Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Mr. President-Elect: Love the poor

What issue should Barack Obama make a top priority? In a essay series leading up the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, local figures and readers weigh in. In the first essay, Tiziana C. Dearing, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, expresses hope that Obama will work to ease the scourge of poverty.

By Tiziana C. Dearing December 29, 2008

Dear Mr. President-Elect:

Congratulations on your election to our nation's highest office. You take the reins at an unprecedented time. We face tremendous challenges. That gives you tremendous opportunity. Please, use that opportunity to love the poor and abhor poverty.

Please, love the poor by talking about poverty. Yours was a campaign about the middle class. Truly, their needs are serious, but the poor have been in crisis for a long time. Poverty has plenty of precedent.

Love the poor by calling people to empathy. Encourage them to walk a mile in their poor neighbors' shoes, and then to give as they would want to be given to if they actually had no money, and had bills to pay, a family to house and clothe, and children to feed.

Love the poor by calling people to solidarity. You have an opportunity to help our nation redefine the social contract. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston has been overwhelmed these past few months by people giving $25 or $50 of their hard-earned money, and telling us, "We know we're all in this together." We are. Does the social contract reflect that wonderful spirit?

We underfund child care while poor mothers try to work. We fund prisons, but underfund rehabilitating drug abusers who commit crimes to support their habits. We reduce public assistance for people who try to save money, and make college education for the truly poor a pipe dream. We could change that, and create hope for the 36.5 million poor Americans.

Mr. President-Elect, while you love the poor, I encourage you to abhor poverty openly. Twice as many people suffered in poverty this last decade than in the two before it. That is a national tragedy. Massachusetts went through an "economic recovery" in the mid-2000s, but the number of people in poverty actually grew.

Our country has seen a systematic disinvestment in the infrastructure that supports the poor, and a privatization of much of what is left. Organizations like ours are doing our part to maintain the social safety net. We will continue to do so. But this trend will bottom our communities out, and leave the poor isolated in a way that no democracy should tolerate.

Mr. President-Elect, you will lead in uncharted times. I ask you, please, to try to chart a path to prosperity for all Americans. Let us no longer leave our poor behind.

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