When She Was A Filthy Turn of Phrase-“On the Dole”

[This  is offered with her nod.]


     Now that it’s again apparently fair-game for the far-Right and its dark-souled, sock-puppets to praise child labor, smear welfare, social security, Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps, and sneer as they spit the words as filthy phrases, I’ll raise up Tamar.

     When we met in the early recessionary Reagan ’80s, Tamar received food stamps. She had graduated from Tyler School of Art/Temple University in Philadelphia with a specialty in fiber arts. She’s a remarkable batik artist and yet you may be surprised to learn that there was, at that time, no glut of Corporate Batik positions, either in Philadelphia, where we met, or in her native New York.

     At that time she was not yet an award-winning social worker.

     She found, at first, only part-time work, as Assistant Activities Director at the Philadelphia-Germantown YMCA, an age-old, respected community institution in a richly diverse Philadelphia neighborhood. In her years there she more than tripled activities group membership, began and oversaw dozens of classes, including a variety of low-cost and terrific art offerings.

     Eventually, while she continued on with her art and mounted shows and sold to an increasing number of private collectors, she began to find full-time posts in social work. She is the very best I’ve known and she’s won, here in Maryland, state-wide, formal recognition for her dedication and excellence.

     I’m put in mind of Tamar’s use of post-college graduation food stamps not only because of the Right’s racially-tinged rhetoric about those whom Jeremiah, Jesus, and Isaiah demanded we care for let alone not demonize, but because mega-marts such as Costco are now many years into accepting food stamps at all of their superstores. Here’s the reason: The Wall Street Journal reports that nearly half…half our nation’s children will receive food stamps at some point during childhood, this according to a study in The American Journal of Pediatrics. Costco and its competition know it’s good business.

      Now, lest you think this is largely about welfare, know that–

          . fewer than 12% (let alone half) of our children are in welfare-receiving families or in families that ever received welfare or in families that will likely ever receive welfare.

And yet,

          . 50% of American children will, at some point, receive food stamps.

     This means that–

          . there are numbers of food stamp-qualifiers that reach well beyond welfare-eligibility, and

          . as to geography, race, and ethnicity, among food stamp recipients there just is no real gulf between urban/rural, black/brown/white.


     We may, one day, have the guts to fight poverty consistently, agitate and work, work, and work harder, then win.

     Among the ideas that, first, simply must die for children to win is

          . the false and small-minded and largely racist assumption that there’s anything close to a one-to-one ratio between food stamps and welfare recipients.

     A second and quite insane idea that must die is the one that suggests that, contrary to the Right’s charges,

          . poverty is impenetrable and intractable because recipients are content, if not wildly in love with their lot.

     And a third idea that we must accept in order to succeed in anti-poverty work is that

          . it’s possible, despite demagogues, recession, despite class and race bigotry, to make a difference, to act, to matter.

     While you’re considering that, look up the racial, ethnic, and geographic welfare and food stamp distributions rates over the past forty years. You may find the unexpected, perhaps not for you, but for someone you know. Among the facts you’ll find is this:

          . fully sixty-percent of current food stamp recipients are white.

     If there is one truth about us it’s that nothing gets done when we wait for the ‘right conditions’.  There is no such thing as life getting better when we say we must wait to Do Good until we Feel Better. The truth is that we Feel Better When We Do Good.

     The truth is, too, that the ambivalence and outsized self-righteous anger among some progressives in the face of the current candidate crop is little more than a myopic invitation to continued, rancid power to those who have already harm our children with glib indifference.

     And the children of poverty? They’re our children, all of them. Some of them may grow up to be, as Tamar is, a world-class professional who daily gives back to the culture that helped her briefly so long ago.

     She and I ask that you reject cynics’ lies about those who have at one time needed a hand-up.

     Vote, sure. But do not wait. Add to what we can do, together through our government and through non-profits, community and religious organizations: support local efforts to help the poor, to aid those as yet working and still not making it: help their children. Stop cold those whose greed has overreached, whose greed would destroy the New Deal and its legacies and return us to a pre-FDR, wholly corporate-driven, if not increasingly fascistic world in which we’re back-patted for our very worst, rabidly solipsistic, anti-communitarian instincts.

     Tamar and I believe that you will.