Greetings from Little Rock, Arkansas. I got here Monday -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was also the day President Barack Obama delivered an inaugural address exposing what he's been hiding these past four years -- a little fire in his belly for the poor, the ridiculed, the marginalized and the disaffected.
And not a moment too soon.
If you paid careful attention to the president's speech you likely noticed his glancing nod -- surprisingly unattributed -- to one of his predecessors, Abe Lincoln. In a not so veiled manner he cherry picked a few important words from the 12th president's 2nd inaugural address. Those words -- blood, sword, and lash -- put the wrong doers of Lincoln's time in their place. "Yet, if God wills that it [The Civil War] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword..." Yep, Lincoln was laying down the gauntlet. Effectively saying, "You stole the wealth of other men and women's labor and shed their blood to do so, if your debt demands payment in kind and in full, so be it."
When Pres. Obama used the sentence, "Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free," he was basically saying that slavery -- economic or physical or both -- aren't natural byproducts of the nation that the people of the 21st century United States think they have. At least that's how I read it. And that brings me back to why I'm in Little Rock, Arkansas. January 22nd, I'm embarking on a 5000 mile journey through some parts of our nation that exist free from equality and shackled outside liberty's grasp.
This is my 3rd journey through the backstreets, wooded camps, and homeless shelters of America's poor.
Perhaps because there's even more need for this latest EPIC Journey than there was when I first went out in 2004, I'd like to give Pres. Obama credit for reminding us that we fought a war for equality of opportunity. Still, being a little more brutally honest than he was yesterday wouldn't have been very easy but it might be necessary. Standing next to Chief Justice Roberts and saying to the American people, "Hey, I don't know if you noticed this or not, but you aren't supposed to be slaves anymore. Not you poor white folk any more than you poor black folk. Not you mommas and not you babies. Not you veterans and not you elderly. You aren't supposed to be making a substandard minimum wage, feeding yourselves with food stamps and praying the sore on the bottom of your foot isn't a sign of something worse - something you can't afford to have treated. And you sure as heck aren't supposed to be living that way while the CEO of your power retail or fast food employer makes 380 times what you do. And don't even get me started about those Koch brothers."
Yeah, the president likely couldn't say something like that, but I can.
And that's what I'm doing. My dear friend and one of my favorite living heroes -- Diane Nilan, founder and CEO of the homeless children's advocacy group HEAR US -- and I will kick off our trek at a gathering sponsored by the Old Fort Homeless Coalition. A number of different agencies will come together and explain to us what they are up against in their neck of the woods: Fort Smith, Arkansas. From there we move over into Oklahoma and work our way west. If you're one of the countless people whose high school English teacher made them read Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" then you can just picture our journey in your heads. Because -- sadly -- Steinbeck's Joads are no longer fictitious representatives a time gone by when families starved and children suffered. The nomadic homelessness of dustbowl refugees and depression era mass unemployment is back and Diane and I will record what we encounter so you can follow along. That is, if you want to know.
You can follow our journey here at the Huffington Post and on Facebook.
What the president was talking about Monday was real. Our collective need to live up to our ideals as a people is real. But those two realities are impossible as long as we deny how far away from those goals we actually are. Diane and I will endeavor to show you a snapshot of what life in the desert south west is like for you and/or your neighbors.
One thing is certain. When anyone -- even the president -- speaks to "you" about being poor, at least 1 in 6 of "you" in this wealthy nation already know what he's talking about, because "you" are the poor. And if we are the nation our ancestors fought a civil war to ensure then you is we and we are the poor.
Follow Pat LaMarche on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PatHLaMarche