Five Cold Tacos

They are good kids.
They meet regularly as a youth group and do things together. Last year, they helped  bring a public smoking ban to their city.
The year before that, they initiated a community-wide trash pickup. Tons of broken appliances, used auto tires, mattresses and other casualties of modern life were carted away. 
Now they are working on a Get Out the Vote effort, with an eye toward a constitutional amendment on the November  ballot that could bring substantial resources for flood control to their neighborhood (which happens to lie in a flood plain).
The teenagers are serious about their work, but their adult leader and sponsor decided that they needed to do what most other youth groups do all of the time—socialize.  The leader scraped together some money and took the kids to the dollar movie.
“I hadn’t realized,” she told me, “That they can’t afford to even go to the dollar show. It was like they had gone to heaven.”
“So, of course,” she continues, “I knew that I had to take them to get something to eat. I had a little bit of money left over, so we went to the Taco Bell. I ordered the tacos, two each for the girls, three for the guys—we laughed at the guys because they were so hungry. And then there were five tacos left over. The kids are good, and they are shy, so no one would take an extra taco. Finally, the shyest kid in the group looks around and says, ‘If it is ok, I would like to take them home to my sisters.’ “
The leader smiles as she tells me this story. “Imagine that, a thirteen year old admitting to all of her friends that her family is hungry, loving her sisters enough to risk being made fun of . . .she is a good kid.”
Five cold tacos. One brave big sister. And hunger.
Quite the different story in Washington, where last week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would take food stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) from nearly 3 million Americans. Eric Cantor justified the measure as a way to “put people on the path to self-sufficiency and independence.”
217 members of Congress voted to take food from poor families.
217 cold hearts. 217 small souls. And 3 million daily moments of hunger. 

Ted Cruz Sort Of Visits the Valley

Francisco finally gave in. Diabetic and elderly, he took a seat beneath the high-tech police camera. From there, Francisco could look across the highway and see the entrance to the posh Cimarron Country Club in Mission, Texas.  The sun was merciless, and the only shade was that offered by the low roof over a nearby sewer pump. That smell was as obnoxious as the sun’s heat. “My legs are gone,” said the dapperly dressed fellow, “But I am glad to be here; I have something to say to that man.”
That man was Texas’ Senator Ted Cruz, elected almost a year ago. Counting Francisco, there were forty of us who had braved this past Tuesday’s noonday sun to address our senator. We were members of the Equal Voice Network, a group of community-based organizations dedicated to the proposition that working people must have an equal voice at the table of decision makers.  Members of the network had reached out previously to the senator, concerned that his stances on immigration reform and health care were based on a whole lot of ignorance. Cruz’s immigration plan is to triple the size of the border patrol and quadruple the military hardware in our region. This would turn our communities into an occupied zone. Cruz’s alternative to the Affordable Care Act is worse than the status quo. In an area in which nearly a half a million people have no health coverage, Cruz’s plan to do nothing would amount to a death sentence for many, many poor people.
As members of a democracy, we felt that we not only had the right to speak to this issue, but an obligation to do so.
Unfortunately, none of us had the resources to pay the $500 a table “entrance fee” to the event that featured the senator. With a nod to our notions of democracy, the organizers of the event had designated a “protestors’ space” on the other side of the highway.
And so we stood there, waving our flags, holding up our signs, and speaking to the press.
Across the way, carloads of the better-off people filed into a parking lot of the air-conditioned and well-appointed clubhouse. There, in comfort, they would listen to the senator, and, if very lucky, be able voice a question or two to the man.  They, too, must have been glad to be there. In the plutocratic Texas of 2013, to have your voice heard by one of our two senators would be a reminder of your privilege.
So, there we were, and there they were—with more than a four lane highway dividing us. According to one of the news’ reporters who came to visit with us, the meeting was for the “important and influential people of the region.” I don’t think that the reporter meant that comment as an insult. I do think that we had confused her—we were not looking for a fight, but a conversation. We were not crazed extremists, but we were serious people with well-thought out positions on the issues of the day. The reporter may not have known that there are 300,000 people in the communities that we live and work in, and that these neighbors and friends of our comprise a quarter of the Valley’s population.
The reports from the lunch with Ted Cruz were not surprising. In the face of questions about alternatives to the Affordable Care Act, Cruz reportedly promoted an idea that sounded just like the national insurance exchange that the Affordable Care Act is implementing next month. His action plan—defund Obamacare. His alternative—national insurance exchanges. O sea, Obamacare.
Immigration reform? More enforcement.  Cruz continues to insist on tripling the border patrol even as the US Border Patrol says it could never handle that number of new agents.
It all sounded confusing to me, but then again, we weren’t at the meeting, so it is hard to speak with much certainty about what the man said or didn’t say.
What is clear is that Senator Cruz was not interested in getting a comprehensive view of one of the most important regions in the state, but only in hearing what suited him. And even there, the visit was at least a partial failure, as, reportedly, pointed questions about his notions of health care were left unanswered.
But what a great visit it could have been, had Senator Cruz had the imagination and the courage to cross the highway, take a seat next to Francisco, and ask Francisco about his health care, about his notions on immigration reform. Now that would have been a seat worth $500. Easy.