Kenneth A. MacDonald - February 25, 2001
Thanks to the Legal Foundation of Washington; Elinor MacDonald and our family; Betty Hoague; Fran Bayless; our law firm; MacDonald Hoague & Bayless; and all of our friends.
Given our recognition and praise for the Legal Foundation of Washington, its drive for Access to Justice, and for legal services to those with low incomes, I want to refer briefly to recent commentaries from Seattle, the nation, and international sources about the phenomenon of ‘poverty’.
I want to avoid merely "speaking to the choir." I do hope to touch on the importance of having a true dialogue on race, as Hubert Humphrey sermonized 45 years ago, about the need to include people, not exclude them.
The referenced commentaries will surely lead to exposed nerve endings and tensions. Under those conditions, can we learn from the past? Can we move ahead in the face of tragedy and discomfort? I will also quote from a June 1942 speech by John Winant, United States Ambassador to England, a name unknown to all but a few of you. And I will close with an anecdote about Mr. Winston Churchill.
First, a simple, yet revealing Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary definition of Poverty: Inadequacy and Scarcity. Think on the meaning of these two words.
To illustrate only, I list a few categories of American society impacted, if not almost overwhelmed by, poverty, and, yes, by inadequacy and scarcity:
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell at a recent presentation of the 2001-2002 Seattle City budget revealed these facts:
Constance Rice and Dr. Richard Brandon recently wrote an Op Ed piece to the Seattle Times wherein noting that people of color in the northwest earn one-third that of white wage earners - even though many are working multiple jobs - and that there is a lack of early identification of children’s emotional and health problems. Rice and Brandon recite the mantra; "To those whom much is given, much is expected." They urged, "Let’s use the prosperity in some areas to benefit all parts of Washington. Let’s come together, in heart and deed, to better our society and communities, to improve the lives of all Washington children. (Seattle Times 12/13/00)
The Church Council of Greater Seattle recently endorsed the call to renewal of the Eight Covenants to Overcome Poverty. I call attention to three:
1. Prioritize people who are poor – both in our personal, family, and vocational lives, and in our congregational and organization practices;
2. Decide our financial choices in ways that promote economic opportunities and justice for those in poverty;
3. Challenge racism, dismantle the structures of racial injustice and white privilege still present, and seek reconciliation among all groups in our society.
Sister Linda Haydock, Executive Director of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, spoke in Seattle September 20, 2000 about her belief on the reasons for poverty. These are direct, no-nonsense words, and I believe accurate:
"People who are poor reflect a combination of powerlessness, poverty, and systemic exclusion from full membership in the community. Poverty is not accidental; it is created by decisions and policies in socio-economic, political, and ecclesiastic circles. This is the social exclusion, the economic exploitations, the political disenfranchisement, and cultural marginalization."
Andrew Young, former U.N. Ambassador, U.S. Congressman, Mayor of Atlanta, and Head of the National Council of Churches in Christ in the USA recently wrote, "Poverty has to become as morally repugnant to us as slavery has become."
Yes, poverty is a moral issue.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Amman in early January 2001 declared, "No task is more urgent than rescuing a billion people in the world from abject and dehumanizing poverty." These efforts to define and to relieve poverty will cause significant controversy with the advent of spin-doctors, with a result predicted by Walter B. Wriston, retired Chairman of Citibank:
"When the spin doctors of all political stripes inform us of their version of events, the spins are picked up and magnified by the media until many Americans simply tune out."
John Winant was a three-time Governor of New Hampshire. In February 1941, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. Before I quote from the speech given in Durham in June 1942, I give you a few facts about emergent conditions at that time:
"This is the people’s democracy. We must keep it wide and vigorous, alive to need of whatever kind, and ready to meet it, whether it be in danger from without or well-being from within, always remembering that it is the things of the spirit that in the end prevail – that daring to live dangerously we are learning to live generously…"
(James Freedman, Harvard Magazine, November/December 2000)
Think of those words when considering massive poverty – to live dangerously and generously.
In a stirring talk preceding mine, Justice Utter spoke of working to define and establish law in Balkan countries. He included a recollection of Albanian Judges reduced to defending a courthouse with their weapons, a "pearl in their lives." I wanted to make a connection to Justice Utters’ previous words about the tumult in the Balkans, and Joe Miscoulih, a rifleman in my infantry company in Italy in 1945, suddenly came to mind.
What a privilege it was to have known Joe, a Yugoslav from Hibbing, Minnesota; a miner in the open pits of the Mesabi Range. I had recently received a letter from his niece saying that she and her family had no knowledge of how and where he had been killed. The only connection to him was his Purple Heart and Silver Star, both of which had long ago disappeared. I telephoned her and told her that I had been there and knew the circumstances of his death. I told her that war was a great promoter of poverty, and that Joe was the first to die in my infantry company.
I close with a Winston Churchill anecdote.
Once on Martha’s Vineyard, I hitched a ride from Edgertown to Oak Bluffs with a man who said that he had been a gardener on Winston Churchill’s estate. The young man entered the military service, went to say goodbye to Churchill, and wished him "Good Luck." Churchill responded, "Young man, we will have to earn that, won’t we?"
I wish "Good Luck" to all at this luncheon, and add, "But we will have to earn it, won’t we?"