Suzanne Flierl Krull of the Cuba Cultural Center gave the following remarks at the Poor People's Campaign action on June 18 in Albany, NY:
Good afternoon. I’m Suzanne Flierl Krull. I live in the western part of the Southern Tier, and was raised in affluence and privilege. Throughout my adult life, however, my household has been low-income or poor most of the time. I have had to make the same difficult decisions that other poor people like me face throughout the US each and every day. The struggle to survive against a system that keeps us poor is real, and it’s hard, and it’s riddled with injustice.
But the struggle is made even harder by the narrative of condemnation that the poor face each and every day. This immoral narrative says that we are greedy, lazy, sponges that take and take and don’t give anything back. But that’s not true! 8 out of 10 adult SNAP recipients who are neither disabled nor elderly have worked within in the last year, and more than half of us have worked within the last month. Many of the poor work multiple jobs at immorally low wages and still can’t pay their bills. That’s not lazy, that’s not greedy, and that’s not right!
11 million of us pay more than 1/3 of our income on housing: housing that is frequently unstable, hard to find, and often unsafe. There is not a single county in America where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment. That’s not right!
The immoral narrative also says that the poor just take and take, while the wealthy earn everything they get. That’s not true! Our government spends billions of dollars giving subsidies and tax breaks to the upper middle class and to the wealthy, and they treat corporations like rich individuals. And all the while, low income workers have to beg, march, and protest to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union. That’s not right!
The immoral narrative tells us that single urban moms and uninvolved dead beat dads, especially dead-beat Black dads, are the cause of poverty in America. That’s not true! In 2014, only 9% of low-income, urban moms were single during their children’s first 5 years, and Black fathers are actually more likely to spend time with their children each day than white fathers do.
And the immoral narrative says that if we would just get an education, then we’d be alright. That’s not true! Outrageous college costs keep graduates buried in debt. Less than half of the college graduates who have student loan debt can afford to own houses. Many graduates can’t even keep up with their loan payments. As of Sept of 2017, millions of graduates had not made a payment on the 144 billion dollars of federal student loan debt for at least nine months because they lacked the income.
We need to correct this immoral narrative. The truth is that it’s not the poor that are responsible for poverty. It’s the system that creates poverty, and it’s the system that keeps people poor. The system of poverty creation keeps Black, Brown, and Indigenous people poor. And while systemic poverty disproportionately hurts people of color, it also keeps over 17 million white people poor.
In the Southern Tier, I run a nonprofit that works in the struggle to provide survival programming to poor and otherwise oppressed people. We are a group of folks who know struggle, and who are still struggling against a system that keeps us marginalized. But as we struggle, we’re also providing basic needs to our communities. We’re making a difference.
But survival programming isn’t enough. We need justice. All of us who know oppression need to unite, and we’re doing that in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. We’re crossing over the things that have divided us and that have kept us separate, and we’re working together. We’re building a new, unsettling force to end oppression. We are here, we’re not going anywhere, and we will be back!