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Ruminations: Cuomo and Warren’s War on Poverty, and the Politics of Money

Op/Ed by Wallace Mabry


wallace_mabryI revisit here my critique on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Lovely Warren’s war on poverty, because of my concern that a mise-en-scene is in the works, and the poor and the impoverished are destined for a placement in the shadows.

It is critically important, too, that I reintroduce some of the problems associated with eradicating poverty here in Rochester, N.Y., or elsewhere.

First, let me state emphatically that poverty is a state of physical, mental, psychological, and emotional despair. It is a state brought on by a process of dehumanizing social, economic, political, and educational conditions, which are so ingrained in the lifestyles and psyches of a people that, oftentimes, given physical and monetary improvements in their life situations, do not always result in their enrichments.

There is not, however, an inherent weakness, emanating from that condition, that stifles the will in a people to overcome that which is holding them down.

Over time, mind you, if the improvements in their life situations prove to be constant, enrichment may inevitably occur.

Having said that, let me restate some of the problems associated with eradicating poverty.

Men created the conditions for poverty by wanting only to take the course of material history where the great majority of wealth, via ownership of essential resources, has been concentrated in the hands of the few. Today’s corporate giants are representatives of those few.

In order to assure the protection of their wealth and possessions, these men set about establishing an administration of justice, elected officials who promulgated laws, established courts, judgeships, police officials, and armies, who command the laws are enforced under the penalty of fine, imprisonment, death, or warfare.

And, as history will bear witness, murder has not been a deterrent to insure those protections.

This same caliber of men determine and justify who the players are who wheel and deal in the open marketplace, where global business decisions are negotiated. They determine who benefits from the ultimate gains thereof, and what costs affected by the activities that had to be taken to accomplish those gains, will be passed on to the consumer or tax payer.

Men of the same character today, sit in legislative offices, and decide what factors determine what economic outcomes, wages, taxes, and who gets to profit, overall, from the systems under which it is all fixed.

The educational system has, and continues to play, a major part in the process. It prepares students, by building on those ideals, and maintaining them as frames of reference, for success.

While the forgone is not all cut-and-dried, make no mistake about it, the conditions under which the poor, and the impoverished, survive are man-made.

“Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.  No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” – John F. Kennedy

Cuomo’s $1.6 million to form a task force to ascertain the “root cause of poverty,” (which, by the way, is presented in volumes of work providing all the details and nuances of poverty to satisfy the curiosity of even the random reader or researcher of the facts) is, in respect to Warren’s share, after funding all the collaterals that are necessary to bring her project(s) into fruition, just a drop in the bucket of dollars it will take for poverty to be eradicated, and extirpated in any select area of the city of Rochester, where there is a concentration of poverty.

I imagine the additional $10 billion Cuomo has upped the ante for cities to compete for can, and will, provide for some structural improvements, and new constructions.

The announcement of those million and billions of available dollars, plus more, now available, which had been held back from monies previously directed toward state educational improvements, has set in motion a ground swell of new ideas and proposals.

Neighborhood anti-poverty agencies are joining together to make a strong case for some of those dollars to augment their community programs, and services, to children and struggling families.

Community and religious groups, in the more economically stable areas of the city, are organizing to connect “the lack of a living wage” to poverty.

Upstate cities are looking to join with other upstate cities to make a strong case for a hefty amount of the $10 billion.

One wonders how the poor and the impoverished are going to fare in this heightening economic activity, swelling with every million and billion dollar announcement.

The community and religious groups, in the more economically stable areas of the city, also have the support of Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Peter Carpino, former president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester, and Maggie Brooks, Monroe County Executive.

Brooks’ backing of the group is interesting, in that, for the past eight years, Brooks and her administration have not bargained in good faith with the Federation of Social Workers (FSW), the union of foster care and child protective services professionals charged with protecting children from abuse and maltreatment. The FSW has been and continues to bargain to secure a contract that provides for decent wages, and an adequate health care package, all of which Brooks and her team have provided for other essential Monroe County service employees.

I am concerned that no voice yet has been heard in support of the poor and the impoverished of the city, since it is the conditions of their lives that are being used as the clarion call for improvements.

I am concerned that a great number of these poor and impoverished are illiterate to some extent, but hard working, caring parents, who do not read the newspapers, or listen to broadcast news reports.

I am concerned that it will not be those who are in the most need, who will be among the ones going out in the evening to a community center, to listen to someone talk, and having their say about how they feel their lives can be improved.

I am concerned that those poor, and others like them, who may have engaged in the past with the rhetoric of change and opportunity, will, because of past experiences with political opportunists, dismiss the opportunity to be heard.

One can be optimistic, I suppose, in spite of the problems to be overcome. I, for one, will be watching.