Every year, the United Nations sets a theme for their International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The 2014 theme is…
Leave no one behind: think, decide and act together against extreme poverty.”
I n a world as progressed as we believe ourselves to be it seems that poverty is still winning and growing. Income disparity in “advanced” economies such as the United States is growing rapidly with the top 1% gaining and the middle class slipping precariously. The Pope and other world leaders have identified income disparity as the greatest danger facing the world. In the former Soviet-influenced states, oligarchs amass wealth putting every capitalist of the last two centuries to shame while the general population slides deeper into deprivation.
Africa, East Asia and many parts of Central and South America remain as poor as ever even as local economic opportunity grows. In North Korea the population is simply poor. In China, people work themselves to death while their economy is touted as the next great consumer market. We can only guess at what it means to be in a factory city working in a factory, for factory wages, without any suggestion that you will ever evolve to any other place or level. Another kind of poverty?
Of late the press increasingly carries stories that the very wealthy are “pitching-in” to solve world hunger or eradicate malaria or fund micro-banking initiatives. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook and his wife all announce in their names their latest “good intentions”. But the fact remains that this reinforces the notion that only the very wealthy can afford to care about the poor.
Governments and religious organizations provide massive funding for programs aimed at the poor all over the world. But even without statistical study we can tell its a thin layer of support.
Poverty breeds war. We spend more money on those. And then we spend on refugees. And then they join the ranks in deep poverty.
President Johnson in the United States announced a war on poverty only to see that dream abandoned for a war on Vietnam instead. This repeated over and over in every part of the world. Leaders and nations with great hopes and intentions towards the poor sidelined by war and greed.
Historically it has always been the working people, not the wealthy, who have proportionally donated massively more of their income to aid the impoverished at home and around the world either directly through charitable donations or through taxation. When workers’ income is falling backward, along with their lifestyles, how can they be expected to come to the aid of the impoverished? Survival is uppermost on the minds of most workers right now, not charity, let alone spending time strategizing for the great coming together of upper and middle classes for a joint effort to eradicate poverty forever.
So the question as to who will truly be “thinking and deciding how to act together” now to end extreme poverty will probably be the question on the lips of those who have read this far.
But how do you/we decide to act?
What in your daily life can contribute to aid the poor or pull down the forces that push people into poverty? How could the arts contribute beyond simply placing the reality of poverty in front of us all in pictures and in words? Could there be a universal symbol of relief, care and comfort without religious overtones to unify all world cultures? How can we teach compassion with our art?
As an artist do you feel you have a special responsibility to use your creativity to invent art projects that bring awareness of injustice and suffering?
Have you ever sent art to your government representatives as a way to initiate action by them?
Have you found any art projects in your neighborhood or country which focus on poverty and on providing solutions to hunger, housing, and support for the disenfranchised?
Do you feel in your heart of hearts that the haves and the have-nots will one day recognize each other as one family?