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By Marian Wright Edelman
FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT EMERITA
During this holy season like no other, on Easter Sunday Pope Francis published a “Letter to Popular Movements and Organizations,” encouraging people struggling for justice for poor and low income people around our world calling for universal access to the “three Ts”: trabajo (work), techo (housing), and tierra (land and food). He said:
“If the struggle against COVID-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalizing at a time when no one can save themselves alone…You are looked upon with suspicion when through community organization you try to move beyond philanthropy or when, instead of resigning and hoping to catch some crumbs that fall from the table of economic power, you claim your rights. You often feel rage and powerlessness at the sight of persistent inequalities and when any excuse at all is sufficient for maintaining those privileges. Nevertheless, you do not resign yourselves to complaining: you roll up your sleeves and keep working for your families, your communities, and the common good. Your resilience helps me, challenges me, and teaches me a great deal.
“I think of all the people, especially women, who multiply loaves of bread in soup kitchens: two onions and a package of rice make up a delicious stew for hundreds of children. I think of the sick, I think of the elderly…How difficult it is to stay at home for those who live in tiny, ramshackle dwellings, or for the homeless! How difficult it is for migrants, those who are deprived of freedom, and those in rehabilitation from an addiction…My hope is that governments understand that technocratic paradigms (whether state-centred or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind. Now more than ever, persons, communities and peoples must be put at the centre, united to heal, to care and to share.”
Pope Francis had a message for all of us and especially for workers who do not have any guaranteed income to sustain them through a crisis: “I know that you have been excluded from the benefits of globalization. You do not enjoy the superficial pleasures that anesthetize so many consciences, yet you always suffer from the harm they produce. The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard…This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out.” He added: “I hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself.”
We must heed and act on the Pope’s urgent message right now. Each of us must be visible and vocal and persistent in acting upon his message to bring hope during this trying time to millions of our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering. The Pope’s urgent call for bold action, including a universal basic wage to help those caught in the trap of poverty, is both just and common sense. So much of the discussion in the United States right now is about how and when to restart the economy in order to get life back to “normal.” But if “normal” includes the same structures, systems, and inequalities that have been deeply enshrined in our nation, we must go far beyond the status quo that preceded the pandemic and disrupt the racism, sexism, and massive inequality built into our capitalist system. It is shameful that one in six children are poor and that children are our poorest age group. It is unjust and morally abnormal to have huge disparities based on race. It should not be normal that our nation imprisons more than a fifth of the world’s prisoners. And it should be profoundly abnormal that enough children and teens were killed by guns in America in 2018 to fill more than 165 classrooms.
As our Muslim brothers and sisters prepare for Ramadan, with its emphasis on prayer, fasting, and empathy for the poor and hungry, we can all continue this holy season reflecting on how abnormal our nation is in ways that we can change with a sense of urgency. Let’s use this season to stop the pandemics of greed, racism, sexism, and religious intolerance and to help create the world God intended, which is one of brotherhood and sisterhood.