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October 18, 2009


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Nice essay. Whats your view of the role of people in the advocacy community?

Phil Cubeta

Albert, what an eloquent, moving essay. Montaigne, Rosseau, you could have gotten that Doctorate in literature rather than philosophy. I am glad to see you back in mix here at White Courtesy Telephone. Such a personal essay, but such public and important points. Blogged it here. http://www.gifthub.org/2009/10/messing-with-the-poor-efficiently-and-effectively-in-accordance-with-a-plan.html

Hope the essay is widely read and often republished.


c.e.o.: People in the advocacy community face impossible odds. We give them bent lances, pasteboard visors, and broken down horses. The windmills, by contrast, are quite solid. I wish we were more honest about our failures in advocacy and community organizing.

Thanks, Phil. As a mentor of many years, your words mean a lot to me.


Albert, very powerful and extremely well written (as always) truths. Thanks!


I'm gonna chew on this one, Albert. If only because despite the odds (and I also have some firsthand experience of the odds), there ARE nonetheless leaders emerging from these communities, and they ARE consistently saying, 'Don't make my decisions for me, please.' My colleague always reminds me that despite conditions, farmworkers have managed to organize and redress some things; and a community leader at a recent symposium called out the entire assembled group to respect and honor the leadership of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming folks of color, saying that there were easily 300 such leaders in the U.S. alone, and that what they need is not for folks to speak for them, but to be better supported in their leadership.

On the other hand, who has not been relieved by the assistance of a more powerful or better-placed ally, right? I certainly have. So what is the role of folks who are trying to be true allies like you? and I?

So.. chewin'...


Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Caroline. I've also witnessed many examples of effective leadership in marginalized communities by members of those communities. Each of us has a role to play. Leader, strategist, spokesperson, prayerful onlooker, funder. I hope we choose roles for ourselves--and nominate others--not on the basis of ideology or sentimentality but on the basis of what will get the job done.

My partner and I have a personal stake in the national (and international) discussion regarding LGBT people and their rights. Here is our personal message to non-LGBT people who care about our issues: For God's sake speak for us and with us. Do you have access to power that we don't? Feel free to use it on our behalf. Ours is a human rights issue: we therefore expect all humans to have a stake in it. Do you want to lead a pro-LGBT effort in your church or other faith community? You have our blessing. And don’t worry about using the wrong terms to describe queer people: we trust you’re on our side and are trying as best you can. One Roman Catholic cardinal who has a change of heart is worth more to us than a thousand Joe Solmoneses.

Other LGBT folks might disagree. That’s fine. We don’t all speak with one voice.

So I ask myself, who speaks for the poor? Do the poor need to give me license to speak for them? How do we rise above careerism, pride, distrust, and fear to join in a common cause?


Additionally, more and more of the "middle class" are finding ourselves slipping. I'm not sure if it's the economy or the new high-deductible healthcare plans pushed out by companies that used to provide real insurance, but I realized with horror as I read this essay that my own family is now only one paycheck away from disaster... our cushion of former years has been whittled away. In the event of a medical crisis we would have to choose between the medical bills or the house note. My husband and I are both college-educated professionals with full time jobs, yet we, like the "working poor" described in this essay, are just one breath away from total disaster. Believe me, it's a lot scarier to go through those doorways backwards.

WCT Editor

[We're posting a comment received by e-mail here at White Courtesy Telephone Interplanetary Headquarters ...]

I tried to post a comment on the web site but to no avail. So, below please find my comment:

Albert, what a great post. I found it while researching for a volunteer job. I left the working class back in the early 80's to find it again in the mid 90's after my partner died of AIDS and the bills were paid. I struggled through a system that would not let me get my head above water, despite all of my knowledge of the system, because of my status of poverty. I now have embraced my status of poor and dedicate my time to help others in a one man, non-recognized (not register) nonprofit entity. The chronically poor, I have observed, remain in their cell for lack of knowledge. It is my humble opinion that if anyone wants to help, the first step should be education. I am often asked why I do what I do by those that I help because they cannot understand my altruistic stance after they learn of my higher education. To tell the truth, I do not understand myself either sometimes. Except that the joy to know that I was able to help another human being in an impossible situation, I never experienced it climbing the class ladder.

Today I count my coffers with coins of smiles, kisses, thank yous and tears of joy. I have never been happier in my life. This is an odd comment, especially coming from a queen with an extreme good taste for the luxuries of life. Oh well...C'est la vie...

Your post reminded me of my own journey and background. Thank you.

Melinda Lewis

I am always thrilled when I see a new post here. I always read them twice. I love the phrase, "practiced sociology without a license". Haven't we all?

I think the key, for me, is to value and honor and amplify the voices and rights of those in poverty without, for even a second, using the idea of "don't speak for me" as an excuse to be silent. We can too easily slip into this idea that people in poverty/those with disabilities/LGBT communities (fill in the blank) are the only ones with important perspectives on their struggles, which is really just our way of trying to dodge the fight.


Great post thanks for sharing that. I recall the first time I spent five dollars without that pang of guilt you described. Not having experience with money before I got some, I made some mistakes with it. Not sure that having money developed such great attitudes in me either, false sense of security, false sense of pride, false sense of independence. There are things people without money value and understand that many people with money have forgotten, suppressed, or never learned from experience. Sharing, empathy, caring, giving, can all be tossed aside when one is too busy collecting and protecting all their stuff.

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