More Thoughts on Poverty, Employment
Feb 13 01:27
I’ve taken my time to respond formally to your blog entry because it’s still an issue I’m thinking through. “It” being how to envision new ways to try to stem the incredible poverty in our community, and how to create more pathways for people to escape — or to not fall into poverty to begin with. I see employment as the best way to accomplish this for the largest amount of people. Additionally, I agree with you very much that poverty should not be linked to suffering. The latter is one reason why many of our best advocates don’t work on employment, because we know success could mean yet another “us-them” dichotomy, or reinforce the existing dichotomy. Or bring on a revival of the whole Super Crip nonsense.
I remember way back in the ‘90s when I still worked at the Pittsburgh CIL we ran a movie night for people who’d transitioned from nursing homes and other such places. One of the managers, a woman using a power wheelchair, came tearing up from the social hall, mad as hell, spitting out, “Those consumers are alone down there!” And it’s stuck with me all these years for obvious reasons. They weren’t alone. And what is a consumer, anyway? That’s when I started hating that word, because what it really means is something like this: Person with a disability who does not work at a CIL or other disability group — unless said person wants a privileged place as an advocate on an advisory committee, board or similar position.” I learned to hate the word “individuals,” too, for similar reasons.
So this dichotomy already exists, and perhaps a successful employment campaign would further exacerbate it: Create a stronger “us” that is even better equipped to keep control over the larger, impoverished “them.”
But what can we do to address poverty in our community that would be effective, that would encourage more of a “we’re all in this together” mentality, and that would engage more people in our movement? Perhaps if we could figure out what makes our current employment advocacy so damn dense and ineffective, we could figure out how to craft initiatives that are more broadly helpful. And maybe these new workers would feel tied to our community in a way that many employed people with disabilities currently do not. And possibly these ties would help to bolster our existing ethic of sitting with the most impoverished among us.
If done well, employment touches on most other issues: Housing, transportation, personal assistance, access, health care, DME, and so on. Education. Children. Equality.
Or maybe I’m on the wrong track completely.
Here’s what I want: Our people not so damn poor, not so damn invisible, not so damn written off. And I’d like the next big thing, the next priority, to address this in a broader fashion, that can include more of us, that can build a larger, stronger community. I think employment could be a big part of achieving these goals.
Maybe what we need is a broad, articulated campaign against the dehumanizing effects of poverty, with employment as part of that campaign. But what would that look like, I wonder. Our society blithely accepts that to be disabled means to be poor, and maddeningly assumes that anything otherwise is somehow “special” or “inspiring.” How can we break through this?
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Feb 16 09:53
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