A recent U.S.A. news headline: “Poor seem far down list on candidates’ agendas.”
No real surprise there! In the last presidential campaign in the United States, neither President Obama nor Mr. Romney ever mentioned people living in poverty in major campaign addresses nor in their debates as they emphasized their plans for the middle class.
Of course we’re not surprised. The poor are always last in society, not only marginalized but forgotten, ignored, voiceless. Is it the same in your country?
The Vincentian Family recognizes that an essential part of our mission is precisely to insist that their voices be heard. In fact, although we wish to engage in advocacy on their behalf, we know that the most effective advocacy is not just that we “put a face on the issue” but that those burdened by poverty be the ones to speak up and advocate for themselves.
We want the poor to have their place at the table. If not, as the community organizing slogan puts it, if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. Some other interest will surely dominate yours.
Poverty paralyzes people. Poverty erases hope. Poverty can blind people even to their own gifts and abilities, their own power to move forward.
If we are to help people speak truth to power, we must first convince those who suffer poverty that change can happen, that poverty is not “God’s will” or their “destiny” to always live in misery. To effect structural or systemic change demands that all involved believe that change must happen, and that it actually can happen. Not everyone believes that, yet this belief is fundamental to the effort to create the “new heaven and new earth,” the reign of God in our midst.
The Vincentian Family’s International Commission to Promote Systemic Change invites you to visit the systemic change toolkit to see compelling examples of where and how real change is happening for people in poverty around the world. The toolkit material is available in several languages if you click this link, is easily downloadable, and with a bit of creativity can be adapted for presentations to different audiences and cultural situations almost anywhere.
Systemic Change: it’s real, it’s happening, it’s Vincentian mission!
Jim Claffey just retired from the St. Vincent de Paul Society on Long Island, where he served as Director of Formation and Programs. Jim currently serves as the executive secretary of the Vincentian Family’s International Commission to Promote Systemic Change.