"No mother should have to ride the subways or set up house in an elevator shaft or an empty barn in lieu of putting her children to sleep in a warm bed at night." - Theresa Funiciello

May 1999
Vol. 1 - #3

Said It: Feminist News, Culture & Politics   An End to Poverty

Resisting The Machinery of Violence

The Weekly's Viagra Dependency

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An End to Poverty
by Adriene Sere

The mainstream media and our government want the public to believe that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, otherwise known as welfare reform, has brought about little other than jobs and roses. The government/media claim that welfare reform, and its arbitrary punishments, have resulted in less dependency on government--as if throwing people off the rolls and onto a corporate-controlled, cement-covered land makes them "independent." They claim that welfare reform has provided a kind of inspiration and hard-love motivation for single mothers to join the healthy, invigorating workforce--as if caring for one's own young children is a decadent, lazy distraction. The government/media claim that welfare reform has improved people's lives, and the "number" that has fallen through the cracks is insignificant. The government/media claims are false.

In reality, welfare reform has created:

* Coercive, shaming welfare bureaucracies which are bigger and more expensive than ever to taxpayers, and which deliver less survival money to recipients, and deliver it less dependably than ever.

*An institutionally reinforced culture of misogyny, in which mothering is characterized not only as "doing nothing," but as evil and corrupt so long as stay home mothers are not also performing in-house services for a husband.

* Worker insecurity and loss of power. When there is less of a safety net, or no safety net, to fall back on, a worker has less power to stand up against an employer's abuse, less power to demand livable wages, and less power to question the exploitative nature and meaninglessness of a job which, unfortunately, is the nature of most jobs in today's society.

* Disempowerment of the population, and increased potential for corporate and governmental tyranny. When a population lacks an economic safety net, taking risks to challenge wrongful power can be life-threatening--not because the FBI kills all effective protesters, but because simply losing one's job can be life-threatening. The lack of a safety net creates obedience in a population. It makes a population terrified of questioning the status quo. The lack of a safety net means work takes precedence over individual authority, health, and community involvement. What kind of check and balance can there be to the centralized power of corporations and government when a population's first priority is to please centralized power? How can a working population stay civically educated, involved, and active, the only possible check to centralized power, when its vital time and energy is devoted to serving corporate power?

*Untold damage to children, who are far more likely now to live in poverty; to be endangered by abusive fathers whom their mothers cannot afford to leave; to be abused by mothers whose experience of violence from men and/or poverty might be directed at children. Poor children are now more likely to be separated for long hours every day from loving single parents, and left with non-caretakers who molest, neglect, or otherwise abuse because the government now demands that single parents, usually mothers, "work" for their welfare checks rather than take care of their children.

The list goes on and on.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

In the 1960's, when visions of a fairer society were bolder and clearer, the welfare system was scrutinized and almost replaced, not with more coercion and poverty, but with a dignified form of direct, above-the-poverty-level income to all who need it.

The proposed system was called Guaranteed Income. It was advocated first by organized welfare mothers and anti-poverty workers, who understood that jobs are not the answer for everyone, and that parenting, particularly when one's children are very young, must have priority over paying jobs.

The idea became mainstream and versions of Guaranteed Income were even advocated by conservatives such as President Richard Nixon and economist Milton Friedman. To them, Guaranteed Income was fiscal common sense. Bureaucracies are wasteful and expensive. A safety net is an inevitable part of advanced, industrial capitalism. Don't fight it, they reasoned; make the best of it.

A system of direct, guaranteed income is more than fiscal common sense and an ongoing remedy to imperfect capitalism. Much more than this, it is about giving appropriate social support for the care of the inevitable needs of children. It is about recognizing the importance of motherwork. It is about empowering women, who tend to be far more committed to caring for their children than men. It is, therefore, also about fostering equality between women and men.

It is about empowering workers, giving them greater authority over the conditions in which they work, and over the nature of the work they perform. It is about enabling the entire population to make decisions in its own best interest. And, ultimately, it is about leaving behind a misogynist and puritanical system of punishment, coercion, and force.

A direct, guaranteed income to all who need it is about moving toward a society based on unconditional inclusion and love. It is about treating people decently and with genuine responsibility, knowing this treatment will be returned in kind. It is about creating a society that honors the interdependence of human beings, and gives respect to all.


Copyright 1999 Adriene Sere - All rights reserved by author.
All work contained in Said It is owned by the respective contributing authors or artists,
including all copyrights contained therein, and may not be copied, reprinted, or otherwise used
in any form without the express written permission of the copyright holder.

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