We could all use a magic wand just about right now.
Over the past few months, as we were working in Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and several New England states in our Voter Engagement Strategy for Election Day and Beyond, we heard poignant and powerful stories from participants around the country. Even as they considered voting for the first time in their lives, they were also facing a series of immediate and very pressing questions.
Do they pay for their children’s medication or food for the family? How do they pay for their child’s school supplies or new shoes to fit growing feet? Can they find transportation to look for a job? Can they afford the transportation? Are there jobs to find? Are there jobs that will pay a living wage? How long will they be able to afford the rent? How can they delay paying bills they already have before going further into debt?
These questions just don’t go away, even as the adult learners we met are trying to fill in gaps in their education. In the morning, they’re working on fractions; in the evenings, they are back grappling with the hard questions. And, it’s all taking place on a step below the level where the sub-prime mortgage/foreclosure disaster is happening.
None of us have a magic wand. None of us can snap our fingers and make these problems go away. And none of us can give enough money to any one cause to make these problems disappear. Apparently, even a spare 700 billion can’t immediately turn the economy around.
Making the Right Investment
The deliberations about the national and international economic crisis swing back and forth between grasping for emergency fixes and planning for sustainable solutions. We face a similar challenge when thinking about the problems facing people whose basic needs are not being met, who have to choose between food and medication for their children. We must find ways to help right away. But, we also need to think about how do we invest in them for the long term, even right now when the short-term problems are so severe.
Reasons for Hope
The people we met this fall give us hope for what can be done. They are not shrinking from the problems at hand, problems that are, truth be told, quite daunting. They are seizing the opportunity offered by one specific kind of public investment; by participating in adult literacy, English as a Second Language and adult education classes. Their fiercely dedicated teachers – who invest day in and day out in their students – greatly appreciated the opportunity to teach our strategy to their students. One teacher told us “you could see the light bulb turning on” when the students learned RQP’s thinking and advocacy skills. Elden, a young man in Evansville, Indiana captured what he learned from the Right Question Project workshop and offered some direction for our future work when he said: They should be teaching this already in school. Long before kids drop out, because you can use this everywhere to help yourself.
As many of us sit around the Thanksgiving table, with our own concerns and challenges in mind, and as we are keenly aware of people who have fewer resources and more troubles, let’s carve out space to keep Elden in mind. There are a lot of people like him, all over the country, who are ready to take advantage of existing opportunities and create new ones. We want to keep investing in them, to be of help immediately and make it easier for them to help themselves in the long run.