03 November 2013

American hunger and the Christian right

I have seen hunger, up close and personal, right here in the richest nation on the planet. And, despite what the so-called "Christian" right keeps telling us, I know that laziness does not explain why poor people are poor.

I grew up in a small, depressed Appalachian town. My family had enough to eat because we had a large garden that yielded enough fruits and veggies to last throughout the year, and because my Italian grandmother, who lived with us, knew how to turn some cheap flour and yeast into wonderful homemade baked goods.

We also regularly fed many of the kids from the neighborhood, who would flock to our house when they smelled the delicious aromas emerging from the kitchen, where Grandma held court each day.

But we couldn't feed them three meals each and every day. So much of the time I saw my less fortunate friends and their siblings munching on mayonnaise sandwiches, or, if they were lucky, SpaghettiOs with buttered bread.

The parents in that town were not lazy. In fact, many of them worked harder than any Congressman or CEO.

My father was an auto mechanic. In fact, he was a mechanical genius, having built his own tractor (for the aforementioned garden) from spare parts. But he had neither the education nor the opportunity to make it big. He wouldn't have wanted to. He was comfortable in his little garage, adjacent to our modest house, fixing the townspeople's cars and trucks. But he could charge only what the market would bear. And, in that town, people didn't have much money to spend.

Most of the other fathers worked either in the nearby coal mines or for the Pennsylvania Railroad, which ran through the town. Often, the workers would go on strike, and I would see my friends panic because of the hardships they would endure when the household income went away for a time. But collective bargaining is a human right, and labor strikes are a frequent part of that. Without the unions and strikes, things would have been even worse. Fortunately, many of these families received food stamps.

Today, two of the GOP's main goals are to cut social services like food stamps (now called SNAP) and to crack down on the unions - with the ultimate goal of eventually destroying both. And they are doing this at a time when our troubled economy has created more families that desperately need these support systems. These people are not lazy - there just aren't enough jobs to go around. And many of the employed are stuck in part-time jobs, or are struggling to make ends meet at minimum wage.

Still, the GOP just continues to feed us the myth of the lazy poor, as they have for decades.

They have the nerve to call themselves "Christian". But, as I recall from reading the Bible, Jesus fed people liberally without judging them. The loaves and fishes, if you believe the story, came with no strings attached; they were simply an act of Christian generosity.

Sadly, Christian generosity is something we rarely see these days in Washington or on Wall Street.

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