I donate clothes to thrift stores. Toys my children have outgrown. I have fed the poor, but not recently. I have done volunteer work. I am proud of the efforts I have made, both with my time and my money. I am proud to be part of organizations like Coming Together.

But there are times when I need to be reminded that I can do more.

If you are out there and you aren't doing something, do it now. You are already on the computer. Make a donation. Ten bucks. The cost of a couple hours entertainment at the movie house will feed a houseful of children in Tijuana. I don't need to point out where… you know how to use Google and I don't really care which charity you pick. The next time they ask you in the checkout line to donate a dollar, say yes. If a dirty five year old sings "La Bamba" at you, have the compassion to empty your pockets of their change. It means a lot more to him than to you.

I don't care what you do. There are a thousand choices.

But do it. We are the lucky ones. Share some luck today. Believe me, the feeling you get back is worth it.


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