I Love Government Cheese

Having grown up in a household that had to sometimes rely on the generosity of Uncle Sam, I was unknowingly grateful for that big orange block of chemicals that would magically appear in our fridge from time to time. I say unknowingly, because my mother never told us until we were well into adulthood that she shamefully had to depend on government assistance when we were kids.

My mother was a very proud and hard working woman. She worked her butt, and her very last nerve, off raising 4 hellion children on her own. She worked midnights as a nurse and exhaustedly came home to the chaos of 4 kids, with an age gap of 7 years, who whined, cried and fought their way off to school everyday.

This is when she could start her second job as the house keeper. Like Cinderella, she did the chores, mended the clothes, and, if she was lucky, find a few hours to sleep before the next wave of terror would charge through the front door signaled by the ringing of the school bell. That’s when her third shift started managing to feed and entertain us and get us tucked into bed so she could start it all over again.

She sacrificed her whole life, happiness, and sanity for a rowdy bunch of brats who never appreciated the sacrifices she made for them. We always wanted for more as our neighbors and friends always seemed to have more than us, but she always tried her best to make us happy.

Having an irresponsible ex-husband who unreliably paid the court ordered pittance to support his offspring, my mother reluctantly turned to the government for help when there was no where left to turn. She didn’t do it because she was lazy, she didn’t do it to take advantage of the system, she did It because she had to care for her family. I can’t say that I grew up in poverty because I was much more fortunate than so many millions of people who try to provide for their families on far, far less. I do, however recall feeling the burden that my mother was under during my whole childhood. If I were in the same situation today, with the social programs available to poor families or families on the brink of poverty, I can honestly say that there is no way I could survive.

As I was discussing this topic with a friend, he said he didn’t know about government cheese. I was kind of shocked because I thought it was common knowledge. Today, Government Cheese is a term that’s synonymous with getting a handout from the government in the form of housing, cash and/or food assistance; aka welfare. But the origin of government cheese comes from 80’s when, then President Reagan, wanted to artificially increase the demand for milk. They turned the milk into cheese, butter, and powdered milk that was stored in 150 warehouses across 35 states. It was then distributed in generic boxes to people who needed food assistance. The cheese itself arrived in a nondescript generic box that contained a huge 5 pound slab of bright orange ‘cheese’. What was actually in it was a mystery, but it melted nicely, it lasted for a long time, and as far as I remember, it was pretty tasty.

Over the last 40 years, welfare became a 4 letter word in this country. When the welfare system was created during the Great Depression there was no shame to be had. It was a humanitarian effort to provide for the basic amenities for people in need. Most people who were on assistance were given the help they needed to get back on their feet and provide for their families on their own and later thrive because they were able to bounce back without first having to dig themselves out of a hole.

Since the great days of government cheese, the social safety nets that were put in place to protect the needy have slowly been dismantled to provide less assistance to less people. This has had a disproportionate ripple affect to people of color as they are more likely to experience multigenerational poverty. Where people of higher economic standing have wealth to pass on to future generations, people who live in poverty have nothing but debt to pass on to their heirs. This creates the large communities of families who are homeless or barely making ends meet with no hope of ever escaping.

As we are now on the brink of another Great Depression, maybe even a Greater Depression, millions of people who have never given a second thought about financial security are looking to the government to help them get through this tragedy.

Though I’m grateful that the government has stepped up to provide during this national/global crisis, the national crisis started when the government started and continues to cut social programs for people in need; all people in need, all the time. This is why I wrote a few days ago in my post ‘I Love Pandemics’ that I see this crisis as a gift.

It’s now abundantly clear the gaping holes that are present in our social safety net. It’s saddens me that it’s fine to let people live in poverty or homeless on the street when the economy is doing great, but when the middle class and rich are affected, all of the sudden the maximum unemployment amount is insufficient, we need to send everyone a stimulus check, and provide bailout money to keep the country on life support. Could this be considered reparations of a failed government? Perhaps these types of reparations should be revisited again in the near future to help the poor and homeless people in this country all to a life that is livable and affordable.

As a result of insufficient government planning, and lack of social support programs, the spread of the coronavirus had a much more devastating effect compared with other countries who have good social support programs for their people. Where in Europe, people knew they would be able to survive and pay for food and bills when asked to stay home. In the US, even under the threats to the health and lives of themselves and their families, people continued to work long after the virus was hitting the nation hard because they were more concerned about receiving an overdue notice than they were for the well-being of themselves and others. This just shouldn’t be possible in the richest country in the world.

Politicians have long used the pitiful excuse that people on welfare are lazy and all they want to do is sit on the couch all day and watch tv. They do this as justification to cut social programs so they can cut taxes. As we have all been equalized to a simulated state of being on welfare, can you honestly imagine spending your whole life getting a check to watch tv?

We as humans have hopes, dreams and goals to live the best life we can live. Isn’t it fair that everyone should have equal opportunity to experience a fruitful and fulfilling life? I’m sure there are such people who want to binge reruns of Friends for the rest of their lives, and I think they should have that right if they want. But I truly believe that if everyone in this country never had to worry about food, shelter or education, the American dream would come back to life again.

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I Love Pandemics

The world I WILL be pursuing, as we all weather this storm, will be one of love, compassion, and equality for everyone.

This pandemic is a sign. If you believe in a power greater than yourself, you can call it a message from god or whatever deity you prefer; if not you can call it a wake up call. I call it a gift.

Everything the people of the world are witnessing and experiencing right now is the beginning of the end. Not the annihilation of the world, but the end of the world as we know it. The world has been building to this point for centuries. I don’t believe in prophecies or a judgement day, but I do believe in seizing the moment.

The old world we’ve been inhabiting for the last 60+ years has improved technologically beyond our wildest dreams but declined ideologically to the darkest pools of mire.

The old world of bias and bigotry, of inequality and imbalance; and of intolerance and hatred of our fellow human beings has run its course and it’s time to put down our actual and preverbal guns and open our arms (at a safe social distance) and embrace our fellow human beings.

We need an end to governments and those entities who tangentially control them who treat its citizens more like slaves and masters rather than equal human beings. The time and evidence now before us demonstrates that we all are entitled to equal rights and protections under the law regardless of color, size, age, health, party affiliation, sex, orientation, origin, preference, nationality, wealth, education, crime, langage, family, et al…. Equal to have a basic standard of living that everyone can afford and attain. Basic to not have to ever worry about food, healthcare, education, or a safe place to live ever again.

The signs were evident for a very long time, but we walked past them or looked the other way as it suited us. We’ve been beholden to a toxic political system where leaders are selected, of all political leanings, who put their personal agenda above the general welfare of their constituents. Where we as people slap labels on swaths of the population like ‘Republicans’, ‘Liberals’, ‘Corporations’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Christians’, ‘Latinos’, ‘Asians’, ‘Whites’, ‘Blacks’, ‘Blue or Red’ and make them friend or foe accordingly.

Public discourse has devolved to isolating ourselves into bubbles of like minded people by blocking any dissenting viewpoint while simultaneously berating, belittling, and down right disrespecting people who have differing perspectives on the world because they’ve been grouped together under a label.

We, as human beings are all individuals, not labels. We all have unique experiences, affiliations, fears, ideas, and goals. We all deserve to be treated with respect and need to treat all human beings equally. We can respectfully disagree with the actions or beliefs of an individual or organization, but respect the underlying human beings who may belong to an organization as they may or may not subscribe to every covenant that is associated with the label. We need to learn how to engage in thoughtful constructive communication where we speak to each other, not at one another, with respect and agreeing to respectfully disagree when you can’t come to a consensus. Speaking from a bully pulpit degrading large swaths of people or organizations (aka labels) does not unite us, it separates us and polarizes everyone.

These old ways of division are over. We’ve all been humbled down to the same level across the globe. We’re all finally equal… equally scared, equally uncertain, and equally vulnerable.

The end of the world, as I see it unfolding in front of me, is a moment in history where the world is slowing down, sputtering along, slowly winding down around us as it gets ready to shutdown, upgrade, and reboot.

Where the signs were surreptitious in the past, in the current environment they are clear; you can see them blatantly everyday. A disease that is growing exponentially that could could potentially kill millions, if not hundreds of millions of people; the panic and fear across the globe; the empty store shelves, hoarding of food (and for some crazy reason toilet paper); people who refuse to quarantine because they’re more afraid of a bill than the potential to spread a potentially lethal disease; and through it all we are still holding on to the ineffective ways of communication by degrading and attacking people with whom we don’t agree. This division has many culprits, from the media to political parties, but it is we as human beings who allow it to continue to propagate.

As we are living today, in what seems like the worst of humanity, I see the future post-pandemic world taking shape. I see people reaching out to friends, neighbors, and people they don’t even know extending a hand of peace, love, and assistance to those in need. I see a government that is begrudgingly acquiescing to enact programs to help those in need after decades of dismantling social programs that could have aided in quelling the rampent spread of this virus in this country in particular.

This is our moment for every human being on the planet, to shape the new world. To unite around ideas and solutions that protect everyone. It’s time for Earth 2.0.

It’s not going to be easy and we’ll most likely not get it right the first or fiftieth time around. But we can continue to thrive for a better world around the common goal of equality and social security for all.

Like any disaster, it’s starts with panic, fear, and selfishness to fend for ourselves during a time of unknown. But as is also true in the aftermath of any disaster, the true human nature takes over and people exit their homes, if they are so fortunate to do so, and help the community rebuild. And that’s exactly what I am already seeing and plan to do as we move forward.

I wish everyone, whether we agree with each other or not, good health and safe passage through this historic global event.

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