Watch the video below:
That interview was while Robert Kennedy was a Senator from the state of New York, which was from 1965-1968. How many of you believe what he said back then has changed? How have things gotten better?
Now, the unfortunate question: how many of you believe what he said still resonates in society today? How much has not changed?
Why does poverty exist? The simple answer is: because we let it exist. In America, we’ve grown up in segregated neighborhoods and school districts, most without even knowing. We just assumed that “those people” who lived in “those neighborhoods” simply lived in poverty because that was a “bad area.” So, instead of trying to fix the issue of those growing up in poverty and never escaping its clutches, we simply ignore those people and blame their problem on them.
Now, we can remain this way, we can stay a separate society: those who have, those who have some, and those who have none, or we can heed Robert Kennedy’s words and fight for a society where these sorts of indecencies are considered not just un-American but inhumane.
“If we believe that we as Americans are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of the other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens.”
We need to push society to come together if we truly want to live in a world where all of us belong and no one feels ignored. We need to work together to destroy this awful stigma surrounding poverty.
Poverty is not a stigma.
It is not shameful to be poor or to be born into poverty. The reasons someone may live in poverty are vast, but a large problem persists within the idea of what poverty is: a weakness and something you will never get out of. Seeing something as a weakness makes you want to hide it, pretend it isn’t there, or blame it on something else.
That is exactly what happened in the 2016 Presidential Election with many of those who are considered middle to lower class voting against their own interests in electing a man who is a self-proclaimed billionaire. Most of the time I despise social media for its ability to transport fake news, but this series of tweets perfectly illustrates this issue. What we must do, instead of allowing these folks to remain in poverty, is ensure our government is working for them. That means, getting off our butts and going out to understand who our elected officials are and who they work for.
- Do they work for those who are already well off and help them stay well off?
- Do they fight to ensure those areas of the country suffering are receiving the help they need to raise those living in poverty out of it?
Robert Kennedy knew nothing but government his entire life, and throughout his public life he began to see something that has now become an all too unfortunate common problem today:
The fact is, that men have lost confidence in themselves, in each other, it is confidence which has sustained us so much in the past – rather than answer the cries of deprivation and despair – cries which the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders tells us could split our nation finally asunder – rather than answer these desperate cries, hundreds of communities and millions of citizens are looking for their answers, to force and repression and private gun stocks – so that we confront our fellow citizen across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust and again, I don’t believe that we have to accept that. I don’t believe that it’s necessary in the United States of America. I think that we can work together – I don’t think that we have to shoot at each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country.
We used to wage war on poverty and while it was not a complete success, it made a drastic dent in the poverty level in this country. We understand that everyone deserves a hand up when troubled times come because all of us matter and deserve it. Instead, what we’ve come to see in this country is one where we dive inwards rather than outwards when it comes to issues surrounding our country. We do not say, “What can we do to make this country better for all?” Instead, we say, “What can we do to make this country better for me?”
We become entrenched with fear, cling to our guns, and blame those who we consider different than us for our problems. We ignore those in poverty because they deserve it. We blame immigrants for taking our jobs because we’ve been laid off and thousands of jobs move overseas so corporations can save money with cheap labor rather than provide stable employment. We blame schools for not educating their children well enough, yet don’t want to pay higher taxes to provide the schools with the funding they need to succeed.
We cannot continue to blame others. We have to begin blaming ourselves for the issues which have befallen our country. We are the source of blame, no one else. And only we can fix it. Together, we can push back against these fears, as Robert Kennedy began, and ensure that all those living in this country, regardless of color, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation all have a way to live a decent life in this country.
Robert Kennedy’s vision stated in South Africa in 1966 still rings as true today as it did then:
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