Last Thursday, Speaker Gingrich said that “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habit of working and have nobody around them who works…they have not habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.” Mr. Gingrich is clearly misinformed, unsympathetic to urban communities, and has no idea what it is like grow up in an American city like my hometown of Lennox, California where the 2000 census noted that thirty-two percent of the people lived below the poverty line and where the median income for a family was about $27,000.
Dear Speaker Gingrich:
I write to you as a fellow American and a fellow Catholic. As Americans, we share a Constitution that values freedom and promotes the right of everyone to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Catholics, we share the teachings of Jesus and our forebears who call us to unrelentingly uplift the dignity of all in pursuit of the common good. We are called, both by the founders of our country and our holy texts, to use our opportunities to open the doors of opportunity for others so that as many people as possible in this great nation of ours have the chance to reach their God-given potential. These are ideals that have been foundational to me, as an American and a Catholic, and they are ideals which have undergirded the actions and policies of so many great Americans. They are ideals that anyone running for the highest office in our great nation – the office of the presidency – should wholeheartedly embrace.
With this in mind, I also write to you as a poor child from a poor neighborhood, a group you recently derided as having “no habits of working” and having “nobody around them who works.” Coming from a man who was worth $6.7 million in 2010, I am insulted by your claims to know my exact character traits and the extent of my possibilities as a student and a professional simply by looking at my annual household income. I’m from the poor community of Lennox, California where approximately thirty-two percent of the residents live below the poverty line. Your speaking event fee of $60,000 for a single event is more than the entirety of my own family’s annual household income. Despite being a poor kid from a poor neighborhood, I am not only a junior at Harvard University but I am also the President of the Harvard College Democrats and I can tell you from experience that you can’t get into Harvard without hard work.
Your attempt to excuse the failed economic policies of the Bush administration by insulting all poor individuals is disgraceful. You claim that all those who are categorized as “poor” are lazy and don’t show up to work on Mondays. Between your lucrative speaking engagements and lavish vacations to places like the Greek Isles, I don’t know if you have had enough time to walk around real neighborhoods with real people in the United States. I would like you to know that if you were to visit a community like mine you wouldn’t just see poverty. You would also see the hope that the possibility of a college education inspires. My mother is a stay-at-home mom that put in the time to teach me multiplication as a young child and my father is the most hardworking man I’ve ever met. My family has food on the table and a roof over our heads because of his tireless work ethic and belief that his children should not be constrained by the limitations our zip code. I could’ve helped my father by working a part-time job in high school, but my father didn’t allow me to do so. He knew that by studying I would increase my access to educational opportunities and I would have access to a greater number of professional opportunities. His example inspired me to work hard. It is because of his hard work that I have the chance to study at a place like Harvard.
I may not be rich like you, but I am not a criminal like you implied at your speech at a campaign event at the Nationwide Insurance office. I have been faithful to the values that my still happily married father and mother have instilled in me – American values such as hard work, integrity, and contributing to the common good.
I would also like to ask you to reevaluate your opinion as to the elitism of Harvard-educated individuals because, frankly, you hold more elitist views than any of my classmates here at Harvard. Your disparaging comments about children in poverty – who account for more than 20% of all kids under the age of 18 in the U.S. – could not have made this more clear. Mr. Speaker, please leave your ivory tower, leave the presidential race, and clear the way for a serious Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States.
Mr. Speaker, the great problem in America is not that poor people are lazy but that politicians like yourself aren’t fighting for the American people…you’re fighting against us. It seems that you are so caught up with the politics of the past that you are missing the incredibly simple reality that investing in education is the same as investing in the future of Americans in the pursuit of our national dream. While you are campaigning to doom future generations of young people to view their lives as hopeless because of their economic status, I’ll be supporting President Obama in giving young people like me hope for a better future and increasing access to higher education for those in poor communities.
President, Harvard College Democrats
Harvard University Class of 2013