The War on the Poor

Against the Current, No. 52, September/October 1994

Mumia Abu-Jamal

IN EVERY PHASE and facet of national life, there is a war being waged on America’s poor.

In social policy, poor mothers are targeted for criminal sanctions for acts that, if committed by mothers of higher economic class, would merit treatment in the Betty Ford Center.

In youth policy, governments hasten to close schools while building boot camps and prisons as their graduate schools.

Xenophobic politicians hoist campaigns to the dark star of imprisonment for street beggars, further fattening the fortress economy whose only apparent solution to the scourge of homelessness is to build more and more prisons.

Federal statistics tell a tale of loss so dreadful that Dickens would cringe:

* Seven million homeless, with less than $200 in monthly income;

* Thirty-seven million people, 14.5 percent of the U.S. population, living below poverty levels;

* Of which number 33 percent are African Americans, meaning over 12 million Blacks living in poverty.

Both wings of the ruling “Republicrat” party try to outdo themselves in announcing new, ever more draconian measures to restrict, restrain and to eliminate the poor.

One is reminded of the wry observation of the writer Anatole France: “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.”

Increasingly, more and more Americans are guarding more and more American prisoners, for more and more years. No major political party has an answer to this social dilemma, short of cages or graves for the poor.

The time is ripe for a new, brighter, life-affirming vision that liberates and not represses the poor, who after all are the great majority of this world’s people.

Neither serpentine politics nor a sterile economic theory, which treats them as mere economic units, offer much hope, for the very politicians they vote for spit in their faces, while economists write them off as nonpersons.

It must come from the poor, a rebellion of the spirit that reaffirms their intrinsic human worth based upon who they are, as opposed to what they possess.

ATC 52, September-October 1994