By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
Every year around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we hear of story upon story as to the goodness of people who share what they have with those who are poor and hurting financially.
We hear personal accounts, see stories in newspapers and on television as to how the holiday has been made brighter by those who gave of themselves, either by volunteering their time, giving their money and providing food stuffs to those who are needy. What wonderful gestures by these people. It truly is evidence of people caring for their neighbors. Often times these gifts are made anonymously.
Let’s look at some of they needy who were hungry on Thanksgiving Day, when they were fed at a local rescue mission. But they were also hungry on the day before and the day after Thanksgiving.
Fortunately, here in Lewiston, we have Hope Haven, Jubilee Center, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and Pantry, Hope House, Salvation Army, St. Martin de Porres, along with others that I might not even be aware of, that help our poor with food and other goods throughout the year. These organizations always operate on meager funding, and again thanks to the charity of those who donate their dollars to them. They truly make the dollars they receive multiply many times over by the manner in which they expend these funds.
Then we have the Good Shepherd Food-Bank in Auburn. As a result of the weak economy, their funding has been down; yet they persevere and keep on providing. My wife reminded me the other day as to all the good that JoAnn Pike, founder of Good Shepherd Food Pantry, which grew into the Food-Bank, has done over a few decades. Even after her death, her legacy lives on.
Last week I was in Washington, D.C., where it was bitterly cold with howling winds. Only a couple of blocks from the White House were homeless individuals who were hunkering down for the night at the entrance to a Metro subway station. They were leaned up against a wall under the cover of a building above in an effort to feel the heat rise up the escalator from down below. This routine occurs daily.
My thoughts were, here we are the richest nation (or at least we use to be) in the world, and this is happening near the White House. I’ve even seen Mother Theresa’s Sisters within a block of the White House Serving a hot dish of rice mixed with whatever else was in the meal for the street people.
Here, Congress had just passed a tax cut bill that provided tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Where are our priorities in this country? We have homeless people who need care for mental health, drug and other issues and yet we simply walk by these folks while on Capitol Hill our Congress fights like hell for the rich.
Our President had to be held hostage in order to get an extension on unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs and have no jobs available to them. These are good family people who want to work when there is no work. We’re being falsely led to believe that these millionaires and billionaires will create jobs. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you!
They’ve had that tax cut for a decade, so show me the jobs they’ve created. Oh yes, that’s right: just look overseas where they created slave-labor jobs. We no longer manufacture in this country. When we become a service society without manufacturing, there is only so much service that people can afford. When they’re out of a job, they simply can’t afford services. It is a struggle to put food on the table, let along purchase services.
I’m not the only one who is observing this. So is Robert R. Reich, the former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, who served at one time as a law clerk for the late First Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Frank Coffin, a Lewiston native.
In an editorial entitled “How to End the Great Depression,” dated September 2, 2010 in the New York Times, Reich wrote: “The rich spend a much smaller proportion of their incomes than the rest of us. So when they get a disproportionate share of total income, the economy is robbed of the demand it needs to keep growing and creating jobs.”
“What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy: they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns—sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere. The rich also put their money into assets most likely to attract other big investors (commodities, stocks, dot-coms or real estate), which can become wildly inflated as a result.”
Over the years, I’ve often found that those who are most generous are those who have the least. What a wonderful example they set for us to emulate. For those of us who are Christians and believe in Jesus, our guide should be WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). Since we are a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, WWJD should be our guiding principle, not only for individuals, but as a nation as a whole.
Is that what we are doing when we hold a president hostage to provide tax cuts for the rich and withhold unemployment benefits in order to get that deal?
Another issue that bothered me greatly was the killing of the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act). Congressman Michaud and Congresswoman Pingree supported the act. It failed in the Senate.
This act would have provided a path to citizenship to undocumented alien minors who were brought here as children of undocumented adults. Their parents crossed our border due to their extremely poor conditions south of our border. I simply ask: Would we do the same if our families were starving and we could illegally cross a border in order to provide for our family? I doubt that any of us would say no. Of course we would.
Congress missed a great opportunity to begin the process of immigration reform and add to our economy by giving folks a path to citizenship.
I recently demonstrated with a group in support of the DREAM Act. With our group was a young man from Guatemala who had come here at 14 and was two months from graduating from Portland High School. He was taken out of school, put in Cumberland County jail for two months and transferred to a Boston prison for another five months. Unless the DREAM Act passed, he was going to be deported on December 18 to a country he truly knows not. This is just one story, one tragedy!
He is a real person who had a dream of going on to college and contributing to our society. He might well have been the dentist, doctor, or architect or contractor we would need right here in Maine. Instead, he has been dumped into poverty. WWJD?
Getting back to the beginning of this column, poverty doesn’t go away on a holiday as much as we tend to close our eyes to it during the remainder of the year. It is all around us and with a clear vision we will do something about it as individuals, groups or government. We need only ask WWJD? The answer is clear!
Let’s take a moment to reflect on our priorities in this country and try to improve during 2011. I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.