Overcoming Poverty is an Act of Justice

Overcoming Poverty is an Act of Justice

Yesterday I went to Oklahoma City’s version of the National Day for Fair Pay protest, held on the corner of N.W. 23rd Street and Broadway, a street corner nestled between I-235 and McDonalds. Next door to that is Ace Cash Express, where all you need is a job and an income of at least $1000 a month to borrow money at an exorbitant interest rate. Like most things involving money, if you’re broke, you pay more. Even in Oklahoma City, where the cost of living is 14.5% below the national average, $1000 won’t come close to getting you through the month.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT)  “Living Wage Calculator”, workers would have to earn $8.19 an hour just to survive in Oklahoma County, nearly a dollar above the current minimum wage. That is, assuming you never eat out, never do anything recreational that costs money, never miss a day of work, and never have a sick child or any other medical emergency. And god forbid your 15-year-old car should ever break down.

Another source, universallivingwage.org, lists a more realistic living wage of $10.17 per hour just to live in a “0 bedroom apartment” in Oklahoma City. If you’d like your apartment or house to have an actual bedroom, you’ll have to earn a minimum of $11.10. That’s a full $3.85 above the current national (and Oklahoma’s) minimum wage.

So on December 5th, while CNBC pundits debated the merit of a person who works a full 40-hour week being able to actually survive; referring to it as another Washington giveaway, thousands of protesters across America took to the streets. Waving signs that said “We are worth more” and “Fight for 15”, they set up near stores and fast food restaurants that are notorious for underpaying their employees, simply because it’s legal and they don’t care. 

While corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonalds rake in massive profits, taxpayers subsidize the working poor through food stamps and other welfare programs. To put it in perspective, the four members of the Walton family are worth $100 billion, more than all of the Wal-Mart workers in the entire world combined. In the meantime, minimum wage workers at Wal-Mart and at the McDonalds on N.W. 23rd and Broadway in Oklahoma City would have to go next door to the payday loan shark just to make it through the month, which would in turn costs them even more next month, and so on and so on, until they end up homeless.

In Oklahoma City, as we rallied on behalf of underpaid workers around the nation, Fox25 News pulled up next to where we were protesting. As it turned out, they weren’t there to cover the protest. Instead, they later reported this story:

Man found dead near Oklahoma City overpass, may have frozen

The Oklahoma City Police and medical examiner are investigating after a man was found dead near an overpass in NW Oklahoma City.

Viewers alerted FOX 25 to an investigation under the overpass at NW 23rd and Broadway. Police say the body was found Thursday morning and they believe his death is weather related. 

The state medical examiner will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

That was it. No name, no age, no description, no details about the life this poor unlucky soul lived. His was just another anonymous death, a tragic statistic. He died less than a hundred yards from where we were standing in the shivering cold, signs in hand. Afterward, we would go to our warm homes of varying sizes and shapes, and live our lives in varying degrees of poverty or luxury.

Meanwhile, the workers of Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and other predatory corporations will struggle every single day just to stay afloat, to live in a “0 bedroom apartment”, if they’re lucky. But as Republicans in Washington and conservative states such as Oklahoma continue to cut programs for the poorest of our citizens, every minimum wage worker in America is a single crisis away from homelessness, and at risk of being the next anonymous death, the next tragic statistic.

It doesn’t have to be this way. American workers are worth more than a never ending hopeless struggle just to survive while the rich get continually richer. In a recent national survey, 80% of Americans supported raising the minimum wage to $10.10, and then adjusting it to the cost of living in future years. Eighty percent. Every single race, demographic, education level, and political affiliation overwhelmingly supported a $10.10 minimum wage. Even Republicans, by a 62% to 38% margin.

80% is more than just a majority, it is not even a mandate, it’s enough to start a workers’ revolution. Vote out every politician at every level who doesn’t support a living wage. Demand that your city and state enact a living wage, and demand that those in office do the right thing. And if they refuse, run against them and support a living wage yourself. Quit eating at McDonalds and other fast food restaurants that underpay their employees. Instead of shopping at Wal-Mart, shop somewhere where employees are treated with dignity and respect.

Organize. Educate. Protest. Boycott. They have the money, but we have the numbers.

Someone else died on the same day as the anonymous homeless person who passed away under the I-235 underpass at N.W. 23rd and Broadway in Oklahoma City. Nelson Mandela, who fought for the poor and disenfranchised his entire life, had this to say about poverty: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”


Mark Faulk Pictures