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When Charity Tokenizes Laborers And Fuels Loathing Of Working Class

Ninety year-old Fidencio Sanchez has sold popsicles in Chicago for nearly 76 years, according to an interview with CNN.

“I feel my body is starting to give up on me,” Sanchez said. “I suffer sometimes when it’s cold, and my arms and feet hurt.”

Sanchez’s elderly wife, Eladia, used to help him sell popsicles to pay bills, but after falling ill, she is unable to work. Compounding their struggle, their only child recently died. And still, the report published by CNN has an ending that can turn even the hardest of hearts into soft-serve, because Fidencio will receive nearly $400,000 from those who have been generously donating to a GoFundMe campaign created by two good Samaritans: Joel Cervantes Macias and Jose Loera.

Macias told CNN that a photo shared of Sanchez pushing his popsicle cart “pulled at a lot of heartstrings”, and one of the primary reasons that donations likely rolled in was due to people “appreciat[ing] hard work.”

That Americans are more inclined to feel empathy for those who oftentimes sacrifice life and limb in the course of pursuing or engaging in work, usually manual labor, is part of American culture.

After CNN published the interview with Sanchez on their Facebook page, they were inundated with comments from Americans praising how hard-working Sanchez is while castigating those they characterize as being undeserving of their sympathy. One comment reads: “Instead of being on a street corner with a homeless sign asking for money like a lot of younger folks out there, he is still working, what a brave man!” Another describes Sanchez as “a great example for Trump” and all Americans “that don’t wanna work and depend on government funds to live.”

The rags-to-riches American success story touted by every lawmaker and pundit since at least the publication of Ragged Dick, written by capitalist propaganda artist Horatio Alger Jr. in 1867, is the very backbone of the so-called “American Dream.” The primary aim of the much-loved bootstrap myth is to dehumanize the poor. After all, if you have the willpower and are of good character, then you can work hard and pull yourself up from the lower ranks.

This fraudulent characterization means two things: that if you sweat and toil, you can rise from poverty, and that those who are unable to ‘make it’ are unmotivated, uneducated, and lack what it takes to succeed. And yet, neither deserve “handouts” ─ they have to learn a lesson. Make them work until their bones hurt. Make them live up to every cartoonish imagination of the poor that lawmakers and laypersons alike conjure. After all, without their immense suffering, how can these stories make you feel anything as you go about your day?

According to a report by The Social IMPACT Research Center (IMPACT), published in 2014, there were 1.8 million Illinois residents living in poverty ─ a rate of 14.4%. “Additionally, 2.2 million Illinoisans are near poor and economically insecure with incomes between 100% and 199% of the federal poverty threshold.”

In 2014, there were 46.7 million Americans in poverty, nationwide─setting the poverty rate in the United States at 14.8%. This in mind, Conor McGovern, editor of The Leftist’s Guide To Actually Existing Welfare, told Shadowproof that “the federal poverty line (FPL) does not represent any sort of measure of cost of living.” In other words, he said, “The FPL is an administrative measure. It’s an agreed-upon baseline around which eligibility levels for different benefits will be contested politically. It does not, in any way, represent a measure of privation, which is why reports about poverty levels in the United States should be taken with a shovelful of salt.”

“A decrease in the poverty rate is unquestionably good, mind you, but that just means some percentage of poor people are less poor than they were before, not that crossing this magic line makes them any way better off.” Plus, McGovern added, “It’s very possible to be unable to make ends meet yet have an income well above that at which you would qualify for federal benefits like SNAP or Medicaid.”

The heartrending case of Fidencio Sanchez is far from unique. Though the exact number of Americans forced to rely on crowd sourcing campaigns in order to eat, find access to stable housing, or even afford medical procedures isn’t known just yet, their stories are being told by local and national media outlets more and more frequently.

Their stories are only covered as far as charitable donations go. There is rarely ever an examination of living conditions in their counties. They end on a note that’s meant to make viewers feel good inside.

The question that must be asked is why anyone has to work until their body cannot function, or even an atom’s worth of that, so they can survive. This should not happen. Peel away the deceiving, manipulative portrayal offered and what you have is a horror story. Fidencio Sanchez’s story should serve as a reminder not of a person’s ability to work but of the State’s pervasive hatred of workers and of the poor.

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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.