Shared Values. Shared Responsibility.
Connecting individual passions and resources with societal needs is inspiring and invigorating. That is why I love the opportunities I have each fall to talk with employees throughout the region about their role in philanthropy. Hearing why people donate to charity restores my faith in my fellow citizens – especially after reading the comments section of the Seattle Times and becoming irrationally angry at guest1234 for the millionth time. It reminds me that - despite the polarization in Washington D.C. - we the people have many shared values. No one believes that people is this country should be hungry, homeless, or living in poverty. No one ever says that access to school, health care, or employment should be unequal. Why do we allow it to happen?
Who is responsible for ensuring these values are upheld?
As Americans, we each have personal responsibility. Most of us can and do choose right from wrong, work hard, and care for ourselves and family. But it’s become increasingly hard for people to build wealth - to get by, get ahead, and stay ahead. For 243,000 people the American Dream isn’t about home ownership but instead about getting off the street and into shelter. That is unacceptable. In 17 states, more than half of school children are poor and rely of subsidized meals to fuel them through the day. That is unacceptable. 8 million people are working part time because they can’t find full time employment. That is unacceptable. These numbers don’t align with our values. We blame others for these failings - too often we blame the most vulnerable.
Who will respond?
Congress is responding with sequestration, the automatic budget cuts being implemented to reduce the federal deficit. Clearly our deficit is a problem, but cutting food assistance, Head Start programs and housing subsidies for the homeless, is widening the income gap today and ensuring it grows tomorrow. It will mean more people become homeless, hungry, and unable to move out of poverty. When did this become ok? Where’s the outrage?
Who will respond?
Poverty is an icky word in DC and across the country. It is bad for families and for the economy. It makes us feel helpless, disgusted, and angry. Our emotions take over and we often judge rather than act. But what if a disaster struck and you were the person living on the streets? Or the person who couldn’t feed his family? Or the kid who came to school unprepared to learn? What if you were waiting for someone – anyone – to respond? It’s easy to say “not me”, but believe me, it is closer than you think.
The private sector employees I speak to each week are incredibly generous and willing to open their wallets for charity –but that of not enough to reclaim our values and stop this vicious cycle of poverty. We have an ability to collectively respond.
It is our responsibility. Now is the time. So what do we do?
1. Educate: Take time to learn the facts about poverty and income inequality. Learn how income inequality impacts you. Watch the new film Inequality For All to hear more about how it effects our society and the policy changes that can fix it.
2. Speak Out: Reading comments on blogs and news sites drives me crazy – because they are largely from uninformed social conservatives who don’t share the values that our country was founded on. We can change that. Take time to comment, write op-eds, and tell your friends.
3. Take Action: Half In Ten is working to cut poverty in half in ten years. This is the group we should all watch, support, and promote. Learn how to call contact your legislator – you can be the change.
4. Vote: November is right around the corner. Candidates from NYC to Seattle are talking about raising the minimum wage. The recent government shut down showed us that who we send to City Hall, the Governors Mansion, and Congress matters.
5. Give: It is essential that we continue to support philanthropic organizations. They can spark innovation and bring the public and private sector together to create social change. Philanthropy can take risks that government cannot – and when successful, use the findings from those risks to shift policy.
We have a responsibility to take care of one and other. We have the ability to respond.