By Contributor on February 24, 2012

By Alvaro Huerta

The poor get no respect in this country. As someone who experienced abject poverty in America’s barrios, I know a thing or two about being disrespected due to my family’s reliance on government aid for a temporary period.

When I was growing up, we received welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and public housing. Although my Mexican immigrant parents never committed any crimes, I felt a deep sense of shame, thanks to the slurs of many elected officials, public figures and media outlets.

Recently, Republicans have taken a leadership role in bashing the poor. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney said that he doesn’t care too much for them. Newt Gingrich, another presidential aspirant, wants to do away with child labor laws, since inner-city kids “ought to learn how to go to work.”

Gingrich also has referred to President Obama, on more than one occasion, as the “food stamp president.” Democratic leaders have failed to respond sufficiently by defending food stamps and other important safety net programs for those in need — especially during the terrible economic times we’ve been in.

It’s no secret why the poor receive little attention from both Republicans and Democrats during election seasons. Poor people lack the financial resources to make political contributions to political candidates and, now, the all-powerful Super PACs.

Disrespecting the poor is not new in America. Prior to the Great Depression, many politicians and national leaders also treated the poor with disdain. In the early 1900s, the powerful and rich commonly used words like “lazy” and “freeloaders” to describe the poor, placing the full burden of their bleak plight solely on their shoulders.

It wasn’t until the market crashed in 1929 and the middle class and some members of the upper class directly suffered when many Americans came to the harsh realization that structural factors affect individual behavior and outcomes. If there’s a silver lining in this country’s economic calamities, it is that many Americans understand that financial markets periodically create uncertainty for the majority, while a privileged minority remains insulated.

Republican presidential candidates can rail all they want against food stamps, but for millions of Americans who, at no fault of their own, have had to rely on them to feed themselves and their families, the simple reality is this: The private sector left them stranded; only government assistance has kept them fed.

Making food stamps a campaign issue is a loser for Republicans. Too many Americans now recognize how vital the program is.

Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D., is a visiting scholar at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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