Give us your poor, but only on the holidays. This Thanksgiving, droves of well-meaning volunteers had to be turned away in some affluent communities when there weren’t enough poor diners. On that day, but that day only, there were no shortages of contributions. The back-to-back holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas do temporarily turn our attention to the poor.
Yet all too often, the needs of America’s some 37 million poor people remain out of sight and out of mind. And the social activism of the rest of us too often addresses symptoms rather than sources of the problem. As lawyers, we are especially troubled by our inability to make legal assistance a more central part of the solution.
It is a shameful irony that the nation with the world’s largest concentration of lawyers does such an abysmal job of making legal assistance available to those who need it most. Occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas should remind us that the poor need more than holiday handouts. They need legal tools to help themselves and to secure fundamental rights that are now available in theory but inaccessible in practice.