Poor people are not the enemy

I saw this meme on Facebook today, and it made me literally sick to my stomach. I’ve got a few things to get off my chest, so let’s start with this:

STOP SUGGESTING THAT PEOPLE WHO GET GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE DON’T HAVE A RIGHT TO PROTEST.

I’ve already said my piece about #TakeAKnee so I’ll ignore that the first part of this meme is grossly incorrect and misrepresents what’s actually happening. Even if people were protesting the flag, that has nothing to do with receiving government assistance. I love using examples to prove a point, so I’ll even use myself as an example here.

I grew up on government assistance. I grew up on food stamps, Medicaid, and free lunch. Pell grants helped put me through college and a work-study job put food on my table through my junior year. Without those programs, I most definitely would not be where I am today – fully employed, engaged, and about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Does this mean that I don’t have a right to protest injustice, inequality, and major problems with our criminal justice system? Do I not still have a constitutional right to speak my mind on issues that are important to me? Which poor people are worthy of free speech and which need to just stay quiet?

Just so I’m not misunderstood, poverty is what led me into politics in the first place. Were it not for my upbringing, I may never have pursued journalism as a career path. I may never have found such passion in fighting for the issues that I care deeply about. So to suggest that poor people somehow don’t deserve to speak their minds is not only ignorant, it is personally insulting to me because that was me. I was that poor person. I was on food stamps. I got Medicaid. I was that kid who couldn’t get a second carton of milk because I didn’t have the extra money. And now, my voice is the most important thing I have to offer this world. So this meme makes me sick, and it should make you sick too.

As I’ve said on multiple occasions, the two most dangerous words in our political discourse are “mutually exclusive.” We’ve become so numb to politics that everything is “this or that,” and we aren’t able to reconcile competing images that can be simultaneously true. I can be the product of government assistance and still speak up when I see the government doing something wrong. By the same token, you can be a police officer and still want reform of the criminal justice system.

Criticizing institutions for unfair treatment is what this country was built upon (see Boston Tea Party), so don’t give me this weak nonsense about poor people keeping their mouths shut on important issues that affect them every day. This is a classic case of demonizing poverty and putting down anyone who gets government assistance. Americans who receive government assistance are not less than, and their opinions matter just as much regardless of socioeconomic status. The sooner we start waging wars on poverty instead of poor people, the sooner we can actually accomplish something in this country. 

 
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