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Sasha Abramsky: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger offers an excellent analysis of food system issues.  Abramsky does not suggest improvements on food policies or food security or hunger because those are not the real issues as he sees it; we don’t have a problem with food per se, we have a serious problem with income inequality and distribution of wealth, specifically that the top 500 billionaires in America have wealth equivalent to the next 30 million people!

His analysis is also part of the reason you’ll likely not see food recipes on this blog or the common food gathering-like posts here.  I love attending those gatherings, however like his analysis which points to the deeper issues related to our food system and also my interests in the food system (in particular the socio-economics, the policies/politics, and how we are responding through local enterprise) I’ll leave those posts to others.  The income disparities he points to, unfortunately, are embedded in how we operate at the business level – we are taught how to treat human capital as an expense on the income statement ultimately treating it as a liability on the balance sheet as opposed to an asset that can be harnessed and regenerative within the organization.  Coming across his work is timely considering the significance and meaning of this day.

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington took place in Washington, DC today and I felt distant here in the SF Bay Area where the most recognizable march was the daily commute and ancillary traffic of the city regions outgrowth.  There were no voices to be heard, no congregating, nor speeches; everything I knew of the day’s events was captured through friend’s blogposts and news outlets.  This is surprising considering towns like Tracy and Stockton have all but collapsed economically yet the people of these small towns have not organized to voice their concerns.  When I looked at the city of Tracy’s statistics, I found the following:

2000 2010
Total Population 56,929 82,922
Unemployment (official) 3.90% 13.90%
Population Working 38,296 49,977
     Pop Not Working 18,633 32,945
Median Household Income $63,217 $77,594
Average Income per Household $68,532 $88,274
Population Earning > $50k 63% 74%
Population Earning > $75k 40% 53%
Population Earning > $100k 19% 33%

Over 40% of Tracy’s population is stagnant in terms of its productive capacity (although these folks are still consuming).  Clearly income inequality is exemplified here with over three quarters of the population earning well above the nation’s poverty line.  So if income isn’t the issue with voicing concerns in Tracy, then what is?  I thought of the general demographic of the March on Washington fifty years ago and it primarily was a history of black and white culture coming together; even though today’s disparity was striking with no Republican officials in attendance, based on Tracy’s ethnic demographics, 54% are classified as white, 24% Hispanic, and 13% Asian – that’s 92% of the population.  No wonder the energy and aura of the March was missing here.

Even though I wasn’t physically present for any open displays of activism or expression, one opportunity did come to bear today through a friend.  The experience invoked a bit of Zizek when he commented a year ago about not doing something, but further thinking and analyzing our situations better instead of jumping into the fire without a premise or base for one’s thoughts.  We jumped in the fire and sent a letter below to the President of George Washington University, Steve Knapp (among other leaders at GW), in light of today’s newsletter from GW Today.

Our Letter to the President of GW:

Dear President Knapp,

With all due respect, allow us to express our belief that the main article in our University Today’s newsletter (“University Community Celebrates March on Washington Anniversary”) is, to put it mildly, slightly hypocritical. Martin Luther King Jr.’s aspiration 50 years ago was not only to achieve full Constitutional equality among races, but also a just and fair society – a society that allows everyone – poor or wealthy – to progress and succeed in life. Unfortunately, GWU cannot praise itself by being on the same page with Dr. King’s “dream”, especially because it repeatedly ranks as one of the most expensive higher-education institutions in the country, thus deterring those that might be less economically fortunate from enrolling.

If GWU would really like to live up to the spirit of Dr. King’s words and follow his legacy, it should (a) lower the tuition fee instead of raising it well beyond the inflation rate, (b) stop meaningless expansion into real estate projects that bring less and less added value to the quality of the educational experience fueling the rise in tuition fees and ultimately limiting access to GWU for those less fortunate and (c) increase the drive to channel funds into financial aid for students – an area where GWU seriously lags behind other comparable institutions. This not only would make Dr. King happy and proud, but it would further align with the inherent spirit of his message.

Sincerely yours,

Marko Bucik
MA International Affairs ’13

John Brittell
MBA / MA International Finance ’13

P.S. As a side note: the same newsletter also highlights the experience of the current White House intern who is enrolled at GWU (“Senior Serves as White House Intern”, below). Again, understanding the real meaning of Dr. King’s aspirations would lead you to see that unpaid internships in the most prominent public offices in the country, and any other location for that matter, are only increasing the existing inequalities. Not only are unpaid internships a deeply disrespectful practice that denies value to work and commitment, they are also an avenue for ever greater income segregation. Who can afford to live and work in the District of Columbia without remuneration? Surely not those poor children that Dr. King’s was referring to.

*************************************************************************************

If we are going to truly address the issues of food in our society, some of the basic civic rights such as participatory democracy will have to be fulfilled in some way – and that will likely not happen until more is stripped from its populace.  The current socio-political-economics allows us to separate our individual aspirations from our civic duties.  So the letter above is one of many to come where pressure is placed on those leaders with the authority to help shift policy, systems, and structures for the better in conjunction with our very own efforts at the local level to bring awareness to these issues.

2 thoughts on “A Letter to GWU President

  1. Andy Fisher of Civil Eats talks more about very related issues of income inequality and our food system (specifically food banks) but which don’t seem to get much support from those working in either camp. Why? He mentions how tied in food banks are to corporate donors for food and money, basically silencing any voices that would argue for more equitable pay. Have a look: http://civileats.com/2013/09/05/the-anti-hunger-industrial-complex/comment-page-1/#comment-34314

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