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Matthew Bode Headshot

The National Party Conventions Meet Poverty

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I brought the church van to her house in our neighborhood. She and her five children needed to get out of the house in the middle of the afternoon while her boyfriend was out looking for some drugs. The 100-year-old wood frame house was falling apart. The front door was only partially on its hinges and most of the windows were either broken or missing. The house stank. While the electricity was on, neither a single fixture nor outlet was safe. About a year later, when another family was in the house, it burned to the ground.

On this particular summer afternoon we loaded the van with all the clothes worth saving, along with some personal items. I stored them in the basement of the church, away from the sight of church members, lest expose her to embarrassment. She found a shelter, and eventually got herself on her feet. Her children today, are at many different levels of health, mentally and physically. Thousands of Detroiters live this life every day. Millions are in similar situations all across urban and rural America. What is going to happen when these millions of Americans realize they are a growing minority, perhaps future majority, stop working just to survive, and revolt against a nation that does not have their interests in mind?

As the transfer of wealth from poor and middle class to rich increases in size and scope never seen before, our national leaders have grown incapable of speaking the word "poverty." If we hear it even once at either of the national party conventions this year it will be a shock. At the same time, right-wing Christian leaders give these same national political leaders cover by keeping them focused on issues like opposition to gay marriage, abortion, wars against contraception, blaming women for rape, attacking Islam and making up fake causes like battles for religious freedom. (By the way, all of these causes raise both the politicians and the religious right huge sums of money.) Meanwhile, they use tiny portions of vast resources to start conscience-soothing food pantries while ignoring the root causes of poverty and the growing power of the super rich.

The Christian right may be damning itself to hell, but the rest of the country does not need to go with it. Christian history and theology is founded on building power for those on the outside. Jesus, the embodiment of God on earth, went to the places of deepest division and not only brought healing, but gave power to those who never had it before. When the empire of Rome took everything away from them, Jesus gave it back.

Make no mistake about it; the number of outsiders is growing. While the major parties speak about the middle class, shrinking from 63 to 51 percent of the population over the past two decades, they must also speak about the poor. As voter suppression through de facto poll taxes, the purging of voter records and unconstitutional targeting of communities of color grows, so will the anger.

When the economic and political elites of Detroit got together to begin to address poverty and the disempowerment of its citizens, their most creative solution was the building of casinos. The casinos further drain our local wealth and add to the poverty in our neighborhood. The powers that be did not come to the citizens of our community offering expertise on Swiss bank accounts, advice on starting a super PAC nor an outline to start a Ponzi scheme. Most of us stopped believing in our economic and political leaders years ago.

Our nation's history says we only prosper when we expand and not contract ourselves. Ironically, it is also the message of Jesus. We prosper when we expand the inner circle and the number of people connected to the resources of our economy, our political system and our educational institutions. It is happening outside of traditional structures. In Detroit and elsewhere we are building our own businesses, at the beginning edge of creating our own food supplies and at the very start of bringing together communal interests at a large scale. Those living with low incomes have always done this. People of color, women, the LGBT community, communities of the disabled and many more outsiders have always been the creative centers of survival and hope. However, as the numbers of outsiders grows, so does our willingness to work together and form new partnerships, perhaps more than we have seen before this generation. Micro-development, the building of local power and resources, will be the key to the next generation's building of wealth in communities of low income.

The poor, such as the woman who fled her own home that summer day, will have their power. It may take a generation or two, but as Dr. King reminded us, the arc of the moral universe bends, and it bends toward justice. Will justice come through the working together of community, the leaders and the people they serve, or will it come with non-violent or violent revolution? We have not hit rock bottom yet. As wealth continues to be distributed from the poor to the wealthy, people are beginning to wake up. It may take another generation or two, but if we continue on this trajectory, revolution will come and it will change America forever. The need for a President Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon Baines Johnson is necessary.

Their commitment to addressing poverty and strengthening the power of those falling through the safety nets saved America in their respective generations. Anything less than such a commitment from the major parties and their candidates for any office will leave those on the outside wanting. So far, the party conventions appear to be a repetitive exercise of political masturbation, a lot of noise and excitement without touching a single person and producing no results. The future of America is held in tension, and if things keep heading in the direction they are, those of us preaching nonviolence and peace in communities of poverty could soon lose all authority.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the persistence of poverty in America August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.