During the final breakout session of the day, I chose the Poverty and hunger in the US session led by Nathan Newman from the Progressive States Network. After we all introduced ourselves and spoke briefly about what kind of work we've done in this arena (I admitted I haven't done much in this realm at all, but I want to learn), Nathan offered some background on some of the issues.
A large majority of the country supports health care for all, getting the country out of the hands of major corporations, and raising the minimum wage. The only group that thinks environmental regulations aren't worth the cost -- that thinks the minimum wage isn't worth raising -- is the 9% that happens to run the country. That's the group that's getting what they want out of national leadership. (Per the Pew Research Center's 2005 Political Typology.)
There are issues around poverty, wages, respecting work where there are real contradictions over on the right. The problem is not that people are looking at progressive leaders and conservative leaders and then choosing the conservative platform; the problem is that 50% of people say the conservatives know what they stand for, and only 27% of people say that liberals know what they stand for!
Most voters don't think of Democrats as strongly associated with minimum wage. And they should. It's a question of values; how does minimum wage as an issue tie into other public policy issues?
"Most people aren't political junkies," Nathan noted. If one issue is seen as a stand-in for all of the other issues, that's how people are going to choose who to vote for. So how can we ensure that poverty is the kind of issue people make decisions by?
How can we move beyond the minimum wage question and into a conversation about the need to pay a real living wage and health care? ...Most workplaces in this country don't have sick days. 70% of people, if their child gets sick and they stay home with that child, they'll be fired. (And even if they don't, they'll have to take vacation days in order to care for the child.) Should there be a basic standard -- 5, 6, 7 days guaranteed, some flexibility for families to have when there's an illness? Why aren't we talking about that as a wedge issue?
Reb Arthur raised the issue of time, as important to religious folks. (See the Freeing Our Time archive at the Shalom Center site.) Family time, sacred time, time to do the work we want and need to do, time to organize, time to care for our families -- this comes out of a religious framework. Having time is a religious value that crosses all religions.
Shanta raised a broader issue. Over the past year we've been talking about making poverty history... How do we unify our language around this? How can we impact the mainstream media?
...And that was all I managed to do, in terms of note-taking; my brain kind of got full. But it was a terrific day of programming... and now we are on a much-needed dinner break. See you!