This afternoon, on the drive back home from picking up some more Los Cuentos face masks, I saw that my car and I were definitely a part of traffic resuming its more usual gross shape across L.A.’s tarmac.
Just a couple miles from home, stopped at a light, as the bulb turned green signaling the go-ahead, the car just ahead of me–which was also directly in front of the crosswalk–held steady to its breaks, not going anywhere. When I saw that the car adjacent to it was also paused, holding a line of drivers in the lane next to mine back as well and thus turning us into two clusters held firm, I raised my neck to see just what was in the way.
I saw an African-American gentlemen struggling from his wheelchair then, a man who was surely somewhere in his sixties, and who looked to still be in a hospital gown for patients, as if recently discharged. With all his strength, he bore his arms upon the chair’s groggy wheels to hobble towards the end of the cross-walk.
My concern then was someone sounding their horn unknowingly, as these intersections are wont to hearing during such moments, but I had nothing to fear: it’s as if all of us from our seats behind the windshields could only bear witness to the stunning brokenness of the minute.
Where were the man’s family members? Or his caretakers? Shouldn’t he have had a hotel bed reserved for him under LAHSA’s Project Roomkey? He certainly qualified. The city aside, how could no one standing at the end of the cross-walk rush over to help him push past the curb safely onto the sidewalk? But the pedestrians nearby were also mostly older women themselves, mothers and even grandmothers donning their face-masks with great resolve to protect their own health. But who were us drivers then? All of us were America, from sun-rich Los Angeles.
In 2017, a United Nations (UN) official visited the United States to report on the U.S.’s handling of its poverty rates compared to that of other developed (largely Western) countries. What followed was an indicting account of a political body spread across the country that not only refuses to address poverty as a social issue, but which also clearly benefits from maintaining the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few while far more struggle for basic survival, including by promulgating the idea that the poor are at fault for their own poverty and that it’s for this reason no safety net should be afforded to them. In the words of Professor Philip Alston, a UN Special Reporter on extreme poverty and human rights:
…I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there. There are anecdotes aplenty, but evidence is nowhere to be seen…the poor people I met from among the 40 million living in poverty were overwhelmingly either persons who had been born into poverty, or those who had been thrust there by circumstances largely beyond their control such as physical or mental disabilities, divorce, family breakdown, illness, old age, unlivable wages, or discrimination in the job market.”
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