Tag Archives: poverty

Salvation Army Simulates Poverty

If you would like to watch me turn from a well-balanced happy woman to a glass-shatterer and purity of spitting rage, you really just have to mention simulating poverty…

It is a primal sort of reaction. Even so, a piece of my mind can stand apart from that and see some benefit to it I suppose, after all the gap between those with wealth and those with none is so extreme. People with even middling incomes take so much for granted, there is so much they don’t know about survival on even minimum wage, I suppose a taste of reality is better then none at all? The obvious answer is yes, but only if they acknowledge the limits, do not presume that a week long exercise can bestow upon them anything but a glimmer of what is truly lived by those in poverty. They have to acknowledge that simulation is impossible.

Poverty is a constant weight, it is constant worry, it is constant struggle. It is an absence of choices; with the weight, worry, and struggle stretching forever into the future. It is a blinding lack of safety nets, and no one to rescue you when you fall. It is you financially supporting your parents rather than relying on them for support. It is a heavy responsibility for others. It is knowing that this responsibility carries more needs then you can provide for. It is a daily battle, a daily fear for the roof over your head, the food in the refrigerator, your transportation to work. It is breaking your body and swallowing insults to keep a paycheck. It is always being talked down to, disrespected, seen as less. It is the feeling that you are less. You cannot experience it for a day, or even a year, because it is the feeling of being trapped, the feeling you get when you have tried and been carved down to the bone in your failure. It is knowing you cannot get out. There’s no point in looking ahead, day by day is the only possible way to survive it. Poverty carves itself into your face in deep jagged lines, and makes you old before your time.

Poverty is hopelessness, converted into apathy or rage. Until you fight back; only then does it become a strength. But most simply fight each other, fight over the scraps they are allowed. I will never deny that the extraordinary and the lucky make it out of poverty, my point is that they should not be the only ones. But with classes of 40 in schools that are falling down and don’t even offer the minimum courses required to enter a 4 year college, with an absence of preventative health care, with high rents for overcrowded slum housing that slowly kills its inhabitants with lead poisoning and asthma, with racism and racial profiling channeling more and more youth into the prison system, with communities from which all decent paying jobs and hope for the future have long since fled…these are all systemic barriers of dizzying magnitude.

You can give people, very humbly, some idea of what is required of the poor to survive. I support that. You cannot simulate for the rich what it is like to live in poverty, there is such an arrogance in the very idea of that. And a danger too, when people believe they understand something that they do not…

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2

Economic Bubbles and the Blue Line

I rode the train home late last night, the blue line down through South Central and Watts; L.A. makes me sad sometimes. There is so much speculation on the state of the economy, you can read it in the papers. Taking the blue train late at any time through South Central and Watts, most of that speculation seems rather out of touch. There haven’t been any good times here for a very long time, and when the economy turns, it hits here hardest. And it keeps on hitting. The contrast is stark between this world inhabited by tens of thousands of people, and the world of financial speculation. From here the bubble is very clear, and entirely maddening. Most maddening is that the bubble requires the world of poverty to exist, it is built upon it, immense wealth cannot be held by everyone. It depends on millions of poor in this country, many millions more around the world…

I was talking to an older guy who was only wearing one shoe last night, and white tube socks pulled up high. He was riding the green line train up and down, having nowhere else to go. His legs were swollen the way my gran’s legs became swollen with her diabetes and lack of exercise, the way my friend Mark’s legs became swollen when he was turned out into the streets. Like age and diabetes, the streets swell you up, make you sick, kill you. He was voting for Hillary Clinton, he said he had a crush on her. I laughed at that. He asked me if I was a model and I laughed at that too. He told me I could be anything I wanted to be, this was America, told he was working on his own modeling career. I can forgive this man his bubble, I can forgive him almost anything he needs to survive.

I can’t forgive the people who speculate on the economy night after night on the news, and I can’t figure out who they’re talking about. I don’t know the world they’re talking about either. None of them address the growing gap between rich and poor, growing numbers of people in the streets, growing poverty, growing legions of police to control the poor and protect the wealthy. The only things shrinking are the job pool, the supply of affordable housing, the access to health care, the number of teachers, support for veterans and the elderly, the water table, the ice in the arctic…

remembering the Morrison

Sitting at home, watching the documentary Jeff Kauffman did for us on the Morrison Hotel…such a crazy time of my life, all-absorbing life-changing really, I am watching Maria Rivas open up her phone and seeing it crawling with roaches, one of my most disgusting horrific memories…the hallways with their boarded up doors, Mark talking about pulling himself up four flights of stairs, Mark pulling himself out of his wheelchair, he lost a leg because of that damn building, when you’re paralyzed you can’t feel the roaches crawling over your legs, your genitals, can’t tell you have an infection that will mean amputation. I remember the smell, the mold, the fleas that attack you as you walk in and you know are from the fucking rodents, puppy rats the tenants called them because of their size… I remember sneaking in late at night to take photos and document conditions and talk to our folks, the fear and adrenalin as I walked past security dressed in ridiculous clothes. And damn, I remember the day we had our first action and got into the building after months and I have never in my life been so happy, so high really, it lasted for days. I remember the manager sitting on the floor on the 4th floor rocking back and forth with his head in his hands…a small payback for threatening tenants with his pit bull and throwing people into the street but it was something…the remaining tenants cheering us as we roamed the hallways like champions.

I’m sadly one of the stars of the documentary…I wish I spoke better, I feel things so deeply but can’t seem to express myself well out loud, perhaps that’s why I’m a writer I suppose. I am fueled on pure fury, much more so than hope, and I think there’s no way to tell that, funny that you can’t tell how angry I am all of the time…And I look tired, I think I’ve been tired since I first started working, first started fighting with every ounce of strength for a little piece of justice. It’s funny to watch yourself speak. I am so glad, though, that there is some living record of such a long struggle, so glad to see everyone I love, everyone I worked with. Even John Krusynski, he makes me laugh because he is just so ridiculous at times, he’s a psychic you know, and Nasa has been picking up his thoughts by satellite for years. He actually said in his interview that we were a bit annoying at times, that somehow didn’t make it into the finished film. I’m going to miss him. Nor did my stunning analysis of the role of property rights over human rights but that’s alright. Elvis is also missing, he sold out early on and bought some beautiful new clothes we heard…His room was like a tunnel between stacks of papers and sheet music and plastered with music posters of Elvis and the Doors and even a picture of the real Elvis’ mother. he came to all of our meetings with his guitar. Mr Brown is there at the protest, a crochety old veteran who was lost as well when he lost his room, his own place, his home. It was a horrible day the day we had to move him out, I cried. And Sebastian is there at our meeting, an old Italian fisherman, he will never know how much I loved him and I think he left believing we had sold everyone out by taking a deal and that hurts like nothing else. We would have fought all the way if the other tenants had wanted us to, I wanted to fight…but with their kids getting assaulted in the hallways and 90 boarded up rooms and drug deals in the bathrooms…they couldn’t fight anymore. And who were we to demand it when legally we were finished?

The documentary is almost done, nice to see Mark as he was, without his home shithole as it was, he’s lost. He’s been on the streets since then, in and out of the hospital, looking worse every time I see him, how hard is it to understand that a home means more than money and cannot be replaced? There was another tenant with severe mental problems who lived there, we tried and tried to talk to him, other tenants tried to help him, but he would never accept it. he was the last to leave and I don’t think he got any money…He’s homeless now and lives on 30th street near the freeway, only blocks from our office…I wonder if he knows it. I pass him on my bike coming to work in the morning and it makes my soul hurt.

I wonder if the Morrison has given me more hope or less…I know I didn’t have much left inside to give after it, still don’t, definitely need to rest, to recharge…the ending of the Morrison with everyone moving out, a small win more bitter than sweet…and the shooting of Maria’s son, those two unconnected things together have killed a piece of me I think, I wonder if it can come back.

I’m packing this evening, getting rid of more stuff, I suppose it’s a good time to think on all that has been. I am sad, and nothing seems real this evening, even all that I have done, the documentary proves it happened, the tiredness in my bones does as well, and I suppose the hole inside me that appears whenever I cry. My ipod is magically matching my mood on shuffle…shutting the cover on years of your life requires a good soundtrack, did I say I was fucking sad as all hell?

moving desks

Today was my last day up at the front of SAJE, because Gerry’s back tomorrow! He’s the office manager and gets his seat back after more than a month away and I get mine, and I’m happy. Happy to see him, and happy to return to him his view and one or two of his responsabilities. I was staring out our front door, been doing that a lot lately, and thought perhaps I’d let you all know what can be seen from Gerry’s desk, a slice of south central life as it were. We do work in a fucked up place, however, so a note of caution, most of South C is very nice contrary to popular opinion and I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes. So here we go, grab hold of your seats and feel free to avert your eyes if it gets too scary…

1. Methadone addicts, very thin black folks with canes or in wheelchairs, one scrawny white guy who looked like he was in a metal band in the 80’s, a couple of old veteranos who drove up in montecarlos and cadillacs…we have a lovely for-profit methadone clinic across 32nd st and on the corner, it is the legal drug dealer of the neighborhood and since methadone is really only good when taken with other things, it attracts the other kind. One business concern is run by rich white men from San Diego who are respected and looked up to, and the other by poor folks of colour who are thrown into prison. I hate all of them, but the difference in treatment hardly seems fair.

2. So number two is drug dealers, since we moved in and started complaining they started operating much earlier so as to be gone before we opened, but lately have started becoming bolder and hanging around til after ten. I try not to stare out the door in the mornings, as i earnestly believe in the healthiness of witnessing as few drug deals as possible in life. That goes for people shooting up as well, that makes me sick to my stomach and my soul hurt.

3. Uncool turf related graffitti that hasn’t been painted over by the sweatshop opposite…a big MS for Mara Salvatrucha went up over a week ago, they’re the big Salvadoran gang. Two nights ago their tag got lined out, can’t tell by who. There has been mad tagging lately up and down the streets, tagged and crossed out and tagged again which means turf war heating up. I don’t like to think about that, and feel a bit unprotected on my bike…

4. Nice families with small children who live in the apartments next door to us.

5. The owner of the sweatshop opposite, Mr. Slut Magnet…that’s the name of his clothing line I think and he drives a big black hummer with magnets of naked lady sillhouettes that actually say slut magnet – I could almost give him a thumbs up for pure fucking cheek. I wonder if they work? Or if the hummer works? Makes me personally want to grab my baseball bat and do some damage, but then I’m not the type of girl he’s bent on attracting. He wears all black, grabs his crotch a lot, I think perhaps he’s Armenian? East European? He hangs out in front and directs the people actually doing work. I rather fancy driving one of his forklifts, though, those look like fun.

6. That hummer.

7. Large trucks and semis, lots of them, heavily rumbling back and forth all day long delivering things, taking things away…the steady beep beep beep of their warning bells as they back up is the constant backdrop to my day.

I think that’s about it, except for the cool folks coming to visit us of course, always a pleasure to see them. When I was little watching the sun set behind the desert mountains and one with the world I decided I would live life as deeply as possible and that somehow required facing all that was evil and taking it on…i don’t suppose in my innocence I quite realized what that meant and how hard it would be to keep my sense of balance and what is right and beautiful. So for balance here is the list of some things I would rather see…off the top of my head mind you, i should maybe work on a better list.

1. green things like trees and grass and maybe even flowers
2. penguins
3. A nice comfy bar where everyone knows my name, and they’re always glad I came, and they’re all a bit revolutionary
4. a mountain made for climbing
5. The Acropolis
6. Mariachis
7. Something mythical and extraordinary, like a dragon
8. Chanoch’s glacier. Chanoch is a large jewish mystic who keeps our books and refuses a fan on the hottest summer days because of the glacier he says he knows is right outside the door…
9. Fireflies.
10. a busy city street with a wide range of people wandering by in droves, of all races religions and individual styles, and not a damn one of them hungry, homeless, drunk, high, armed, or hurrying back to their 12 hour a day, 12 cents a sleeve sweatshop job.