Helping the needy 365 days a year


Published: Monday, December 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 30, 2003 at 10:51 p.m.

As we approach the holidays, we are presented with many opportunities to help our less fortunate fellow citizens.

Different religious and secular organizations provide outlets for helping the needy with items such as food for holiday meals, presents for children, or simply needed supplies such as winter clothing and medicine. The Gainesville Sun itself continues its venerable tradition of profiling needy families in order to solicit help.

While we should laud such initiatives and attempt to participate in them, we also need to ask ourselves why the poor should be remembered only for one month every year.

Should we bring the needy and marginalized to our consciousness only once a year, participate in a little food or money donation, and then forget the fact that many honest, hardworking people are systematically denied health care or cannot afford to own a car that would take them to work?

Is it moral for a Republican to bask in the glory of having provided a family a needed turkey for Christmas dinner while supporting policies that seek to cut Head Start?

At the risk of being mistaken for a personification of Scrooge, I want to insist that a society that doesn't see basic health care, housing and food as human rights for its citizens, and proffers different forms of benevolence instead (such as Bush Sr.'s thousand points of light), is not democratic, but rather, feudalistic.

Let us consider some sobering statistics.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate (calculated at $18, 392 for a family of four) rose to 12.1 percent in 2002, up from 11.7 percent in 2001. In 2002, a total of 34.6 million people in our country lived below the poverty level. At the same time, at about 2 million, we now have the dubious distinction of having a half a million more incarcerated people in our country than in China, with its population of over a billion (and as many private companies are realizing, prisons are profitable business with cheap labor). For many of the incarcerated, the basic crime is that of poverty.

So as we approach the holidays and think of helping the needy, let us also think about holding our legislators responsible for ensuring minimum human rights for our fellow citizens. As we think of our troops overseas, let us demand that the Bush administration stop cutting health benefits to disabled veterans.

As we vote next year, let us support those that will attempt to bring basic, free health care to all our people. Let us oppose the reverse Robin Hood Republican policy of giving tax benefits to the rich.

Let us focus our energies on trying to bring about hope for the year and years to come for everyone.

Malini Johar Schueller is a professor in the department of English at the University of Florida.

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