For Americans living in poverty, the recession of 2008 never ended; it merely created a deeper, more daunting hole from which to crawl. I’ve often seen people summon up extraordinary adaptions to relentlessly oppositional circumstances, but resilience has limits. Pressed beyond endurance, people break.
The American Dream is a lie for most people of color, particularly women. As long as their bodies are not safe from abuse and rape, as long as their social, economic, and reproductive rights are routinely ignored, how can a self-made future ever be a realistic aspiration?
The damage manifests in a range of behaviors from casually walking against the red light in traffic, to eating junk food, to using addictive substances to kill the pain.
Trash piles, litter, and graffiti are the décor of their public places; they have no more investment in their neighborhoods than does the City in which they live.
About 90% women coming to Oakland Women’s Centers are black. Most of their stories are litanies of staggering insufficiencies in housing, education, job skills, health information and care – especially help to recover from depression and trauma that define their feelings of worthlessness.
Too many lack of computer fluency, much less easy access to computers. A deeply troubling number have not finished high school. Some struggle to read or to do basic math. They understand problem solving, but immediate survival needs tend to limit the horizon to today or tomorrow. Life dreams live in a dark closet of protected secrets.
Their lives are blighted by obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, sickle cell, epilepsy, HIV, and high risk of breast cancer and maternal mortality.
We cannot build a healthy city, much less a nation or world, if we all do not engage in changing the fundamental misconception that their problems do not affect all of us.
If we ignore these women’s needs, we risk losing an important wellsprings of genius. And it’s women’s genius – our hardwired devotion to family and community – that must ascend if the planet is to survive the 21st century.
We can tend to the recovery of the walking wounded, we can contribute a variety of resources to support that process, and some of us can fight for policy change. But government is, on balance, only reactive. Durable change begins in neighborhoods and ripples outward. If we claim to be socially conscious, we must open – wide – our minds and wallets to what is necessary and urgent action with and for all women living in poverty.
This is the mission of the Women’s Center movement. We embrace it with fierce determination – and joy. Every day brings new breakthroughs.
Join the tribe. www.WomensCentersIntl.org