Local issues overshadowed by global concerns

I think it goes without saying that in the United States of America we have some pretty massive problems in our hands. Right now we are faced with debt, environmental, education and health care crises just to name a few.

On top of all of this, our government can’t seem to get along and has argued itself into an infuriating shutdown stalemate, seemingly abandoning the needs of its citizens for selfish political reasons.

Just last week I was talking to my friends who are working to fix some of these problems, albeit on a local level, with their student groups. One of my very close friends, in fact, is involved with an environmental registered student organization here on campus, Students For Environmental Concerns, more commonly know as SECS.

One of their big projects is weatherization of low-income housing in Champaign. They’ve actually received a very sizable grant to move ahead with this initiative, and thus it is going forward with no cost to low-income residents.

Weatherization, as I understand it, is a way of protecting houses from various weather conditions. It will allow houses to operate more efficiently at an overall cheaper cost to residents.

One of the unfortunate problems with this, however, has been gaining community support and awareness for the initiative, which requires the residents to install their own weatherization kits.

At first, I couldn’t fathom how it would be hard to gather community backing for this movement, which was entirely positive. The only cost would be one to the RSO, which would be at least partially funded by the University, and the rest would be covered by a grant.

After some thought and experience of canvassing, and going door-to-door collecting information in low-income neighborhoods all throughout central Illinois (mostly Danville and C-U), I started to gain some perspective on why residents couldn’t get behind an idea like weatherization.

It’s not that people are against the environment or the University, but rather this is a case of the government’s inability to focus on issues right here in our own backyards.

In 2009, 30.5 percent of Champaign’s residents lived below the poverty level and 40.5 percent of Danville’s residents lived below the poverty level. The problem with entering these communities of widespread poverty and spreading information and educational material about peripheral concerns, in this case weatherization, is that it quite frankly isn’t the top priority in these citizens’ lives.

If some people are living paycheck-to-paycheck and are never sure where their next meal is going to come from, why would they be able to devote time and concern to something so broad and beyond their personal concern? I vividly remember the experience I had when canvassing a neighborhood on Danville’s east side.

I used to work for a local state senator, and we spent a lot of time walking around all sorts of neighborhoods. I canvassed everything from the smallest, dirtiest shack I’ve ever seen to the house of Jimmy John himself.

In this particular instance, I asked a woman how she felt about gay marriage and she responded with: “Honey, I’ve got two sons in Afghanistan and a husband without health insurance. What would I care about gay marriage?”

To question these people for their lack of interest is neither correct nor justified, but rather highlights a distinct lack of care on the part of politicians and those in power to address the needs of those in poverty. The poor are an often-neglected part of the American political roundtable discussion.

Just last year we had an election, and while Republicans were hell-bent on a message of lower taxes and repealing Obamacare, the mention of the poor, especially in urban areas, was conspicuously absent.

The fact that peripheral issues occupy the bulk of political information that is released to the public can perhaps tell us why political apathy is so high in our country. I’m not saying peripheral problems like health care, the economy and the environment should be ignored. They absolutely should not be.

These problems affect billions of people on a daily basis (the environment quite literally affects everyone in the world) and should be dealt with the highest importance and priority.

But if someone is apathetic toward these problems because they can’t put food in his or her own stomach, it’s not a reason to chide them, but rather a reason to reevaluate our needs as a country.

Perhaps this care can be instilled via education, as my friend’s RSO is seeking to do, but I have a sinking feeling that the problem of poverty, and the blinders it places on much of our population, is much more deep-rooted than something one person or one group can change.

Boswell is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]