One wonders why there is so little general public outcry against the fracturing of American society into two main socio-economic groups — a few million people of wealth, power and privilege and the remaining 300 million of us. Due to increasingly unequal distribution of wealth promoted over the past 30 years by proponents of rapacious uncontrolled capitalism, we now face a situation where most Americans scramble for not only jobs, but housing, adequate medical care, decent retirements and the other factors making up the good life.
It appears that most Americans still hope that hard work and a little luck will enable them to ascend the fabled social ladder. Others harbor the illusion that they, too, can be rich if things fall the right way for them. And some still believe that human decency and compassion will result in them being able to survive in spite of the odds against them.
All of these modern illusions were once true at various stages in our national experience. Until about 30 years ago hard work did make success possible, the educational ladder of upward social mobility was still available to people of moderate means, the tax system still required the rich to pay their fair share and public safety nets were considered inviolable. But no more!
It now seems as if the only people crying for the rights of the needy are various advocacy organizations like A Minnesota Without Poverty and Half-in-Ten. Pure charities too often remain silent in the struggle because they believe their major role is to provide direct aid during times of distress.
We need renewed public awareness and increased advocacy. Especially, we need religious institutions, which ought to be the bastions of morality in society, to “speak truth to power,” as Jim Wallis says.
We, too, can speak truth to power. Along with political action, why don’t we ask why our religious affiliations or social groups don’t speak out against the many public policies causing poverty? Why are they so supportive of charity but so silent concerning advocacy?
Whatever our faith or worldview, we are part of both the problem and of the answer: the problem because our silence in the face of evil allows it to continue, and the answer because our compassionate spirits can impel needed change.
Jim Jordal is a retired teacher of economics and American history who now lives in rural Chisago County, Minn. He has studied his passion — economic justice — for many years and writes newspaper columns, blogs and study lessons on the subject.