Gross Disparity; Puerto Rico, North Carolina, and $2,700 Dinner.
It was — very literally — pouring down rain. But the crowd barely thinned.
Instead, people huddled under small borrowed farmer’s market tents and around tables of hummus, lasagna, skillet cookies and apple crisp. A few were already so wet, they just stayed out in the rain.
This is what Greensboro did while Donald Trump came to our city.
Trump came south to fundraise for his campaign (again), so local residents took up the slack and created a pop-up fundraiser for Puerto Rico, where thousands of people still struggle to find shelter, food, and water nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit… and while Trump dines.
Potters dropped off bowls for the DIY fundraising raffle; another person contributed a mason jar of flowers from her garden; another brought a packet of zines; a child painted a picture of a protest.
It is always those who have the least who work to provide the most. Because we understand.
While a plate at Donald Trump’s fundraiser tonight cost $2,700, our dinner in the rain was pay-as-you can/don’t-if-you-can’t, with any money dropped in the bucket going to on-the-ground mutual aid work in Puerto Rico. “Learn the history,” said a woman with family in Puerto Rico who took the microphone. “Our island is poor because of the United States.”
We knew we didn’t have the ability to raise the millions of dollars that the island desperately needs to rebuild, but we knew that our efforts could be done with a reverence and a respect that cannot be achieved by throwing paper towels at people.
As Trump’s fundraiser demonstrates, there is no shortage of food or money here in Greensboro — or in our country. Instead, the distribution of resources, whether it be during a disaster or just in the course of the nation’s day, is a matter of priorities… and a matter of respect.
Trump’s lavish fundraiser stings as our city and our state continue to struggle during a slow recovery of our own. Trump has declared economic victories since his inaugoration, but terms like “full employment” and “growth” have rarely applied to communities like our own — we are among the left behinds; we no longer count into their equations. We must, instead, make ourselves count in our own.
While Congress has been in Washington this week crunching numbers and has voted on a draconian budget that slashes supports for the working poor in preparation for tax cuts for the wealthiest few, families here crunch numbers every day.
We sit around our kitchen tables adding up our growing expenses and subtracting them from our stagnant paychecks. We wonder how we can pay for a the doctor while also keeping our lights on; how we can pay for the car to get to work while also the childcare while we work. We wonder how we can work; we wonder how we can’t. We do impossible math.
These sorts of numbers, after all, are very familiar to us. For the thousands of people in Greensboro trying to support their families on minimum wage, Trump’s $2,700 meal is 372 hours of their labor… or more than two months of their hard work.
But $2,700 every two months isn’t putting food on OUR plates: one in five individuals are food insecure here in Guilford County. Instead, our incomes are being eaten up by enormous housing costs, utility payments, child care and health care. As it turns out, $2,700 is nearly two years worth of average food stamps benefits for an individual — or at least it was until the house voted this week for a budget that will cut these supports in unprecedented ways.
In this driving rain tonight, while Trump raises money for his campaign, nearly 600 people will go to sleep homeless in our city. 19% of Greensboro households live in poverty, including a quarter of our children. Even those of us who have eeked above the paltry and outdated poverty line still live hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck, unable to imagine futures of stability — not to mention futures of $2,700 dinners.
But those of us who are huddled under the borrowed tents in the rain… we aren’t asking in. We aren’t looking for invitations to your dinner party. We are not vying for a life of opulence or excess.
Instead, we are vying for community.
We are not being left behind by Trump or Congress or the wealthy few: we are forging ahead to create communities of support, gratitude, grace and dignity here — outside of and regardless of their talk of prosperity. In this community, we measure successes very differently. Rain or shine.
In fact, it is our very struggles and survivorship that inform our empathy and fuel our insistence on justice. Perhaps it is impossible to ask or demand that Trump or the wealthy elite know what it is like to be in Puerto Rico right now… or in Flint or East St. Louis or Tucson or Memphis… or here in Reidsville or Thomasville or Tarboro or Greensboro… but we know. So we can and will respond to those in need.
Our moral compasses can guide us to no other action.
We are not looking for leadership; we know it will not be found in this… or any… administration. Instead, we are looking deep into ourselves and those we know.
We are not looking to you, Mr. Trump: we have work to do.
Perhaps this is the gift we have received from Trump and those who eat $2,700 dinners.