Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pet Shows or Prisons?

(A pet show in Maryland, 1939, sponsored by the WPA and the local community. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Pet shows were one of the many types of recreational projects that the WPA assisted local communities with. I don't know too much about the recreational projects, but it seems that the general idea was to offer job opportunities to unemployed Americans who were not well-suited for infrastructure projects (because of their skill-set and employment histories) while at the same time creating activities to bring communities together. Thus, many of the organizers of these recreational projects were probably drawn from the ranks of the unemployed.
There can be little doubt that the WPA recreational projects caused anti-government types to scream "wasteful spending!!" And there can be little doubt that we would see the same anger today, if the federal government chose to help local communities and jobless Americans in such a manner. But I have noticed that the type of people who would be against such policies & programs are the same type of people who don't seem to mind that America has the largest prison-industrial complex in the world. Their philosophy seems to be that government should be a hesitant helper...but a very eager prosecutor. And, unfortunately, this mindset has controlled the direction of American government for a long time, as evidenced by (1) our government's refusal to consider a new WPA for millions of long-term unemployed Americans, and (2) our government's expansion of the penal system these past several decades.
So, which do you prefer? Pet shows that offer employment and community gatherings, or prisons that facilitate gang activity and generational poverty? Well, it may not matter which you prefer, because our increasingly right-wing government has made the choice for you: Prisons. 
But we can resist.    

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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