Be sure to check out the marvelous op-ed that appears in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by Greensboro anti-poverty activist Gwen Frisbie-Fulton. In “We look away from the flood of poverty,” Frisbie-Fulton details some of the harsh realities and choices that hurricanes (and the floods they so often spawn) inflict on the people inhabiting the lowlands of our state — who are almost always people of low wealth an income. After detailing the temporary excitement that hurricanes bring to those of us who live comfortable lives, the author puts it this way:
“We look away from the flood we know is coming. The slow seep of water down from the mountains, spreading out of its riverbed path, breaking out of creeks and cricks, rushing off the pavement of cities and heading Down East. The water swallows up crops and homes and pigs. We know this slow seep is not just water, but poverty.
We try not to speak of it. The smeared red clay on living room walls. Stalled out Buicks getting their last rust. Somebody’s work tools sinking into the river. Humid air plastering an old Myrtle Beach t-shirt onto a body as it shovels filthy toys into trash bags. It is mud and muck and poverty. And we know it’s coming. It’s all very predictable. So we look away.
Poverty has always been a flood and not a hurricane. It’s always been a slow, rolling disaster, with muddy gray water under an incongruent bright blue sky. It’s always been a slow build of mold between generations, of people making do with babies in faded red milk crates floated on mattresses down city streets. Look away.
Poverty is slow. It’s a looming light bill and a long wait on child support. It’s the uncomfortable plastic chairs at DSS and the caseworkers who don’t make eye contact. It’s the 10 months of pregnancy with no insurance and lying to the doctor about the cramps because you can’t afford a referral. It’s the long wait in jail because you can’t afford bail and long Christmas days when you can’t afford presents.
It’s the long nights with the heat out and the long calls trying to reach the landlord. It’s the hours in detention after your own boss at the meat processing plant calls immigration on you and the long stare you give him while he hires your cousin for less money under the table. Sometimes poverty is even the long last minutes trying to get through the locked door at the Hamlet Chicken Plant. So we look away.
Poverty is predictable. It’s the predictability of underfunded schools and outdated textbooks. It’s the predictability of an entire two generations of fathers and mothers being locked up and their left-behind children staring cold-eyed and speaking tight-lipped during the Pledge at school. It’s the predictability of legislators turning their heads and hog waste and coal ash breaching their levies.”
“Alyeesha has the grit to make it through the storm, but after the winds pass and the bottled water gets loaded back up, she knows that the country’s attention will just move on. Jim Cantore does not come for poverty.
Alyeesha’s little house may be flooded out. She may lose everything. There is no insurance company to call. Her landlord may just tell her he can’t do nothing, just move along. Her friend who drives her to work may not be able to pick her up, and she may lose her job. She will be left standing in the still waters of America, brown water on her brown legs, on land that was not her grandmother’s and is not hers, with no place but my sofa to go.
That’s the predictable slow drip of poverty. All your life you’ve watched the water rise, knowing no one is coming to get you. After all, they told you to get out.”