I wrote this in my other blog yesterday for Blog Action Day but forgot to put it here. There are great conversations happening all over the web and I encourage people to participate.

We tend to look at poverty as an issue too big for an individual to make an impact and too muddy to come up with an effective solution. As a result we remove ourselves from the issue and inadvertently start to “other” the people struggling—talking about them as if they exist in an entirely different world.

But what do we do when poverty hits home? When it’s not a matter of reading about a sad story but facing one?

Up until a few weeks ago my mother and my three sisters lived in a homeless shelter. They were there for six months. My sisters' frustrations extended beyond not having a home to call their own. They also had to abide by rules that were set by the shelter that were similar to lockdown: no visitors, a strict curfew, and no staying out over night without prior notice. Many of the cherished aspects of adolescence were denied to them.

I had these same issues growing up in the projects and when I left for college I thought that it was all behind me. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Aside from the fact that my family continues to struggle, our existence is stigmatized. We don’t solicit “oh no’s” and tear filled eyes when our stories are told. Apparently, you have to be in Africa for that. So I went to Africa—South Africa to be exact. And while the poverty I witnessed is much more severe, I saw similarities among young people there and the young people I work with in the States. They want to go to school; they want to make friends, and they want their families to be safe.

However, I also saw how diverse poverty in and of itself is: urban poverty is different from rural poverty; older poor people have different desires than younger poor people; and the dominant culture clashes with subcultures to shape how people respond to their poverty.

Thus, poverty isn’t just about “those people over there” and it extends beyond the lack of income. We all have a relationship to poverty whether through personal experience or through our viewpoint that extends beyond donating time or a check. In other words, in order to address poverty we need to examine its impact on everyone—not just those who live in it. We need to examine our relationship to poverty.

1. Get personal: There are faces behind the numbers and stories behind the faces. And those faces aren’t just in far away countries; many are in our neighborhoods or even our own families. Get to know people who have less than you—seek commonalities and accept differences.

2. Become an advocate: Why does poverty often solicit pity instead of outrage and when outrage does arise it’s directed at the impoverished? When there are a few people struggling it is a “trouble.” When there are billions of people struggling it is a structural issue that needs to be addressed as such. Volunteering and monetary donations are only the beginning. We need to address this together.

3. Study resilience: While I believe that advocacy—in terms of social change and personal investment in change—is key, our examination of the issue needs to involve more than asking why people are poor. How do some people make it out of poverty? How do people manage to have little and still have enriching lives? The answers to these questions need to be in every solution we think of.

4. Understand how we are connected: For some reason people like to think that there are infinite resources to go around. Nope. I am a “have” because someone else is a “have-not.” And even then, many of us who "have" are precariously on the edge. Addressing poverty means coming face to face with how we may be complicit in the oppression of others.

5. Share the knowledge and encourage others: No need to explore complex issues in solitude. Get a blog, take some photos, take out the video camera and share. Not just with those who are fortunate to have social media access but also with the very people you are trying to help. Visit organizations that work directly with those who are struggling. If we keep the conversation going and include as many people as possible, we may find a solution sooner than we think.


I'm proud to participate in Blog Action Day: an annual call for bloggers to post about a pressing social issue on the same day.

Bloomberg's Madness

Oct 10, 2008

At times I can see the merits of extending term limits. Limits can upset consistency and make completing long term projects difficult. However, whenever Bloomberg opens his mouth all I hear is a sickening sense of entitlement; an arrogance that yells “but 8 years isn’t enough time for you to savor my greatness.”

The complaint that NYC is too vulnerable for poppa Bloomberg to leave is laughable. Aside from the fact that such a power grab is eerily reminiscent of shock-doctrine political tactics, Bloomberg isn’t as awesome as he thinks he is. Yes, I’m glad we don’t have transfats in our foods and 311 is indeed a time saver, but the falling cranes, ultra-hands-on police enforcement, incessant development that is squeezing out the middle class, and—given your access to financial information—relative silence on mortgage crisis and subprime lending practices lead me to question your leadership.

However, if he thinks he is really such a great leader, why not move on to something bigger, as other politicians have done? Certainly a man of his wealth talent can find another suitable position at the local, state, or federal level. Indeed, this is a criticism of term limits as they rarely get rid of politicians, rather they allow politicians to shuffle themselves around, still having influence. So why not set your sights on Governor or possibly President (as he once joked he would do)?

His behavior reveals the answer to that question. Any person who believes that our city is so weak that we can’t bear to part with his mediocrity would never take the risk of moving on. To do so would require him to be more creative in addressing pressing social, economic, and political issues and more appealing to a diverse group of people. Instead, he prefers to go back on his own word and hang on to as much power as he can.

Regardless of my take on this, one critical issue remains: his approach to extending the term limit is blatantly undemocratic. We already voted on this and we voted in favor of limits in 1993 and 1996. He is not bringing this to the voters—as it is too late for a referendum—rather he is bringing this to the council, two-thirds of whom will be out next year because of term limits. So this has nothing to do with the political benefits (or lack thereof) of term limits. It has to do with him and his feeling that he is above the law.

UPDATE: On that note, here is an event about term limits and public interest happening on Tuesday that I plan to attend:

Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY,
and the New York Public Interest Research Group present

A Panel Discussion and Public Forum

Term Limits: Their Impact and Who Decides

Panel in Formation

Richard Briffault
Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation, Columbia Law School; Vice Chair, Citizens Union

The Honorable Lew Fidler
Assistant Majority Leader and Member, New York City Council

Randy M. Mastro
Attorney, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Deputy Mayor, New York City, 1996 - 1998

Esmeralda Simmons
Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Justice, Medgar Evers College; former member of the NYC Redistricting Commission

6:00 - 9:00 PM

Baruch College
The William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus
55 Lexington Avenue at 24th Street
14th Floor

Please RSVP at 212.227.0342 ext.39
or events@citizensunion.org

Space is limited