Back in the Thirties, the devastation generated by the Depression and the Dust Bowl sent tens of thousands of people wandering across the country in search of food, shelter and jobs. Are we headed to a similar catastrophe?
If ten people donated their month's latte or snack budget to an energy assistance agency, we could keep somebody's lights on, put some fuel in their oil tank, and, perhaps, save a few people from freezing to death.
Isn't saving a few lives worth more than gulping down a few cups of over-priced java?
What a difference a year makes. Last year, when I wrote about elderly Native Americans freezing to death on reservations because they couldn't afford heating oil, the bottom hadn't fallen out of the economy and there were still a few people in a position to donate to a good cause and help others. click here
People were still getting by. Unfortunately, the economy has worsened. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by 2.8 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 1.7 per-centage points. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Today, hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted due to foreclosure, with no end in sight. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line, and in a worse case scenario, these people will join the millions, who have lost jobs and stand to lose their homes, including the owners of traditional mortgages.
Let's get real, here. This is about more than predatory loans, or "people living above their means and buying more house than they could afford." This is about folk who have lost their jobs, and who now don't have the income to feed their families OR pay the mortgage. This is about people who, have been middle class for generations and who now are in danger of joining the tens of thousands of Americans who are reportedly camping out in their cars, vans, and trucks.
This is about the dozens of tent cities that have cropped up in several states to house the recently homeless, former homeowners. This is about the devolution of the American Dream, the return to the hand to mouth existence of the Dustbowl Thirties. This is about the devastation of the Heartland of the nation.
Today, as the recession digs its heels in, thousands of families across the nation are wondering how they are going to afford to buy food, pay the house payment/rent, and heat their homes for the winter. Even as gasoline prices drop, the backlash of fear is undercutting civility around the nation, fueling an upsurge in nativism, anti-immigrant, race/class/bigotry.
As the American middle class sinks slowly below the threshold of middle classness, as fear, anxiety and uncertainty generate more of the same, think about those who never reached middle class, never reached suburban utopia-1.2 kids, a 2 car garage and a two person income. Think about those living in the nation's poorest areas, the American barrios, ghettos and reservations.
Last year, after receiving a press release from a friend who works with a not for profit organization in one of the nation's most impoverished areas, I put pen to paper (OK, I hit the keyboard and typed myself nuts) and tried to paint a picture of the bone chilling poverty on the Rose Bud Reservation in the Dakotas.
Last year, things were bad. Elders were freezing due to lack of fuel to heat their homes. The rate of poverty, domestic violence, infant mortality and illiteracy was comparable, or worse than that of a third world nation.
At least, last year, the economy was strong enough for donors to feel comfortable giving to various heating ministries and utility assistance plans on the Rez. This year, the need is greater than before.
The Dakotas are blizzard country. Wide open plains, big sky country, birth mother to howling winds, skin scouring blizzards, death hand smiting the helpless from the very sky.
In the early part of this month, a blizzard hit the area, knocking out power, sending hundreds to shelters. As one newspaper wrote:
Spending five days without electricity or running water has been an ordeal for people in Wanblee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. (Rapid City Journal, 11-10-08)