Feb 082012

Misadventures in the city

By Beth Connors-Manke

I’m wary of manifestos, but nonetheless I’m now offering mine. When NoC closed up shop for our annual holiday break, I was feeling cynical. On national news, I was listening to yahoos rail against American families receiving governmental assistance because of lost or downgraded jobs. Newt Gingrich was bombastically recommending that Occupiers give up their lazy ways and “go get a job right after they take a bath.” Even here in Lexington, the response to the New Life Day Center on Martin Luther King showed the degree to which some are willfully ignorant of the struggles—shared by many—brought on by this recession.

For weeks, I chewed on the idea that Americans seem to hate the poor. In discussions, friends and I floated theories about why that might be the case. The best reason I could furnish was that a fair number of Americans believe that their fate could never be that of the Castor family on government aid, or of Jacob who needs a day center to shield him, at least temporarily, from the challenges of living on the street.

However, from experience, I know that I’m not far from needing a governmental safety net, not far from losing everything—even with a good education and a strong work ethic. All it takes is one serious illness, a spouse who can’t find a job, and a mountain of medical debt.

Believing that many Americans hate the poor didn’t leave me with much recourse. I could sputter and spit like other ideologues ramming their rigid view down people’s throats, or I could assert a different way of being in the world, a different set of values.

So here it is: What I want for me and mine, I want for you and yours.

That’s my principle. One line that I hope will help me combat, or at least help me keep my sanity, during the toxic political discourse saturating our lives this election season.

Manifesto Platform 1: Education. I received a strong education, and I want that for all children, especially for the kids in my neighborhood. That means supporting the public school system in general and the schools in my area in particular. For me, that includes investing in William Wells Brown Elementary and Arlington Elementary, the two schools closest to me.

Manifesto Platform 2: Housing. A home is a basic need, without which one cannot easily raise a family, hold a job, stay healthy, or build a future. There are many ways to ensure that affordable and decent housing are available to everyone. I advocate for the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) in Lexington.

Manifesto Platform 3: Freedom from coerced labor. Human trafficking has recently garnered more attention, including in Kentucky. If the term is new to you, here is how it is defined by Kentucky law (as reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader): “human trafficking is a criminal activity whereby a person is subjected to forced labor or commercial sexual activity through the use of force, fraud or coercion. In the case of juveniles, the commercial sexual activity does not need to involve force, fraud or coercion.”

According to state Rep. Sannie Overly, who introduced the Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act (House Bill 350), “Victims can be adult men and women, but unfortunately the incidence of trafficking children has risen at an alarming pace in Kentucky, and we need to stem the tide before we lose this battle.” KY Rescue and Restore and Not For Sale are two organizations that fight this modern form of slavery; other smaller groups and ministries also exist in central Kentucky.

Note that none of my platforms include the desire to buy more shoes than I can ever wear, build a ginormous house, monopolize natural resources, or control a SuperPAC. If I want those things for myself, by definition, I can’t want them for others because they are premised on a skewed distribution of resources and power. All this is to say that, when political candidates tell you to think only of your needs (whether they be in terms of health care law, tax policy, financial regulation, or immigration reform), they are telling you to destroy your own community. Without good schools in my area, there will be more crime by youths. Without safe and decent housing in Lexington, more families will fall apart, more individuals will lose their already tenuous hold on their job. Without a vigilant fight against human trafficking, we’ll be living in a slave state again—only this time it will live in the shadows.

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