By Congressman Elijah Cummings, Special to the AFRO
Sharply contrasting visions of America clashed in Washington last month exemplifying an ongoing struggle for the hearts, minds and future of the American People.
In the days and years to come, we will remember June 2018 as the month when we reacted with horror as President Trump ordered little children, many of whom were seeking sanctuary from violence, locked into cages and denied their mothers’ comforting arms.
Less visible, but equally horrifying, June also was the month when the President’s Republican House allies passed a Farm Bill that would deprive hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of other poor children of the food that they need and deserve if they are to survive and thrive.
These two acts of inhumanity, as much as any other that we have suffered during the last eighteen months of Donald Trump’s presidency, should stamp his vision for our future indelibly in our minds.
If any of us were not already appalled, these outrages should redouble our determination to do everything within our power to restore an America that lives up to our national creed of liberty, justice and opportunity for all.
We must honestly and candidly confront not only the ways in which the President and his allies are failing – but also where we progressives, despite our best efforts to date, have yet to succeed.
A National Calling to Moral Revival
This was a core message that Senator Elizabeth Warren and I (along with other progressive legislators) received from the Poor People’s Campaign (A National Call for Moral Revival) during the Capitol Hill hearing that we called on June 12.
The Poor People’s Campaign is determined to change the narrative about poverty in this country. The evidence that they presented at our hearing in support of this alternative vision of an America without poverty deserves our careful attention [https://ips-dc.org/souls-of-poor-folks/ ].
This alternative vision (as opposed to that of President Trump and his allies) challenges the “myth” that poverty is the “fault” of the poor, as well as a second “myth” that the wealthiest society on earth cannot afford to ensure that all her people can thrive.
Rather than focusing upon individual failings of poor people, the Poor People’s Campaign challenges us to confront and overcome the “structural and systemic failings” of our society that allow tens of millions of us to remain in poverty (between 40 million Americans, according to the official poverty level, and as many as 140 million of us, according to the “supplemental poverty measure” that compares a person’s income and any public benefits with the necessary costs of daily life).
If any might doubt the relevance of the Poor People’s Campaign narrative about poverty, they should consider these facts about the need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the Baltimore Region.
According to data from the US Department of Agriculture Food & Nutrition Service:
(1) Nearly 180,000 Baltimore City individuals were receiving Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP or “Food Stamps”) in July of 2017. Although approximately 42,000 of these food stamp recipients were receiving other forms of public assistance, more than 137,000 were not.
(2) In Baltimore County, fewer than 13,000 of the more than 93,000 SNAP beneficiaries were receiving other forms of public assistance, while more than 80,000 were not.
(3) In affluent Howard County, of the 17,000-18,000 residents receiving SNAP benefits last year, only 2292 individuals were also receiving other public assistance benefits, while 14,892 were not.
These official statistics reveal that, in just three Baltimore-area counties, more than a quarter million Americans needed federal food aid just to survive last year – and this was true even though most of these struggling poor or near-poor American families were led by someone who was either working or looking for work.
Our Calling to Action
This evidence confirms the substantial accuracy of the narrative about poverty in America advanced by the Poor People’s Campaign.
That is why I opposed the Republicans’ 2018 Farm Bill (the first time that I have voted against such an important federal initiative in my memory), and why I have publicly expressed the moral revulsion felt by so many Americans as we witnessed little children trapped in cages of prejudice and inhumanity.
We should be listening to Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, leaders of the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign, and the everyday Americans who had the courage to testify at our June 12 hearing on Capitol Hill.
Both our morality and our patriotism demand that we join hands with the hundreds of thousands struggling to survive in our own community.
We need a moral revival if we are to finish Dr. King’s work and eliminate poverty in America – and we also need a political revival that speaks to the core struggles that are at the center of millions of American lives.
I seriously doubt whether anyone in the Trump Administration would even think about placing the children of rich immigrants in detention cages – and, as the Farm Bill’s party-line voting revealed, no one in the Republican House leadership would even dare to suggest that we should penalize rich corporate farms (in fact, they would receive enormous rewards if the Republican bill becomes law).
The moral and political indifference expressed by these outrageous official acts is the same: a fundamental preference for wealth over our shared humanity – and a clear disdain for those among us who are poor.
We are America, and there is a better vision for our nation – a vision of America without poverty – that we must come together to achieve. These are the failings that we must begin to correct on Election Day this year.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.