Tent City in the Promised Land

Tent city. Inland empire CA

On this Christmas Day, there are many with not much to be merry about.

The photo is from an excellent Reuters article on a tent city in the Inland Empire, which is ground zero in southern California (maybe the nation) for the subprime debacle.

Democracy Now quotes a homeless activist there saying that recently foreclosed families are arriving with their children.

“We are seeing a lot of families that are hitting the streets. We just had one come in this morning with three children, ages 8, 10, 12 years old and they just lost their home.”

It’s either ironic or tragic, not sure which, that California was supposed to be the promised land for migrating Okies in the 30’s. Or maybe things haven’t really changed, since many Okies discovered, as Woody Guthrie sang “believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot, if you ain’t got that do re mi,” and ended up broke and in migrant camps.

And sometimes their kids did more than okay for themselves, as witness that second generation California Okie Buck Owens who ended up both a country legend and owner of a media empire. So, sometimes the dream happened. But for those in growing tent cities across the country (and we’re just seeing the leading edge now) life must be hard and seem hopeless.

No one helped the Okies. Maybe their plight would have been made easier had some been there to lend a hand (rather than, as too often happened, deliver a kick in the teeth instead.) The Okies were treated despicably. Let’s not do the same for this new generation of homeless and dispossessed. Instead, we need to help them, both individually and to correct the societal and economic wrongs that is leading to many losing homes and jobs. As mentioned, the Inland Empire tent city is just the beginning trickle of what may become a flood.

P.S. Here’s a good history of the Okies, where they came from, what happened in the 30’s, and on up to the current day, including their support of socialists like Eugene Debs (you did know about that, right?) Written by Roxanna Dunbar-Ortiz, an Okie herself.

I marvel that my own grandfather, a classic product of the westward trek and the national origin story, and so many others like him, voted, over a period of two decades, five times for Debs for president.


  • DJ

    Democracy and economic parity seem to go together. Conventional wisdom suggests that democracy brings better economic parity. But my observation suggests the contrary: that economic parity is essential for democracy. Thus preventing too great a gap between rich and poor is not just an exercise in compassion: it’s necessary if we want to remain a democracy.

  • Eileen

    Buck Owens was from Texas.

  • Well, I was sort of right.

    “In 1937, his family migrated to Mesa, Arizona, during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.’

    And of course, he called Bakersfield home. I think he had a song with a lyric, “I’m a second generation California Okie.”

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