By Jean H Charles
Is it a phenomenon signified by Francis I, who made the poor more visible in a world where they were relegated behind the wall of the slums, or the legacy of Nelson Mandela to a troubled world? The Year 2014 I foresee will be named Year of the Fight against Inequality. I am suspicious of the Year of… In my old age of 66, I have not seen any impact from either from the Day of… so well marketed by the United Nations for its multiple days of or the Year of… where banners that will be taken down the day after are the most visible signs of the impact of such a focus day.
Haiti, the motherland of inequality, while being the father seedling of hospitality for all, is excellent for those buzz words, being a citizen of different worlds, I suspect Haiti is not alone in parading big terms that in the end are as hollow as a hole.
President Barack Obama, always in the forefront of the right concept or the right speech at the right moment, has already stamped “inequality as the defining challenge of our time”. The new mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio run and won his campaign on the slogan that inequality and the fight against same will be his leitmotif in rendering a more hospitable New York City for all.
He said so at his inauguration speech: “We are called upon to put an end to economic and social inequality that threaten to unravel the city we love.” The new City Council leader (in waiting), Mrs Mark Viverito of Puerto Rican descent, will be as fierce a defender against inequality as the new mayor.
If Haiti was the father seedling of hospitality for all in the Western Hemisphere, New York City was the motherland in America, where blacks and immigrant citizens were deemed worthy of dignity and decent living to become creators or wealth for themselves and for the city.
I have fond memory of the epoch of the 70s when, as a student of social work and community organization at Columbia University, my star teachers such as Frances Piven and Georges Bragger, as well as the dean of the school , Mitchell Ginsberg, were luminaries who could convince Mayor John Lindsay that it was in the interest of the city of New York that the new black migration from the South was good for New York, as long as New York was willing to stop its discriminatory practice against the new black migrants.
They jointly and individually “expanded the opportunities for thousands of people who otherwise would not have a chance to participate in the American dream”. New York has been for the last forty years the shining light in a land where shining sea to shining sea is the manifest destiny.
Under Bill de Blasio, will New York set the model for the rest of the world to unravel a planet that keeps faking to care for the world poor? It is a self-defeating practice. The story of challenging the status quo in terms of living comfortably with inequality can be traced to Charles Dickens, who forced the textile industry to stop abusing children and women in working conditions that would shock the conscience of today’s civilized world.
There was later Karl Marx, who made the proposition that the fate of the modern proletariat that sells its work force to the bourgeoisie will finally get the upper hand through the socialist revolution.
The socialist revolution came and went via Russia, with no apparent positive outcome for the mass of wretched poor of the earth. Except China has bifurcated the socialist mode for the state capitalism model. It has lifted the fate of inequality to a level that no other nation has ever done in such a short time. Some 800 million Chinese have entered into the bliss of middle class status or the bourgeoisie.
Spurred by Singapore, Southeast Asia has promoted the concept that investing in each human being within the confines of the nation is profitable for the GPA of the country. As such inequality is receding in that region as well as in the Scandinavian countries that have always made hospitality for all a hallmark of their public policy.
Globalization, the buzz word a decade ago promoted by Bill Clinton during his presidency of the United States, has produced alienation and extension of inequality in the world. Whether you pick Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, the European Union, in particular the southern states such as Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy and going to the north like France, inequality is queen.
Enter Pope Francis I, who was recognized by Time magazine as its person of the year. He is not afraid to tell the Catholic Church in particular and the rest of the world in general that business as usual cannot be continued. I am predicting he will be considered for the Nobel Peace prize for the Year 2014.
He is challenging the world to “stop being indifferent to war, violence and injustice”. There are echoes in the rest of the universe. Yet, I am not optimistic. In my own country of Haiti, I have seen the Catholic Church taking the reins of power to come to the help of the disfranchised. Some 25 years later, the fate of the poor is worse than during the former dictatorship. I met a young woman recently that I will name Melinda, who told me that she would leave the squalid and sordid home with her child, in the beautiful hills of Port au Prince, if only she could find $500 to invest in leasing a decent place, and $500 to start a business that would lead to economic stability.
It is a modest sum to stop inequality for hundreds of thousands who lost their homes due to the earthquake on January 12, 2010, in Haiti. Paraphrasing Francis I, “The excluded are still waiting”; in the United States, the unemployment check will stop coming in the mailbox this month, the food stamp program is being curtailed, yet caviar, foie gras, and conspicuous spending is the norm for those with limitless credit cards.
Will Francis I succeed where Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have all failed? Rendezvous on January 1, 2015!
Photo credit: The Globe