Tackling Hunger in America: Activist, Author Opines on Poverty

Joel Berg stood at the front of a classroom at Scripps College to talk about his self-help book for the nation, America, we need to talk, something he humorously called a carried-away rant, on Wednesday, March 1.

According to Berg, people should stop blaming America's problems on corrupt politicians or the political system. While there may be faults on both ends, we must accept our role in America's democracy and thereby the system as well, and start to focus our energy on what we can do to repair what has been broken, he said.

“America, I'm hurt and angry. I love you … but I'm not in love with you anymore,” Berg said, reading the introduction of his satirical self-help book, which is written as if an angst-filled letter to a lover gone rogue after a turbulent rough patch. 

Berg went on to enumerate America's numerous past errors, including her most recent: handing the GOP nomination to Trump, whom Berg called “a buffoon.”

“Nothing is new under the sun,” Berg said, comparing present-day America to Nazi Germany. “We are a nation of anti-immigrant immigrants.”

But despite these flaws, Berg argued that individuals needed to take responsibility and action for the good of the country.

“The Republicans need hearts but Democrats need spines,” he said.

Addressing people who don't take responsibility for their country's problems, Berg said, “Get over yourself. We have a personal relationship with the country and society. And like all relationships, both sides have to work on it.”

Barring the issue of blame and responsibility, Berg also acknowledged our lack of understanding when it comes to issues like hunger and poverty. He said that middle-class families who are under the poverty line temporarily are almost ten times as likely to suffer from hunger compared to the continously poor. Meanwhile, Berg defines hunger as the “lack of political power to the poor people.”

“Our new normal is far more poverty and hunger than when the recession started. I don't accept that as normal,” Berg said.

In fact, Berg identified healthcare as one of the root causes of these problems.

“The reason Canadians are happier is because they have free healthcare and less hunger.”

With a set of obstacles to obtaining healthcare, low-income Americans are more frequently ill, and consequently working less, facing large amounts of health care debt, and digging themselves deeper below the poverty line, according to Berg.

“Hard is a mother looking her kid in the eye saying they can't afford dinner,” he said.

To Berg, this results in a perpetual cycle of income inequality.

There are indubitably many issues that need to be fixed, and according to Berg, the first step is to “recruit and unite.” Berg said that people should take action to help the middle class out of poverty and hunger if they want to take steps toward a progressive nation.

“If you can tell who the third place contestant of the bachelor is, you can learn the difference between the US and state senates,” Berg finished.

Yohichi Tagami, a Japanese language resident at Pomona College's Oldenborg Residence Hall, enjoyed the lecture.

“Everything was new to me. I learned a lot,” he said. “[Berg] also has a lot of experience that he brought to his lecture.”

Bharathrham Kodungudi PO ’20 thought the talk was very interesting, appreciating Berg’s frequent comedic moments that kept him engaged throughout the lecture.

“It was not as organized as I thought it would be; it felt a lot like a rant. He just kept rolling with whatever he was saying,” Kobuntubi said, but nonetheless “the points made were very interesting.”

“Given that many people here are on the left, [him] coming here and calling out people on the left as spineless [and not taking action] is very important especially when it’s backed up by this evidence,” Kobuntubi said. “I think he was very good at that.”


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