The Donkey Is Sleeping Today

The “Damn, Lazy, Drug-Addled, Good-For-Nothing” Unemployed

In Civil Liberties, Great Recession, Inequality, Message/Framing, Politics on July 20, 2010 at 9:26 am

Homeboy Industries: A beacon of hope

A generation ago, the myth-making maestro Ronald Reagan conjured out of thin-air the story of a Chicago “Welfare Queen” who had ripped the government off for over $150,000 using nearly 100 aliases, dozens of addresses and social security cards, and a handful of dead husbands. The country was outraged. Reagan promised to roll back welfare. And we found out that

Unfortunately, like most great conservative anecdotes, it wasn’t really true. The media searched for this welfare cheat in the hopes of interviewing her, and discovered that she didn’t even exist.  As a bit of class warfare, however, it was brilliant. It diverted public attention from insider traders in their limousines to Welfare Queens in their Cadillacs.

The beat against the least fortunate goes on. In March Senator Jon Kyle (R-AZ) claimed that jobless insurance “doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.” And last week Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) proposed drug testing the jobless: “A lot of people are saying “Hey, it’s about time.” Why do we keep giving money to people who are going to go use it on drugs instead of their families?”

Blame the unemployed: a familiar refrain. All this despite the fact that our economy is sputtering and unemployment insurance is the second most effective way for the government to spend to money to stimulate the economy.  Here’s how much one dollar in government spending creates in value to the overall economy versus other programs and tax cuts:

Republicans have for three weeks now blocked an extension of unemployment insurance because of their cynical political calculation that it’s better to see Democrats fail than to help people that are really hurting. Sadly, stupidly and counter-productively, the modern Conservative movement is filled with this misplaced resentment, but no idea is more destructive than the one that I believe lies at the core of their movement. I read this line in Father Greg Boyle’s amazing book “Tattoos On the Heart” and believe it applies here:

“The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives.”

I had lunch at Homegirl Cafe in downtown LA yesterday. The food was amazing, the service top-notch, the salsa had a kick, and most everyone working under the roof here is doing it for free. In the midst of the Great Recession, Homeboy Industries has had to lay off 330 workers since mid-May. 100 are still paid, but most of the staff, administration and Father Greg Boyle himself continue to work at Homeboys without receiving paychecks.

These are people without jobs: the damn, lazy, drug-addled, good-for-nothing unemployed, right? And even worse, they’re former gang members (gasp!) and just like Orrin Hatch predicted… they are working for free. Er, what’s that again?

Yes, many of them are receiving unemployment insurance. That’s what happens when you lose your job in this country. But, they are flying in the face of the Great Right Hoax — these unemployed are working their asses off daily to help save their business — a beacon of hope that got many of them off the streets, out of gangs, and into a better life. This is the only after-prison work program for former gang members in existence. It was founded 20 years ago by a Jesuit priest, Father Greg Boyle. It’s talked about in prisons and as this post from LA Moms Blog states, without this hope there is nothing:

Homeboy serves about 12,000 people a year and if those people don’t get the counseling, drug treatment, job training that they need, where will they go? “We’re the only game in town…This is the only place in LA County and the only place in the state and the only place in the country that offers such services.”

He said he was talking to a gang member who had recently been released from jail and the man said they were talking about Boyle and Homeboy on the inside. Those men need to know that there is hope, that there is something for them on the outside other than the gang life that they’ve lived since childhood.

Because of the Great recession, Homeboys Industries five businesses (a café, a silk-screen shop, a bakery, a construction company, and a gift shop) have taken a hit just like most every other business in America, but unlike other businesses they need donations to handle the needs of 1,000 gang members who walk in the door every month. When donations fall off a cliff, somebody has to take a cut. In this case it’s most of their employees who hail from an area forgotten by most of us. These brave and tireless souls continue to keep the lights on so Homeboy Industries can keep their doors open and their mission alive.

Gang members work beside one another at Homeboys Industries because as part of his mission Father “G”, as they call him, says: “I discovered that it always becomes impossible to demonize someone you know.” More from the book:

“Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest. For no amount of our screaming at the people in charge to change things can change them. The margins don’t get erased by simply insisting that the powers-that-be erase them. The trickle-down theory doesn’t really work here. The powers bent on waging war against the poor and the young and the “other” will only be moved to kinship when they observe it. Only when we can see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated will we abandon the values that seek to exclude.”

Years ago Grover Norquist made the infamous neo-con missive claiming he wanted to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Well, he and his “homies” have succeeded in a way. The selfish and cynical decisions that have been made at the highest levels the last decade – the Bush Tax Cuts, the bank bailouts and the frivolous nation building on all nations but our own – have put our economy, and those who need our help the most, in peril. Class warfare is being waged. And most of America is losing. The decisions we make in this country of ours, the elections we hold, they actually do matter because “the wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives.”

I urge you to buy “Tattoos On the Heart” for you and your friends. All of Father Greg’s proceeds go directly to Homeboy Industries. You can find the book at the Homeboy gift shop or on-line here. And to donate directly to Homeboy Industries here.

– SH

7/20 PM Update: The Senate voted 60-40 today to re-authorize unemployment benefits for the 2.5 million for the long-term jobless. Read the article at HuffPo here.

7/21 Update: DONKEY ACTIVISM! 1st FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY. The first 40 subscribers to our The Donkey Edge e-mail list will receive a FREE COPY of “Tattoos On The Heart”. Click here to find out more.

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