Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Maybe Its Time for Us All to Stand Together

“I’ve just been made homeless. The president should come visit. Someone needs to see just how bad it is for us here.” Heard on the streets of Aberdeen

It can be hard to imagine, unless you have experienced the underside of American life lately, just how hard life is becoming for millions of Americans. With 48% of Americans now poor and low income, we are rapidly losing our middle class. And with 3.5 million people on the street, more and more places are experiencing intense desperation. Our rural towns and small cities have been hit especially hard, with a shrinking economic base and loss of manufacturing. And Aberdeen is no exception.

There has been a flurry of controversy lately in Aberdeen with the disbandment of our largest homeless camp and the closing of a seedy hotel rented by the month. Dozens of people have been displaced. As the Thunderbird closes, people have very few alternative places to go. I hear, over and over, people saying that they feel like the city just wants to get rid of them.

It’s a common story across America. We talk a lot about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but these things are getting harder for a lot of us to hang on to. If every person has a right to life, every person has a right to the things that keep us alive and healthy and whole: housing, decent food, the basic necessities of life.  

As it is now, people who helped build this town—carpenters, loggers, fishermen—have found themselves on the streets, many of them disabled in industrial accidents. I am shocked by the number of young people on the street. And veterans—from Vietnam to our more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Those of us who are not on the street are likely struggling. Trying to make ends meet. Trying to take care of our neighbors as best we can, while still putting our own families first. Most of us are only a paycheck or two away from the streets ourselves. We are afraid. There is only so much we can do.

That is why this crisis of poverty, of job loss, of housing belongs to all of us. We are all feeling it. And its not our fault.

It's not our fault that giant timber companies came, made their money, and left. It's not our fault that land is increasingly closed to public access or to any kind of harvesting. It's not our fault that our markets have been opened oversees and it's cheaper to cut trees in Honduras or employ workers in China than employ American workers. It's not our fault that there are fewer and fewer safety nets. It's not our fault that most jobs available don't pay a living wage. It's not our fault that the middle class has all but disappeared. 

This problem is bigger than homelessness or who is using drugs and who is not. It is a crisis that is touching us all. 

Maybe it is time for us all to stand up together—people on the streets and people struggling to pay the mortgage, people getting evicted from an old hotel and people getting foreclosed on, people trying to hang on to what you can and people who have lost everything. In the end, we are all in this together. We live on rich soil around mighty rivers and some of the most spectacular natural resources in the world. We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Its time for things to change. Its time that we stop starving in a land of plenty. Maybe it is possible for us to put our differences behind us, to stop pointing fingers at each other, and to stand together for a better life for all of us. 

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