12 Days, 12 Ways to Fight Poverty in America

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BillMoyers.com is proud to collaborate with TalkPoverty.org as we focus on poverty coverage over the next two weeks. Every day, visit BillMoyers.com to discover a new action you can take to help turn the tide in the fight against poverty.

A few hundred marchers take part in a Martin Luther King Day march and rally to the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., Monday, Jan. 15, 2007. The march was part of a daylong educational summit organized by the Statewide Poverty Action Network. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

A few hundred marchers take part in a Martin Luther King Day march and rally to the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., Monday, Jan. 15, 2007. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

With a new Republican-led Congress, most people devoted to helping individuals and families living on the brink aren’t feeling terribly optimistic about the prospects for positive action at the federal level.  (With the exception, perhaps, of action on criminal justice reform.) In fact, we will almost certainly need to redouble our efforts simply to defend programs that are currently working.  Remember, poverty would be approximately twice as high — nearly 30 percent — without the safety net.

But as my friend and colleague at the Center for American Progress, Melissa Boteach, constantly says when she talks about poverty with activists — we can’t simply play defense, we’ve got to stay on offense.

Melissa is right, and frankly, with more than 1 in 3 Americans living below twice the poverty line — on less than about $37,000 annually for a family of three — it’s going to take a visible, disruptive and nonviolent movement if we are to create an economy that is truly defined by opportunity as well as a robust safety net that is there for us when we need it.  To some extent whether it’s Republicans or Democrats who are in the majority, our task remains the same: we must build that movement.

In the two weeks ahead, BillMoyers.com will feature a post every day by an anti-poverty leader. Every day, one of these contributors will offer an action you can take to advocate for people who are struggling and to help build the movement we so urgently need.

Beyond these two weeks, I hope you will keep reading BillMoyers.com, which has long demonstrated its commitment to poverty-related issues. Sign-up, too, for TalkPoverty.org weekly emails, and we will continue to bring you the voices and ideas of people who are struggling in poverty as well as posts by other anti-poverty leaders.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty. The only questions that remain are the same ones we have faced for so long: are we committed to dramatically reducing poverty? And, if so, what are we willing to do to advance our goal?

Over the next 12 days, we hope the ideas offered by our contributors will provide valuable openings for your activism. We’ll keep adding to the list each day below. You can bookmark this page to see all the big ideas. Please share this link and your thoughts below in the comments and via Twitter using #12Days.

The Media Must Tell the True Story of Struggle in America
By Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change in Action
“Last year, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly did a segment on poverty where he asserted that ‘poverty will not change until personal behavior does,’ explaining that anti-poverty work will never overcome ‘addictive behavior, laziness, [and] apathy.'” Read more »


Protect and Expand Workers’ Ability to Bargain
By Sarita Gupta, Jobs With Justice
“At Jobs With Justice, we believe that fighting poverty requires expanding and protecting the ability of workers to bargain with their employers to demand higher wages, better working conditions and better living standards.” Read more »


Make Public Higher Education in the United States Completely Free
By Maxwell John Love, United States Student Association
“Last week in Tennessee and last night in his State of the Union address, the president said the words ‘free’ and ‘college’ in the same sentence. The administration’s proposal is a big deal.” Read more »


We Need to Expand the Most Effective Anti-Poverty Program in America
By Alex Lawson, Social Security Works
“Social Security works — we pay into it during our working lives and it is there for us when we need it. Now is the time to expand it, not to reduce benefits as too many folks in Washington are now proposing.” Read more »


Low Wages Are a Moral Crisis in Our Time
By Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK
“A just wages allow workers and their families to live in dignity. The minimum wage in the United States today is not sufficient to do this. Low wages are a moral crisis in our time.” Read more »


Protect and Strengthen Medicare and Medicaid Programs
By Kevin Prindiville, National Senior Citizens Law Center
“This year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that play a key role in ensuring that elderly and disabled Americans have access to health care and are not bankrupted by its costs.” Read more »


Farmworkers pick tomatoes at Taylor & Fulton Tomatoes in Immokalee, Fla. March 2006 (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
Support Human Rights for Workers in Food Supply Chains
By Coalition of Immokalee Workers
“The CIW’s Fair Food Program… has transformed Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. Now in its fourth season, the Fair Food Program is poised to expand, and bring respect and dignity for workers to new crops and new states.” Read more »


We Must End Hunger in America, Starting With Child Hunger
By Joel Berg, New York City Coalition Against Hunger
“Even though the United States is the wealthiest and most agriculturally abundant country in world history, food insecurity now ravages 49 million Americans — including nearly 16 million American children.” Read more »


Stand With Native Youth and Support “Generation Indigenous”
By Erik Stegman, Half in Ten
“American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) youth face more barriers to success than almost any other group in the country.” Read more »


We Can Reduce Child Poverty by 60 Percent Right Now
By Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund
“It is a national disgrace that such an unconscionably large number of children are homeless, hungry and living in poverty in a country with the world’s largest economy.” Read more »


Ensure Access to Safe and Affordable Rental Housing
By Julia Gordon and Sarah Edelman, Center for American Progress
“When the rental market tightens, the lowest-income renters feel the pressure first.” Read more »


Stop Punishing People After They Have Been Released From Prison
By Jeremy Haile, The Sentencing Project
“Continuing to punish people after they have been punished is not only vindictive but also counterproductive to building safe and healthy communities.” Read more »


The views expressed in these posts are the author’s alone, and presented here to offer a variety of perspectives to our readers.

Greg Kaufmann is a frequent contributor to BillMoyers.com. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and editor of TalkPoverty.org. Follow him on Twitter: @GregKaufmann.
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