Monday, September 10, 2007

Conversation Recap for September 9, 2007

Today we heard Dorothy’s story. The questions ranged over fascinating topics—the need to pass on stories to younger generations, the difficulties in tracking down the stories we did not hear, the important historical events

Diane Powers joined us today, to talk about hunger. Diane helped to organize the Hunger Walk last year, over 1,500 walkers, and they raised almost a quarter million dollars. This year’s Hunger Walk has a website for you to check, and that allows you to donate. See Diane is the Deputy Director of Associated Ministries. You can see the things they do at

The latest way to refer to ‘hunger’ in official circles as ‘food insecurity.” Among the difficulties presented to poorer families is the relative cheapness of poor nutrition. And hunger makes everything worse—harder to get to work and work, The US 12.4 million or so children in ‘food insecure’ households, by official count. 43% of families with children with one parent working have a need for food aid. And there are 140,000+ people in Pierce county who seek some kind of food help, and half are under nineteen. A big piece of this is the lack of affordable housing. Some families have to pay three-fourths or more of their income toward housing, leaving little for food.

Summer months are a difficult time to get food aid—people who commonly give to food banks during winter and holidays do so less often in Summer.
The first Sunday in October, the 7th, is this year’s Pierce County Hunger Walk. Half of the money you donate goes to the emergency food network in Pierce County, and half of your donation can be targeted—if you want to send it to Nativity House, for example, you can check that.

One difficulty with distribution is that not everyone knows the location of food banks. Some church basements have food at certain times of day, a food bank location has recently moved, and so on. There is a list of available food banks. Please check them online, at Perhaps it is a good idea to look up where the ones are around where each of us live.

One member mentioned that his visit to a food bank. He emphasized the importance of giving money, and not just your food up in the cupboards. Fresh produce and other perishables, and a balanced diet require choices among those putting together the cart full of things to take home. Making choices like this possible at a food bank are a big part of building a way to provide the aid with dignity.

One Member reminded the group that SoJust is scheduled for October 19, and the festival will include an opportunity to donate food and coats.

One member focused on the connection between affordable housing and hunger. The price of housing is going up up up, and the dynamics of the construction industry produce housing that can not be afforded by the average household income in the County (about $56,000 right now). Affordable housing is driving the dynamics of hunger for a large number of families in Pierce County. It is difficult to get a grip on the hunger if we don’t also act on the housing side of the equation.

The Pierce County Asset Building Coalition works to encourage families to build assets—helping folks understand how money works, how banking works, how to do taxes (lots of eligible people do not file for the Earned Income Credit, for example). Financial literacy is important here. There is a lot of money that has been unclaimed—for instance, the unclaimed EIC. By one count there was $6.5 million available to families in Pierce County that could come in.

Another member described the storefront loan operations that take large chunks of the money of poor families. Some are payday loan operations. Some are the places that will prepare your taxes and offer to loan the money, for fees and high interest, due them from the IRS. Some banks practice predatory operations, using the information they get on people who are working with the storefront operations.

People find themselves in these situations for complicated reasons. Someone late with the rent has to pay $50 the first day, $75 if it is two days late, and so on. And the fine has to be paid first if one brings the rent in two days late. So the storefront finance companies can look like the best option on a particular day here.

“The whole system is against being poor.” Nice statement from a member. One member expressed frustration at the ‘give a man a fish, you feed him today; teach him to fish, and ou feed him for all his days’ stories. There aren’t the fish out there. We have families who have tough times getting jobs, the economy is full of opportunities to go after the money that comes to poorer families. We have soldiers serving in the war whose families are on public assistance or even homeless.

This is a tough dialog in the USA. The underlying understanding of dessert insists that we examine individual virtue prior to making sense of obligation to our fellow citizens. So if someone has financial difficulty, the tendency in the public discussion is to look for examples of bad choices that, done differently, might have made for better outcomes. And, we hear the leap made from there that the need we see around us is less a demand on our own resources. This dynamic does not encourage constructive dialog. Remember the outlines of the place of the individual in capitalism were written in the 17th century, perhaps best laid out systematically by John Locke. Locke also understood that the “workman digging my turf” mattered little, could not voluntarily move from one parish to another, could not vote, and lacked political rights we now take together. The prevailing ideology was an explanation for why it is OK to not care about those people. But this is the 21st century. It is difficult to find a compelling explanation for why we should not care, today, about poor people.

Dexter introduced the topic of conspiracy theories and the creation of wealth. The creation of wealth has an attendant outcome, and that is the creation of poverty. Recall the story today, that giving out turkeys to homeless people does not make a lot of sense. Dexter suggested that giving out turkeys is about ‘the camera.’ Giving out turkeys on thanksgiving is a good news story about making us one great national family. And then if the story includes the tale of someone selling those donated turkeys, the public response is clear—the real problem is labeled as the pathologies in ‘those people’ and so we have less of an obligation to them. And, the businesses supporting the donations get a free pass on creating wealth, and suggest it is OK since they are not to blame for the underlying pathologies that allegedly afflict the poor. A big piece of this is what is legal. With the example of the ongoing discussions on reforming the air traffic control system. The airline and related companies want others to pay for it—the most recent accusation is that the owners of private jets and planes do not have to pay their share of the system, and that they should. In a big way, the fight is about how the rules determine our mutual obligations,

“If you are part of the system of the creation of wealth, I have learned to say, I have no problem with you.” But, with two other shoes to drop: His challenge to us, is that we ought not to operate on whether our behavior is legal, but we should instead ask if it is just. This group should be part of the discussion about what is just, and he also wants to challenge us when we retreat into our own private spaces, to ask ourselves how we will deal with this. At the Community Partners meeting, for example, we have food left over. How about letting some others in to eat what is left. He is told by the University that it has to be eaten by the group for whom they provide it. It gets right at risk; they have rules about liability.

The framework of laws enfranchises these questionable standards of justice. That which is legal is the bottom line. But we need to figure out these examples, and challenge them. The new bottom line must be, is it just.

On announcements:

Diane told us about the Broadway Coalition for the Performing Arts. On Thursday October 4, she is inviting people to the new Pantages Theater Lobby, 9th & Broadway. The event is from 6:30-8:30 pm, and it will be a chance to look at and give some feedback about the Arts and you, how it can connect to the community.

August 14th, Dr. Antoine Johnson was racially profiled in DuPont. He was driving, was pulled over, was never told why he was stopped. He is going to go to the Dupont City Council, this Tuesday, September the 11th at 7:00, and invites everyone to come to the meeting to support his call for justice. At the DuPont exit, turn West, 318 Barksdale Rd. One member of the Conversation observed she had been pulled over four times, and had never connected it with profiling. The tales of being stopped elicited a murmur through the crowd. They didn’t seem like things just everyone would be pulled over for.

A SoJust organizer passed out a flyer for the event. October Fall Festival, October 13, from 11-3. Right here at Evergreen. People can please do postering in their neighborhood. The event is free, and the group needs another almost $2,000 to put it on. So supporters are encouraged to donate $100. The need is now, so event parameters can be organized. So we need to get up to $2,000 by Monday the 17th.

This coming Tuesday the 12th, the group keeping track of School Board meetings will be meeting at 6. Please consider attending school board meetings.

On Sept. 11 “The Power of Nightmares” will be shown WA State Historical Museum, at 7.
Sept. 25, Steve and Christy will be playing at Rhapsody in Bloom on 6th Avenue, at 7pm.
Christy’s Salon Society is meeting the 14th of October, at the home near here. It will be a discussion of Kurt Vonnegut. A jazz group will perform, suggested donation will be $15. See Christy for details.

Wed. the 12th Evergreen is having an Open House, 4-7, geared at people who might be thinking about restarting, and finishing, their bachelor’s degree. Know someone? Encourage people to bring unofficial copies of transcripts and an income tax return, and they can get a one-stop package of information about what all it takes to get college done.

Christine encouraged Members to look up what is happening with the Education bill now making its way through Congress, and wrote their Senators to tell them what you want to see in an education bill.

Dexter announced the public event at the Thursday the 13th public event at the Race & Pedagogy Planning Summit. It will be at 7-9p.m., Schneebeck Auditorium (the music building). Tickets are free, but call 879-3100 to arrange for them. A good speaker is part of the program, and you will also see a short video with highlights from the Race & Pedagogy Conference from last year.