This week, your cohosts Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren get personal.
Melissa’s Grandma Rosa lived and worked in poverty in the Jim Crow South. She was a seamstress who suffered from arthritis, and she made tremendous personal sacrifices to ensure her twin sons, William and Wesley, could go to college and create a legacy of achievement and activism. Her story is inspiring, but why did she have to make the choice between personal comfort and her children’s future?
Dorian’s grandmother also grew up poor on the south side of Chicago. Born in the midst of the 1919 Race Riot and growing up during the Great Depression, she taught him to “earn a nickel, save two cents,” proving that while she certainly needed more money, she did not need the kind of “financial literacy” programs that many think tanks and philanthropies put forward as a solution to poverty.
These were resilient, forward-thinking women—but they still struggled with poverty. That leads Melissa and Dorian to ask the guiding question for this episode: “Why are people poor?” Why does the richest country in the world still tolerate millions of our neighbors living in poverty? And why is it so rare to hear—in the media, in the boardrooms of philanthropies, in the halls of power in Washington, D.C.—from the people who are experiencing poverty?
To answer all these questions and more, we turn to our experts. Aisha Nyandoro, chief executive officer of Springboard To Opportunities talked with System Check about the Magnolia Mother’s Trust. The Trust is the first guaranteed income project in the country to focus explicitly on racial and gender justice. Magnolia Mother’s Trust gives $1,000 a month, with no strings attached, to extremely low income black women living in federally subsidized affordable housing. Nyandoro began the program in 2018 as a small pilot with just 20 women in Jackson, Miss. Today there are 110 women receiving $1,000 a month for a full year, and the results are pretty amazing.
This week’s Final Word is offered by Tiana Gaines-Turner. Despite working as the Housing Stabilization Specialist at Eddie’s House in Philadelphia, this wife and mom still struggles with poverty, housing instability and food insecurity. In her final word this week, Gaines-Turner explains why she and others in her community should be at the policy-making table. “Nothing about us, without us” is her lesson for System Check.
We hope that after listening to our guests this week, you feel inspired to transform analysis into action. Here is this week’s System Checklist.
- Fight for 15: Set a monthly reminder on your calendar—let’s say the 15th of every month, or any day that works for you. Each month, on that date, call or email your senators and your representative in Congress. Urge them to increase the federal minimum wage to $15/ hour. Get your family, friends, and social media contacts involved. Let them know, “Every month, on the 15th, we are going to demand 15!” Make sure you follow and support the Fight for 15.
- Give locally: Take a small step to make an immediate impact in your local community. If you have the financial resources, set up a recurring monthly contribution to your community foodbank. As little as $10 a month can make a big difference. While you are at it, find out if your employer will match your contribution. Many companies will double, or even triple, charitable contributions made by their employees.
- Act locally: If you are ready, consider taking an even bigger step in your local community. Find ways to get involved with families who are experiencing poverty, hunger or homelessness. Contact your local department of social services, your United Way, the homeless liaison at your local school, or your religious organization to find out where the need is in your community to identify how your time and talents can contribute to a more fair and just system.
- Water the grassroots: If you’re really ready to commit to this work, join a local grassroots community organization fighting to upend the system of poverty on which our country, and especially the 1 percent, depend. Join or support efforts to unionize. Support collective efforts in your workplace, support friends and family who are organizing, and vote for candidates and policies that give workers more voice and power. Make a personal pledge to “show up” in solidarity for someone else’s fight at least 5 times in 2021—whether a town hall, a digital rally, or contacting your local elected officials, especially for folks who are struggling to make ends meet in the midst of a disastrous health and economic crisis.
System Check is a project of The Nation magazine, hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry and Dorian Warren and produced by Sophia Steinert-Evoy. Support for System Check comes from Omidyar Network, a social change venture that is reimagining how capitalism should work. Learn more about their efforts to recenter our economy around individuals, community, and societal well-being at Omidyar.com. Our executive producer is Frank Reynolds. DD Guttenplan is Editor of The Nation, Erin O’Mara is President of The Nation. Our theme music is by Brooklyn-based artist and producer Jachary.
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