Every Christmas Americans indulge in their many book, stage, and screen versions of Dickens' Christmas Carol. Then the nation that sighs over the Cratchit family goes back to acting like Ebenezer Scrooge. But the economic crisis has shaken a middle-class veneer of prosperous self-satisfaction. Does that mean we can change?
There always hope -- but the statistics are staggering. The Every Child Matters Education Foundation lays out what they call the "Tiny Tim Effect" in their succinctly named "Homeland Insecurity" report: 13 million kids in poverty. (That's the worst poverty rate among 24 comparable countries.) Three million neglected and abused kids. Millions more without health coverage. 14 million latchkey kids.
Oh, and there's more: In the health care arena, where I spend a lot of my time, the figures are grim: Infant mortality rates for African American babies is 2.5 higher than those of whites. That's the worst infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation. And
18,000 people -- wait, make that 22,000 people - die each year because they don't have health insurance. That's 60 deaths every day.
And we haven't even talked about health and poverty issues in other countries. We've allowed a level of suffering at home and abroad that should trouble our consciences every day.
But there are new impulses toward giving, and new ways to give. Some of them have been described here at The Huffington Post, including Craig Newmark's "Craigslist for giving" and the micro-giving technology described by John Borthwick and Ken Lerer. Jesse Kornbluth has some thoughts, too.
I "micro-gave" $2.00 with a few mouse clicks. The reason I don't make more contributions isn't selfishness: it's time and attention. I'm betting a lot of people feel the same way, making this a great way to contribute. If we can give more through mouse clicks, more of us will give. "Tweetsgiving" raised $10,000, and the Salvation Army's now raising money the same way. (all courtesy Beth Kanter)
Up in Canada a Vancouver Tweetup (an unplanned meeting announced on Twitter) helped clothe the homeless. On a less high-tech (but no less inventive) front, a Utah student "bought" 22,000 acres of wilderness land at a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas exploitation sale, disrupting the Bush Administration's plans for a last-minute fire sale.
These generous and inventive idealists have created real-life, real time miracles.
There is economic suffering in our world right now -- but a lot of it was already happening before the crisis. Nobody wants to make light of our present difficulties, but if they make us more sensitive to the needs of others -- and less materialistic -- there will be a silver lining. You won't need digital technology to give, but it can certainly help.
Private giving won't be enough to fix our problems, or the world's. We'll need policy changes at every level. But private giving can address part of the need, and it can raise our awareness of the depth of that need. It won't be easy, but it's worth trying. If technology allows people to give whenever it occurs to them, with the click of a button, that could enable a million more miracles to come.
Other Christmas posts:
RJ Eskow blogs when he can at: