Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Invisible Suffering

Last week I spoke at a support group for unemployed persons organized by the Catholic Diocese of Rhode Island and hosted at a church in Cumberland, RI.  Originally intended as an opportunity for me to speak about the products and services offered by Capital Good Fund and the process for accessing them--which I did--the meeting ended up opening my eyes to the extent to which low to moderate-income Americans are suffering, and how invisible that suffering is.  The attendees, numbering around 25, were all unemployed; some had not had work for years; others had recently been laid off.  They shared painful stories of mistreatment by employers, the bleakness of the job market, and the feeling that no one is advocating for them or doing anything to improve their lot.

As I discussed strategies for increasing income, including entrepreneurship, budgeting, resume building and taking online or other courses so as to build skills, I came to a painful realization: whatever the attendees might do to get a job would be at the expense of another person seeking that job.  Given the state of our economy, a job search is truly a zero-sum game, and without broader, macro-economic changes in the American system, that paradigm won't change.

What I love about microfinance is that it does not require that I wait for legislative action; I can go out today and provide loans, technical assistance and other support to those in need, and empower them to better their lives.  However, there is a limit to the impact an organization like Capital Good Fund can have; our clients do not live in a vacuum.  Their lives are affected by health care policy, spending on social services, the education system, the state of the nation's infrastructure, and so on.

Unfortunately, despite that fact that 1 out of 3 Americans is in poverty or perilously close to it, the suffering of so many is invisible and silent.  Unlike the Great Depression, where bread lines, the dust bowl and runs on banks where unavoidable, today's injustice has been sanitized.  For the civil rights movement to succeed it took the horror of peaceful protestors being attacked by billy clubs and firehouses.  In contrast, it's possible to go about one's day without feeling the effects of the 3 trillion dollar price tag of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the horrible human tool; what's worse, it's nearly impossible to notice that millions of Americans--mostly people of color--languish in jail for non-violent, drug-related crimes; and, in short, unless you make an effort to see it, the ills of our society seem to disappear.

It seems to me that this invisibility is a great triumph for those that reap the benefits of the status quo, for it makes it exceedingly difficult to dramatize the situation and  inspire the American people to take action.  Not only that, but organizations such as the Heritage Foundation actually argue that the poor are doing just fine.  In the face of these discordant facts--the extent of economic and social injustice in the country, and the lack of obvious evidence of that disparity--it can be hard to feel optimistic about the future of America.

Speaking to this group, I saw the need for organized action, to force our elected officials to vote in favor of the interests of the poor.  Otherwise, not only is it easy to ignore injustice in America, it's actually difficult to see it.  And we cannot solve something we do not see.