Assume your audience contains poor people

Many teachers, religious leaders, and civic leaders want to raise awareness of poverty, often in a move to get their people to favor more socially progressive laws.

One way they do this is by promoting poverty simulations like The Snap Challenge or a Hunger Banquet.

Often, the way they talk about this undermines their own message by assuming that there are no poor people actually in the room. Or, even more so, speaking as though only privileged people have a place in the conversation about poverty.

The fact of the matter is, in just about any room you’re in, there will be people who already know what it’s like to depend on food stamps. There are people in the room who depend on food stamps or have in the past, and they know more about it than the people who spent a few days playing a game.

Those are the voices that should be primary in the conversation. When you’re trying to get people to care about poverty, don’t drown out the voices of actual poor people.

Some practical things this means:

  • Don’t ask people if they’ve done the food stamp challenge yet
  • Don’t tell a whole room you’re addressing that everyone should do it, because there are people in the room who shouldn’t, and people in the room who have n choice
  • If you’re talking about these things, explicitly acknowledge that probably some people in the room already know what this is like and don’t need a simulation to tell them
  • And point out explicitly that you don’t really know what things are like after a few days
  • Especially since people get all sorts of social points for participating in those things, people who are *actually* poor get shame and hate and hostility.
  • Simulations only simulate some things, and not necessarily the most important things
  • Do not talk over people who have experienced the real thing

When you say “we” to a room, make sure your we includes poor people. If you don’t feel like you can do that within the exercise you’re doing, it’s probably a program that shouldn’t be happening anyway.