Politics and Social Conscience

By Gongora, Bernadette | The Humanist, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Politics and Social Conscience


Gongora, Bernadette, The Humanist


In a country where "high moral standards" seem to be a prerequisite for political office, I am perplexed, reflecting on why some U.S. citizens rejected and despised Al Gore's plan to be socially responsible. After Gore's speech at the Democratic National Convention this past summer, I was saddened by comments that were unabashedly opposed to his desire to guarantee certain basic rights of human decency. One person commented that she wished she had a calculator to add up all of the money Gore wanted to spend on social programs. Ironically, she probably goes to church every Sunday and considers herself a good Christian, not thinking beyond her microcosm, not having the compassion and generosity that Jesus, her religious mentor, possessed.

Are we so blinded by avarice and selfishness that we don't see the inequities in the United States? I no longer want to hear how the affluent work hard for their money, because I've seen the poor work hard for theirs and they're still not any better off. In college I worked in several hotels where older women, foreigners and minorities, made minimum wage cleaning seventeen or eighteen rooms in one day, while young people like me made six or seven dollars an hour working at the front desk. How is that equitable?

These are women who have families to support and are at least twice my age with nowhere to go. They are relegated to these jobs, where they work hard, and still return home with just change in their pockets. Their children have no health insurance and barely enough to eat. How is this equitable? They are too embarrassed and too honorable to take handouts from the government, and so they try to do the best they can without any help.

I agree with many people who argue there are those who take advantage of the system. But the solution is to fix the system and make it better--not get rid of it altogether. Children, immigrants, the indigent, and the elderly shouldn't be stripped of their dignity and abandoned without enough to eat, a place to sleep, or healthcare. How are any of us better served by allowing these injustices to prevail?

Are we that callous? Are we to espouse the idea of survival of the fittest? Not long ago I watched this struggle for life. In Bogota, Columbia, many indigenous people live in shacks in the middle of the city at the base of a mountain. Livestock roam the streets, families haul priceless bits of garbage for use in their tin homes. I helplessly watched children with gashes on their hands and feet sifting through mountains of glass, collecting the bigger pieces to redeem for pennies. Are we so spiritually vacuous that we would permit this kind of situation in our homeland? Where are our moral and true family values? …

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