Mayor Booker’s one week on food stamps: Self-serving stunt or spotlight for change?
I am always leery when high-profile folks take on “causes” for short periods of time: You know, living like others do in the name of undergoing the same experiences. Remember talk show host Tyra Banks’s “fat suit” or “homeless living” for a day? There were others who got down with the hurting masses to see what it felt like.
The problem with that is it’s temporary. Those “slumming” have an entirely different life to return to, so how does that change the problem? Tyra took off the fat suit and wiped the fake dirt off her face and abandoned her “homeless” experience for her mansion somewhere. They may mean well, but to me, it trivializes the problem and frankly insults those who actually live those lives daily.
So what is Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., hoping to prove, accomplish or change by his living on food stamps for a week? He will chronicle his experience on Twitter and Facebook, beginning Dec. 2. Granted the mayor gets down and dirty more than most and this is not his first foray into how the ordinary constituents in his community live. Booker had moved into public housing during his first run for office and everyone thought he was crazy for attempting to live in the projects.
He survived but did life change in those projects? Shining a spotlight on poverty, crime, inequality, inequity is admirable, but after the spotlight switches off, then what?
According to the The Daily Beast, Booker was sort of pushed into this challenge of living off food stamps for a week by someone on Twitter. You know how these social media battles escalate and the outspoken mayor took on someone who thought that providing nutritious foods (which food stamps aren't always used for) was not the job of the government.
I guess that person is one of many who think that poverty is a character flaw—and if you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps, too bad. That despite working, sometimes double shifts or two jobs, a large portion of America’s population cannot adequately feed, clothe and house their families. That nowhere in the US can a family, who makes minimum wage, rent a two-bedroom apartment working only 40 hours, which is a full week’s labor.
The safety net Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke of during the election—which he said the poor had so he wasn’t “worried” about them—is not so safe as the multi-millionaire Romney thinks. I don’t blame him, how could he know how the poor lived if he never ventured out of the pampered bubble he lived in?
Unfortunately, Romney isn’t the only one out of touch with how the average American lives. Most of our elected officials seem to be as clueless as he is. Some of their proposed policies reflect that “let them eat cake if they don’t have bread” approach. While others go even further by seeming to not care whether they have anything to eat at all.
Republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility-- forget they voted for two wars on China’s credit cards and more than a decade-long tax break for millionaires and billionaires. They now want to slash programs that benefit mostly the poor and elderly. Strangely, they do not see the connection between the inadequate minimum wage paid by huge corporations and the ballooning social programs like food stamps and housing funded by the federal government.
The minimum wage took more than 10 years to move from $5.25 to $7.25 an hour while Congress gave themselves a raise several times during the period they were voting "no" to a few cents on the dollar for millions of Americans.
Can’t they see that millions are on government assistance partly because the salaries paid by their employers cannot cover living expenses? Why can’t our “fiscally responsible” legislators see that the best way to reduce the government payout and shrink social programs numbers is to get those giant corporations like Walmart and others to pay a “living wage” and adequate healthcare rather than a “minimum wage,” and miniscule or non-existent benefits?
Our politicians are serving so many masters that the ones whom they were elected to truly serve get trampled or neglected in the process. Special interests, lobbyists, corporations, big banks, Wall Street, big Pharma, rich campaign donors and insurance companies, all get their “pound of flesh” before middle and working class taxpayers, the folks really footing the bill.
So as our elected officials squabble and grandstand over budgets and fiscal cliffs, millions of families balk at their own “fiscal cliffs” threatening to crush them daily. Will Booker’s food stamps diet help change Washington and local policies on poverty? Will it address the elephant in the room ignored every election and beyond?