The Sound of Silence

by Mary C. Piemonte 

What is going on? What happened to the people who believe in social justice? The poor of the nation want to know what the leading Democratic presidential candidates intend to do about the issues that concern them the most. But those same candidates’ campaign staffs were tongue tied when they were given the opportunity to reach out to Chicago’s low-income communities.

As of press time, the two Democratic front-runners, U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), continue to talk about their thoughts on the War with Iraq and what they intend to do about national security, health care, tax breaks and jobs for the middle-class, as well as environmental issues, during their national campaigns and debates.

U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry speaks to the media at a press conterence in Hartsfield International Airport in February.

U.S. Sen. John Edwards during a rally at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. in February.

The poor are certainly concerned with all of those issues. But when it comes to other issues that are of specific concern to the poor, the candidates aren’t there. They talk very little or not at all on issues regarding poverty, welfare reform, affordable and public housing, ex-felons and the gang and drug activities that rage daily across the nation–in inner-city communities, rural and suburban areas alike.

On his campaign web site, Kerry has some information about his plans to create more affordable housing. Edwards talks a lot about “two Americas” and mentions that his family struggled. But during this campaign, neither candidate has spoken much about the poor–period. In fact, I haven’t heard any of them use the words “poor” or “low-income” in their speeches. As of late February, I hadn’t even seen any of the candidates pictured, on TV or in the local newspapers, in low-income communities or with people identified as low-income.

Disregarded
Like their bosses, the senators’ campaign staffs appear to have little interest in addressing the concerns of the poor. Once again, the poor have been disregarded.

None of the campaigns’ local or national offices responded to Residents’ Journal’s questions. No one in Kerry or Edwards’ campaign offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, or Raleigh, N.C., was responsive. I had the same problem with the staff of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean–before he dropped out of the race in mid-February.

At each of these offices, I gave each person with whom I spoke my questions regarding affordable and public housing, jobs and education for ex-felons, welfare reform and gang violence, street side drug sales and usage. I wanted to know what each candidate intended to do in those areas.

These are the main problems for poor Americans but they affect all American families to a greater or lesser degree. I didn’t think it would be too much of a challenge to get the candidates to comment on these issues.

I called for more than two weeks, and was constantly shuffled from one person to the next. Eventually, the people handling news affairs at all the campaign sites gave me the same answer: no one was authorized to speak on behalf of the senators or the former governor.

At first, I thought this was odd. All of the campaign staffers with whom I spoke were friendly and initially appeared interested in helping me.

After a while, it seemed as though they didn’t want to be bothered, that they were too busy to address the concerns of the poor. They sure do find time to talk to journalists from other communities.

The Sound of Silence
What message is this silence sending?
All Americans have the right to know what the presidential hopefuls intend to do about housing the homeless, and providing housing to low-income people. Ignoring the problem in recent years created a general shortage of affordable housing, such that low-income families are now competing for housing with middle-class workers, college students, those with HIV/AIDS and those with disabilities, among others. A lot of people are having a hard time finding an affordable place to live.

Americans want to know what we can expect from either candidate, if they are elected President of the United States of America, regarding the cutbacks in the federal public assistance programs for the poor, and the people who continue to go hungry in our land of plenty, and about the hardships that ex-felons are having in obtaining jobs and housing. What are their intentions about getting rid of the gang and drug activities that plague our great land like a deadly disease?

The few low-income people who got the opportunity to speak with the candidates asked questions that are pertinent to everyone. At least 3,000 low-income voters showed up at a forum in South Carolina in late January and asked six of the seven Democratic presidential contenders some questions. They asked questions about education, the cost of health care and prescription drugs, citizenship for immigrants, and plans for getting the troops out of Iraq.

We all have the same concerns. Some are just more outstanding than others.

The poor are being ignored. But if the Democratic candidates running for the presidency hope to be elected, they should reach out more to these voters.

Ignorance could cost them the election.

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