Poverty

The Right Thing to Do

Sen. John Edwards came to New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to suspend his campaign for the presidency in January, returning to the city where he launched his campaign a year earlier. On the way to the event, Sen. Edwards stopped to talk to a homeless person, who asked him to remember her and her situation. “I say to her and I say to all those who are struggling in this country, we will never forget you,” promised Edwards. “We will fight for you. We will stand up for you.” Ending poverty continues to be the central theme of Edwards’ work, as it was of his campaign. He is currently director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina and chair of the Half in Ten campaign, a movement to cut poverty in half in a decade. Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis and editor Jim Rice talked with Edwards this summer at a hotel in Washington, D.C.

Jim Wallis: You’ve said in the past that your life vocation is to work to overcome poverty. How would you describe, right now, your vocation and your strategy?

John Edwards: Doing something to end poverty is central to my life. If you look at all the pieces of what I’m working on, they all come back to that place. I’m chair of the new Half in Ten campaign, which aims to cut poverty in half in America in the next 10 years. I have—both on the campaign trail and otherwise—been promoting this issue in every way possible. I’ve been meeting with both thinkers and activists on this issue all over the country. We still have the poverty center at the University of North Carolina, which I’m very proud of. If there is a tool out there available, then I want to take advantage of it.

Wallis: The word “vocation” for a lot of people has to do with a certain sense of “calling.” How has your faith molded or shaped that sense of calling?

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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A Responsibility to Care

When thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina were headed to Arkansas, then-Gov. Mike Huckabee instructed state officials and volunteers to welcome the visitors the way they would want to be welcomed if they were in similar circumstances. This Golden Rule approach—and his willingness to support government programs to address social needs—didn’t win Gov. Huckabee friends among conservative Republicans, but he emphasized principle over party, telling a “values voter” gathering last year, “I do not spell G-O-D ... G-O-P. Our party may be important, but our principles are even more important than anybody’s political party.” Gov. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, is currently a political commentator for Fox News. Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis spoke with Huckabee by telephone this summer.

Jim Wallis: What will it take to put poverty on the na­tional political agenda, and do you think that’s possible?

Mike Huckabee: It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. It’s a tragedy that in a country of extraordinary wealth, significant numbers of people every day go to bed hungry. Some people are oblivious to that reality in this country; it’s almost as if they think, “If we don’t see people, then they don’t exist.” That, to me, is one of the great tragedies—that many people who end up in the bubble of politics see only what is allowed into that bubble by the people who handle them. It’s one of the reasons I got involved—the frustration that many people in positions of authority were unaware of the very world that they were supposedly trying to lead.

Wallis: What are some of the key changes we have to make as a society to address the problem?

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A New Moment Dawning

Forty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot down in Memphis, just as he was about to lead a new Poor People’s Campaign. King’s agenda had moved beyond civil rights to overcoming poverty in America, and he had just begun the new effort to challenge economic injustice.

At that time, in 1968, there were 25 million people in America living in poverty; 40 years later there are roughly 37 million people still living in poverty. In 1968, the minimum wage was worth $9.47 an hour in today’s dollars (using inflation-adjusted 2007 figures). The minimum wage today is $6.55. Forty-seven million Ameri­cans have no health insurance. In 2007, the number of home foreclosure filings rose to 2.2 million. The poor have lost ground.

But things are changing. God is on the move. Christians are rediscovering and embracing God’s concern for justice. The church is uniting across political and denominational lines around a shared commitment to fight poverty. A new moment is dawning.

Four years ago, Call to Renewal conducted a 12-day “Rolling to Overcome Poverty” bus tour to say that poverty was a religious and electoral issue. Despite our best efforts, the word “poverty” was rarely spoken in either campaign or in the 2004 presidential debates.

THIS YEAR, it’s already very different. For the first time in many years, poverty is back on the agenda. Two presidential candidates from both parties, Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Mike Huckabee, made poor and low-income working people a central priority in this election season. In Edwards’ campaign, he spoke eloquently about the reality of poverty in the United States and emphasized his commitment to cut poverty in the U.S. in half in 10 years.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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Vote Out Poverty

With Election Day looming, political rhetoric is picking up its pace across the country, with candidates praising the “American Dream” and the “land of opportunity”—but many more Americans live in poverty today than in 1968. Even more distressing, 30,000 children die each day of preventable causes around the world, and millions go to bed hungry. As Christians, we are called to respond to the people behind these statistics.

The contradiction between election rhetoric and reality gives us a key opportunity to do just that. Elections give citizens the chance to leverage real commitments from political candidates—commitments to specific anti-poverty targets and proven strategies. And history shows us that a determined, steady, and well-organized constituency can hold elected officials accountable to promises that are made.

Too often, we let this opportunity pass us by. But this election season, a common call against national and global poverty is growing across the religious and secular anti-poverty community, including Catholic Charities, Christian Churches Together, and the Center for American Progress.

Sojourners’ contribution is the Vote Out Poverty campaign, which seeks to empower Christians with practical, effective strategies. Our goal is simple: We want a national plan from the president and Congress to cut domestic poverty in half over the next decade and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, a set of international goals for reducing global poverty.

The Vote Out Poverty campaign has two parts. First, in the months before the election, it is about educating voters in the faith community about the biblical imperative to consider the welfare of all people when casting their vote in November—to “vote through the lens of the poor.” Those educated voters will ask candidates to sign pledges affirming that, if elected, they will work to accomplish specific anti-poverty goals.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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A Cleveland Original

Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones was a Cleveland original. Stephanie never cared about “style points.” She only cared about passing public policy that served the common good. No one matched her passion, energy, or voice for the poor and vulnerable. Everyone wanted her on their side. She was ever present in her 11th Congressional District and was tireless in her advocacy for victims of predatory lending, the uninsured, the unemployed, and children. The news [...]

Fear and Fun on a Fellowship Field Trip

I've been on lots of roads trips, but none of them compare to The Walnut Hills Fellowship's weekend journey to Chicago. Start to finish, it was a thing of rare beauty. We had been talking about it for months, of course, but I think most of our neighborhood friends still didn't really believe it was going to happen. After all, people around here are always talking about things they don't really intend to do. [...]

Am I Liberal or Conservative? Or Both? (Romal Tune)

[... continued from part 1]

All I'm trying to say is that whether we wear the label of Christian conservative or Christian liberal, what matters most is that we are Christian. The Bible reminds us that there is no male or female, Jew or gentile, bond or free, but in Christ we are all the same, sinners saved by grace.

What I've learned is that many of my liberal and [...]

Am I Liberal or Conservative? Or Both? (Part 1)

It wasn't until I started working in the world of religion and politics with advocacy organizations on Capitol Hill that I ever heard anyone define Christians as liberal or conservative. These terms were not used in my church experience. But when I recall different experiences working in the church, I can see how some members of the churches where I worshiped then, where I worship now, and in congregations across the country, fit into these categories. I've found it difficult to [...]

Measuring Poverty

In January of 1964, President Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty in America." In response, the Census Bureau created a methodology for establishing an "official poverty line," determined the number of people whose incomes fell below the line, and calculated the poverty rate. The formula for determining poverty was based on the assumption that food costs consume one-third of a family's after-tax income -- an assumption that is still used today, though food now constitutes [...]

Poverty and Personal Responsibility (Part 2)

[ ...continued from part one]

So how do we help people who have been hurt so much psychologically and emotionally that they don't believe in themselves and don't believe they deserve better? How do we help children who have never heard a parent say, "I love you, you are special, talented, and will do great things one day"? Or those who watched their parents harm themselves through substance [...]

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