Blog Action Day: Poverty & Memory


I went out to pick up a load of manure at Vito’s this afternoon, and on the way back, I listened to NPR’s Talk of the Nation about StoryCorps, which is on the road in Roanoke, Virgina recording stories about “hard times.”

One of the stories they aired, about a single woman with six kids who would save up her one paid sick day a month for the whole year and use the money to buy toys from the Salvation Army for her kids at Christmas, drove me to tears.  She said (I’m paraphrasing), “I never told them it was from Santa Claus ’cause I didn’t want no man taking credit for what I worked for.”

A lot of those stories about hard times gone by contain an element of triumph, of love, of community, of dignity.  The audience (including myself) was clearly moved by them.  But it occurred to me as I was driving and listening that as much as we as a country cherish those stories of old times, even if they are hard times, there are many fewer sympathetic ears for those hitting hard times right now.

Last night, when I blogged about socialism, there were some ferociously negative comments about people (and I was accused of this as well) wanting handouts–wanting something for nothing–wanting to do nothing and get paid for it.  It was like Grapes of Wrath and the disdain piled on the Oakies.  I think if that first commenter had been within spitting distance, I’d have gotten very wet.

It’s funny that, while we can listen with nostalgia to stories of hard times gone by (even if we ourselves haven’t experienced them), we can’t, as a nation, seem to recognize that for a lot of folks, the hard times are now.  We can sit and listen to stories of the Depression, when impoverished and hungry people, driven off their land, were accused of the very same crimes some of my commenters accused me of last night.

How is it that we’re not feeling a very strong sense of deja vu?

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One response to this post.

  1. I think there are a lot of complicated and contradictory emotions going around right now that are leading to the silence and seeming lack of compassion you’ve identified.

    There certainly were similarly complex emotional responses during and after the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Here’s an example. One of my grandmothers left Missouri during the “dirty thirties.” She got called Okie a lot by people in her new state, and she always explained that she was not an Okie because she didn’t want their scorn and because she was proud of coming from Missouri.

    Her pride also colored her political views. In order to survive, she accepted relief money during the Depression. Unfortunately, a government worker associated with that relief money also came to her home and gave her a lecture about what she was doing “wrong” in her housekeeping. That lecture made her so angry that for the rest of her life, she voted for politicians who did things that hurt her economic interests, just because they espoused anti-government views.

    In these uncertain times, I think we’re going to see people do all manner of interesting and on the surface, inexplicable things, just as they did in the Great Depression and its aftermath.

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