Poverty is a Business Decision
Originally published March 20, 2018 on Medium
More than 1.5 million people tuned in to Bernie Sanders’ Economic Inequality live town hall last night. As with his January town hall on healthcare, Sanders didn’t need the establishment media to broadcast his message. This time Sanders focused his event on an issue every day Americans know and experience in their communities, at their workplaces, and with their families.
Joined by Senator Elizabeth Warren, filmmaker Michael Moore, and Professor of Economics and Urban Policy Darrick Hamilton, Bernie led an honest conversation — the kind you’ll seldom hear on corporate media outlets — about how and why the gulf between the nation’s wealthiest and the nation’s most impoverished continues to widen.
One of the most important takeaways from last night’s town hall was that the discussion always wound its way around to a single, glaring issue: money in politics. What does our current political and economic structure say about our nation’s priorities? How great is an America where the three wealthiest people in our country (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos) own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent?
Catherine Flowers, Founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, concluded: “If we look at these campaign finance statements and see whose funding these campaigns… [people] will understand why these politicians in a lot of cases are taking a blind eye to these kinds of issues.”
A Federal Reserve Study in 2016 found that nearly half (46 percent) of Americans would have to borrow or sell something in order to afford a $400 emergency. In the wealthiest country in the world, 44 percent of our homeless population is employed. There is not a single state in our union where a person working 40 hours a week and earning minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment. Thirteen million of our children live in poverty. This discussion and these kinds of statistics were discussed for nearly two hours.
How did we get here?
We didn’t arrive at this sad point in our history because of Republicans. We didn’t find our way her under the direction of Democrats. We are here because of decades of policy and politics increasingly influenced by corporate money. Greed. Power. And so both parties have lost their way.
Keeping American citizens in poverty is a business decision. Corporate CEOs can line their own pockets, taking home millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses if they keep their employee wages low. Predatory lenders can charge unconscionable amounts of interest to people who, for a variety of reasons, may need a loan in between paychecks. Politicians can keep their corporate donors coming back year after year by enacting legislation that loosens public protections and tightens the grip employers have on their workers.
Right now, the top 10 wealthiest senators in the U.S. have a combined wealth of $1.7 billion. Seven of them are Democrats. None of them felt the pain of the 2008 recession like those Americans who were conned into bad mortgage loans and lost everything — their homes, their jobs, their dignity. How many of our senators’ children or grandchildren drank lead-contaminated water because bureaucrats thought they could save a few bucks re-routing a water source instead of fixing the underlying problem of a decaying infrastructure? How many of our representatives really know what it means when we say we are living paycheck to paycheck?
Our economic system is set up to reward the wealthy and the privileged while blaming the victims. Plain and simple, this is abuse. And while income inequality is a serious problem across all races, minorities continue to be disproportionately affected. Systemic racism plagues our poor and minority communities in a number of ways, including employment discrimination, limited educational opportunities, inadequate access to public services, housing discrimination and undemocratic voting rights laws. We cannot address income inequality without also addressing the pervasive racial discrimination still very much alive in our culture and in our legislation.
What are the solutions?
We must hold our politicians accountable. When they vote for wars that send our children to fight for corporate profit, when they refuse to enact sensible gun reform, when they decide to decrease public protections on big banks, when they sit on their hands while our unions are dismantled, when they deny us our right to the healthcare we need… they’re voting against us. While they insulate themselves with their rich friends, everyday Americans are left flailing.
The good news is that we can do something about this. We have a choice. We don’t have to have to settle for this economic disparity that divides us. We don’t have to settle for the racism and sexism that has been handed down to us. We can reject all of it. We can, instead, stand together and empower one another.
Professor Darrik Hamilton said it well last night when he noted that the key to solving the running list of issues stemming from inequality is to empower people. Michael Moore insisted we can do this by inspiring people to vote: “They’re not going to vote unless we give them a reason to vote, and unless we put up candidates who they’re going to want to vote for. Not the same ol’ same ol’.”
This is why I’m challenging Dianne Feinstein for U.S. Senate. This is why I’m not taking any corporate money, and no dark money. We deserve to have true representation in D.C. We deserve to have a reason to vote. Together we can stand up and fight for what we know is right. I hope you’ll join me on June 5th. This is just the beginning.