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March 7, 2013

ANDERSON: Politics and poverty: An activist’s perspective

As I listened to the discussion on sequestration all week last week, my mind wandered back to the Draconian cuts of the 1980s. They were nothing compared to what happened last week. 

The contemporary version of the poor house was born through the cuts of the Reagan era in 1983. Yes, we can look at one president in our lifetime who can claim responsibility. That will make a few angry, but it is nonetheless true.

Mental health centers were stripped, as were hospitals and people who were not equipped to be “outside” were set out with absolutely no community services to provide assistance or awareness for the communities that were so dramatically affected. Poverty was targeted, as were the people who lived in poverty. 

“The Welfare Queen” was born, the “nonproducers” became a reality and compassion for the poor took a hiatus. It was not a good time to be working in human services. The crowds were long, people were desperate — they often fought over cheese in the food line. I know — I was in the back of the semi truck handing it out. 

Those serving the poor were targeted as well. Community Action agencies were gutted, Head Start was cut back and all federal agencies were dramatically affected. It was a lot to live with; unemployment was at a high for those days. 

Ironically, it was another Republican who restored some sense to the situation — President George H. Bush. We tried so hard to convince those we served to vote and to participate, and they did initially. Organizing was ripe and people were marching, voicing their opinions, talking to their legislators. They could then. And lots happened because they could. 

Poverty and politics have been intricately involved from the beginning of this country. Property wasn’t allowed to vote, hence the slave nor was the wife allowed to participate. Neither could the poor, as you had to be a property owner to vote in the day. So, decisions were made from a narrow perspective of our world. 

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