Tag Archive | poverty

What being “Liberal” means to me.

Being a liberal to me (Democrat for USA and Labour for UK) means I believe in fairness and equality for everyone. After learning a great deal about ancient northern Europeans and ancient British (in the larger sense of the group of islands) in particular as part of the research on my books “Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” and “Mary Queen of the Scots” I really came to appreciate how completely different our ancestors’ cultures were from their conquerors.

Boudicca artist concept chariot

An artist concept of what Boudicca might have looked like.

For example, they didn’t believe the land, let alone living beings could be owned. Leaders were usually on the community level and either directly elected or inherited their authority from their parents — but completely impeachable by the druids if they proved incompetent or unethical. The whole of those ancient societies was built on fairness, empathy, and cooperation. And when you consider how difficult life was, especially in Britain, it only makes sense. They were so incredibly individualistic and while scrappy (think what you see at football matches today), they really didn’t organize armies and go war. Most of the time they brawled it out a little or went to the druids or their appointed/elected leaders to sort it all out. And when someone was hungry, they were taken care of.

In my opinion, THAT IS THE WAY SOCIETY NEEDS TO BE. So for me, being a liberal means doing everything I can to bring back the values and the social structures that our ancestors had 2000 years ago. People tell me it’s impossible — you cannot undo the damage done by Roman conquest. And while I confess on a language level, we really might be stuck with that legacy, I do believe that the rest is our birth right. Because it’s the right thing to do. We need to stop being calloused towards the suffering of others and resolve ourselves to work together again rather than letting the fat cats pit us against each other. You are my friend and ally — not my rival.

In this bitter cold, a missive to Congress and Parliament

Dear Congress of the United States of America and Parliaments of the western industrialized world:


Forest River. winter sunsetThis week we the residents of the United States and Canada are experiencing the sort of dangerous cold weather that kills in a matter of minutes.  This is the sort of weather where if you have no safe home to go to you really run the risk of going to sleep and never waking up again. This storm will kill thousands of people whose names are lost because we think they do not matter anymore. But each of us may easily find ourselves wandering the streets, alone, exposed to this bitter cold, never knowing when we go to sleep if we will ever wake up again.

Count your blessings for your home — then do anything and everything you can to help those without food, shelter, and warmth.

Yes, I know this is difficult for you.  You cannot relate to the rest of us.  You have more money than any single person can ever spend.  You do not look like most of us nor do you have the same life experiences as most of us.  So I can see why you have a hard time understanding how much we are suffering.  You have probably not shivered in your home because it cost too much to properly heat your home or insulate it from the cold. You have probably never had to find ways to make three days worth of food last for a week.  You have probably also never had to eat food not suitable for eating because it was the only food available to you.

We have.

Instead of bickering among yourselves in your comfort and ease, please please walk a mile in our shoes.


Eighty years ago everyone suffered together in the Great Depression and our countries were all stronger for it.  Stronger because instead of looking down at those of us without proper shelter, clothing, and food, those elected to your same offices you hold together experienced these things with us and therefore became resolved to create jobs, to build roads and bridges and repair those things that needed to be fixed.  They put in place measured designed to give everyone somewhere safe and warm to live and spend the winter.  And they were determined that no one in countries as great as ours would go hungry — especially our children.

I ask you to please care about us again!

No one is “surplus population.”


Please stop treating us as if we are!




Laurel A. Rockefeller


Shaming Poverty: One Person’s Stereotypes Leads to Personal Humiliation While Buying Food

This was another one of my Yahoo Voices articles where the trolls lingered.


Shaming Poverty: One Person’s Stereotypes Leads to Personal Humiliation While Buying Food

Myths Concerning Unemployed, Poor Persist Despite Prolonged Great Recession

November 3rd, 2013

Saturday October 26th. After working all week at my holiday temp job, I go to my neighborhood Dollar General to buy some milk and a couple frozen dinners for work. Earlier this month I stocked up on groceries, knowing my work schedule offered little time for cooking, reducing my food stamp total to less than $15 for the rest of the month.

At checkout, my total exceeds my remaining balance by about three dollars — nothing major — until the clerk asked me a question no one asked me since I was six years old buying a soda from my allowance. “Do you have money to pay for that?” she snarled unapologetically.

What? I thought to myself, keenly aware she was talking about just three dollars and change.

Caught off guard, I replied yes simply, showing her my debit card while she scowled over the split payment transaction. Leaving the store, the humiliation set in. Despite my professional dress and demeanor, this woman assumed (incorrectly) that I had no way to pay the three dollar balance owed, something no one ever communicated to me since I was a child buying small items from my allowance. Across dozens of mixed food and non food purchases at the same store, my capacity to pay for the non food items never came into question — until this purchase.

So why assume I could not pay — especially in face of my clean, well-cared for clothes and professional conduct?

The answer has to be rooted in persisting stereotypes about the poor, working poor, andunemployed. Despite the length of this Great Recession and high unemployment numbers, especially here in Johnstown where the unemployment rate in August was 8.7% (1.4% higher than the national average, and 1% above the Pennsylvania average), our culture still equates poverty with laziness, criminal activity, mental illness, and drug addiction — none of which apply to me, something self evident in my prolific work for Yahoo Voices and the seventeen editions of my twonovels, all self-published within a span of just eleven months.

On the flip side, my white cane leads to the assumption by those with little experience with the differently abled that my sight loss is sufficient for me to be dependent on federal disability payments. Few people realize that the federal definition of “legally blind” is 20/200 vision — compared with Pennsylvania’s 20/70 threshold which my 20/80 vision meets.

That is to say, I’m too blind to drive and too blind to work in industrial settings (where most of the few local jobs are) — but not blind enough to receive cash assistance from the federal government, Instead, the assistance I’ve received comes through Pennsylvania’s vocational rehabilitation program offering me some adaptive technologies (such as my white cane, large ruled paper, and a special desk lamp) designed to help me re-enter the work place.

No matter how you cut it, the words cut sharply at my pride. For I understand that while abuse of unemployment assistance, food stamps, and other programs designed to support the poor happens, the number of people who actually fit the stereotypes are very small — despite what politicians may claim. Most people receiving food stamps do so because the alternative is starving, not because they do not want to buy their own food.

Given a fair chance, most people receiving government assistance would prefer not to — regardless of age. Ask anyone struggling to scrape by on social security if they would rather be living off saved money in a pension or IRA — or off social security and nearly every person would prefer the former. Ask any long term unemployed person (such as myself) if she or he would rather be working or trying to make do through the help of others and nearly every person would rather be working. As any person working for minimum wage and not able to feed her or his family despite working full time if she or he wants food stamps and you will also hear a resounding “No!”

Americans do not want entitlements. Americans want to pay their own way. We want jobs and living wages. We want to support ourselves. And we want the system to be fair — rewarding hard work, education, and good choices instead of bad choices. For it is truly ironic that a heroine addict on the street readily gets disability assistance from the federal government — something that person chose to do — but my sight loss and hearing loss only affords me scorn and shame.

We can and must do better.

Less Than Human: Complacency, Poverty, and Human Rights

More about poverty.  You see a theme going?


Less Than Human: Complacency, Poverty, and Human Rights

A Look at Conditions Face by and Attitudes Regarding the Poor and Unemployed

September 16, 2013


Sunday September 1st was a beautiful day. A friend came over and together we went to an area golf driving range, my first opportunity to leave my home for a reason other than grocery shopping or job interviews in over six months. After a full year of not practicing, my hits were off, but I enjoyed the practice, never thinking anything was wrong with using the natural grass section to learn how to hit a golf ball off an actual tee.

Monday, September 2nd, the first bites came. I changed my bedding and started the arduous process of trying to hand wash my sheets, still clueless fleas hitched a ride in my things and on me while golfing. Until, that is, around one am on Wednesday morning when twelve bites woke me. Using a flashlight I found the culprits: fleas! At dawn, I stripped the bed and started washing, the other set of sheets barely dry. At as soon the management office for my public housing community opened, I phoned the manager and asked for help with the bugs, spending all of the day washing as best I could from a bucket and leaving 90% of my blankets unwashed for the lack of access to washing machines.

Thursday September 5th, the exterminator came. When I spoke to him, he chided me forvacuuming my bed, one of the well-established techniques advocated in a multi-pronged approach to eliminate fleas. Instead, he insisted it had to be bed bugs, despite my descriptions of what I found each day and despite my solid research (which included his company’s own website). When he found my bed clean of bed bugs, he seemed almost mad at me, especially as I asserted myself and asked him politely to please please spray for fleas. Even showing him my dozens of bites did no good. It never entered this man’s mind that I could be intelligent, educated, and pro-active about my life — just because of where I live right now. Just because I am poor and still unemployed.

Poverty and unemployment does not signal a lack of intelligence. It does not mean a person dropped out of school. It does not make a person a drug addict, drug dealer, or even an unwed parent creating child after child to collect government benefits. Poverty doesn’t make a person mentally or even physically deficient in any way.

Poverty only means a person lacks money sufficient to provide food, healthcare, proper housing, and so forth. Unemployment simply means you are looking for work and have not found it yet. No more!

Are there people who are unemployed or are poor because of some sort of “deficit” such as just described. Yes, of course. But any connection between the aforementioned and poverty/unemployment remains limited. That is some poor people deal drugs. Some poor people have different fathers/mothers for each of their children. Some poor people have some sort of mental or physical challenge.

The problem socially is the bad habit of generalizing to the overwhelming majority of the poor, unemployed, and working poor who do none of those things.

These are the people who work for minimum wage. These are the moderately disabled like me who have physical limits due to accident, injury, and/or illness — but do not meet the Federal definitions for “permanently disabled.” These are the huge numbers of people laid off by the Great Recession from industries and in geography still waiting for the recovery to start.

We number in the millions.

So why are we less than human?

Less than human because we need nutritional assistance. This means struggling to feed our families on the meager allowances from food stamp programs constantly assaulted by politicians who feel “entitlements” such as food are not deserved by those receiving them. This means our children failing in school because school-based nutritional help reaches too few children on too few days of the year. This means obesity created by a lack of whole, fresh food availability.

Less than human because we cannot afford pristine houses with big yards. Instead, large numbers of us live in sub-standard apartments, public housing, and subsidized housing. These homes tend to be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. They amplify and transmit low frequency noisefrom neighbors. They distribute toxic air from neighbors, traffic, and beyond. Inadequate, infrequent vermin prevention and treatment leads to disease and misery such as mine.

Less than human because employers assume internal defects, not the recession, create long term unemployment, compounding the problem and ignoring the talents and professional backgrounds of the long term unemployed. Recent job gains in low-paying sectors mean most of those previously laid off and now in new jobs now work too few hours for too little pay to afford the most basic of human dignities.

Those of us lucky enough to earn enough money to avoid all this squalor complacently respond to these conditions with condemnation of those afflicted, seeing those suffering from poverty as little more than “surplus population” to quote Charles Dickens rather than as humans living under inhumane conditions.

Let me declare in no uncertain terms: poverty does not make you less human.

Every person is born with the inalienable right to breathe healthy, clean air free of toxins. We are born with the inalienable right to whole, nutritious, healthy, quality food. We are born needing and deserving to live in safe, sturdy, healthy homes devoid of hazards such as second/third hand smoke, toxic noise, vermin, and disease. As Americans, we are born deserving the opportunity to better ourselves through hard work and education. All people who work and apply themselves need to be able to live independently and securely — regardless of physical abilities or challenges.

Whatever you want to think of me personally, I am worthy of all these things. Unemployment does not strip me of my humanity, nor does poverty. Today I live in squalor and misery under the most unhealthy and inhumane of conditions.

But I am human. I am bright. I am educated, I am talented. I deserve better than this. I am better than this. I am not the sum of my present environment. Somehow I will persevere through this — and so will you.

We can and must do better. It is time we stop looking down our noses at people and come together to make our world better. For every blessing in our lives is a gift given for but a time. Each decision each of us makes changes both our blessings and our challenges. Even the greatest wealth may disappear in the blink of an eye.

Poverty is not someone else’s problem, someone else’s pain. It is everyone’s problem, everyone’s pain. it is time to stop treating the poor as if they deserve the conditions they (we) live in, an inconvenience to our pride.

All people are human. It is time we treat each other that way.

Beneath the Nara Tree: Global Warming, Food Forests, and the Beinarian Nara tree

Forest lake in summer

Forest lake in summer (Photo credit: Axel-D)

Food forests are the latest urban trend designed to combat global warming while offering free, fresh food to the food insecure.  The concept is simple:  provide an urban oasis of fruit and nut trees, fruit-bearing bushes, herbs, and other edibles which are free to harvest and eat to any and all visitors.  In 2013, Seattle became the first municipality to offer its residents food forest, starting a new trend which promises to provide quality food to those who need it most, combating obesity among the poor in the process.

Planting food forests also make sense when it comes to global warming and the extreme weather that comes with it.  Trees reduce CO2 emissions, offer habit to birds and other animals, and restore oxygen to our atmosphere.

Caring for the environment as much as I do, it only made sense then to include trees into my world building for the Peers of Beinan series and to make trees the ultimate solution to brown eye syndrome.  In brown eye syndrome (so named because the iris of suffers turns brown), two of the five photo receptors in Beinarian eyes are destroyed by exposure to high concentrations of argene. Argene (thorium 232) is highly radioactive.  But one tree on Beinan, the nara tree, reduces argene toxicity — when planted in large enough numbers.

This emulates the impact of trees on our own planet.  A single tree by itself will not stop global warming.  But dozens, hundreds, and thousands of trees altogether will.   Replanting our forests and filling up abandoned urban spaces with food forests is critical to any effort to counter-act the effects of global warming.

On Beinan, nara trees offer not just the ability to neutralize argene toxicity.  Nara trees are prolific fruiting trees that are at the core of Beinarian food forests, an aspect I added to them after researching food forests across the United States.  Wood from nara trees is especially light and strong, making it perfect for building heritage sailing vessels like the “Nenel” in Ghosts of the Past.  Its flexibility makes it ideal for heritage bows.  Beinarians plant it in large numbers because in every way, nara trees benefit their society.

We can make our world better through trees too.  Across public parks, botanical gardens, and yes, our own yards, we can plant fruit and nut bearing trees to nourish our bodies, clean the air, and make our world a nicer place to live.

As the commercial says, “a world without trees is not a world for me.”

Do your part.  Support community gardens and food forests in your area. And of course, support the Arbor Day Foundation in replanting trees destroyed by fire, flood, and logging.