On Nov. 20, the president-elect of the United States asked the American people for spare change.
Over half a million people in this country experience homelessness. The national consumer debt has reached $13.86 trillion. Last year, 35.2 million people lived in food-insecure households. 32.8 million Americans under the age of 65 do not have health insurance, and that does not even include folks that are underinsured. But Joe Biden is asking us for more money.
The audacity of politicians asking the people they represent for money isn’t new. They raise money for campaigns, in the name of ‘fighting’ Trump, to ‘defend’ the election and more ambiguous efforts. On the other hand, when thousands of Americans lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only some of us were lucky enough to receive a $1200 check and the chance to apply for unemployment benefits. This left many Americans struggling more than they ever had. And while I’m not saying that is a single politician’s fault (because the entire political and economic system of the United States has failed us), the inability of Joe Biden, Donald Trump and their teams to read the room is astonishing.
Up until Oct. 22, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump’s campaigns have raised over $1.5 billion. Over $3 billion could have helped millions of people struggling around the country, especially during this pandemic that has affected us so intensely. Throughout past Republican and Democratic administrations, the lack of financial stability of citizens has resulted in the loss of housing, transportation, health care, food, water and many more essentials. History shows us that one change in an administration does not result in resources overnight, which is why giving money and supplies directly to those in need makes the biggest difference.
Yet, the custom of giving politicians more money and power instead of providing community members with basic items is supported by many politically vocal people. On Nov. 12, Mark Cuban, a billionaire and judge on the reality television show Shark Tank tweeted that folks should direct their money to community members instead of political races.
This prompted responses from many Democrats, as the Georgia run-off election would help create a Democratic majority in the Senate. Those who responded claimed that winning the Senate would be more help than directly aiding under-resourced folks. Among the responders, John Legend, award-winning artist and self-proclaimed activist summed up what most were saying.
While this is a simplistic way of thinking about the way the world works, no, John Legend. Politicians do not help the people more than the people help themselves.
Politics are not simply “annoying”; they are often violent and destructive to no/low-income Black and Brown folks that they claim to be representing. There is no way to completely end homelessness, end food insecurity, end debt and so on without completely altering the way the government runs, which thrives on capitalism. Therefore, the best way to help people in need right now is to actually help them.
That means donating to small, local mutual aid funds and displacement shelters. Spending your free time walking through neighborhoods and delivering fresh food and water to folks. Setting up handwashing stations and passing out hand sanitizer and masks during a global pandemic.
We’ve had Democrats and Republicans in leadership giving us less than the bare minimum while they allow landlords to raise rents and evict families and multi-billion dollar industries to exploit people’s labor for minimum wage. As the iconic Black poet, Gil Scott-Heron, says in his performance of “Whitey on the Moon,” a white man’s achievements, whether they be making it to the moon or the White House, does not change anything for Black people. The only real change comes from ourselves.