This is an invitation for all of you Washington D.C.
officials who are serving as representatives of "the people" in the revered
halls of our National Capital. It appears from the Congressional schedule that
you intend to have ample time to spend "at home" in your respective states and
districts, and so we invite you to engage in a strange adventure which may be a
new and exciting experience for most of you.
We would ask you to have your well-paid office staffs do
some research to prepare yourself for one of your vacations, er, fact-finding
missions "at home." Tell them to research the poorest neighborhoods in your
district and design a "walking tour map" that can be accomplished in a specific
number of days. Then you will want to assign whatever number makes you
comfortable to accompany you on this real-life adventure. Instruct them that you
want to go to the places that you normally drive by without looking, you know --
the areas in which you would not be comfortable walking alone at
We ask that you schedule several days during your next
visit "home" to spend your time, not at the local watering-hole where you
usually go to shake the hands and slap the backs of your supporters who are
officials in the political party of your designations, but following the path of
the map, walking through those designated "troubled areas," knocking on doors,
and introducing yourself to whatever householders may answer the
Then you will ask their permission to enter their homes
and talk to them about what is really important to them and what they would ask
you, as their representative, to accomplish for them from your Washington
office. First, you may possibly gain some new supporters since people are more
likely to vote for a person whom they have met and liked and whom, they believe,
is familiar with their lives and needs. For most, seeing your picture and
reading your political propaganda is simply not enough to propel them out the
door and to the polling place on election day.
You must, however, be cautioned to hang on tight to your
preconceptions about the people you will meet. They are not the whining beggars
that are verbally portrayed in the political oratory nor do they ask for the
moon. You will find that they are the basis of the courage and perseverance that
made our nation possible; the same kind of people who trekked over mountains and
across raging rivers as they traversed from coast to coast and made this country
the beacon for the world. They are accustomed to hard times and ask only for an
opportunity to better their lives. Most would ask only for a little bit more
help, but none will request a life of leisure.
Ask them about their budgets, the source of their income
and the way it is spent. They will tell you. You see, they have been
periodically exposing all this information to those who become quite intimate in
their questioning in order to find a hidden reason for denying whatever public
benefit the applicant desires and deserves. These conversations are held in
public rooms in earshot of any who care to listen to the juicy details of their
home lives and their expenditures. Poverty is humbling and pride will only
hamper their efforts at existence.
Your reward for undergoing this project will be the
education that you will take away with you. When you are debating the domestic
issues of the floor, you will have a real concept of their impact on the people
with whose quality of life you have been charged.
When you must vote on increases or decreases in Social
Security or welfare, you will know the impact of your decision on the life of
someone you know.
When you know the people in your district, you will
think of the elders whom you have met who could not survive without food stamps
or welfare to supplement their monthly stipend. You will think of the "sickly"
child who will not receive medical care for its many ailments, or the
mentally-challenged young man who has, at last, learned to do his own shopping
but needs new shoes which he has not been able to obtain from his SSI
In discussing the adjustments to the Social Security
system, you will have spoken to a few widowed ladies who are actually living on
an income of $1,000 a month. That amount may be a surprise to you since the
records show that they receive, perhaps, two or three hundred dollars more. Then
you will learn that, for two years, they have received no Cost Of Living
Allowance because "their cost of living has not gone up."
However, although their basic allowance has remained the
same, the Medicare supplemental deductions have risen, leaving them with still
less for their living expenses. You will hear that the utilities that are
necessary to keep their modest homes comfortable are still spiraling,
particularly since the last two winters have been extraordinarily cold. You will
learn how very little there is left for food and clothing after housing expenses
and health costs are covered. You will then know that the most feared words in
their lexicon are "deductibles" and "co-payments." To them, they are signals
forecasting even more deprivation than they already suffer.
You will speak to single mothers, and even single
fathers, who are doing their best to keep their children fed and to rear them to
be responsible adults when the only sitters they can afford are the teenagers
who are already roaming the streets and using the smaller children as pawns in
their "games." You will hear about the difficulty of maintaining a job with an
old broken-down car and/or the lack of readily-available public transportation.
Again, the problem of medically-necessary health care will rear its ugly
You may have begun your door-to-door adventure with
great misgivings and, perhaps, occasionally with an uncomfortable feeling in
your nose. But if you are a real human being, that will disappear shortly after
you have begun your first interview. You will find that these people are real!
You will see that the basic instinct that is common to all of them is that which
motivates all but the most heartless and acquisitive among us -- the desire to
continue -- to make their lives count for something. For many, it is the wish to
make the world a better place by the investment of their lives in their children
and the quality of adults that those children may become.
You see, you have been sent to your current exalted
position to represent ALL the people in your district, not just your
fund-raisers and your party regulars who are so proud to shake your hand or to
gain your ear. You also must represent the people whom you avoid in your natural
habitat. They have problems, now more than ever, and they need the kind of help
that only you and your colleagues can provide for them. Perhaps, you may want to
read that part of Leviticus that instructs a man not to harvest his own crops
completely but to leave some for the gleaners as sustenance for the
We prefer to think that you are guilty not of neglect
but of ignorance. It is easy to forget that there is a real life on the other
side of the boundary between the haves and the have-nots. The truly privileged
may be forgiven for their ignorance but not a person who presumes to speak for
all the people. Your ignorance is willful and a symbol of your uncaring. It is
easy to forget your history when breathing the heady air from the Potomac, but
there is a real world out here. And that real world is your
Therefore, you are issued this invitation. We invite
you. And, if you find yourself reluctant to comply, we dare you to
This writer is eighty years old and has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own workung-class family. She spends her "Sunset Years" in writing and struggling with The (more...