I have been fortunate to live a comfortable, middle-class life. I woke up to presents from Santa Claus every Christmas, attended private school for a majority of my education and still do, and have never gone to bed hungry. However, this comfortable, middle-class life is a privilege unattainable to many. Unequal access to resources such as food, shelter, and health care is a reality billions of individuals face across the globe. Nearly 20% of the world’s population lives on less than a dollar a day. Instead of spending money on combating poverty and preventable diseases, a majority of global expenditures is directed towards military spending. Perhaps if we spent more money on health care, education, and other “Weapons of Salvation” our world would be a more safe and hospitable place.
Walking around West Oakland, it is apparent that this neighborhood lacks monetary wealth. In West Oakland, there exists no major grocery store, high school drop-out rates are among the largest in the nation, and crime rates are also high. A large portion of the city’s budget is directed towards the police department, which is still seriously underfunded and understaffed. But a larger police force can only stop crime, not prevent the source of it. Nor will it end high poverty and high school drop-out rates. What is the solution for West Oakland’s multi-faceted issues? At General Assistance Advocacy Project, I work with clients who are having difficulty receiving General Assistance or Food Stamps. On a daily basis, I hear clients’ stories of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and drug addiction. Again I must ask, what is the solution?
This last weekend I attended a service at St. James Cathedral in San Francisco. In the homily, the priest discussed the power of extraordinary love. He said extraordinary acts of love make individuals do irrational things, like dedicating your life to serving the poor or committing to marriage. Extraordinary love inspires social justice activism and concern for the poor, oppressed, and enslaved. Social justice activist, Dorothy Day’s life was an example of extraordinary love. She committed herself to a life of active love and social change, a harsh and perseverant way of living. She lived by the words of Father Zosima, a character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, “Active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared to love in dreams.” Perhaps the solution for poverty in West Oakland, in San Francisco, and global poverty can be found in active and extraordinary love.