Slow-Motion Violence

At 4 PM on Sunday November 6, at St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago, PCG will be celebrating its 15th anniversary. We hope you will join us as we recognize our accomplishments and embrace the challenges of our future.

We will be honoring John Bouman, President of the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and also PCG’s three founding co-chairs: Nancy Brandt, Ron Sampson, and the Rev. Eugene Winkler.

Even as I ask you to celebrate with us, I also want to call your attention to a series of citywide memorial events, collectively called Urban Dolorosa, that will take place throughout the week of PCG’s 15th anniversary.

Urban Dolorosa is a convening of clergy and laity concerned about the youth violence that plagues Chicago. Over 260 children and youth have been shot and killed over the last three years. The message of Urban Dolorosa is that we must bear witness to what is happening to children and youth in neighborhoods so often invisible to the rest of the city.

This steady and tragic loss of young lives affects us all. Because of God’s love for all, these are our children, too. We urge faith leaders to sign the letter that will enable you to be included in the Urban Dolorosa movement.

There is a profound connection between Urban Dolorosa and the mission and purpose of Protestants for the Common Good. To support either is to support both. Witness without advocacy is incomplete. Advocacy will never happen unless we hear and see what is happening around us.

How, then, can we work together? What program of advocacy does PCG offer to those who bring their witness to Urban Dolorosa?

The violence that kills our children is what technocrats call a “wicked” problem. Because it has multiple causes, there is no simple answer. But we can start by understanding that we have become two nations: those with great wealth and political influence, and those with little or none.

A segment of our population, often people of color, has lived in economic and political isolation throughout our history. Now this segment is expanding to include a growing number who used to be part of the middle class, regardless of race.

PCG’s new education program makes this division abundantly clear. The top 20% control about 85% of the wealth in the United States. From 1979 through 2008, after-tax income for the top 5% of Americans grew 73% and the top 1% enjoyed a 224% growth. During this same period, the after-tax income for the bottom one-fifth decreased by 7%.

The problem with this growing disparity is that resources for those at the bottom don’t just remain inadequate: they become worse. Schools become increasingly underfunded; health care declines; law enforcement leans more toward oppression than service. Psychologically the rich become more distant from the rest of us.

Whoever said “poverty is violence in slow motion” was profoundly right. When families and individuals live in abject poverty and see little hope of escape, what is surprising is that violence does not occur more often.

Our society needs better schools, adequate health care, wages that can support families and individuals who work forty hours a week, employment training and new career paths to compensate for the loss of opportunity due to globalization, after-school and summer job programs.

Eliminating the “War on Drugs,” a term so discredited that it is seldom used even by the federal agencies responsible for its enforcement, is also part of the answer. Enforcing it is costly to society as a whole, and it ruins lives—often the lives of young men—before they have a chance to become productive citizens. PCG has taken up this challenge, both in Illinois and beyond.

PCG is eager to provide the advocacy for these and other measures that will help to transform the witness of Urban Dolorosa into meaningful action. We look forward to seeing you on November 6th and hope you will attend at least one of the Urban Dolorosa concerts as well.

Following these events, PCG and Urban Dolorosa must join hands. Together we can work to find solutions to the wicked problems of violence and poverty that stand in the way of the common good.

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