Thousands of poor people of color face hunger, illness, death and homelessness due to welfare, housing and health care budget cuts across the nation.
How long does it take to kill the spirit of 7,000 people? How long does it take to forget about 7,000 people? Or 600 people, 10,000 or 22,000 people? There are 7,000 residents of Alameda County facing hunger, desperation and death in April when their general assistance (GA) (welfare) benefits are cut off; 10,500 people face homelessness in New York due to cuts to Section 8. In 2009, 600 people were cut off of GA in Salt Lake City, Utah, and 22,000 recipients of GA in Minnesota were denied access to even the most meager health benefits.
So, why does hardly anyone care?
Perhaps, because people believe the lies perpetuated about poor people barely surviving on welfare and housing subsidies everyday. The lie that we are all substance users; that we are “lazy”; that we are criminals “cheating the system”; that Section 8 is free housing as opposed to “affordable based on your income; that welfare is “free money” as opposed to a loan, which we are expected to repay; or that we don’t work hard at below minimum wage jobs, like cleaning the streets or cleaning buses.
Actually, welfare, Medi-Cal and Section 8 recipients are low-waged and no-waged laborers, unemployed construction workers, domestic workers, secretaries, waiters, dry cleaners, day laborers, artists, musicians, gardeners, child care workers, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – as a matter of fact, we are you.
My mother and I barely survived on the little bit of nothing called welfare for much of my life. As an adult caring for my mama, an African, Puerto Rican, survivor of abusive, racist foster homes and orphanages, who struggled for years to get an education by any means necessary while working as a domestic laborer, until she became disabled and unable to work. After living outside and in our car throughout my childhood, and later incarcerated for that crime of poverty (it’s illegal to be houseless in the US), I paid a portion of our rent with the meager $341.00 the welfare system loaned me. It kept me and my disabled mama housed for over a year before we were gentrified out of our low rent apartment.
I was told several times by two of my more abusive caseworkers while on welfare that I was a drain on society and not worth the ground on which I was standing. When the welfare (de)reform bills were signed and all welfare recipients began being fast-tracked into a job, any job, I was being illogical to conceptualize of myself as a journalist or writer, and needed to get enrolled in a 30-day janitorial or secretarial training programs.
With every threat by my welfare worker, my mother and I tried to work harder at our unlicensed, street-based, art micro-business to apply for endless loans we were turned down for, to work 12- and 18-hour days trying to sell products whether the market would bear or not. In the end, the adage that it takes money to make money is sooo true, we could never get ahead, much less fed, and we always ended up back on some type of welfare, hated, misunderstood and criminalized.
My mama is an indigenous Taina, a tribe of the Caribbean, thought like many tribes across the globe to be completely destroyed and annihilated, taken down by countless colonizers and empires, lands stolen, natural resources raped, and robbed of her ancestors until all that was left were a destroyed people, and her an unwanted, poor child of color.
Many of the folks who are facing cuts to meager benefit crumbs are indigenous people, people of diasporas, colonizers destruction and oppressors domination, war, globalization, racism, violence and the violence of poverty. Long ago, taken from their lands of origin, their cultures, their deep structures, their power, they are brought eagerly into the arms of the inhuman systems of capitalism and consumerism, where if you don’t have some capital or capitalist in your corner, you quickly become the product, either of the nonprofit industrial complex (a client) or the prison industrial complex (an inmate)
The Scarcity Model
The history of welfare and housing subsidies in the US is a racist, classist tale of the deserving versus undeserving poor scarcity model. From the beginning, welfare and subsidized housing were only meant for some people, “the deserving poor” white, married women whose husbands were killed in the war. If you were anything outside of that racist norm, you were considered pathological, broken, aberrant.
Why was it important to set up the system like this? So an institutionally racist US corporate media could create a web of lies, and a racist US society would believe them, and then could look away when one fell through the cracks and became hungry, houseless or sick. The scarcity model is already set up to be cut/pulled/rescinded as it’s based on how few people we can support, rather than who needs support.
“It’s going to cost the City so much more to have all the people sick, and not be able to get treatment,” Johnny Longtree, an indigenous poverty scholar and Poor News Network (PNN) reporter from Minnesota said, speaking with me about Minnesota’s proposed cuts last year.
In every US city and state fighting these inhumane cuts, tireless advocates, researchers and lawyers for the poor present their meticulously gathered statistics on why acts of budget genocide to housing, welfare and services should never happen, how they will cost the cities and states so much more in lost revenue, overwhelm existent strapped services and cause the illness and death of thousands of people. National studies like Without Housing (Western Regional Advocacy Project 2010) directly correlates the connection between the increase of homelessness, criminalization and hunger with the drastic cuts to housing and social services budgets across the nation. And, yet, the deadly lie of the scarcity model prevails.
I say lie, because, contrary to corporate media perpetuated lies, there is enough money for everyone. It is more myth making to act like there is only a little bit to go around. It is a myth promoted by corporate government and corporate media, which have already stolen our collective resources, consistently silenced our voices and want to keep all of the stolen resources in exactly the unjust place they now exist, a few people’s pockets.
Hoarding and Cluttering Capital
A capitalistic system leads to the obsessive hoarding of cash and resources, and as all people afflicted with hoarding and clutterering illness will attest to, once you begin hoarding, it’s very hard to stop. Once the corporations, corporate governments and legislators begin collecting corporate kick-downs, they can’t stop.
This inhuman system that encourages the obsessive hoarding and cluttering of resources seems insane to indigenous cultures like the Malawi people who believe that if I have met you once, you are related to me and I am responsible for your well-being. A culture rooted in interdependence and care giving views people who hoard resources as having something wrong with them, as they understand that sharing is key to the survival of all people, rather than just some people.
The lies and greedy agendas of capitalism have led myself and many of my fellow indigenous and poor revolutionaries to launch, “I am not the lie,” a series of testimonies and first-person narratives, which will demystify the lies told about poor folks on welfare, low-wage and no-wage workers, immigrants, subsidized-housing residents, and many other communities consistently misunderstood and disrespected. As well, many indigenous-people-led organizations have begun to look into the roots of budget lies and decades and generations of resource theft of people and cities. From these historical to present investigations, several of us have begun to implement the UN declaration on Indigenous people, a powerful, pro-active document that frames the reclaiming of stolen resources and land to the colonization of people and land.
Many of the nationwide Take Back The Land advocates and actions by many grassroots organizations also act as resistance to the lies of the budget cuts, corporate loan scams, billion dollar bailouts (corporate welfare) and rampant real estate speculation. In the Bay Area, a group has just formed called Revenue for All, which is promoting a taxation movement for all.
So, as over 17,000 people face starvation and homelessness in Northern California and New York, and countless others across the nation affected by these acts of budget genocide, I wonder what it would mean if we began challenging the scarcity models presented as fact by our legislators and began to re-envision another type of budget based on sharing with all rather than sharing with a few; and I wonder what it mean if no one had a lie to lean on about why I don’t need to care about my fellow human. Perhaps then, we as a capitalized, consumerist, self-centered culture would have to look at ourselves and our own greed, so we could all resist this lie called the budget cut and realize there is enough for all of us to not only survive, but to thrive.