Saturday, November 17, 2007

Speak for those "living in the shadows"

The poor are invisible in the U.S.

That's why the non-poor -- people with a job and car and house and (one hopes) a conscience -- need to "speak on their behalf," according to Jon Laughlin, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Cheyenne.

Laughlin spoke to the monthly gathering of the Democratic Grassroots Coalition last Thursday at the library. It had been a challenge to decide how to spend that evening. Across town, the YMCA was hosting a talk by Laramie writer RoseMarie London. The TV called with the Democratic Party debates out of Las Vegas and new episodes of "The Office" and "30 Rock."

But I went to the meeting because of Laughlin and the fact that it was the night when we gathered canned and boxed goods for holiday distribution at the Salvation Army or the COMEA House.

Laughlin spoke of ways to get the attention of elected officials on behalf of the poor and homeless. A few winters ago, he attended a meeting of the city council where the plight of neighborhood street lights was on the agenda. The council wanted to put another million dollars into the lighting budget. Laughlin had another idea. He suggested that council members could use that money for street lights. If they did, however, could they make sure that the lights were built closer to the ground so that a homeless family could huddle underneath to keep warm. His point made, he requested that the money would be better spent on funding for housing vouchers or the energy assistance plan that helps the working bill pay their heating bills. The council agreed.

Just one example of how we can serve as the voices for "those people living in the shadows all over this community."

Mike Bell, chair of the Laramie County Democrats, suggested another way to assist the poor this holiday season: have dinner with them. COMEA House and St. Mark's Episcopal Church at 1908 Central Avenue will hold a Thanksgiving dinner "with" the homeless on Nov. 22. The problem with most holiday dinners for "the needy" is that the volunteers come out to cook and ladle out the food to their fellow humans, but then they sit on one end of the room and the needy sit on the other. At the St. Mark's feast, everyone will sit together family-style. And dinner guests, homeless or not, will have the opportunity to prepare their own favorite recipes for the feed.

Sounds good to me. If you're interested in taking part, call Faye Mills at 514-3488 or St. Mark's at 634-7709.

When asked to name the top-five action items for the Dems to take out of Thursday's meeting, Laughlin reeled off these: 1. affordable housing; 2. affordable daycare; 3. availability of medical care; 4. a livable wage. He couldn't think of a fifth item, but figured that all of us would be plenty busy with these four items.

Involvement is the key. He acknowledged that he was a registered Democrat. "If you want to know whether people are Republicans or Democrats, watch how they treat (or talk about) poor people," he said. While Democrats often fall short in this regard, they at least have a domestic agenda that promotes the priorities named above.

"Nothing happens on the other side," he concluded.

With Thanksgiving (and lower-case thanksgiving) in mind, here's part of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

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