I cried at work this week. More than once. It’s something I don’t often do. Like so many of us, I’ve learned to become desensitized, detached even, to the horrific tales of suffering that I hear. But then I met Claire.
Claire has five kids between 6 months and 16 years. She was a teenage mom and has suffered abuse her whole life. She’s had to go on welfare several times since she was a teen on her own. Now it looks like she’s about to lose this safety net no matter how bad things get.
In Washington, you will soon get cut off of welfare if you’ve been on for a total of 5 years. Losing these benefits is about to be a new reality for many struggling families and is a direct result of our state’s budget crisis.
I could tell you more sad and horrible details about Claire’s life in an effort to convince you that what’s happened to her is not her fault. But I think you’ve heard stories like this before. I remember what it was like for me before I started this work. When I heard about an awful situation I thought “I must not know all the facts. They might have made bad choices.”
After years of working with people living in poverty, I now know that there is not always the opportunity to grab those bootstraps and pull your way out. Meeting Claire hammered this home for me once again.
Claire has worked harder in her life than I will ever have to. She’s surely made a few mistakes, but haven’t we all? She has also done a lot of things right. So it makes me angry that in this country, where we have so much, she should get so little for all her efforts.
I am asking you to change your perception of people on welfare. It’s supposed to be a safety net when a person falls on hard times, but over the past 14 years this net has been neglected and cut to the point where it’s not very reliable anymore. Welfare is not a dirty word and it should be there to catch us if we fall.
The recent rash of LBTG youth suicides make it clear that we have to change how we treat one another. Like domestic and sexual violence, this kind of bullying sends the message that control, manipulation, and violence are tools that get you what you want. And we have to stop it.
The “It Gets Better” Project lets LBTG adults who have survived bullying tell young people that things will get better. But is this enough? Or do we need to change the conditions that allow this to happen in the first place?
I’ve been thinking about the bystanders who witness bullying and choose to ignore it (maybe you’re glad it’s not you today) or participate (maybe you laugh or repost that degrading message). And what about the adults who think that this is just part of youth culture? What are they really saying by not speaking up?
I know there are complicated reasons for why bystanders do what they do, whether it’s fear for their own safety or not knowing how to respond. But the kind of violence that LBTG and other youth often endure should not be a rite of passage.
So, it may get better. And yes, we get stronger. But the question really is: How can we start making it better today? Let’s speak up against bullying – and support those who already do – so that we can create communities where any kind of violence is unacceptable.
Recently, while sharing stories about her family, a coworker mentioned that she kept finding knipples in her mother’s house. After an awkward silence, she explained that “knipple” (pronounce the “k”) was a Yiddish word that meant a woman’s secret stash of money. That got me thinking—this sounds like a pretty good idea.
When a woman has money, it gives her more options and more power to make her own decisions. This makes her life more stable and gives her flexibility to respond if things go south (like in her relationship). Sure, it’s important to have community resources like affordable housing, food banks, and so on. But nothing gives you freedom, and that includes freedom from abuse, like cold hard cash.
It would be great if we all had a rich uncle who could overnight us a boatload of Benjamins, but we’re not all so lucky. We need to find ways for women to access cash when they need it, promote financial education, and protect and expand welfare programs that already exist. Because, at some point, everybody needs a little knipple.