The voice of the poor – ten years later

by | Jan 25, 2015 | Justice and Peace

Holtschneider-2013Recently 100 Christian leaders called on presidential candidates to declare themselves on issues encompassed by the “Circle of Compassion”.

Way back in 2005 Fr. Dennis Holtschneider CM proposed that the Vincentian Family become, in effect, lobbyists for those who have no lobby. In his keynote address to the National Vincentian Family Gathering “Expanding the Circle of Solidarity” he proposed that the Vincentian Family unite in addressing what we now call “systemic change” on behalf of those trapped in the expanding circle of poverty.

From the conclusion of his presentation…

In Vincent’s day, no one even thought of changing larger structures to keep people from becoming poor in the first place. They thought about charity. But in our age and time, we have realized that if we make changes to our laws, to our government programs, to our city and educational policies, that many more people can be helped that way than can ever be taken out of poverty by our charitable works. So, I’ve been thinking for some time about what the Vincentians in the U.S. can do. We don’t have policy experts among our

In Vincent’s day, no one even thought of changing larger structures to keep people from becoming poor in the first place. They thought about charity. But in our age and time, we have realized that if we make changes to our laws, to our government programs, to our city and educational policies, that many more people can be helped that way than can ever be taken out of poverty by our charitable works. So, I’ve been thinking for some time about what the Vincentians in the U.S. can do. We don’t have policy experts among our ranks, or politicians, or economists. What can we do? What do we have to give?

It crystallized for me during the recent (2004) presidential election. No one mentioned the poor. Neither side – republican or democrat – mentioned the poor. The poor were invisible in the last election. And that’s what where we can help. We know the poor. We may not be policy experts, but we know the poor.

I want to make a proposal today. And I want to propose something that would require all of the Vincentian Family to work together in the U.S. Several years ago, we agreed that we should work together more than we have in the past. I’ve seen some small attempts to assist one another’s formation experiences. I’ve also seen some local meetings for mutual support or prayer. This conference itself fits within that purpose. Perhaps there are even some combined works, but I haven’t seen those. To my mind, we haven’t been very successful in bringing our organizations together to make something significant happen. I know we want to say that ‘we are greater together than the sum of our parts,’ but it’s not true right now. We are not greater together than the sum of our parts. So here’s my proposal:

Let’s get the poor into the public eye. Let’s make the poor visible again, and let’s do it together. Poor people don’t vote, so those in charge need to see other groups take interest in them.

* On a local level, let’s get every group of boy scouts and girls scouts, and neighborhood associations, schools, churches to do something for the poor. To see the poor, to meet them, not just drop off bags of clothing for people they’ll never meet.
* More regionally, let’s meet with elected officials, and give them tours of the neighborhoods we work in. Let’s tell them the stories and needs of the poor.
* Let’s meet with local newspapers, give them story ideas.
* Let’s get people at our churches and institutions to write letters about the needs of the poor.
* When there’s a larger issue, get them human interest stories.
* Nationally, let’s hire a PR firm to help us figure out how to get the needs of the poor back on the political agenda.
* Let’s mobilize the national foundations to put the poor back on the map of public concern.
* Let’s work with existing national organizations, such as Network and others, to provide them our access and knowledge of the poor.
* And let’s use the poor to do this. Empower them to speak on their behalf.
* Let’s work across church lines.

Let’s create a national visibility for the poor. Let’s foster a national desire to do something to help the poor. This will require focus and coordination, a small central office staffed and funded by our organizations. This will require our time and cooperation with that central office. Real time, real cooperation; not ‘prayerful support’ or ‘sympathetic interest.’

We have a big head start on this. The Society of St. Vincent DePaul has done an extraordinary job with their ‘Voices of the Poor Initiative.’ We can learn a great deal from them.

 

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