Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

Coming Together is participating in Blog Action Day. This year's topic is POVERTY, and we're sharing the thoughts of a few Coming Together contributors:

~ Brenna Lyons ~

I grew up in one of the worst DMZs in Pittsburgh, on food stamps, medical aid... you name it... struggling to make something better for myself out of what I'd been dealt. I worked two jobs while I went to college, because it kept a roof over my head and let me finish my education. There were times when my husband (whose family was, if anything, worse off than mine) and I didn't have enough to eat, didn't have heat, didn't have medical care when we needed it. There were times when our walls were so insubstantial the winter wind came straight through them. No one should have to live that way, especially as children and/or teens.

The one thing I did always have was a roof over my head, but I know many don't. The schools my kids attend services two separate homeless shelters full of families... kids.

What do I do to help those in need? I donate clothing, books, food... and when I have it, time and money, because sometimes that couple of cans of food or used winter jacket are all you have between a moment of comfort and complete lack of it. Sometimes that one mentor reaches you when no one else does. I read to kids. I help judge free contests that encourage literacy in pre-teens and teens, because an education and a dream are the best ways I've found out of that life and to providing something better for the next generation.

~ Brenna Lyons

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~ Sapphire Phelan ~

Poverty effects everyone. Okay, so you have a job, a home, and credit cards out the wazoo. But anyone can lose that job or home--and credit cards just add more debt to your name. In today's society, even here in the U.S., the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, and there is no more middle class.

What we do at home is try to live without something we really don't need, don't drive anywhere and when we do, make sure we do several things in the same area together.

What little money we have to spare, we try to donate to some program for poverty. A few pennies is a few pennies more they did not have before.

Next time you think: Me, poor? Go volunteer at your local food bank and see who is coming in. And maybe, just maybe, you don't need that something for yourself when you Christmas shop. Instead, take that money and get a few groceries to donate to your Food Bank, or get a gift for a child at Christmas that might not have anything under his/her tree if you didn't do it.

This year it's going to be tough for us all, so think smart and help your neighbor.

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~ Victoria Blisse ~

When we think of poverty, we often think of a global problem and become overwhelmed by the sheer weight of it. I know I often feel inadequate when I think of all the people in the world who have nothing or close to nothing and how little I can actually afford to do to help them.

However, this does not mean I cannot do something to help someone living in poverty. We all can do something: from cooking a meal for the old woman at the end of the street who lives alone, or making her a blanket to help her through the cold of winter, to donating our old clothes to charity to be sold to aid the poor and unfortunate of the world. Or we can put together a shoe box of gifts to send to poor children in Romania or collect odd pennies and donate them to a missionary charity. We may not be able to go out and dig wells, but our spare change can help those who do. There are many ways we can make a difference no matter how much time or money we have to dedicate to the cause.

If we all do a little something, it will make a difference.

~ Victoria Blisse

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~ Giselle Renarde ~

poverotica /pawvirottikaw/(n) literature or art lending erotic qualities to the state of being extremely poor.

As you might have guessed, there's no such thing as poverotica. It's a new addition to my lexicon of made-up words. And you've probably never wondered why poverotica doesn't exist amongst the numerous categories of erotic fiction on the market. I never did either until the righteous Alessia Brio asked Coming Together contributors to think about poverty as a blog topic. Have you ever asked yourself, "Why are there no sexy stories about those members of our society living at subsistence level?"

The question answers itself, doesn't it? Of course we don't think these things. Poverty isn't sexy. In fact, without even realizing it, most of us have been conditioned to adopt a fundamental belief in just the opposite: Money is sexy. Without it, there is no romance.

Before erotica consumed my life, I was an academic. As such, I wrote a thesis on the surprisingly hegemonic implications of sex advice articles in women's magazines. As a sidebar to my observations, I noticed that much of the advice given about improving one's sex life involved purchasing products. For instance, when one woman wrote in to ask how she could begin to enjoy sex with her husband again after he'd cheated on her, the columnist advised her to "throw away your comfortable nightgown" and "switch over to some sexy lingerie."

Apart from reinforcing the disturbingly common belief that her husband's affair was this woman's fault, by advising the inquisitor to "switch over to sexy lingerie," this, like many other advice articles, subtly reinforces the role that sexuality plays in supporting Capitalism and consumerist behaviours.

The entire category of romantic love conspires with Capitalist endeavours to encourage commercialism through the purchase of roses, chocolates, jewellery, "romantic" holidays, weddings and much more, as signifiers of love and commitment. The conventional relationship-oriented objects and rituals that have the highest symbolic values, like the wedding, the wedding ring and the honeymoon, also have the highest exchange values. Just think about how incredibly profitable the wedding industry has become!

The idea that love, or sexual desire for that matter, is expressed through the exchange of items drawn from the specific lexicon of love-connoting merchandise has established a culture wherein "love" and consumerism exist in a symbiotic relationship: It is in the corporation's interest to emphasize the symbolic value of its product in relation to love and sex, because this vastly increases the product's exchange value.

From the example given above, it is far more likely that the advice-seeker, and other women in her situation, will purchase expensive, over-priced lingerie when they are led by magazine articles to believe that this will help to salvage their sex lives and even their marriages.

Conversely, such advice misleads readers into believing their relationships are doomed if they can't afford the trappings of romantic love and desire. This is not just academic theory; it's rehearsed again and again in real life. Hell, my girlfriend's always reminding me how much she loves being treated to fancy meals and expensive gifts; they make her feel special.

How is it that even we, the educated and the socially aware, still fall into these Consumerist traps? The costly signifiers of romance are just that: empty vessels of connotation. There are far better ways of showing our loved ones we care, and these methods don't require us to spend our life's savings. Words cost nothing: "I love you. You are special. Come to bed and I'll show you..."

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~ Will Belegon ~

Poverty? Here, in the most developed country in the world?

As a nation, much of the United States went through the nineties and the early part of this century with a strut and a whistle. Poverty? Poverty is dead. We beat it, right? LBJ beat it back in the sixties? Man, we rock.

Then came Hurricane Katrina.

Suddenly, we had to look down the block and realize that we still had this demon to face. It was there on our TV sets and it wasn't in Somalia or Bangladesh. These were Americans. But the truth is that poverty never disappeared in the United States. It was forced into a new public image by the efforts of those who like to ignore it. Or rather, they ignore it until it is time to use the desperate acts of someone with their back against the wall as a lever to "reform" welfare or "examine" federal programs. And reform and examine always meant "cut." Somehow in the eighties, being poor became the fault of the poor. That carried through the years until Katrina blew it away. The images that we saw from the wards of New Orleans and the floor of the Superdome reminded us that despite our political zeal about the War on Terror or the War on Drugs, we had left another foe unvanquished.

This is not to say that there weren't a great number of Americans who never quit fighting. But in politics and marketing, perception is reality. And the perception was that we had an underclass who didn't really want to make the effort required to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The problem with such an idea is that it presupposes enough income to afford boots.

There is a great need throughout the world. But remember the old adage about charity beginning at home. And I don't mean helping yourself to another Krispy Kreme while you watch The View. There are wonderful organizations such as Habitat For Humanity that are putting in countless hours very near you to make a difference in the lives of your fellow Americans. You can volunteer at a shelter. Give your unwanted goods to a thrift store. Anything.

Get off the couch and grab a hammer. The War on Poverty still hasn't been won.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the Coming Together project and have enjoyed reading your takes on poverty! I also agree that poverty isn't sexy, and on my erotic blog (recently started) I posted a short entry and comic/drawing to that effect. I would love to know what you think, and for you to link to your blog from mine.