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The Poor Are Never The Enemy: Talking With Shadowproof Readers

Shadowproof Mailbag

August 24 – August 28 edition

Welcome back to the Shadowproof Mailbag.

What’s your week been like? It’s easy to get lost in my journalism and editing and, if I’m not careful, that could lead to burn out. Earlier this week, I interviewed Austin lawyer Adam Loewy about the death of Larry Jackson, Jr and the indictment of (now former) Austin Police Detective Charles Kleinert for his death, for a report MintPress News is publishing next week. His vivid description of Jackson’s last moments overwhelmed me with its immediacy, and I found myself needing a break before I could keep working.

I like to decompress by spending time in my garden tending to my vegetables and herbs. In Austin, this time of year the garden is a bit fallow, just before our autumn growing season. So, mostly just watering what survives and pulling weeds to make room for the next generation.

Knowing that other people care about the world and are reading our journalism means a lot to me, too. Below you’ll find a selection of the feedback we’ve received in the last week, and some of my thoughts on it as well.

The poor are never the enemy

I recently wrote about poverty in the United States and how at least 1 out of every 3 child in America lives in poverty. Predictably, I received a bit of “poor shaming” in response:

It’s not so much that I’m taking an obvious troll (‘Cyber-Merkin’!) seriously, but that this comment allows me to elucidate one of my personal journalistic principles: the poor are never the enemy.

Now, specifically, to respond to the first part of this tweet, one major cause of childhood obesity in poor kids is that low income families have fewer nutritious options available to them. They may live in food deserts, where only fast food or convenience stores are in easy reach. More importantly, busy families working multiple jobs just don’t have time to prepare healthy food, and are often forced to cut corners by serving low nutrition, high fat convenience foods to keep bellies filled.

If you look further into comments like these — or people who describe the flood of refugee children across our southern border as an invasion — you’ll see they’ve bought into a pernicious lie spread by the mainstream media and the government that poor people are stealing our way of life, whether it’s by ‘taking’ our mythical jobs or more directly threatening our survival. And we’re told that the only people actually suffering must look like starving Africans on a Save The Children infomercial. The poor are never allowed to enjoy a steak dinner, a video game, or even air conditioning or they obviously aren’t really poor.

Meanwhile, CEO pay keeps getting higher as wages stagnate, Wall Street is preparing to crash the economy again, and they already took us to the tune of $20 trillion dollars while despoiling the earth. But by all means, let’s worry about whether someone lied and got a few extra food stamps this week.

Trying to manage Ferguson’s ‘righteous energy’

This week, I asked Shadowproof readers to share their their thoughts on Campaign Zero, the new police reform proposal from three major Ferguson activists. On my Facebook wall, Tony Ndege critiqued the proposal for trying to cloak the revolutionary energy of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in reformist clothing. Here is an excerpt of his comments:

… Actually whatever work was done building to the judge dropping of all outstanding arrest warrants was more of a step in the right direction.

I think we need to be radicalizing the population by having campaigns that the ruling class would never want to engage unless absolutely forced to, We need to force the state to show its true colors. THAT is what is radicalizing. In my opinion the best thing that the residents of Ferguson can do they already began on their own without some campaign. Also they should be working towards having resident control of their entire communities. Our society has become so alienated that there isn’t a clear strategy towards doing this. There is no quick fix to the problem.

However Campaign Zero does not directly speak to the experiences of the people of Ferguson. In my opinion the most powerful thing that Ferguson residents can do they have already started – standing up to State violence. Sandra Bland wasn’t stopped by a heavily armed officer, her arrest was for the most part caught on video, and yet they still killed her. In fact police killing of civilians has gone UP since Ferguson. Something to think about.

One more thing, much like with BLM, it sounds to me like some folks are trying to manage the righteous community energy unleashed in Ferguson. Whenever this managerial political interests comes in, unless they are seeking radical systemic change like during the battles against segregation (as in a radical reduction in incarceration, standing up to Texas State school curriculum, etc) then the management elite typically serve as agents of division and DEpoliticization in order to secure their managerial positions. this whole process can become extremely corrupting. Just look at the difference between Jesse Jackson in 1964 vs 1984 vs today.

The process Tony describes is a familiar one to any activist — from turning the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011 into a single-issue protest for a Scott Walker recall election, to the remnants of the non-partisan, intersectional Occupy movement now claiming to endorse Bernie Sanders, mainstream party politics and advocates for reform will try to suck the wind out of any movement for revolutionary change. It’s up to all of us to celebrate every victory, whether it takes place in the streets or in the voting booth, while continuing the fight for real justice.

In conclusion …

Tell me about your week! You can also share articles you enjoyed recently, or whatever is on your mind. The mailbag is an open thread.


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With <3 and Solidarity,

Kit O’Connell

Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and