Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why I'm bitter (and appreciate him noticing).

I am dismayed by the response to recent statements made by Barack Obama. Barack said some people in America are bitter. In my experience, he's right. Among other issues, many of us have watched communities flounder and children languish in poverty. These things don't seem right but we've felt powerless to change them. (photo credit)

The politicians who scare me are the ones who want to pretend everything is fine. Denying people's righteous anger is frivolous and dangerous. It offends me and leads me to believe that they are the ones out of touch.

I decided to write about a couple of issues that have made me bitter. In addition, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because we have a dynamic presidential candidate who is willing to acknowledge people's feelings of frustration and stand alongside them to come up with plans for a better world.

Rural America
I'm not from Pennsylvania but I grew up in rural America; Columbus, Kansas specifically. Long before my family arrived, the once-thriving coal mining community had dried up and died. When I lived there, starting in kindergarten, our town of 3500 was the county seat. We were the poorest county in Kansas. (photo credit)

Still, I remember a quaint town square surrounding the county court house where my dad would go for city council meetings. My family shopped at the local, family-owned grocery store (Charlie's IGA). My mom visited Charlie and his employees nearly every day. My dad was friends with the man who owned the bank. The daughter of the man who owned the hardware store taught me how to swim. I went to school with the children of the people who owned the local clothing store and florist shop.

My brother and I were invited into the kitchen where we could make our own pizza at Turner’s Dairy Bell. When we were sick, after doctor's appointments, my mom would take us to Evan’s Drug Store where we could have a root beer float at the soda fountain while our prescriptions were filled.

At some point; however, we also started driving to the shopping mall in Joplin, Missouri. It seems we went almost every weekend. Eventually, Pizza Hut, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and other national chains moved into my town and over time, most of the other businesses closed down. We weren't farmers but many from the community were and I know now that they were likely struggling.

When I was 17, my family moved to Newton, Iowa, a manufacturing town of 15,000 people whose livelihood centered on the fact that it was the home of the Maytag Corporation. As a high schooler, Maytag wasn't important to me. I appreciate that they gave me one of the full-ride scholarships they generously offered to kids from the community every year. When I was there, Maytag was known as a good place to work. Sam's grandfather worked there, as did three of his four brothers and some of their wives. Without college educations, they were able to support their families, buy homes and afford vacations to the lake with their boat or RV. (photo credit)

I don't know all of the specifics but I don't think Maytag operates there much anymore. They found cheaper labor and operating costs elsewhere. I can't imagine what has happened to all of the families left behind or all of the businesses that survived by providing goods and services to those families.

Once, I took a job representing farmers nation-wide. During my two years in that job, I spoke with individuals who were desperate, filled with panic (or bitterness) because they couldn't make a profit. They couldn't afford health insurance and didn't know how they were going to send their children to college. Many of them said that the work I was doing wasn't helping, that the big corporate farms, companies like Smithfield, had made staying in business impossible for them.

I hadn't known what to do about the things I'd witnessed. While driving along near-empty country roads, between one state association and the next, I wondered what would happen to the people in rural America. It seemed to be becoming more and more a barren wasteland.

In his book, Audacity of Hope, Barack talks about the struggle and plight of people from all walks of life. He has noticed. He is paying attention and better yet, he is offering solutions that could benefit us collectively.

Currently, I work as an advocate for children who are dependents of the court.

Many of the professionals who have dedicated their lives to working on behalf of these children are well-meaning and have the best intentions but they don't have the resources to adequately meet these children's needs. (photo credit)

The efforts of social workers, attorneys, commissioners, judges and teachers are spread too thin. Their case loads are too large. Funding for therapy for children who've experienced profound trauma, abuse and neglect has been cut. Other services such as transportation, visitation supervision and education aren't being adequately funded either. Group homes are closing. Meanwhile, we are spending over $340 million dollars per day on a war.

How can such a wealthy society allow children to languish in poverty?

I appreciate Barack Obama for paying attention and recognizing our pain (and bitterness). We are angry and he understands the reasons why. Denying the wrong that has been done and pretending everything is fine isn't going to fix anything.

We need a leader who is brave enough to see the problems, offer real solutions and give us hope. Barack Obama cares and is in touch with the American people. He will be an amazing president.

Yes We Can to justice and equality. Yes We Can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes We Can heal this nation. Yes We Can repair this world.

Nothing is standing in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change. We want change. I want change. There has never been anything false about hope. We will remember that there is something happening in America. We are one people. We are one nation.

Yes We Can.

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