Three years ago Katrina ripped away the veil that hid what Michael Harrington in the 1960s called “The Other America,” the poor who live beside us in the richest nation in the world. For a few moments, it seemed we might pay attention to people less fortunate than most of us.

In Wednesday’s StarTribune, the headline reads: “Income erodes, poverty gains in Minnesota.” The story reports: “There were about 482,000 Minnesotans in poverty last year, up 60,000 from 2006. The poverty rate rose from 8.2 percent to 9.3 percent.” And Minnesota is better off than most states — our poverty rate is the ninth lowest in America, although we fell from fifth lowest.

When the Republicans gather in St. Paul, will they pay attention to the one in eight Americans living in poverty? ONE IN EIGHT!!! How is America working when one of every eight of us is living in poverty?

Bill Clinton, at the Democratic convention Wednesday night, reminded us that the disparity between rich and poor in America is now as severe, as unconscionable, as obscene (my words not Bill’s) as in the 1920s. Republican policies and philosophy have resulted in this inhumane and growing disparity between rich and poor. The Republicans themselves may be well-meaning, well-intended. They may believe that their policies will help all Americans. But they haven’t. They’re leaving way too many behind. And it’s getting worse. And we can’t abide this.

I know Republicans fear that Democrats will just raise their taxes and waste their money. I heard this again the other day from two of my clients — good-hearted people whose families have worked hard for generations to build small businesses that provide quality staple products at a fair price. I hear them and understand their frustration. But I pray we can all get beyond these fears and political judgmentalism to see The Other America. And to be ashamed of ourselves. And to do the Christian thing, the Jewish thing, the Muslim thing. The right thing. Help one another rather than walk on by, averting our eyes.

Republicans, you’re coming to a rich state, a state where things are going pretty well. And a state where one in ten of us live in poverty. That’s not good enough. America is not working for enough of us. We can do better. We must. And Democrats, let’s go beyond the talk and make things work, effectively.

If the distraught faces of Katrina didn’t move us to share our good fortune and opportunity, perhaps the faces of one of every eight of our neighbors will.

–Bruce Benidt

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